Weight Lifting Programs for Beginners

5 Weight Lifting Programs

Starting Weight Lifting

When I first started working out, I was terrified to touch weights. First off, I was worried weight lifting wouldn’t give me the physique I was looking for (FYI – getting huge, bulging muscles takes years of intense training and doesn’t happen accidentally… but that’s a whole other can of worms for another post). Secondly, it was intimidating as hell. There’s no clear guidance on what you’re supposed to do with anything in the free weight section. It was usually filled with grunting dudes who were eager to give me their unsolicited “training advice” … or worse, they’d help “correct my form” by touching me without warning. So, I stuck to the little dumbbells by the cardio equipment or the weight machines with instructional images printed on the side.

Later in my fitness journey, I started reading a book called The New Rules of Lifting for Women (NROLFW). It opened my eyes to many of the misconceptions I had about weight training. One of those misconceptions was that as a woman I should be doing a routine specifically designed for females. We are all humans, aren’t we? So, men and women build muscles the same way. (MIND BLOWN!) Lifting a barbell will not magically rob me of my femininity. It will, however, help me live longer, lower my risks of injury, help me sleep better, and even improve my mental health.  I don’t know about you, but I plan on raising hell well into my nineties.

The Joys of Compound Exercises

The lifting routine I followed from NROLFW also helped me discover the joys of free weight compound exercises. Like the name suggests, compound exercises work multiple muscles at once. As a result, they tend to mimic real life movements much more than isolation exercises. Think about it – how often in a normal week do you squat down to pick something up? How often do you do something that mimics whatever weird motion it is that you do when you do a leg extension? Don’t get me wrong, isolation exercises are great and have a purpose. However, if you’re an everyday Joe / Jane just trying to squeeze in a workout before or after work, you’re better off sticking to compound exercises. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with long workouts or muscle imbalances from not hitting all of your muscle groups evenly.

Doing compound exercises with free weights also helps you work on core strength, balance, and minor muscles compared to doing them with a machine. Again, using free weights just allows your body to move more naturally. Plus, doing exercises with a barbell makes you feel like a total badass… so there’s that.

I’ve picked out the routines below because they are cheap, easy to complete in an hour, and focused on compound exercises. Some of the programs may seem geared towards men, but trust me, they’re great for ladies too.


Top 5 Weight Lifting Programs for Beginners

  1. The New Rules of Lifting Supercharged

    $15, Book available on Amazon
    While NROLFW was great for me, I feel like The New Rules of Lifting Supercharged does a much better job at really explaining the core movements behind lifting (squat, hinge, push, pull). It also provides ways to build up to the basic compound lifts, so it’s great for beginners. There’s a lot of explanations behind form, warming up, and basic kinesiology. The book provides some basic workout templates, but it really encourages you to adapt the workouts according to your skill-level & goals. 

  2. StrongLifts 5×5

    FREE, Website & App available
    StrongLifts is awesome for both people brand new to lifting and more experienced lifters wanting to get back to the basics. It’s a very simple routine, but it results in major strength gains. This program focuses on just five main compound exercises: squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, and barbell row. Most people will work out 3x per week, but you can do it just 2x per week if you’re trying to balance it out with another sport or activity. Their website has a ton of documentation on proper form, which is incredibly important. Plus, there’s a free app you can download to log and track your workouts. The only downside is the fact that all the movements depend on a barbell. So, if you don’t have the strength yet to work with a barbell or the place you work out only has machines and dumbbells, you might want to check out a different program.

  3. Starting Strength

    FREE with option to buy book, Website
    This program is very similar to StrongLifts, but it incorporates power cleans & chin-ups instead of rows. Power cleans can be a little harder to master form compared to rows. So, I’d be caution running this program if you’ve never done any weight lifting before in your life. It does include less sets than StrongLifts – if you hate working through 5 sets, this program may be a better fit!

  4. Fierce 5

    FREE, forum posting
    This routine is actually just a post on a bodybuilding.com forum that received a ton of positive feedback. I like it because while it still focuses on compound exercises, it has a few accessory lifts as well. So, if you like doing higher reps or are afraid you’ll get bored quickly, I’d check this routine out! The post also includes some great warmup and stretching tips. 

  5. NerdFitness Bodyweight Routine

    FREE, Website  – Lastly, here’s a routine that doesn’t require any gym access at all. Bodyweight exercises are also a great place to start if you are new to exercising. Eventually, you’ll want to move to a program that incorporates weights. However, bodyweight exercises can help provide you with a basic foundation of strength (as well as a chance to really practice form). I find this routine is also good to have in your back pocket for when times you might be traveling.

Form Resources:

Some of these programs go into great detail about proper form, while others assume you already have a basic understanding of proper form. Regardless of what program you chose, I’d still recommend checking out StrongLifts’ exercise guides and/or Nerd Fitness’ Strength Training 101 Series.


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