Barbell Training Program for the Beginner

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So you want to start lifting weights? Then you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, you will find a barbell training program perfect for getting started with effective strength training.

The prerequisite for the program is that you are healthy, and are willing to spend time learning to perform the exercises correctly, in order to be able to train safely and injury-free while you build muscle and become stronger.

This training program has three workouts per week, and in every workout, you will be training most of your major muscle groups.

Full-body workouts, where you train most of your major muscle groups several times per week, are by far the most effective way for a beginner to quickly build muscle and gain strength.

Three full-body workouts per week are perfect for the beginner. It provides frequent stimuli for your muscles to grow, while still giving you long enough rest between workouts to recover.

Whether you are training to get stronger, build muscle, or lose fat, a full-body routine with three barbell workouts per week is one of the best strength training programs you can choose as a beginner.

There are many ways to go about a great beginner barbell program, but Jay at AWorkoutRoutine put together a training program that I think fits just perfectly. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, so that is the program outlined below and which I recommend you to begin with.

The Beginner Barbell Training Program

You will be training three times per week, alternating between two different barbell workouts.

Let’s call the workouts A and B, and with three workouts per week your routine could look like this:

Week 1:

  1. Monday: Workout A
  2. Tuesday: Rest
  3. Wednesday: Workout B
  4. Thursday: Rest
  5. Friday: Workout A
  6. Saturday: Rest
  7. Sunday: Rest

Week 2:

  1. Monday: Workout B
  2. Tuesday: Rest
  3. Wednesday: Workout A
  4. Thursday: Rest
  5. Friday: Workout B
  6. Saturday: Rest
  7. Sunday: Rest

So, you will be training A B A one week, and B A B the week after, alternating workouts each time you go to the gym.

You do not have to train on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, of course, but make sure to do three workouts in a week, with at least one rest day between each workout.

The Workouts

Let’s move on to the workouts.

It is possible that you will think that these workouts are too simple, or contain too few exercises, but believe me: this kind of routine with low volume and high frequency works great for beginners.

Here’s how the workouts look.

(Click on an exercise’s name for a link to its instructions)

Workout A

  1. Squat: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  2. Bench Press: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  3. Barbell Row: 3 sets x 8–10 reps

Rest two minutes between each set.

Workout B

  1. Deadlift: 3 sets x 6–8 reps
  2. Lat Pulldown (or Pull-ups): 3 sets x 8–10 reps
  3. Overhead Press: 3 sets x 8–10 reps

Rest two minutes between each set.

Simple, but very effective.

Here’s a summary that you can save to your phone. Just tap and hold on the image.

Barbell Training Program for the Beginner

The workouts are based on compound barbell lifts, where you train multiple major muscle groups in each exercise.

  • Workout A includes a knee-dominant lower-body exercise (squats), with horizontal pushing (bench press) and pulling exercises (barbell row) for the upper body.
  • Workout B includes a hip-dominant lower-body exercise (deadlifts) with vertical pushing (overhead press) and pulling exercises (lat pulldowns) for the upper body.

Your biceps and triceps will be getting plenty of training from the pushing and pulling exercises, and many of the exercises will train your core muscles intensely.

The exercises listed in the workouts are the ones I recommend, but they are not set in stone.

Possible Substitutions:

The Most Important Thing When Beginning Barbell Training

Whether you are new to strength training in general or simply new to barbell training, the same rule applies: begin with very light weight, and the ambition to learn the perfect technique in each exercise.

In some of the more mobility-demanding exercises (like squats and deadlifts), that could be a large undertaking, but it usually goes a bit easier in the other lifts. Read all of the exercise descriptions carefully, and either film yourself or have a friend look at your technique when practicing the exercises.

Beginner barbell workout
Barbell training takes a lifetime to master, but can be learned quickly. Begin with light weights, and make technique a priority.

While you should aim towards a perfect technique, you shouldn’t demand (or expect) this from yourself in the beginning. In what other sports do we expect a beginner to have world-class technique from the start?

When I coach a beginner through a barbell workout for the first few times, I don’t fuzz over details. Only on getting the big picture of things right. The details can come later on, one at a time, and most of the time, I find that the lifter fixes most issues on his or her own, without me pointing them out.

In the beginning, it will feel both unstable and uncomfortable, but as long as you don’t use more weight than you can handle, you will increase your skill and control over time.

Following a Barbell Workout Plan: The Right (and Wrong) Way

To get the best possible start on this beginner barbell workout plan, you should start with very light weights in all of the exercises. One which you can easily manage your 3 sets x 8–10 reps with.

In my case, that meant I started with an empty, or almost empty bar, depending on the exercise when I started training. And you shouldn’t hesitate to do the same if you think it could help you learn to do the exercises perfectly.

You would do yourself a huge disservice if you start this program with weights that are too heavy to begin with. Don’t rush it – big weights will follow patient practice.

When you can manage, for example, 40 kg x 3 sets x 8–10 reps in an exercise, then it is time to increase the weight by a small increment – usually 2.5 kg or 5 pounds. Then you train with that weight until you can once again get 3 sets x 8–10 reps.

In the beginning, you will be able to increase the weight in this manner quite often, maybe every workout for some time. But after a few weeks, you might have to train with a certain weight a few times before you get all your reps and sets in and can increase the weight.

In some of the exercises, you will increase the weight more rapidly since your total capacity for how much you can lift in that particular exercise will be much higher. With equal practice in all the basic barbell lifts in this training program, the vast majority of people will be strongest in the deadlift, and then in descending order: Deadlift > Squat > Bench press > Barbell row > Overhead press.

The overhead press will therefore be the exercise in which your weight increases will happen the most slowly.

Barbell deadlift workout
Out of all the barbell lifts in this workout plan, the deadlift is likely the lift in which you have the greatest strength potential.

Frequently Asked Questions

That was the most important information regarding this beginner barbell training program. In the rest of this article, I will answer some of the most common beginner questions.

Have a look at the following questions and see if there’s something that you’re wondering over yourself. Some of the questions might have answers obvious to you, while others might be more interesting.

How Much Does a Barbell Weigh?

The standard barbell weighs 20 kg (44 lbs) and is 220 cm long (7.2 ft). This is the kind of barbell most common at gyms and in competition, and is sometimes referred to as an Olympic barbell.

When talking about the weight you are lifting in a particular exercise, it is always the combined weight of the barbell and the weight plates that you are referring to. If you have lifted 100 kg (220 lbs) in the bench press, for example, then you might have lifted a 20 kg barbell + two 20 kg weight plates on each side.

What Is a Rep, or Repetition?

A repetition is when you move a weight from point A to point B, and then back again. Or simply put: lift a weight and then put it back down again. If you’re training bench press and you lower the bar to your chest and then push it back up, then you’ve done one repetition.

Repetitions are called reps for short, and how many reps you do will affect your training results. But you don’t have to worry about that for the moment, as 8–10 reps will be perfect for building muscle right now.

What Is a Set?

A set is a group of repetitions done in sequence. If you unrack the bar, do 10 repetitions, and then rack the bar again – then you just did a set of 10 reps.

If you should do 3 sets x 10 reps, then you do 10 reps, rest for a few minutes, do 10 reps, rest for a few minutes, and do 10 reps. Three sets with ten reps each, and a couple of minutes rest in between sets.

How Long Should You Rest between Sets?

You should rest long enough to be able to do your next set with sufficiently heavy weight, and good technique.

That means at least two minutes of rest between sets when you are a beginner, and often at least 3–4 minutes of rest when you are more advanced and are lifting heavier weights that require longer recovery time. Between very heavy sets that really tests your max strength, you should rest upwards of five minutes – or more.

Read more: How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?

How Should You Warm-up before Training?

A good warm-up should often consist of a general part and a specific part.

  • In the general part, you do something to increase your body temperature, like walking on a cross-trainer or using a rowing machine for five minutes. Nothing overly strenuous – the point is to get warmed up, not tired.
  • In the specific part, you do things that prepare you for strength training, and your first exercise. This usually means that you might do some mobility exercises (if necessary) and then start warming up for your first exercise with an empty bar.

The need for warm-ups is individual, and with time you will find what you need and prefer.

Personally, I rarely do any general warm-up at all, and instead, I do more sets with an empty bar in the specific warm-up. It is quite common among those who have trained for a while, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than starting with some easy general warm-up.

When I started with barbell training, I lacked the mobility and flexibility to do all the exercises correctly (especially the squat!). So I had to start each workout with quite a lot of mobility work. However, once I gained the necessary mobility, regular squatting was enough to maintain it, and I no longer need to do mobility exercises before squatting.

Here’s how a warm-up for the squat can look, if you are going to train sets of 10 at 130 kg:

  1. Without a bar, squat down to the bottom position of a squat, and just rock back and forth, and side to side, for 1–2 minutes. This stretches out your lower body and improves your mobility. Hold on to a rack or something in front of you for balance, if you need to.
  2. 10 reps with an empty bar.
  3. Do some additional light stretching, maybe of a muscle that seems especially tight today. Rest for about 30 seconds.
  4. 10 reps with an empty bar.
  5. Rest for another 30 seconds. Do a little more mobility work if necessary. If you feel OK, then start adding weight. Otherwise, do one more set with an empty bar.
  6. 5 reps x 60 kg.
  7. Rest for 30–60 seconds.
  8. 5 reps x 60 kg.
  9. Rest for 30–60 seconds.
  10. 5 reps x 100 kg.
  11. Rest for 1–2 minutes.
  12. 4 reps x 120 kg.
  13. Rest for 2 minutes.
  14. First working set: 10 reps x 130 kg.
  15. Rest for as long as necessary (maybe 3–5 minutes)
  16. Second working set: 10 reps x 130 kg.
  17. Rest for as long as necessary (maybe 4–10 minutes)
  18. Third working set: 10 reps x 130 kg.
  19. Move on to the next exercise, and begin with an empty bar.

Always begin your warm-up with an empty bar. The exception might be with deadlifts, where a plate on each side elevates the bar to the correct height. Begin practicing perfect technique from your first warm-up set.

Don’t make too large increases in weight in your warm-up sets. About 20–30% of your target weight for the workout is about right for most people. Decrease the number of reps in each warm-up set as you get closer to your working sets. You don’t want to tire yourself out before the most important sets.

Should I Follow This Training Program or Starting Strength or Stronglifts 5×5?

In several other great beginner training programs, such as Starting Strength or Stronglifts 5×5, you do five reps per set – why not here?

The simple answer is: it doesn’t make much of a difference.

Pick whichever number of reps you prefer. Doing sets of five reps will lean your results slightly towards strength gains, while sets of ten lean a little more towards muscle growth.

A compromise could be to start off with 3 set x 10 reps, and when you can no longer increase the weights regularly in your sets of ten, you start to move down towards 3 set x 5 reps while increasing the weight again.

Can You Add More Exercises to the Barbell Workouts?

Absolutely, but don’t “fix” it to the point that you break the underlying concept, which is to focus 100% on what will be most important for your results.

Besides, as a beginner, you don’t need as much training as you might believe to get bigger and stronger. Your muscles are sensitive to the training stimulus, and 3 sets x 6–10 reps of the exercises in this training program are enough for you to grow all over your body.

If you necessarily want to add something, a suggestion is to add a few sets of direct ab work, such as hanging leg raises (or knee raises) or ab wheel roll-outs.

And yeah, OK – you can add 1–2 sets of bicep curls at the end of one workout as well if you really want to. But don’t let it distract you from working hard in the rows and lat pulldowns, as those exercises will not only build your biceps but your back muscles as well.

Will This Training Program Make Me Slimmer, Bulkier, Get Ripped, or Get Toned?

There are basically only two things you can do to affect how your body looks:

  • You can increase or decrease your body fat.
  • You can increase or decrease your muscle mass.

For a classic fitness look, “looking great naked”, you are generally after decreasing your body fat while increasing your muscle mass. You lose your body fat by cutting, and you increase your muscle mass by training.

Read more: How to Cut: Lose Fat and Keep Your Muscle Mass

How Should Your Training Change as You Get More Experienced?

Your body adapts to the stress and demand that you place on it. In terms of resistance training, that means you will continually have to challenge your body and your muscles more and more.

The most important component of increasing the stress on your muscles is to increase your training weights as you get stronger. However, as you get more experienced, it is also likely that you will have to increase your training volume to keep getting the best results. An increase in training volume, coupled with the fact that you are going to be user heavier weights in your training (which requires longer rest periods), might make full-body barbell workouts like in this program overly long and taxing. Therefore, it could be beneficial to split your training up over more training days in a week.

Here are two suggestions for how you could advance your training as you get more experienced:

  • Upper / lower body split. Train four times per week, two upper and two lower body workouts. That way, you can get a good frequency and volume, while still keeping the length of the workouts down by focusing on compound lifts. Our program Zero to Hero is one way to do this. Our free upper/lower program is another.
  • Bodybuilding Split. Want to go Full Bodybuilder and push your muscle growth to the next level? Our program Bodybuilding 313 might be just what you’re looking for.

Both programs above are recommended under the assumptions that you want to advance in your training: putting in more time, to get more results back – albeit the law of diminishing returns apply to resistance training as well, and gains will come slower after the beginner phase.

An alternate route is to stick with this beginner barbell routine. It will keep your number of training days at three, and your time in the gym short. The downside is that after a while (maybe half a year or so), gains will come more and more slowly. After a while, your progression might be almost completely halted or at least very slow. But at least you will maintain a high level of strength, muscle, and fitness, and that might be more than enough for many of you, compared to the relatively small time commitment you make in exchange.

The choice is yours, and hopefully you now understand your alternatives a little better.

Some Finishing Tips on Shoes, Training Logs, and More

Here are a few finishing tips or things to remember, as you embark on your own fitness journey:

  • Technique is number one. Learn it properly from the start. You won’t regret it.
  • Write down your weights. Why not in our app StrengthLog, where you will also find this program. That way, you will remember what you lifted last workout and can try to beat it.
  • Don’t rush the weights. If you train regularly and consistently, you will get stronger. Don’t rush your increases in weights, but trust the process and just add a few pounds or kilos here and there as you are ready for it. You won’t get stronger any faster by trying to hurry it.
  • Wear stable shoes. Or no shoes at all. Don’t wear jogging shoes with big, cushy soles. A hard, flat sole gives you the best stability for safe, heavy lifts. In the squat, many (about 50% of you, maybe) will benefit from lifting shoes with an elevated heel, as it will make it a little easier to reach a good depth.
  • When the grip is becoming an issue, use chalk. You probably won’t need it in your first few months, but as you get stronger, your grip will become a limiting factor in deadlifts, barbell rows, and pull-ups. Buy some chalk intended for lifting or climbing, it absorbs the sweat in your palms and improves your grip dramatically. We’re talking about a 10–15% increase in what weights you will be able to hold on to, at minimum.

Final Words

And that’s it.

The barbell training program in this article is perfect for you who are a beginner, and this will give you the best start possible in your strength training career.

Follow the program. Practice the exercises. Write your weights down, and increase them over time.

You will get stronger. Your muscles will grow. And your body will feel and look differently. I wish you great good luck on your training journey, and I hope that you subscribe to our newsletter here on StrengthLog, so that you’ll come back for more.

More reading:

Guides to all the exercises in the program: