Most newcomers to weightlifting fall into one of two traps. Some enter the gym with no agenda for the day except "getting a good burn." As a result of this, a beginner will bench, curl and use a whole bunch of random machines until they get tired and feel as though they got a good workout because of the all important burn. The other type of beginner finds out about some incredibly complex 5-day split bodybuilding routine and figures that since its complex and huge bodybuilders use it, it must be great for them. These are both potentially inefficient ways of getting results as a newbie and any beginners.
They key to making huge gains as a beginner is to focus on the main compound lifts and making linear progress with them. By far the best way to do this is by using Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength. If you want to save yourself some time from reading this article, stop right now and spend whatever money you were about to on some bogus supplement and order Starting Strength from Amazon. In addition to containing a great routine, the book goes into extensive detail about all the major exercises involved including the bench press, squat, deadlift, military press, and power clean, providing descriptions in great detail and pictures illustrating proper form and technique for all the exercises. This book is great for anyone from beginners, to coaches, or just anyone who has not mastered the squat, deadlift, bench, or military press.
Well, enough advertising, here's the routine:
3×5 Bench Press
3×5 Standing military press
3×5 Power cleans / Pendlay Rows
You train on 3 nonconsecutive days per week.
So week 1 would look like:
Monday – Workout A
Wednesday – Workout B
Friday – Workout A
Monday – Workout B
Wednesday – Workout A
Friday – Workout B
The key to succeeding on this routine is to keep progressing in weight each workout. You should ideally add around 10-20 lbs to the deadlift and squat every workout, 5-15 for the bench press, and 5-10 for the rows and military press. When you stop progressing in weight it is important to evaluate the situation:
1) You are not doing what you are supposed to be doing for recovery. This includes diet, vitamins water, no skipping meals as well as ample rest
2) You are not adding weight on properly. Stop worrying about what other people in the gym think of you and do not add two 25 lb plates to your squat in between workouts.
3) You have recently added exercises (such as dips / chins / arm work) or made your own adjustments to the program in whatever manner.
4) You are doing everything right: enough rest, and good weight progress, but you are simply advancing closer to your genetic limitations.
If it anything but number four, simply fix it and continue on with the routine. If it is number four, congratulate yourself for not doing anything stupid and get ready for a reset. Drop 10% of the weight in the exercise you have stalled on and continue with your routine. Once you hang continuously or stall in many exercises at once, you are most likely not a beginner anymore and it is time to change routines! Consider yourself lucky before you get to this point because you will see elegant gains while on this routine as long as your diet is in check. You will probably be able to stay on this routine for a few months and you will be able to squat around 200 pounds! You should have put on some serious mass and now it is time to look for a new "intermediate" routine.