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Beginning With Full-Body Workouts

Q: I know you probably get a lot of questions, but I was wondering if you could help out a beginner. I haven’t worked out in more than three years, except the occasional two-weeks-of-workouts-then-quit stuff. I’m 6’, 160 pounds—my lowest since ninth grade—and I’m 18. I’m wondering if you agree that a full-body routine is the way to go for now, or should I do something different.

A: Yes, I think a full-body routine would be a good way to start training after an extended layoff. You’re going to be sore from your workouts in the beginning no matter what you do because the muscles are out of shape, so it’s best to start out slowly and build from there.

Beginners usually start with a full-body routine to get the muscles accustomed to the stress of resistance exercise. The muscles at this point are going to respond to the least amount of work, so there’s no need to do a split routine—that is, training some muscle groups one day and other muscle groups on another day.

With a full-body routine you use only one exercise for each bodypart—or sometimes two for larger muscles. Because of the limited volume for each muscle, it’s possible to train the whole body in one session. That usually involves 10 to 12 exercises and hits each major muscle group. Here’s an example. Note that 3×10 means three sets of 10 reps.

Bench presses (chest) 3 x 10

Pulldowns (back) 3 x 10

Standing military presses (shoulders) 3 x 10

Pushdowns (triceps) 3 x 10

Barbell curls (biceps) 3 x 10

Hyperextensions (lower back) 3 x 15

Squats  (quadriceps) 3 x 10

Leg curls (hamstrings) 3 x 10

Standing calf raises (calves) 3 x 10-12

Incline situps (abdominals) 3 x 25

That’s 10 exercises done for three sets each, or a total of 30 sets. You should probably start by doing the routine two or three times per week. If you’re sore for more than two days, wait until the soreness goes away before performing the routine again. Your goal is to get the muscles gradually accustomed to a consistent routine of resistance training. Your strength will most likely increase on a weekly basis in the beginning.

After a month or two on the full-body routine, you can switch to a split routine. The new program would have you training half of your body in one workout and the other muscle groups in a second workout. I recommend that you train three days a week when you initially begin using a split routine. Take a day off after each workout in order to enhance your recuperation. Here’s an example of how you could structure your split routine:

Workout 1: Chest, Back, Shoulders, Calves

Bench presses 3 x 10, 8, 6

Incline presses 3 x 8, 8, 6

Wide-grip chins 3 x 8-10

Barbell rows 3 x 10, 8, 6

Standing military presses 3 x 10, 8, 6

Barbell upright rows 3 x 10, 8, 8

Seated calf raises 3 x 12-15

Standing calf raises 3 x 10-12

Workout 2: Abs, Legs, Biceps, Triceps

Hanging knee raises 2 x 30

Incline situps 2 x 30

Barbell squats 3 x 10, 8, 6

Leg presses 3 x 10, 8, 8

Leg curls 3 x 10, 8, 8

Stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 10, 8, 6

Pushdowns 3 x 10, 8, 6

Dips 2 x 8-10

Barbell curls 3 x 10, 8, 6

With the split routine you do more work for each major muscle group by adding more exercises in order to train those muscles from different angles. For example, instead of doing only bench presses for the chest, you’ll do both flat-bench and incline presses. The increase in volume is the reason you need to split up the bodyparts—so you’re not training the whole body in one workout.

As I mentioned, I think when you first begin using the split routine, you should limit the workouts to three days a week. As your body gets into better shape, you can increase the workload on your muscles by doing four workouts a week. The four-days-a-week schedule looks like this:

Monday: Workout 1

Tuesday: Workout 2

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: Workout 1

Friday: Workout 2

Saturday and Sunday: Rest

Be sure to record your workouts so you can continue to increase the intensity of each training session by using more resistance, doing more repetitions with the same weight or adding more volume. Also, writing down your workouts and occasionally taking measurements and pictures of yourself will make you more motivated to keep training and be more consistent with your workouts.

Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at, or send questions or comments to [email protected] or at P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, Listen to John’s new radio show, “Natural Bodybuilding Radio,” at  IM

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