Are you just getting started at the gym and don’t know what to do?  Well I am here to help you out by providing you with this 10 exercise road map to help you get from fitness newb to fitness pro.

Starting something new is always scary.  This is most prevalent at the gym.

The gym has a bunch of equipment and people people who might be intimidating because they are lifting heavy weight, make a lot of noise, and we have no idea what it is they are doing or what that machine is used for.

It an be quite overwhelming seeing other people doing a million different exercises, wondering if you should be doing that in your workout.  I know that feeling.  I have felt both as a trainer programming for clients, and when developing my own workouts.

As a newbie there are only a few things you need to be focusing on.   You should be focusing on building strength, learning good form, and building up your ability to do work (work capacity).

When selecting exercises to include in your training you need to look at the type of movement the exercise is and not so much which body part it works.   After all we are not put together piece by piece in a lab like some sort of Frankenstein monster.

We require our different body parts to work together to help us perform everyday movement.  We need to view our training the same way.   Putting the focus on movement will cover all of the body parts you wish to hit in your workout in a more efficient manner.

The movements you need to make sure you cover are pushing, pulling, squatting, hingeing (bending at hips), carrying and twisting.
The 10 exercises below will help you master these movements and progress to more advanced exercises in the gym as you get stronger and in better shape.

  1. Plank

    The plank is amazing for teaching us how our core should be engaged in our lifts.  Focus on creating a straight line in your body from head to toe.  You can do this by tightening your abs by pretending to brace as if you’re about to get punched in the stomach.  At the same time you should be squeezing your butt tightly.  If done right this should make your body feel as stiff as a board.  We don’t want to see butts up in the air (not squeezing glutes) or any bellies sagging to the ground (not keeping core tight).  I typically like to hold planks for a short amount of time (10-30 seconds) for 5-10 rounds.

  2. Goblet Squat

    Squatting is a must in any program.  I mean without squatting we would never be able to sit down or get out of a chair.

    The Goblet squat is a great way to build strength and work on form.  Holding the weight in the Goblet position (holding a kB or DB at chest level with both hands) forces us to keep our chest up and engages your core.

    I prefer teaching goblet squats over body weight squats because of the feedback the weight gives us.  Holding onto the weight forced our chest into that up position.  This is important because if your chest were to drop, the weight would fall to the ground.  Therefore unlike a bodyweight squat we can’t get away with dropping the chest to get low and we are forced to learn good form.

  3. Push up

    This is probably the most famous body weight exercise.  I am sure everyone has done a push up at some point in their entire life.  I know when I was in school we had to do them every gym class.

    Believe it or not the push up is more then just a chest exercise but can serve as a total body exercise.

    I like to think of the push up as a plank with movement added to it.  Everything must stay tight, like the plank, as we lift and lower our body to the ground.

    As you master the push up you can make it harder by changing hand positions, adding explosiveness such as claps, add additional movement with other limbs, changing tempo and adding resistance.

    Mastering the push up IS A MUST before bench pressing.  If you can’t do 10 solid push-ups you shouldn’t be on the bench.

    Band assisted push up
    Incline Push up

    Many people just starting out may struggle with the push-up.  There are plenty of ways to help scale the push up and develop that strength.  Some of my favorite ways is to have people do burpees, add a resistance band to assist you out of the bottom of a push up, or start with incline push ups as you get more help from the shoulder muscles and have to push less body weight.

  4. Sled push/drag/pull


    Sleds are amazing.  They allow for us to get a lot done with very small learning curve.All you have to do is push, pull or backwards drag it.  That is literally it.  We all know how to do these movements making it an easy exercise to get started with.

    Sleds build massive strength and work capacity, and won’t leave you feeling too sore after.

  5. Pull apart

    Our back and shoulders really love this exercise.  Many of us have tight shoulders and upper backs from sitting over a desk all day.  This can lead to imbalances that can be the cause of a lot of shoulder pain.

    The pull apart is a great way to combat these shoulder issues.  Pull aparts strengthen our back muscles while stretching our chest and shoulders.  This helps or your body counteract the effects of sitting.  I like to use a light resistance band and perform a lot of reps.  This will help those shoulders feel much better and develop a bigger back.

  6. Jumps/throws

    Like the sled exercises, jumps and throws have low learning curves.  Jumping and throwing are simple movements that we have been doing since we have been little kids.

    Jumping and throwing are a total body exercise that helps us burn a lot of fat due to getting maximal force out put and is a great strength builder as our body absorbs force in the landing.  Jumps and throws are sneaky and fun ways to develop proper form for squaring because our joints have to align correctly to absorb the force of landing.

    Simple jumps you can do include Box jumps, squat jumps, and broad jumps.

    For throws you can never go wing with chest passes, soccer throw or the backwards overhead throw.  It is more important to get as much height and distance on your throws, that is why I recommend using a pretty light medball.

    Make these fun.  Make it a contest and see if you can beat your last jump or throw.

  7. Reclined row

    Rows are vital to any training.  Rows are great for building your backs and arms, but also keep the shoulder healthy.  The reclined row is a simple exercise that uses your own body weight.  All you need is a barbell in a rack, rings, or TRX straps.  Grab the barbell or straps, lay flat and pull your chest to the rings/bar.  The flatter you lay to the ground, and the further out you put your feet, the harder the exercise gets.

  8. Loaded carrywp-1490883297755.jpg

    Loaded carries are pretty much a walking plank that builds massive strength and work capacity.  You can read more about the loaded carry here.

  9. Burpees

    I have a love hate relationship with burpees.  When done right (as in controlled movement) I love them as they can help people work toward the push up, work their core, develop lower body strength, increase mobility, and increase their work capacity.  The problem is most people do them wrong by just flailing on the floor and getting up however they can.  This causes people to miss out on all the benefits of the exercise.

    1 squat down

    2 hands on ground

    3 kick legs out to plank position

    4 lower body

    5 push up

    6 pull kick knees in

    7 stand up

    8 jump

    Control is greater than speed.  It will add more strength than just flopping on the ground and trying to get up as fast as possible.  As you get stronger and in better condition speed will come.


 Just like the sled, carries and jumps we all know how to crawl.  Hell we have been doing it since we’ve been babies.  But let me tell you, crawling isn’t just baby stuff.  Crawls develop great lower and upper body strength and mobility. It is also a huge core builder and a conditioning butt kicker.  There are many crawl variations but I like starting with the bear crawl.  At first focus on form by keeping a flat back and taking small steps.  As you get more comfortable and stronger pick up the speed and experiment with different crawls.

When I program these exercises for a new client I like to pick 5 exercises (one from each category) and create a circuit.

Circuits are great because they allow for us to keep working while letting body parts rest.  I generally set up my circuits for beginners by doing sets of 10 to build volume and familiarity with exercises, or doing reps for time (example 30 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest).

I generally have my clients do 3-5 rounds of the circuit.  As they get stronger and fitter I usually move them into a more strength based program where we do less reps at higher weight, for more reps, and maybe some more advanced movements.

X marks the spot!  Don’t be lost any longer.  I can help you develop your fitness treasure map with online programming.  Click here to get to X and collect your fitness treasure without having to take a million detours. 

Did I leave out a movement you love to do with beginners?  Let us know in the comments below.


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