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12-Week Beginner Weight Lifting Routine: Complete Guide with Videos

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Finding a safe, enjoyable beginner weight lifting routine that actually produces results is not easy. 

I’ve introduced literally thousands of people to weight training, refining the approach I’ll share with you here.

This experience comes from almost 20 years as a personal trainer and collaborating with other PTs from owning my own gym. 

I’ll explain the what, why, and exactly how to start weight training with specific exercises, reps, and sets included.

There are coaching points and videos along the way to make sure you make serious progress.

It’s proven that beginners tend to get the most muscle growth from exercising to failure. This basic weightlifting routine ensures your muscles work to failure every workout.

Stick to this beginners lifting routine, pay close attention to make sure you are safe and using good form, and you WILL achieve great results.

Beginner’s weight lifting program overview

A beginner workout plan needs to be simple. 

The goal isn’t to overwhelm you with complex exercises. The workout plan here will cover the entire body across 2 main workouts used over 12 weeks.

Workout 1

ExerciseSetsRepsStart Weight*End Weight*
Bench Presses3555120-150
Barbell Row3555120-150
Lateral Raises3107.5**35-50
Skull Crushers31010**35-52.5
Chin ups3Max reps

*Example starting weight (it could be more or less) with the weight you will lift when you finish the 90 days (in lbs)

**Weight of the dumbbell in each hand (lbs).

*** I’d recommend starting with goblet squats (3 x 10) as shown in the video below if you are new to squats and cannot perform them with good technique.

Workout 2

ExerciseSetsRepsStart Weight*End Weight*
Overhead Press3545110-140
Bicep Curls31210**35-52.5
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press31020**45-62.5
Lunges320 (10 per leg)40**65-82.5

You’ll perform three workouts a week making it simple enough to stick to, with enough flexibility. It will look something like this…


You won’t need a huge amount of equipment for this program either. You can get by with the following gear: 

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

With this selection of equipment, you’ll be able to build a really strong and athletic body.

You can click on any of the links above to check out our in-depth buying guides.

They include equipment recommendations from hundreds of hours of testing and research. There’s an option for everyone’s budget and ability in there.

If you think it costs too much to build your own effective home gym, then check out our guide on how to build a home gym on any budget here.

Understanding weight lifting terminology

There are specific terms and names used to explain what should be done in a workout. It basically helps you to read the workout a bit like a recipe, so you know exactly what you should be doing.

Here’s a quick guide to the basic gym terminology… 

Reps: This is a single complete repetition of an exercise.

For example, a single repetition of a push-up is when you lower yourself from a straight arm position until your face is an inch or two above the floor, then press back up to the start.

One whole down and up is a single rep.

Sets: This is a group of repetitions.

You may have to do more than one ‘set’ of repetitions of an exercise in a workout.

For example, 3 sets of 10 would mean you do 10 repetitions, rest, a second set of 10, rest, and then a final set of 10 repetitions.

Rest: This is the time taken between sets to rest.

If you see a workout with 30 seconds of rest prescribed, that means you should rest 30 seconds between sets.

The shorter the rests, the higher the workout intensity.

Weight lifting key terms

You may see a workout program written like this…

‘Squats: 4 x 10, Rest 60 seconds’

What that means is that you should perform 4 sets of 10 squats, with 60 seconds of rest between each set. 

You’ll perform every set and rep of an exercise before moving on to the next one. 

How much weight should I be lifting?

One of the most commonly asked questions I get asked by beginners to weight lifting is “how much weight should I lift?”

You find this out on your first workout by going through a very simple process.

Once you’ve done this the first time, you won’t need to repeat it because you’ll have all of the information you need.

To figure out what you should be lifting, perform your first set of an exercise with a weight you know will be very easy.

Then build up the weight on subsequent sets until you’re lifting a suitable weight.

In practice, it looks like this…

Example: Your workout needs you to squat 3 sets of 5, but you’ve never done a squat before so don’t know what weight to lift.

  1. Perform a warm-up set with an empty barbell (44 lbs is a men’s Olympic barbell).
  2. Add a little weight (around 5lbs) to the bar and complete 5 reps.
  3. Repeat this until you reach a point where you can’t manage a set of 5 reps with good form.
  4. Make a note of the last weight you could perform the full reps with good form.

This is your ‘working weight’ and will be the basis of your weight training going forward.

Here’s an example of what a beginner client achieved in their session to work out their starting weight…

ExerciseStarting weightWeight failed setWorking weight for first workout
Goblet squats10 lbs30 lbs25 lbs
Barbell row44 lbs60 lbs55 lbs
Bench press*44 lbs60 lbs55 lbs
Skull crusher*5 lbs12.5 lbs10 lbs
Lateral raises*5 lbs10 lbs7.5 lbs
Chin upsUsing resistance band
Squats44 lbs80 lbs75 lbs
Overhead press44 lbs50 lbs44 lbs
Deadlift130 lbs135 lbs130 lbs
Incline Bench Press*5 lbs22.5 lbs20 lbs
Bicep Curls*5 lbs12.5 lbs10 lbs
Lunges*10 lbs45 lbs40 lbs

* Dumbbell weight in each hand

Repeat this process for each of the exercises you do in a workout. That will give you the information you need. 

Always start easy, lift with good form, and don’t over-exert yourself in the beginning.

Every exercise will be different because of the body parts used. For example, you’ll be able to squat more than you curl.

Exercises using your legs and back will require more weight than exercises using just the arms. 

Therefore, it’s wise to add the smallest amount of weight for isolation lifts like lat raises compared to squats or deadlifts.

Why this program is ideal for beginners

The best beginner workout program is one that contains the most effective exercises without being too complicated.

There are certain lifts in the fitness space that are widely recognized to add more muscle mass than others.

Our beginner gym weight lifting routine consists of these movements as well as some others.

The 5 ‘main’ lifts used in this workout are: 

  • Squat
  • Bench press
  • Barbell row
  • Overhead press
  • Deadlift 

These are the same lifts as the 5×5 Stronglifts routine. That’s because these compound exercises are very important to build strength and muscle mass.

However, they are harder to perform to failure, especially if you lift alone due to the heavier weight involved. 

There is plenty of research that suggests that beginners build muscle faster from exercising to failure or close to failure (1, 2, 3, 4).

In fact, Greg Nuckols, MA, found that 162 beginner lifters from 4 studies had almost twice as much muscle growth by lifting isolation movements to failure or close to failure…

New lifters gain more muscle exercising to failure

Whereas, he went on to find that experienced lifters benefit from stopping short of failure (1, 2, 3, 4).

78 participants with at least 1.5 years of experience of lifting didn’t see much difference in muscle growth from lifting to failure.

Most of these studies, which involved compound lifts, showed the opposite.

Seasoned lifters can more muscle exercising shy of failure

This is why I’ve included some supplementary ‘isolation exercises’.

Collectively these will cover all of the major muscle groups across a range of repetitions. This will allow you to lift close to failure more safely.

It will also help you to add weight to the heavier compound lifts, which are vital lifts for building muscle mass.

The workouts

Workout 1

  • Goblet Squats: 3 sets of 10 repetitions (3 × 10) [this can become normal back squats once you have the technique sorted].

Equipment needed for the goblet squats: a dumbbell.

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

  • Barbell Row: 3 x 5 

Equipment needed for the barbell row: a barbell and weight plates.

  • Bench Press: 3 × 5 

A great upper body exercise. Equipment needed for the bench press: a squat rack, weight bench, a barbell, and weights.

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

  • Skull Crushers: 3 x 10 (check out our skull crusher alternatives if you have problems with your elbows and want to substitute this exercise)

Equipment needed for the skull crushers: a pair of dumbbells and a bench.

  • Lateral Raises: 3 x 10

  • Chin-Ups: 3 x max reps

Equipment needed for the chin-ups: a pull up bar.

Squat351-3 Minutes
Bench Press351-3 Minutes
Barbell Row351-3 Minutes
Lateral Raises3101 Minute
Skull Crushers3101 Minute
Chin-ups3Max reps1-3 Minutes

Workout 2 

  • Squat: 3 x 5 

When you think of lower body exercises – you really mean this one or some of its variations.

Equipment needed for the squat: a barbell and weight plates.

Note: check out our squat alternatives if you want to switch up this exercise with others that target the same muscles.

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

  • Overhead Press: 3 x 5 

Equipment needed for the overhead press: a barbell and weight plates.

  • Deadlift: 1 x 5 

Equipment needed for the deadlift: a barbell and weight plates.

  • Bicep Curls: 3 x 10

Equipment needed for the bicep curls: a pair of dumbbells.

  • Dumbbell Incline Bench Press: 3 x 10

Equipment needed for the dumbbell incline bench press: a pair of dumbbells and a weight bench.

Like the dumbbell incline bench press? See it combined with other dumbbell exercises in our 12 week dumbbell workout plan.

  • Lunges: 3 x 10 

Equipment needed for the lunges: a barbell and weight plates.

Squat351-3 Minutes
Overhead Press351-3 Minutes
Deadlift151-3 Minutes
Bicep Curls3121 Minute
Dumbbell Bench Press3101 Minute
Lunges320 (10 per leg)1 Minute

How to use this program effectively

Adding weight every workout

These lifting programs for beginners may look very simple, but in truth, they’re actually very progressive.

You should look to increase the weights by 2lbs – 5lbs each workout, depending on the exercise.

This is what you should try to add to every workout:

  • 5lbs to the big barbell exercises (squats, deadlifts, presses, row) 
  • 2.5lbs to isolation exercises such as curls and lat raises. 

This isn’t an exact science by the way, so if you can add more, do so! Likewise, if 2.5 lbs is too much to add, don’t worry! Add less weight, or none at all until you’re ready.

If you fail to complete the full sets and reps above then you should stick to the same weight on your next workout. 

Proper form is crucial. Never sacrifice form for weight.

If adding weight forces you to lift with bad technique, don’t add it! Proper form is crucial. 

These beginners weight lifting routines (workouts) will train you across a wide variety of rep ranges, which is important for improving overall fitness. 

If all you do is train in the same rep range, all you’ll do is get better within that narrow focus, but your overall strength and fitness will suffer.

Research shows that muscle building is generally linked to higher rep ranges, whereas strength and power are improved when you lift heavy weights for very few repetitions.

By mixing them up, you benefit from both strength improvement and muscle size.

The bottom line is…

“When you improve your strength, you can lift more weight. When you lift more weight you will put on muscle mass.” 

Why days off are important

You may think that weight training more frequently is a good thing, but there’s a limit. You also need to make sure you allow your body to rest and recover.

If you train at a very high intensity every day, your injury risk increases significantly.

By taking alternate days off exercise you allow both your muscles and connective tissues time to repair.

You also maintain motivation to keep exercising – when it’s new, you may be full of enthusiasm but you don’t want to burn out quickly!

Taking a rest doesn’t mean sitting on your sofa eating junk food either – it means taking a day off heavy strength training exercises.

There’s nothing wrong with a walk or gentle bike ride on your ‘rest’ days. If anything, it can even help your recovery.

Why you should train your whole body every workout

A lot of people will follow what is known as a ‘split routine’, which is where they divide the body into different sections to train each day.

The thinking here is that you train an area of the body very hard, then allow it time to rest, recover and grow before training it again.

Science has since progressed and the research now suggests that frequent, whole-body workouts are more effective for muscle growth.

The weight training routines in this article are whole-body workouts, done frequently and with progressively heavier weights.

This is to maximize strength improvements and muscle growth.

Warming up safely without “cardio”

A starter weight lifting routine requires a warm up just as well as any other routine – be it starter, intermediate, or advanced.

Before the squat, bench press, and overhead press, use an empty barbell with 2 sets of 5 reps.

For the deadlift and barbell row, you may want to add some weight to the bar so it can lift the bar off the floor.

Add 25 lbs on each side of the bar (total 50lbs) and perform 3 reps. Add another 50lbs and perform 3 reps.

Repeat this until you reach your lifting weight for that workout. There’s no need to rest between your warm-up sets as it’s lighter weight.

Warm up benefits

If you do this you do not need to do any cardio for a warm-up as it gets your body moving and the blood flowing. It also helps to practice your form for the heavier lifts to come. 

It also will help the lifting weight not seem so heavy by slowly progressing up to it. 

By the time you reach the isolation lifts your body will be warmed up and ready to go. 

Some people think this warm-up will take too much time. But you can go from an empty bar to 175lbs of weight in under 5 minutes like this.

It also gets your body much more prepared for lifting than jumping on a treadmill will do. 

Always start with squats 

Squats are the king of all exercises. 

They are super important to build muscle and strength. It doesn’t only work your legs, but it also works your abs, upper back, and arms. 

But most people hate squats and simply never do them!

The reason squats are first for every workout is that you are much more likely to skip the squats if you leave them to the end.

Do them first every workout as it will get your whole body warmed up.  

But make sure you work on your form here. 

Aim to get your bum lower than your knees on each rep. It’s been proven that full squats help to build more muscle and reduce knee pain than partial squats. 

Having a proper understanding of the various benefits of squats is important for a beginner to keep their motivation levels high.

With that in mind, squats and push-ups are among my favorite exercise recommendations for everyone, regardless of their level.

7 final weight training tips

Before I leave you to start, here are a few final tips to help you make the most of your weight training…

Beginner Weight Lifting Routine Tips

1. The workouts should be hard

You get out of exercise what you put in.

If you coast through your workouts and don’t put much effort in, you won’t see any results. You should be challenging yourself to get fitter and stronger every time.

In this beginner weight training program, you should be looking to increase your weights by 2lb – 5lb every session.

The last rep should be hard to lift. Push yourself to lift that last bit every time.

2. Maintain your intensity – limit workouts to 1 hour

Keep your rest periods between sets short. Your goal is to recover enough to perform your next set, not have a complete break. Aim for a rest period between 1 and 2 minutes. 

Use the full 3 minutes if you are doing heavy compound movements and starting to struggle to hit the reps required. 

Any longer than that and you’ll lose your training intensity.

3. Focus on your workout – ignore your phone during workouts

It’s important that you retain your focus during your workouts. 

You should be concentrating on your technique throughout each rep (especially when you’re new to training).

Lapses in concentration can lead to injury and chatting to people or checking Insta causes distractions.

You can socialize and check your phone before and after these 45 minutes of weight and strength training workout. 

4. If you miss a workout, don’t miss the next one

It’s easy to end up on a downward spiral when you miss a workout. 

My best advice is to break this cycle as soon as you possibly can by forcing yourself to do the next workout. If missing workouts becomes a habit, it’s a very difficult one to break.

There are more “rest days” every week than workout days so it’s possible to catch up on one missed session. It’s very hard to catch up on two missed sessions. 

5. Make exercise a habit (even on rest days)

Being active doesn’t mean you have to push yourself to your max. In this program you have 3 workouts per week – they’re designed to be tough.

Outside of those, I’d encourage you to still move your body. Go for a walk, a gentle bike ride, or something similar. Shoot for 10,000 steps per day, every day.

I have a pull-up bar mounted in my office door frame. Any time I walk in or out of my office I’ll do a handful of pull-ups. Across the span of a day, I can rack up a lot of pull-ups! 

Try to find ways to make exercise easy i.e. have workout clothes ready or make your workout space inviting.

6. Find an accountability buddy 

One of the best ways to maintain an exercise habit in the early days is by finding an accountability buddy.

Having a reason to show up, even if that’s just so you don’t let your buddy down, is key to maintaining an exercise regime.

Even just messaging or sending updates to your buddy can help. So even if you train at home, get yourself a personal trainer or share this with a friend to make it work!

Pro tip – find a buddy who trains regularly. If they are lazy, you’ll find yourself at the bar more often than the barbell!

7. Drop your ego and the weight – focus on form

Don’t try to lift weights that you cannot control. This just leads to injuries and prevents you from progressing.

If you find it hard to complete a set with good form then you should lift less weight.

Using the full range of motion with good form will help you to lift more weight and build more muscle in the long run.

The bottom line

When you’re new to weight lifting you can be confused by the sheer amount of conflicting advice and opinions on the topic.

This article is designed to cut through the nonsense and set you on the right track with the perfect workout for beginners.

Follow this training program for the next 12 weeks. Do your best to achieve 3 workouts per week with progressively heavier weights.

I PROMISE you that by the end of it, you’ll be significantly fitter, and stronger. Your muscular endurance will also get better than ever.

Couple it with some disciplined nutrition, and you’ll lose weight in the form of excess fat, too.

When the 12 weeks are up, come back and you’ll be able to perform a follow-on routine from us at Strong Home Gym.

In the meantime, if you want any help and advice on building your own home gym, take a look at our in-depth home gym guide.

Want to improve your home gym?

Use the hours of research, testing and experience inside the ultimate guide to build a home gym. Find out…

  • The 4 items of kit every gym needs
  • What you should avoid
  • Where to find bargains and discounts

Click here to learn more about how to build a home gym.

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Steve Hoyles is a certified personal trainer and gym owner. Since graduating with his Sports Science degree in 2004 he's worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. His writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries as he inspires to help as many people as possible live a healthy lifestyle.

4 thoughts on “12-Week Beginner Weight Lifting Routine: Complete Guide with Videos”

  1. Hi Steve. What an amazing resource you’ve posted! It’s easily the most complete and understandable for a beginner. Thank you! I’m 63 with neuropathy in my feet, extremely troubling flexibility, significantly diminished muscle mass everywhere but especially legs. I want to set up a home gym in a small space and I’m trying to figure out how to select a program that is adjusted for age, condition, and issues. I can then match equipment to the program. Can you help me or suggest an interactive resource that can provide specific recommendations?

    • Hi Brian,

      We’re glad this helped! There is a lot to unpack here and it’s probably best if you find a personal trainer that you can work with 1-on-1. However, if you’re looking for an affordable tailored option online we recommend checking out’s training such as the BodyFit Program here.

      I’d also recommend checking out our thorough guide on how to build a home gym for equipment recommendations.

  2. Im new to lifting and came on this site to feel confident in “A” plan to start safely lifting. Just reading this has increased my confidence and I’m excited to hit the gym in the morning to get started. Thanks for the simplicity but still the right level of information to stay safe. Ill check back in 12 weeks!! Thanks


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