Start from Scratch Series: 6 Week Complete Beginner Program

Start from Scratch: 6 Week Complete Beginner Program
New to the gym scene? This first part of the Start from Scratch program can be used as a road map to help you learn how to build muscle the right way.

Workout Summary

Build Muscle
Split
Beginner
6 weeks
4
30-45 minutes
Barbell, Bodyweight, Cables, Dumbbells, Machines
Male & Female
download pdfDownload Workout

Workout Description

You’ve looked through old magazines, seen photos online, and read tons of info on weight training and nutrition, but you’re not entirely sure where to start with your beginner’s bodybuilding routine.

Don’t worry, with the vast amount of information available online, that’s a common stumbling block.

There’s no shortage of training and nutrition articles, but sometimes you just need to be told where to begin. We’re here to help!

The most important thing to remember is not to wait around thinking about it too much and simply get started.

Today is better than tomorrow – since “tomorrow” may never happen, but we’ve got a few tips to get you going, as well as a full beginner’s bodybuilding routine you can follow.

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Beginner’s Bodybuilding – Break-In Routine

This routine is based on the assumption that you know the basic exercises but you’ve either never taken to working out seriously or it’s been a long layoff since the last time you lifted a weight.

Also, if you’ve read all the old articles about Arnold or any of your favorite bodybuilders and you’re thinking that you have to spend six hours a day at the gym, get that out of your head. We’re going with a less-is-more approach which is much more beneficial to your health, your body, and your mind.

Related: The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Bodybuilding Supplements

As anxious as you may be to go full-tilt right from the beginning, there’s no sense in being so sore after your first workout that you can’t even move. If you’ve been training and are simply looking for a good beginner’s routine, you can skip this break-in routine.

But if this is your first time going for it or you’ve been away from the gym for months on end, use this basic break-in for at least one week (two weeks is recommended). Listen to your body, but don’t listen to your inner couch-potato voice.

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Squats 2 10-12
2. Leg Curls 1 12
3. Calf Raises 2 12-15
4. Bench Press 2 10-12
5. Pulldowns 2 10-12
6. Cable or Machine Rows 2 10-12
7. Overhead Press 2 10-12

Perform this workout three times per week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Before you ask, direct arm work is left off on purpose. Remember, this is a break-in routine you’ll be using to go through the basic movements to learn good form, develop better mind-muscle connection (feeling the working muscles), and developing a base for strength. Your arms get enough indirect work for this 1-2 week.

Yes, we also know you’ve got a deep desire for a huge chest, so you want to do your bench presses first. Again, this is a break-in routine designed to set the stage for the next phase.

Note: For the first couple of workouts, use enough weight to get the upper end of your rep counts easily. Once you’ve gotten through any initial soreness, increase the weights slightly, but do not sacrifice your form and make sure you can still get the specified reps.

Don’t rush your rep speed either. Concentrating on two seconds up and two seconds down (positive and negative) will keep things slow enough to feel the exercises and ensure that you’re not throwing the weights around.

M&S Female Athlete Performing Squats

Beginner’s Bodybuilding – The Routine

If you were patient enough to use the break-in routine for the recommended two weeks, great! You should be all set to start building some muscle now. If you got impatient and only used that routine for one week, keep in mind that you may still have some soreness issues to deal with.

The break-in routine was very basic, and that approach will continue for this routine but with a bit more volume and a different training split based on two separate workouts. You’ll still want to stick with a rep speed that’s two seconds for both the negative and positive strokes of each exercise.

You can work on power movements later, but the goal right now is building muscle and strengthening connective tissue, so the longer tension times will be much more beneficial. Plus, it will simply allow you to feel the target muscles more directly and potentially trigger more muscle growth.

workout 1
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Squats* 2 10-12
2. Leg Extensions 1 12
3. Leg Curls 1 12
4. Standing Calf Raises 2 12-15
5. Bench Press* 2 10-12
6. Flyes 1 12
7. Pushdowns* 1 12
workout 2
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Overhead Press* 2 10-12
2. Upright Rows 1 12
3. Lateral Raises 1 12
4. Pulldowns* 2 10-12
5. Under-grip Pulldowns 1 12
6. Pullovers 1 12
7. Cable or Machine Rows 2 10-12
8. Concentration Curls 1 12
9. Crunches 2 12-15

*These exercises require one light warmup set prior to the work sets listed.

As you can see, this routine isn’t overly complicated and you can hit your entire body over two workouts. Your goal during this routine is to use enough weight that you can just get the full number of reps. If you get to the rep total easily, continue the set until you can’t get any more and then increase the weight the next workout.

Keep in mind the recommended two seconds up/down cadence, and don’t throw the weights around. Focus on feeling every rep.

The split is designed so that you do Workout 1 on Monday and Thursday and Workout 2 on Tuesday and Friday with weekends off from training for full recovery:

Monday: Workout 1
Tuesday: Workout 2
Wednesday: Off
Thursday: Workout 1
Friday: Workout 2
Saturday: Off
Sunday: Off

The routine can be adapted if you prefer not to have two workout days in a row and if you want to work out one day during the weekend:

Monday: Workout 1
Tuesday: Off
Wednesday: Workout 2
Thursday: Off
Friday: Workout 1
Saturday: Off
Sunday: Workout 2

M&S Athlete Performing Pulldowns

Beginner’s Bodybuilding – Nutrition

This is a topic for another day, but nutrition obviously plays a huge role in your fitness or muscle-building program. In these early stages of getting started, the key thing to remember is balance.

You’ll obviously want to avoid any type of junk food if you’re taking this new bodybuilding venture seriously, and your overall goal should be to develop healthy eating habits so you’re not shortchanging your nutritional needs or going over the top with too many calories. And stay away from fad diets.

Related: How To Plan Your Muscle Building Diet

A very basic way to look at your nutrition program is to aim for around 30 percent of your calories to come from high-quality protein sources, 45 percent from complex fibrous carbohydrates, and around 25 percent from healthy fat sources.

The total calorie count and exact percentage breakdown will vary from one individual to another, so this is just a basic guideline to get you going.

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Remember that fast food isn’t considered a good source for quality nutrition, although you can get by in a pinch when needed, especially if you can order off-menu. It’s better to eat something than it is to go hungry, but do your best to eat smart.

In reality, your best bet is to get in the habit of preparing your own food, and while you don’t need supplements to get started, a quality protein makes it much easier to get what you need immediately after your workouts as well as adding additional protein to meals that may not be adequate otherwise.

Beginning Bodybuilding Summary

Once you’ve made up your mind to get into a bodybuilding program, start working at it right away. It’s too easy to continuously say that you’ll start tomorrow, and you know as well as anyone else that it probably won’t happen.

Start today! The break-in routine and 4-week routine are great starting blocks to get you going down the right path for a healthy, happy, and muscular future.

75 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Fri, 02/05/2021 - 06:16
Alex

For the particular sports that I'm trying to buold strength for (Rock climbing, Caving, etc) I'm keen to work in pull ups to this as soon as I can. Which exercise sets /what phase would be good to do this in?

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Posted Tue, 02/16/2021 - 05:33
Alex

Thanks for these Abigail, but I was wanting to do this beginner plan to work on overall strength as well so was thinking more adding/subbing in some pull-up sets I to this?

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Posted Tue, 02/16/2021 - 09:18
Abigail_M&S

Gotcha! You can substitute the lat pulldowns in workout 2 for pullups.

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Posted Tue, 02/16/2021 - 11:27
Alex

Great, thanks! :-)

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Posted Wed, 01/20/2021 - 17:43
Amani

Should I incorporate a cardio workout with that? Do I need a warm up?

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Posted Thu, 01/21/2021 - 08:52
Abigail_M&S

Hey Amani - a warm-up before your workout is important in preventing injury. Check out this article on warming up: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/warming-up-for-dummies. You can also include cardio after your workouts if you would like.

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Posted Tue, 01/19/2021 - 00:01
Brendan Mezo

Hello! I am on my 4th week and haven’t been satisfied with the workouts that are done on Tuesday and Friday. Even though there is technically more volume, I tend to take only half the time that it would take for the Monday and Thursday workout. Am I going too fast? Not resting long enough? Advice appreciated. Thanks.

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Posted Tue, 01/19/2021 - 09:09
Abigail_M&S

Hey Brendan - you can try increasing your weights to give you more of a challenge.

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Posted Mon, 01/11/2021 - 18:28
AG

I just started this program after my gym reopened after being closed for 2 months.
My question is, would it be OK to add more reps to this program or should I keep it as is? Also what are the recommendations for after the 6 weeks are done, any follow up programs you recommend?

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Posted Tue, 01/12/2021 - 11:01
Abigail_M&S

Hey AG - it's best to follow the program as written. For your next workout, what're your goals?

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Posted Sun, 12/06/2020 - 13:15
Yaniv

I workout for a year and 2 months , I'm not eating more than 2300 calories per days . I'm 1.95m , 94 kg and 23 years old.
And I dont secessed to get muscle
My target is to get more muscle
What should I do I have 8 months to get the best that I can

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Posted Mon, 12/07/2020 - 08:44
Abigail_M&S

Hey Yaniv - to gain muscle, you have to be eating in a caloric surplus. Use our BMR calculator (https://www.muscleandstrength.com/tools/bmr-calculator) to determine your caloric intake and then add 500 calories to that number. That will give you your caloric intake to gain muscle.

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Posted Wed, 10/28/2020 - 18:08
Gary

I haven' worked out in a long time &I just started this routine last week, so will be starting Workout 1 & 2 next week. I'm really wanting to shred some goo (fat), and build up some muscle. Is this a good plan for these goals? Also, when should I do cardio?

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Posted Thu, 10/29/2020 - 09:01
Abigail_M&S

Hey Gary - this program is a great place to start. You can do 30-45 minutes of cardio after your lifting sessions.

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Posted Sat, 11/07/2020 - 19:45
Gary

One thing I forgot to share is that I'm 47, and 50-60 lbs. overwreight. Would this still be the best place to start. I've been working out for 3 weeks with the break in routine, and have lost about 5 lbs. My main focus is losing weight, so is this still a good place for me to be?

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Posted Mon, 11/09/2020 - 09:52
Abigail_M&S

Diet plays the largest part in losing weight. If you're consistent with a solid diet and workout plan, the results will come.

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Posted Tue, 10/27/2020 - 02:16
David

Hi there,
I'm 17, weigh 137 pounds, and am 6 feet tall. Really hoping to gain muscle through this course. Approximately how much weight can I gain following this plan?

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Posted Tue, 10/27/2020 - 09:13
Abigail_M&S

Hey David - your muscle gain will depend on diet, genetics, and several other factors. You can check our article about how much muscle mass you can realistically gain: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/how-much-muscle-can-you-gain

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Posted Wed, 10/28/2020 - 23:39
David

Based on my body dimensions should I be consuming 3000 calories a day if my goal is to bulk up?
(6ft, 137lb)

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Posted Thu, 10/29/2020 - 09:00
Abigail_M&S

You can use our BMR calculator to determine your daily caloric need: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/tools/bmr-calculator

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Posted Fri, 10/23/2020 - 08:17
Jay M

I read the whole guide and it is very informative but is this guide helpful for older people to build muscle? I'm not that old but almost 40, I'm recovering from a long bout of chronic illness, I have started losing weight eating healthy and working on my cardio again but really want to ramp up muscle development now.

Should I take it a bit easier including the break in program? And does creatine supplement actually work to help build muscle?

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Posted Fri, 10/23/2020 - 10:11
Abigail_M&S

Hey Jay - We actually have a guide specifically designed for muscle building over 40: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/expert-guides/over-40-muscle-building

Here's an in-depth guide on creatine: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/expert-guides/creatine-supplements

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Posted Wed, 09/23/2020 - 18:37
Nick

Hi thre,

When shoudl I be adding a higher amount of weight?

Thanks!

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Posted Thu, 09/24/2020 - 15:12
Abigail_M&S

Hey Nick - You should be choosing a challenging weight that you can move safely and with proper form for the given number of sets. You can move up in weight when you feel ready and can use that heavier weight safely and with proper form.

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Posted Sun, 09/13/2020 - 13:52
Stef

I am at the 3nd of the break in routine and it ferels great, but I have a few questions
1) my body type is Ecto can I continue with this plan or should I choose another one?

2) My gym is rather crowded so my question is. Is it imperative I do the exercises in this particular order?
Eg if the leg machines are busy can I continue with the calf and bench press and do legs afterwards?

Thank you for your muchbappreciated help,to get people fit and muscular!

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Posted Thu, 09/24/2020 - 15:20
Abigail_M&S

Hey Stef - Keep up the awesome work!! You'll find this article on ectomorphs helpful: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/ectomorph-muscle-building-nut...

It is recommended to follow the program in the order that it's written, but if you have to switch it up, you can. Try to do the compound movements first (i.e. squats, deadlifts, bench) and then do the accessory exercises.

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Posted Thu, 09/10/2020 - 03:30
Irby Langley

This article is going to help me out big time! I havent stepped into a gym since I've had my kids and the oldest is almost a teenager. I have definitely developed the "Dad bod" over the years. I'm 6'3 and weigh in at 225lbs. I have a long road ahead of me to get where I want to be but I'm going to enjoy it every set of the way.

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Posted Thu, 09/10/2020 - 11:54
Marina_M&S

Irby - that's what it's all about! Let us know if you have any questions about this plan.

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Posted Tue, 09/08/2020 - 21:12
Isaac Tucker

In what routine do I need to perform these workouts? For example, do I need to perform all sets per exercise before moving on to the next exercise in the workout?

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Posted Thu, 09/10/2020 - 11:53
Marina_M&S

Isaac - perform all sets for each exercise before moving on to the next exercise.

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Posted Mon, 08/17/2020 - 14:04
Ryan

Thank you so much TeamSAN for posting this routine. I am just finishing up week 6 and and pleased with the results. Starting phase II next week. I feel rather obligated to buy something from you for your good advice.

Please post more!

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Posted Tue, 08/18/2020 - 10:29
Yoshi

Thanks, Ryan!

Glad to hear you're enjoying this program! Let me know if you've ever got questions about anything.

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Posted Mon, 07/06/2020 - 00:03
Anna Johnson

Should I incorporate any cardio during this workout? If so, what days? Before or after the muscle building ? Also, what kind of stretching and cool down can I incorporate?

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Posted Fri, 08/14/2020 - 09:52
Yoshi

Hey Anna

If you want to add some cardio I recommend 15-30 minutes after you lift. Here's a guide to help you out with your warm-ups and stretches.
https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/guide-warmups-foam-rolling-pr...

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Posted Sat, 06/01/2019 - 10:20
Nader

"Your goal during this routine is to use enough weight that you can just get the full number of reps. If you get to the rep total easily, continue the set until you can’t get any more and then increase the weight the next workout."

Does that mean i continue the set until i fail to continue then i increase weight in the next set of the same workout or it means that i should increase weight in the next -different- workout !!

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Posted Mon, 03/11/2019 - 15:25
CDW

I'm really excited to have found this and get started on the break-in week. Can you explain the light warm-up set for some of the exercises, or is that explained in the video links?

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Posted Fri, 01/18/2019 - 19:03
Justin

just curious as to what the benefit of doing only 1 set for some of the excersizes is? And would it be ok/beneficial to add sets if we feel ready for it?

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Posted Thu, 12/13/2018 - 04:50
Zehef

Thanks for the workout, Team SAN! I just returned from a long 4-week vacation during which I didn't lift a single weight. I feel this plan is exactly what I need to resume training. The 2-week break-in routine feels like a great idea!

Cheers,

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Posted Mon, 11/26/2018 - 05:10
Gajendra

I am 31 year old. My height 165 CM, weight 54kg. Want to build muscle. What is suitable exercise for me ?. I am a pure vegetarian.Is protein supplements needed?

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Posted Mon, 11/26/2018 - 10:23
JoshEngland

Hi Gajendra,

This is a good starting workout for you. In terms of protein supplementation, it's needed if you feel that you don't get enough protein through your diet alone. Being a vegetarian, it can be tough - but it is doable.

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Posted Mon, 11/26/2018 - 11:33
Gajendra

Thank you so much

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Posted Wed, 10/17/2018 - 16:31
Rikem

Loving the workout, but should any cardio be mixed into the routine or warmup and if so would you recommend anything?

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Posted Sat, 07/18/2020 - 13:49
Kiera

Yes I try for 3 miles everyday

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Posted Sun, 10/14/2018 - 17:56
Ritesh

Phase 1 should be continued for how long ?

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Posted Mon, 10/15/2018 - 14:20
JoshEngland

Hi Ritesh,

6 weeks is the duration listed.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Mon, 09/24/2018 - 10:40
Emelda Shahrill

is the break-in routine part of the 6 weeks??

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Posted Mon, 09/24/2018 - 11:08
JoshEngland

Hi Emelda,

No, it's not. Perform this part separately for 1-2 weeks before jumping into the 6 week program.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Thu, 08/23/2018 - 02:49
Htet

Need to add some extra workouts? Thanks

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Posted Tue, 08/21/2018 - 22:46
Kshitij Patel

How to follow this fige phases??
Do I have to start with phase 1 then 2 and so on... I currently goes to gym 3 times a week for weight training without any specific goals... How can I follow this if I set my goal for lean body building... Which Phase should I follow??