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Some advice for a novice planning a workout?

Posted: Thu Jun 14, 2007 10:57 pm
by Vintage79

I started out a healthy eating & exercise program last week to lose weight. I do cardio every day, and 2-3 days each week I plan to include some low volume weight training. The first week I just did some basic exercises that I already knew about – dumbbell curls, shoulder presses, lateral raises. Everything is fine so far as I am progressing slowly with safety paramount. I do one warm up set for each exercise, followed by one set of 6-8 reps at full weight.

Although my main goal is to lose weight though cardio, I want to take the weight training more seriously and add some new exercises. I went through ExRx for hours and found all the muscles I needed to work, then chose an exercise for each.

Here is my exercise list for upper body:


Biceps Brachii - Barbell Curl
Triceps Brachii - Triceps Extension
Wrist Flexors - Wrist Curl
Wrist Extensors - Reverse Wrist Curl


Anterior Deltoid - Front Raise
Lateral Deltoid - Lateral Raise
Posterior Deltoid - Rear Lateral Raise


Pectoralis Major - Bench Press


Rectus Abdominis - Crunch
Transverse Ab. - Vacuum
(This I do all the time)


Back-Upper - Shrug
Back-General - Bent-over Row
Erector Spinae - Straight-leg Deadlift

I'll be doing the last one with no weight at all to begin with, and see how I go.

I have to say, I am VERY short of space and am limited to dumbbell exercises only. Unfortunately I don't have a bench either, so my first question is whether or not I can use my bed for an exercise like the bench press? Of course I am talking about single arm presses so I can lay near the edge of the bed with my working arm over the edge, giving it full range of motion. I wasn't sure if this is 100% safe or effective. If I can't do that, then I don't know how else to exercise my chest (I am 280lbs, so push-ups are impossible to do correctly).

The main thing I want to know is if I have chosen too many different exercises. For example, should I just do lateral raises for the shoulders, rather than 3 different exercises? I understand that in exercising some muscles other ones will also get used, so I've tried to avoid too much duplication. Also, can all those parts of the upper body be exercised in one workout or should I do some on one day, and some on another?

I do lots of stretching before & after a workout, and I've made a list of stretches to go along with each exercise. Do you guys do all your stretching at the start, or do you stretch each muscle just before it will be worked?

Sorry if some of these questions seem dumb, but I want to make sure I do everything correctly before I start something new.

Thanks a lot for any help you can offer!

Posted: Thu Jun 14, 2007 11:51 pm
by pdellorto
Martin, welcome to the wonderful world of weight training.

You are better off concentrating on a few compound lifts. Remember that the target muscle listed on exrx isn't the only muscle working in your lifts! The deadlift, for example, is listed under Gluteus Maximus...but a conventional deadlift works most of your body! The Bench Press primarily works the pectorals, but your deltoids and triceps also work hard doing them. Bent-Over Rows will hit your back and arms at the same time. Essentially, you're subdividing too much. You'd probably gain on this program because you are just starting out, but it's better to concentrate on a smaller set of exercises that hit more of your body - and then do them hard so you can grow. Don't get distracted by working your biceps, triceps, and shoulders with many exercises - do a few good ones. Personally, I prefer full-body routines, especially for beginners. It makes it easier to deal with missed days if you aren't mucking around with split days.

I'm sure someone here can recommend a good basic program for you...although if you want to get really basic, is really nice. If you can't do a pushup, though, you may need some work before you can get through their routine. They have good nutrition advice there as well.

If you like, I'll put together a basic dumbell-only workout for you concentrating on compound exercises. I'm no expert, though, I've just been doing this for a long time. I'm sure the guys here can recommend a good routine for you.

One thing I would advise - get a bench, a barbell (Olympic is really nice, but standard will do), and some weight plates. It's Summer now - this means garage sale season. Someone in your neighborhood probably has an old bench and weight set. I filled out most of my home gym back in the US this way. I bought an Olympic weight set, and bought my bench, heavy bags, numerous dumbells, and a EZ curl bar from garage sales. My $25 bench is still going strong - I moved away but my mom uses it for her dumbell workout. Take the old stuff off their hands and put it to good use.

Hope this helps.

Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 3:05 am
by daniel4738
I am by no means an expert, but I definately wouldn't recommend using your bed as a bench, particularly on the side with a single DB. You will fall off, break the floor etc.

The program given here
Looks an excellent set of compound lifts. Things like Squatts and deadlifts can be performed with barbells. A bench on ebay or in a local store will cost very little and is definately worth the investment.

I would also say get a bar too, they are dirt cheap for a starter set with 50ish kg and you can slowly build up your 'equipment'.

In my experience if you are willing to make a complete lifestyle change (as it seems you are) why not take the time and spend a little bit of money to do it. Don't buy beer for 2 months or some other expensive food, walk/ride to work (though fuel in the USA is less expensive than in the UK).

"It's remarkably easy to do things and much harder to contemplate them."

Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 7:31 am
by hoosegow
Just to echo Daniel, do floor presses instead of using your bed. Come down to where your elbows touch the floor. Pause a second to prevent getting a boost from the bounce. If you come down too fast you could hurt yourself. Then explode up pushing the weight as fast as you can.

You can do cheating pushups until you can do a real pushup. Hell, if you can only do three pushups correctly, just do 8 sets for 3, then move to 6 sets of 4 etc until you can do more. Do wide grip cheating pushups.

You can also do dumbell flies (I recommend this only due to the limited equipment you have). They aren't a compound movement so I would much rather work on pushups or an actual benchpress, but they will add some definition. Make sure you squeeze your chest at the top.

Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 8:19 am
by TimD
Pdellorto gave very good advice. Go to the beginner's page here, and it will send you to templates for a starting workout. Pick the ones that are compoud moves. In the E and M directory they link, there are many DB choices.
A simple strength training beginner program might look like this
1. Clean and Press (1 set as a general warmup and 1-2 sets heavier,) Total body, but very heavy on the posterior chain and shoulders
2. DB squat- or bwt squat, or 1 le squat holding a DB
3. Floorpress w/ DB's or pushups or pushups between chairs w/ feet elevate
4. DB rows
Pick a couple more that you might like, but you've basically got it covered right here.

Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 5:57 pm
by Vintage79
Thanks for some great advice guys!

I actually do have a barbell and an EZ curl bar. My problem is that I don't have the space to use the barbell safely, and nowhere for a bench. In the small room I rent, I have a bed, TV, computer, refrigerator and a piano. But I could definately use the piano stool for Bent-Over rows! I will try to find space for a bench somehow, and if not then I'll either go with the idea of floor presses, or doing 'cheap' push ups until I build up strength in the chest area.

Pdellorto, I'd definately like to see your basic dumbbell workout! I had a look at the site you pointed to, but like you said, the push ups will be tough. I'm mostly interested in getting the upper body workout right at the moment, and I'm trying to find exercises that are quite easy to perform correctly.

Thanks again!


Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 6:53 pm
by pdellorto
The paino bench for rows should be fine. It might be a little high - I'm trying to recall the height of my mom's baby grand's seat. It's certainly close enough.

Do you have enough room to safetly use the EZ curl bar? I actually have done Bent-Over Rows with an EZ curl bar because it let my hands sit in a more natural position for me. For now, I'll assume dumbells are the only answer.

As for the routine, I'd be happy to. TimD put together a great basis for a routine. Rather than re-invent the wheel we can just flesh out his excellent suggestion. I've linked to the exercise and written a few notes.

Reps & Sets: I generally set you at 10 reps for a warmup, and then 1 set of 10 reps for the workout. If you can do the reps with good form for 10 reps, next week raise the weight by a little bit. Another option is 1 warmup set and then 3 sets of 8-12 reps. Start at 3 sets of 8, add reps each workout until you do 3 x 12, then up the weight and drop back down to 3 x 8 and progress up. There are really many rep/set options, but I found these seem to work well. Again this is YOUR body and YOUR workout, so you need to feel out what's working better for you! Read the articles here and make an informed decision. I won't be insulted in the least if you modify this. Your workout is about you, not about anyone else.
Warmup: I generally warmup at 50% of my work weight. So if you can only do 10kg, warm up at 5kg. If you can do 45kg, warm up at 22.5kg or as close to that as you can get.
Technique: Form is critical. Watch the animated gifs of the exercises, read the descriptions of the techniques, and ask here if you still aren't sure. Doing weight training with bad form is at best useless, and can be dangerous. Getting up extra weight doesn't help if you aren't using the right technique. I tell my friends when I help them train that weight training isn't using technique to lift a weight, but doing a specific technique with weights to add resistance. It's the movement, not the weight.

[1] Clean and Press - 1 x 10 warmup, 1 x 10 work set (or 3 x 8-12)

[2] Dumbell Squat - 1 x 10 warmup, 1 x 10 work set (or 3 x 8-12).

[3] Dumbell Bench Press. 1 x 10 warmup, 1 x 10 work set (or 3 x 8-12)

[4] Dumbell Bent-Over Rows. 1 x 10 warmup, 1 x 10 work set (or 3 x 8-12)

[5] Crunch - 1-2 sets of 25 reps.

And that's it. There are other auxiliary exercises you can do, but this is plenty. Do this 2-3 days a week. You can up weights every workout, or up them every week. Don't jump a lot in weight, a steady climb with good technique is better. You've got the rest of your life to improve, don't rush it, get hurt, and blow it!

[1] A combination of a Clean and a Shoulder Press Actually, I'm curious why this isn't listed as a discrete exercise on exrx. If it is, I can't find it. Anyway, clean the weight but with dumbells, then execute a shoulder press. Return the weights to the floor, don't drop them in your rented room!
[2] Alternately, just do bodyweight squats. Start at 10 or so, try to add one per workout. You'll build muscle (you're squatting a lot of weight even without the dumbells) and lots of endurance as you build them up. You could alternate these between workouts - one with weights, the next time bodyweight-only squats. You could do bodyweight squats as 1 long set, or multiple sets (say 3) at a few reps less per set than your maximum.
[3] Do these on the piano bench if that's comfortable, otherwise use the floor with control and a pause as Hoosegow mentioned. Or do pushups. If those are too hard, you can progress slowly towards a pushup. There is an excellent video about this on crossfit.
[4] Use the piano bench.
[5] You don't have to weight them, but you can.

One final thing - if you possible can, get a chin-up/pullup bar. There are door mounted ones that should be able to take your weight. If you can't do a pullup, check out the advice on Simplefit to work up to doing on. These are fantastic upper body much so that I generally tell people to do upper body work so they can get strong enough to do them, and then move on to centering on pullups or chinups. If you can do this, get the bar and stick the chinups or pullups in between 3 and 4 in the workout list above.

Feel free to ask questions. I hope this helps. And thanks to TimD for a great short routine I could expand on.[/url]

Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 7:00 pm
by pdellorto
Oh, one more thing - you mentioned getting the upper body routine right. It's a truism of lifting that people tend to worry more about chest and arms than back and legs...but your power and strength comes more from the back and legs. So you'll notice the routine TimD outlined and I fleshed out a little puts some solid emphasis on your legs and back as well as on the chest and arms.

Do a routine like the one I described a few days a week for a few months - or split it up with bodyweight work like on Simplefit - and you'll probably be very happy with your results. That routine can be modified for barbells, too, and still be complete:

Barbell Clean & Press
Back Squat [or Deadlift, which I prefer]
Barbell Bench Press
Chinups or Pullups
Barbell Bent Over Rows [I still prefer dumbells, myself]
Weighted Crunches

That's a very solid routine right there...I could easily gain on that and not worry about big gaps in my program. And it's only 6 exercises. That's the power of compound exercises.

Good luck!

Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 7:27 pm
by Vintage79
Hey, that's a great video of the push-ups - Thanks a lot! I have a problem with the 'clean' part of your routine though - I don't really have the confidence to attempt that. It seems like the type of exercise that could definately do damage if performed incorrectly, especially in limited space (even with DBs). I'm ok with the others becuase I feel I can perform them competently. Anything that can be substitued for that one?

About lower body, I agree that the WHOLE body needs to be worked out, not just the upper body, but being so overweight I have a huge discrepancy between upper/lower body strength. By this I mean that my legs are quite powerful while I have to start with baby weights on upper body exercises. (We're talking being able to easily squat over and over, or do hundreds of step ups weighing in at 280lbs, but not being able to curl even 7kg with one arm) Also, my cardio is either jogging or using a step machine (also in my room) so I don't think lower body exercises are as important for me at this early stage. I could be wrong though!


Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 7:43 pm
by Ironman
Yes, you are wrong. You get the most fat burning effect from lower body exercises. If you can squat you should do it.

Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 8:34 pm
by TimD
For the clean portion, start with DB's, a lot less tehcnique required becuase you don't have to work the bar around the knees. Just put the bells on a block in front of you, stand up, slam the hips it into and upright row it up onto the shoulders. If popped hard with the hips the bells will just sort of float up. Grip and rip. Not what I would advise for the OLs with a barbell. Very little chance of getting hurt with DB's, and great for the metabolism and posterior chain.

Posted: Sat Jun 16, 2007 1:33 am
by pdellorto
Ironman wrote:Yes, you are wrong. You get the most fat burning effect from lower body exercises. If you can squat you should do it.
What he said. I can't squat heavy for assorted reasons. So I do 200-rep bodyweight squats to make up for it, and deadlift. If you can't squat safetly, don't, but otherwise, squat! You'll get stronger, you will burn more fat, and you'll make large-scale demands on your body which will prompt even more strength improvement. Substituting bodyweight squats for weighed squats isn't that bad, either. You'll gain more strength under a heavy load, but my legs have grown in size and strength and endurance from lots of bodyweight squats.

Dumbell squats are really safe and easy, too - you don't have any worries about bar placement on the back, spotters, a squat rack, etc. Your only problem is how quickly you can outstrip your ability to load the dumbells. You either run out of weight, space on the dumbell, or they get so damn big with the plates you end up having to partly lateral raise them just for the room.

If you like dumbell squatting but worry about weight over your shoulders, you can try parallel grip Deadlifting with a trap bar, which is about the same as Dumbell Squats in terms of form. But that's for when you've upped the weight and moved to a bigger apartment with a dedicated workout area. :D