Easy 15-minute gym workouts for strength, weight loss and more 

Our resident personal trainer walks you through four simple but effective gym workouts for beginners.

Joining a gym is great, but many people sign up without a clear idea of what to do. None of us likes to feel overwhelmed or out of our depth, especially when it seems that everyone else knows exactly what to do.  

As a personal trainer who specialises in training people over 50, I often hear things like “I just walk on the treadmill” or “I don’t use the free weights because I’m not sure what to do” or – even worse – “I felt too intimidated, so I just gave up.” 

Whatever your goal, it’s my goal to help you get started. Below are four simple, easy-to-follow gym workouts for beginners designed to get you fit, strong, and confident using the gym equipment. 

Man using chest fly machine in gymCredit: Shutterstock / Perfect Wave

Before you start

Some advice before you start your gym training

If you’ve only recently signed up for gym membership, make sure to book a gym induction with a member of staff. They will be able to show all the machines to you and explain the names and what muscle groups they work.  

If you’ve been using the gym for some time but have been using only the rower, for example, don’t be afraid to ask for another tour – staff will be only too happy to help (we like sharing our passion with people!). 

The gym workouts I have created are designed for beginners and should take around 15 minutes each to complete. They are designed to introduce cardio exercise and strength training. Getting fit doesn’t require hours in the gym, it just needs a bit of commitment. I promise you, it’ll be entirely worth it. 

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Warm up and cool down

It’s important to prepare for your session by warming up the body. A gentle walk on the treadmill or cycling on the exercise bike is a good way to raise the heart rate slightly and get blood flowing to the muscles. If your workout has a lot of arm or chest exercises, it can also be a good idea to do a few repetitions of certain exercises (for example a bicep curl) with light weights, to get those specific joints moving. You could also follow along with our running warm-up 

After you’ve finished exercising, don’t just leave, especially if you’ve got a drive home! If you’re walking or cycling back, this can be a good way to cool down, but if not, please make sure to stretch those muscles. Again, our running cool-down has some great stretching ideas, or you could use our 12 stretches to increase flexibility.  

Sore the next day? Don’t worry!

When people are brand new to exercise, or if they’ve not done strength training before, I often get a message saying: “It hurts to get down the stairs!” If you try one of these workouts once, and are sore the next day, don’t quit! You’re sore because it’s new to your body. You won’t always feel like that. As your strength, flexibility and mobility all increase, your body will adapt to working out. Give yourself plenty of rest (at least 48 hours at first) between sessions and keep moving with a gentle stroll or relaxing swim in between.  

How to use these beginners gym workouts

The workouts below are all different, but the same rules apply to all workouts:  

  • Start light – work your way up until you are lifting around 60-70% of your maximum for each lift, or pushing yourself at about 60-70% of your max effort in cardio. 
  • You should be able to complete all the repetitions but not much more, and it shouldn’t feel easy.  
  • You should be able to complete the cardio workout and feel out of breath but not like you’re gasping for air. 
  • You’ll see the exercises written as “squat 3 sets of 10-15 reps”. The first number refers to the number of sets, the second the number of repetitions (reps) per set. So, in this instance, you’d do four rounds of six squats.  
  • Rest 60-90 seconds between sets. This rest is important. Even if you feel you don’t need it, take it so you can work more effectively during sets.  
  • If you need more rest, take it.  
  • Stay moving during your rest, march on the spot or walk around. 
  • Focus on technique – don’t rush your reps. 
  • Follow the workout in order, but if machines or weights are in use, skip to the next exercise and come back to the ones you miss.  
  • Stay hydrated. Sip water or a sports drink.  
  • If you can’t complete the whole workout, or all the sets listed, don’t worry. Do what you can manage and over time your ability will increase.  

If you have any pre-existing medical conditions or injuries, please consult a doctor or medical professional before starting to exercise. 

Four gym workout plans

15-minute beginner gym machine workout

Leg press machine: 3 sets of 8-10 reps

  • Pick a moderately heavy weight 
  • Adjust seat and backrest to a comfortable position 
  • Place your feet flat on the platform 
  • Push down on the platform so your legs extend, pressing the weight 
  • Slowly return to original position and repeat 
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Chest press machine: 3 sets of 10-12 reps

  • Pick a reasonably heavy weight 
  • Adjust seat and backrest 
  • Place hands firmly on handles and push away from you 
  • Carefully bring arms back to starting position and repeat 

Shoulder press machine: 3 sets of 6-10 reps

  • Pick a moderate weight (not too heavy, as your arms will be going overhead) 
  • Adjust seat and backrest  
  • Place hands firmly on handles and push the arms of the machine up overhead 
  • Sit up straight and exhale as you extend your arms 
  • Carefully lower arms to starting position and repeat 

Hamstring curl machine: 3 sets of 6-8 reps

  • Pick a reasonably challenging weight 
  • Adjust the machine so the pads rest on the back of your lower legs (but not immediately on the ankle joint)  
  • Grip handles for support and curl your heels towards your bottom 
  • Lower the legs slowly then repeat 

Lat pulldown machine: 3 sets of 8-10 reps

  • Pick a medium-heavy weight 
  • Adjust seat height so your feet are flat on the ground 
  • Position your hands on the bar in an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width apart 
  • Pull the bar down to the top of your chest and then lift slowly 
  • Make sure to keep your back straight and tummy tight 

15-minute beginner cardio machine workout

5-minute treadmill walk or jog

  • You can add an incline here for an added challenge if required 

5-minute cross-trainer workout – fast pace

  • Try to drive the arms at the same time as the legs
  • Adjust incline or resistance level as needed 

5-minute rowing machine – moderate pace

  • Drive back with the legs and pull the handle towards your stomach 
  • Adjust resistance as required 
  • Keep back straight 

15-minute beginner workout for strength

Couple doing bicep curls with dumbbellsCredit: Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia

Squats: 3 sets of 6-8 reps

  • Pick a heavy weight – either hold one dumbbell in the centre of your body or a pair of dumbbells at (but not on) your shoulders 
  • Position feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart 
  • Keeping feet flat, squat down until your hips are level with or just below your knees 
  • Drive feet into the floor and stand, squeezing your glutes as you do so 
  • Keep your chest up and eyes up – if you find you’re tipping forward, elevate your heels slightly 
  • Remember “slow to go down, quick to come up” 

Lunges: 3 sets of 10-12 reps (per side, so 20-24 total)

  • Hold a set of medium dumbbells at your side 
  • From a tall standing position, take a step backwards on one leg 
  • Drop the back knee until the front one bends at 90 degrees 
  • Make sure the back toes are curled, heel off the floor 
  • Push into the front leg to come back to standing, repeat on the other side 
  • Modify this exercise by not using weights 
  • Don’t drop the knee too low, or take too big a step back – your front knee should be able to comfortably bend to 90 degrees 

Lat pulldown machine: 3 sets of 6-8 reps

  • Pick a heavy weight 
  • Adjust seat height so your feet are flat on the ground 
  • Position your hands on the bar in an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width apart 
  • Pull the bar down to the top of your chest and then lift slowly 
  • Make sure to keep your back straight and tummy tight 

Seated row: 3 sets of 6-8 reps

  • Pick a heavy weight 
  • Adjust the machine so your feet are flat on the floor 
  • Pull the handles back towards you, squeezing your shoulder blades together 
  • Keep your back straight and tummy tight 
  • Release the weight carefully, then repeat 

Dumbbell bicep curls: 3 sets of 8-10 reps

  • Pick a medium weight 
  • Hold the dumbbells down by your sides, palms facing outward 
  • Keeping elbows tight to the sides, curl the weights up until they rest just before your shoulders 
  • Squeeze the weights tightly, then release to the starting position.
  • Repeat 

Overhead triceps extension: 3 sets of 8-10 reps

  • Pick one medium dumbbell and hold it on either end 
  • Extend your arms overhead 
  • Keeping the elbows as close to your head as possible, extend the weight down your back, behind your head 
  • Bring the weight back to the starting position, then repeat 

15-minute beginner fat-loss workout

Goblet squats: 3 sets of 10-15 reps

  • Hold one heavy dumbbell or kettlebell in the centre of your body  
  • Position feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart 
  • Keeping feet flat, squat down until your hips are level with or just below your knees 
  • Drive feet into the floor and stand, squeezing your glutes as you do so 
  • Keep your chest up and eyes up – if you find you’re tipping forward, elevate your heels slightly 
  • Remember “slow to go down, quick to come up” 

Seated rows: 3 sets of 12-15 reps

  • Pick a moderate weight 
  • Adjust the machine so your feet are flat on the floor 
  • Pull the handles back towards you, squeezing your shoulder blades together 
  • Keep your back straight and tummy tight 
  • Release the weight carefully, then repeat 

Dumbbell thrusters: 3 sets of 10-12 reps

  • Hold two light dumbbells at your shoulders (but not on them) 
  • Position feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart 
  • Squat low then, as you drive up, push the dumbbells upwards, extending the arms fully 
  • Slow to go down, quick to come up (explosive power is the aim here)  

Plank: 3 sets of 10-20 seconds, building the time each week

  • Begin lying face down on the floor and tuck your hands close to your armpits 
  • Lift your body, resting on your hands or elbows, and toes 
  • Keeping your body in one straight line, hold for the required time 
  • Keep your head in line with the spine – look down at the floor not back to your toes or up 
  • You can modify this move by keeping your knees down, or raising the hands onto a step or similar  

Cardio machine of your choice: 5 minutes – brisk to fast pace

  • Pick treadmill, cross-trainer, rower or bike 
  • Increase resistance or incline for an extra challenge 
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Becky Fuller

Written by Becky Fuller she/her

Published:

Becky Fuller is a fully qualified Personal Trainer, specialising in strength and conditioning for over 50s. Becky’s focus is helping people to become stronger both in body and mind, and to move well without pain. Becky also has many years’ experience working as a freelance journalist, writing for a wide variety of publications such as Screen Rant, Geek Feed, and Daily Actor. She also regularly reviews theatre productions for UKTW.

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