Strength training for beginners: how to get started, plus a 15-minute workout plan 

Strength training doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t need to spend hours doing it. Follow our tips for a fitter future.

There are many benefits to strength training, but it can be hard to know how to get started. If you’re new to exercise or returning to it after a break, you might think you’ll need to spend an hour a day lifting weights to see results, but that’s not the case.  

Beginner strength training is easy to do – you just need to commit to learning a few basic movement patterns. It’s worth taking the time to learn everything properly to avoid injury in the longer term. Once you’ve mastered a few basics, you can build on them and enjoy regular strength training workouts either in a gym, a fitness class, or at home. 

Men doing dumbbell curlsCredit: Shutterstock / LightField Studios

Tips for starting a workout plan

  • Begin with bodyweight movements and add weights or resistance bands when ready.  
  • Aim for two full-body sessions per week – increase to three when you feel stronger.  
  • Block out your workout times in your diary. If you make them non-negotiable, you’re more likely to stick to the routine.  
  • Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. This is your journey and yours alone.  
  • Always prioritise safety. If a move is too difficult, put the weight down and master the pattern of it first.  
  • If in doubt, ask! Staff at your gym will be only too happy to help. You could invest in a personal trainer or drop me an email (just click on my picture).  
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Equipment needed for beginner strength training

  • For strength work, go barefoot, wear socks, or as flat a pair of trainers as possible (Converse or similar are ideal). You need to be able to feel the floor with your feet, and most running trainers are far too cushioned (which is why they’re good for running!).  
  • Wear clothes you can move in freely. Ladies, a good sports bra is important, and a supportive pair of leggings helps ease of movement.  
  • Always have some water and a towel on hand. 
  • A mat is useful for floor work.  
  • If you’re working out at home, you might like to invest in a set of dumbbells, or you could use resistance bands or kettlebells.

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The basic movement patterns for beginner strength training

These are the moves you should master first, before adding weight or resistance to your exercise. It’s a good idea to look at yourself in a mirror or to video yourself to see your form.

Lower body

Squat: We use this pattern every time we sit down and stand up. 

Sumo squatCredit: Saga Exceptional
  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Bending your knees, push your hips back until you’re as low as you can go. You might like to squat onto a kitchen chair to start.

Examples of squat exercises include bodyweight squats, kettlebell squats and sumo squats (feet wide and knees turned out as shown above). 

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Hinge: We use this pattern to bend over or lean forward (for example, to get something out of a low cupboard). 

A woman performing a kettlebell swingCredit: Saga Exceptional
  1. Standing straight, find the creases in your hips.  
  2. Keeping your fingers in place, push your hips backwards so you fold on top of your fingers, taking care not to round or arch your back.  
  3. Once your hips are back all the way, bend your knees slightly so you push back even further.  
  4. You should feel a strong pull in your hamstrings at the back of your legs. If you don’t, push back more.   
  5. Your shins should be vertical. 

Tip: Think of shutting the car door with your bum!  

Examples of hinge exercises include Romanian deadlifts and kettlebell swings.

Lunge: As we age, it’s useful to keep our knee joints as strong as possible. Lunges also help mobility, making walking, climbing stairs and bending much easier.  

Reverse lunge no weightCredit: Saga Exceptional
  1. Standing straight, step back on one leg, bending the back knee towards the floor.   
  2. The front leg should bend at a 90-degree angle.   
  3. Push the front foot hard into the floor and come back up to standing. 
  4. Keep your balance – don’t take too large a step backwards.  

Examples of lunge exercises include walking lunges or static reverse lunges.

Carry: From heavy shopping to grandchildren and even shifting furniture, we often carry things, so it’s worth working on this movement pattern.  

Woman carrying two kettlebellsCredit: Saga Exceptional
  1. Stand with two weights either side of your feet (kettlebells work well here). 
  2. Squat down, brace your core, and stand, lifting the weights. 
  3. Walk for timed intervals of between 10-30 seconds, depending on the weight you’re using and ability.  

If space is an issue, march on the spot. 

Carry exercises can vary – try using one weight, or two different weights.

Upper body

Push: We spend a lot of time pushing things – doors, shopping trollies, even pushing things into cupboards.  

Woman doing a pushupCredit: Saga Exceptional
  • Push movements help strengthen the chest, shoulders and triceps.  
  • Not only does this improve posture, but also it makes many daily activities easier and helps us to get up from a lying position or off the floor.

Examples of push exercises include overhead press (use light dumbbells), push ups, and chest press. 

Pull: Just as we use our upper body to push, we also use it to pull. Think of any movement where you pull something towards you, such as getting the washing out of the machine or lifting a heavy object. 

Woman doing a deadlift with dumbbellsCredit: Saga Exceptional
  • Pull movements mainly work the biceps, back and shoulders.  
  • Many exercises for the upper body involve both a push and a pull element, such as a bicep curl, where you pull the weight towards you then take it back to the starting position.  

Examples of pull exercises include deadlifts (working the legs as well) and upright rows 

How often should I work out and what should I do?

As a beginner, two strength-training workouts per week is a good place to start. They don’t need to be long, either. Start with two 15-minute sessions, then increase to 20-30 minutes at a time when you feel able. Leave at least a full day between sessions for recovery.  

A full-body approach is good when you’re doing two sessions. That way, each body part gets exercised, and you have time to recover between sessions. Over time, you might like to increase to three or more sessions per week. At that point, you might also like to split your workouts into upper and lower body, plus one full-body session. Again, make sure you leave yourself enough time to recover.  

You might be sore at first, but that’s OK. It’s common to experience DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness – when you begin strength training, and even seasoned exercisers can get it. The best way to deal with it is with gentle movement. Take a walk, go for a swim, or just make sure to get up and move about for a few minutes every hour. The aches will fade in a day or two and as you get stronger, they will hardly be noticeable.  

man doing lateral raiseCredit: Shutterstock / PeopleImages.com – Yuri A

Beginner workout plan

Follow this plan for four to six weeks, increasing the weight you use as you feel able. Always make sure to warm up before exercising. Take a walk or jog lightly to get the blood moving freely around the body. Do some shoulder rolls, arm swings (across the body), leg swings and light squats (no weights) 

Session 1

  • Dumbbell squat – Holding a pair of weights at (not on) the shoulders, squat down and up for 10-12 repetitions (reps). Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat for two more rounds. 
Woman doing a squat with dumbbellsCredit: Saga Exceptional
  • Overhead press – Hold two light dumbbells at your shoulders then press overhead and bring back down for eight reps. Rest for 30 seconds then repeat for two more rounds.  
Woman pressing two dumbbells overheadCredit: Saga Exceptional
  • Step-up – Standing in front of an elevated surface, such as a stair, take a step up with one foot. Bring the other knee up, lifting as high as you can, then step back down. Keep the other foot on the stairs and repeat for eight reps total, then repeat on the other side. Rest for 45 seconds then repeat for two more rounds.  
Woman stepping up onto small step and back downCredit: Saga Exceptional
  • Front and side raise – Stand straight and engage your core. Holding two light dumbbells, bring the weights up in front of you with straight arms, to shoulder height. Lower back to starting position then bring them up to the sides, again to shoulder height. Do 12 reps in total, rest for 45 seconds then repeat for two more rounds.
Woman lifting two dumbbells in front and to the sideCredit: Saga Exceptional
  • Inchworm – Hinge your hips back, and bend until your hands touch the floor. Crawl forward using your hands, keeping the legs straight and hips level, until you’re in a plank position, then reverse it. Do five reps, rest for 20 seconds, then repeat for five rounds. 
Woman doing an inchworm, walking out to plank and back upCredit: Saga Exceptional

Session 2

  • Dumbbell deadlift – Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding two dumbbells close to your thighs. Hinge the hips backwards and lower down, with a slight bend in the knees, until the dumbbells come to mid-calf. Keep a neutral spine by looking forward, not up, and keep your shoulders back and down away from the ears. Come back up to standing. Do 10 reps, rest for 30 seconds then repeat for three rounds. 
Woman doing a deadlift with dumbbellsCredit: Saga Exceptional
  • Dumbbell chest press – Lying on a bench or the floor, on your back with knees bent, hold two dumbbells above the shoulders, arms straight. Bending the elbows, lower the weights down until your upper arms touch the floor, then press back up again. Do 12-15 reps, rest for 45 seconds then repeat for three rounds. 
Woman lying on a bench pressing dumbbells upwardsCredit: Saga Exceptional
  • Side lunge – Holding a pair of dumbbells at your side, stand with feet together, then take a large step out to the side with one leg. Keep both feet flat on the floor, feet facing forward. Bend the knee, push the hips back but keep the stationary leg straight. Come back to standing, then repeat for eight reps on one leg, eight on the other. Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat for three rounds. 
Woman doing side lunges holding a pair of dumbbellsCredit: Saga Exceptional
  • Upright row – Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, tummy tight. Hold a pair of dumbbells by your thighs, then “row” them up to just below shoulder height, pulling your elbows up and out wide (don’t let your shoulders rise too). Return the weights to the starting position. Do 10-12 reps, rest for 30 seconds then repeat for three rounds. 
Woman pulling a pair of dumbbells up to chest levelCredit: Saga Exceptional
  • Glute bridge – Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat. Push your hips towards the ceiling, squeezing your bum muscles, then lower back down. Do 15 reps, rest for 20 seconds then repeat for three rounds. Make this harder by adding a resistance band around your legs just above your knees.  
Woman lying on floor pushing hips into the airCredit: Saga Exceptional
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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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