As a beginner, it is important to understand correct motor patterns into the brain for safe and effective exercise. It is also recommended that a beginners training should place an emphasis on compound exercises, with isolation exercises added to prevent any weak points developing.
When an individual first starts training, it is not recommended that you start with heavy weights. This can easily lead to incorrect form habits developing, and could cause injury.
For example, if you have never performed a Barbell Bench Press before, it is recommended that you perform the exercise with just the Olympic bar for males – weighing 20kg, or a shorter 10kg bar for females. This weight will be light enough for most people to perform a good amount of repetitions per set at which they can practice correct form.
Step 1 | Warm-up
Before you even touch a weight, it is crucial that a correct warm-up is performed.
My personal favourite warm-up for upper-body workouts – such as ‘chest and triceps’ and ‘back and biceps; – is to use a resistance band to warm up the shoulder joint.
A band that provides light resistance is ideal. Performing external rotations of the shoulder with the band will help warm-up the Rotator Cuff group of the shoulder joint. Also, it can help stretch and loosen the tissues of the Anterior Deltoid (1 of 3 delts within the shoulder muscle) and Pectoralis Major (pecs); muscles that are incredibly tight within most people, due to postural issues etc.
This warm-up may also include Foam Rolling of the back muscles and lying hip rotations to warm-up the spine.
A simple, yet effective, Chest, Shoulders & Triceps workout may be set out like this…
1) Flat Barbell Bench Press
This exercise is the most basic of Chest exercises. In my opinion, it is not the most optimal exercise for Chest growth, due to a number of reasons. However, it is certainly not an exercise that should be ignored. The Flat Barbell Bench Press provides a number of benefits, especially for beginners:
✓ It is a very basic exercise, and correct form can be achieved quickly.
✓ It acts as a baseline for other Chest exercises. If you perform the Flat Barbell Bench Press correctly, you should be able to perform other Chest exercises correctly also.
✓ A Barbell is easier to control than a Dumbbell in each hand. This allows the Central Nervous System to create motor patterns much more easily than if you were to perform Flat Dumbbell Bench Press.
✓ Progressive Overload can be easily applied. Most gyms have access to small weight increments, such as 1.25kg plates per side. This allows for progress to be much more linear than dumbbells, as dumbbells often increase in weights such as 2.5kg per dumbbell etc.
✗ A common form mistake I see in the gym is not keeping the Scapula retracted (not pulling the shoulder blades together.)
✗ In addition, elbows flaring too much can cause serious injury to the shoulder joint. Pulling your shoulder blades together and tucking your elbows slightly during the eccentric portion of the movement (lowering the weight to your chest) will put your shoulder in a safe position.
Sets and reps?
When you first perform the Flat Barbell Bench Press, I recommend performing 8-10 sets with just the bar, whilst practising correct technique. Your first workout should not be treated as a heavy workout, as form needs to be engrained first. This may apply to the first couple of weeks of your weight training program.
When you’re ready to add some weight to the bar, perform 3 sets of 6-8 repetitions per set. I do not suggest that failure is reached during the first set, although each set should progressively feel harder. The last set should be difficult, although you should still be able to perform 6 repetitions.
2) Barbell Overhead Press
The Barbell Overhead Press is a great exercise for developing big shoulders and a strong pressing strength.
Achieving strength in this exercise has a great carryover to your strength on the Barbell Bench Press!
✓ With this exercise, use a grip similar to your selected grip for the Bench Press.
✓ Again, remember not to flare the elbows too much, and keep the chest up with the Scapula retracted during the start of the movement.
✓ The weight should be kept light during the first few training sessions, and weight can be added in the further weeks.
Sets and reps?
I suggest performing 3-5 sets of 6-12 repetitions, after performing the Flat Barbell Bench Press.
3) Cable Flies
Cable Flies are a great exercise to add workload to the chest muscles, without fatiguing the Central Nervous System to a significant degree. This is due to it being an isolation exercise.
Using the cables to perform flies instead of Dumbbells is ideal, due to the constant tension that is placed onto the chest muscles. Performing Dumbbell Flies is sub-optimal for chest growth, due to the tension curve of the exercise not considering gravity.
✓ Your torso should have a slight forward bend from your waist.
✓ Keep the Scapula retracted throughout.
✓ Use an ‘arc’ motion to lower the weights.
Sets and reps?
I suggest performing 3-5 sets of 8-15 repetitions.
4) Overhead Cable Triceps Extensions
This exercise places an emphasis on the long-head of the Triceps; a head that is not targeted as such during other Triceps exercises – this will allow for balanced development within the Triceps.
There are many variations of this exercise, for example, the below image shows the movement being performed from a top pulley, whereas the same exercise can be performed using the cable positioned from the bottom. Alternatively, a bench can be used to support your back or simple perform the movement with a dumbbell! It’s all about practice – it may be worth asking for assistance from fitness professionals in your gym.
(For above variation)
✓ You should grasp each side of the rope with a tight grip before twisting and extending your arms directly above your head
✓ Elbows are to remain close to your head, knuckles facing the ceiling
✓ Hold the tension whilst slowly lowering rope behind head using only forearms
✓ Inhale throughout movement, exhale on return
Sets and reps?
I suggest performing 2-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions.
Take Home Message
Please note that this is a beginner’s workout, and may not be much use to advanced weight lifters.
I suggest following this routine for 8-12 weeks, to develop a good foundation of strength within the compound exercises!