Strength Training for Men: A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Bigger, Stronger, and Leaner

This article is written for the man who wants to begin a strength training program but doesn’t know where to start.  Men and women more often than not strength train for different reasons (this conclusion comes from my 15 years of personal training experience).  Where women are mostly concerned with losing weight and improving muscular definition; a man is more likely concerned about putting on size, getting freakishly strong, and looking “cut and jacked.”  Now before you throw a liter of pre-workout down your throat and charge to the gym like a complete savage, we need to cover a few ground rules before you start a strength training program.

Rule #1: The first month of your new strength training routine is not a time prove your manhood.

This means being overly cautious with how much weight you are throwing on the bar and instead focusing on correct form for the lift you are performing.  The meat heads may laugh at your minuscule strength at this point, but you probably won’t think it is too funny when you’re sidelined for a month with a back injury from trying to squat a weight you are totally unprepared for.  Your strength will improve dramatically and quickly within the first few weeks….just do it the right way so your form is perfect and you are using a weight where you can complete the assigned number of reps.  In no time those meat heads won’t think it is so funny when you are out lifting them and looking good doing it.

Rule #2: Focus on big, compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups

I always enjoy talking to the guys who do 100s of reps of bicep curls and complain about how they are having a hard time putting on size.  Sure they have nice arms, but the rest of their body looks like a young Justin Bieber.  Instead of incorporating exercises that only stress one muscle group; include big compound exercises that emphasize multiple muscle groups.  Take the granddaddy of all exercises, the bench press, for example.  This movement works the pecs, shoulders, and triceps.  Another example is the squat which works the quads, hamstrings, and glutes (everyone likes a bulbous posterior).  So when starting out don’t waste your time on exercises that use only a single muscle group.  They have their place in a strength training routine later down the line but for now, use exercises that give you the most bang for your buck.

Rule #3: Strength train at least two times a week

Three to four times a week is even better.  Starting out I suggest doing full body routines with at least one day of full rest between weight training sessions.  Doing this will produce the most dramatic results in the shortest amount of time. If you can only commit two days a week to strength training, never go more than three days between sessions.  Research shows this will kill your gains.  Starting with a full body routine ensures you will work every major muscle group each time you step foot in the gym and is a big time saver compared to working a particular muscle group every day.

Rule #4: Avoid cardio like the plague if you want to put on size and gain strength

More specifically avoid long, slow cardio workouts.  Doing long, slow cardio recruits those muscle fibers (slow twitch) opposite to the one you use during strength training (fast twitch).  Long, slow cardio can also put your body in a catabolic state where it feeds off itself.  So instead of using the different macro-nutrients to add size and strength, your body is instead using them to recover and repair.  A much better alternative to long, slow cardio is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).  This involves a certain number of all-out efforts of 15-30 seconds followed by a 2-3 minute recovery between sets.  For example, 8 x 15 second all out sprints on the treadmill or 10 x 100-meter hill repeats.  These HIIT workouts can be performed on your non-strength training days and will help get you to lean street quicker.

Rule #5: Use the 2-for-2 rule to decide when to increase weight

There comes a time in everyone’s weight training program where increased loads (weight) are needed to stress the body to promote further gains.  The big questions are a). When do I know it is time to increase load? And b). How do I know how much to increase the load by?  One of the most common methods used to answer these two questions is the 2-for-2 rule.  The 2-for-2 rule states that if the individual can complete two more repetitions than the repetition goal in the final set of an exercise for two consecutive training sessions, the load in all of the sets for that exercise during subsequent training sessions can be increased.  In general weight increases will be ~5 pounds for upper body exercises (i.e. bench press) and ~10 pounds for lower body exercises (i.e. squat).  While this method does have its shortcomings (requires consistently training to muscular failure), it is quick, efficient, and easy to perform.

Rule #6: Don’t get discouraged, don’t give up

As with most things in life good things come to those who wait.  Research shows that it takes anywhere from 6-10 weeks to start seeing changes in muscular size and definition.  However, that doesn’t mean you are completely wasting your time.  Most adaptations that occur when starting a strength training program are happening on a neurological level.  Your body is learning how to perform the movement efficiently, how to recruit muscle fibers that have never been used before, and overall adapting to the new stresses that are being put on it.  While a change in size may be absent those first six weeks, you should see a dramatic increase in strength in a relatively short period of time (2-3 weeks).  In sum stay focused, get the work done, and get your butt to the gym even when you don’t feel like it

Rule #7: Don’t forget Rule #1

Even as you gain more experience in the gym never load on more weight than you are capable of and always use good form.

Four weeks to a better you: A beginner’s strength training program for men

Now that we know the rules lets take a look at a sample 4 week beginner’s strength training program that involves lifting 3/days week.

Weeks 1-4: (3 sets of 12 reps with 60-90 seconds rest between sets for each exercise)

Monday: 

Bench Press, Back Squat, Barbell Shoulder Press, Lat Pulldown, Abdominal Crunches

Wednesday:

Dumbbell Incline Bench Press, Deadlift, Upright Row, Seated Row, Planks (3 x 30 seconds)

Friday:

Push-ups, Lunges with Dumbbells, Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press, Pull-Ups, Back Extension

At first glance this 4-week workout plan looks pretty simple:

That’s because it is, but it is very effective.  Each day hits every major muscle group (chest, shoulders, back, legs) and also works accessory muscle groups (triceps, biceps, calves). You may say this looks too easy, but I guarantee if you are new to lifting your sore body the next day will tell you otherwise.  During these first four weeks make sure you are always adjusting the weights being used, so the last rep in every set is somewhat difficult and done with perfect form.  Also, pay attention never to go over the 60-90 second rest period between sets.

After you complete this 4-week cycle, you’ll want to introduce new stresses in the form of different exercises, rep/set schemes, rest period, etc.

15 thoughts on “Strength Training for Men: A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Bigger, Stronger, and Leaner

  1. Great post team. Can you expand on something for us 60 + year old men who are presently lifting and have decent form. This could be in more modern exercises that could incorporate to what we are all ready doing. Lastly because Mark and the Nutrabio team produce the best products on the market. What supplements do we need to purchase and stay on. I understand and practice a healthy diet however I am sure that there are others that could benefit from your diet plan for those of us that are in good health and over 60. Keep up the good work and thanks to the team for what you all are doing.

    • Donald. Thanks for the questions. I will shoot you an email later today with my phone number and we can talk on the phone about some additional exercises and supplements that may benefit you when used consistently. Talk soon!

      Matt Mosman , MS, CISSN, CSCS
      Chief Science Officer
      NutraBio Labs

      • I’m another one of those guys in his 60s who works out (e.g., 5-minute planks; 700+ lb. leg press sets; strong and lean), watches what he eats (high protein and veggies), and uses NutraBio supplements, who wouldn’t mind being copied on your recommendations.

    • Hi Matt. Excellent material. New to this and don’t know my way around a gym. I use the Nutro proteins as part of weight management but are there supplements you recommend that I would benefit from? 6 ft 2 and 230lbs 51 yrs. So not starting off in terrible shape just looking for improvement and some definition.

      • Hi Rod…thanks for the question and congrats on starting your fitness journey. You are off to a good start with incorporating protein. Beyond that, if you are looking to improve strength, endurance, etc….I might look into incorporating a pre-workout like PRE, creatine monohydrate (as a standalone or as part of a pre-workout), and a good multivitamin like Multi-Sport (micronutrient deficiencies are pretty common, especially vitamin D). If your workouts are going over an hour I might also throw in some SuperCarb and IntraBlast mixed together and sipped on while working out. As far as muscular definition make sure your regular diet is dialed in….that and consistently sticking to your workouts will create the most improvements in definition. Hope this helps and let me know if you have any other questions.

  2. Great post, very informative for someone who is just starting out. This seems more geared toward men though, what would you suggest for a woman who’s goal is to gain muscle while maintaining a lean figure?

    • Hi Meaghan…thanks for the comment. A women’s version of this will be posted next week. Stay tuned.

  3. Donald and Allen. These are the NutraBio Supplements I would recommend to take on a regular basis for individuals over the age of 50:

    Classic Whey, Whey Protein Isolate, or Muscle Matrix protein
    Extreme Joint Care
    Multi-Sport multi-vitamin
    Creatine Monohydrate
    Intra-Blast

    Please let me know if you have any other questions.

      • Hi Greg. Thanks for the questions. Soy protein is fine to take too; especially if you are a vegetarian/vegan. If that does not describe you I would stick with a whey based protein as there is much more research of this form in regards to muscle growth, repair, and recovery. Truth be told there really isn’t a “best protein” for men over 60 compared to men who are 2o years old. What you want to focus on is getting one with 20-25 grams of protein per serving. A whey isolate (like our 100% Whey Protein Isolate) is the purest form on a gram for gram basis at 90% pure protein. This form works well for people who are lactose intolerant and want the highest quality protein available. You could also try our Classic Whey which is a Whey Protein Concentrate and is 80% pure protein. It still provides the same benefits as an isolate and is cheaper. Last but not least you could try our Muscle Matrix which is a combo of whey isolate and micellar casein. This combination offers a more “sustained” release of amino acids when digested and absorbed. Honestly, you can’t really go wrong with any of the recommendations above. Let me know if you have any other questions.

    • Hi Ron…..thanks for the question. If you are a hard gainer (and I assume you are trying to put on more muscle) there are a few things I would recommend. First, make sure you are getting enough protein on a daily basis….I would start with .90 grams per pound of body weight and see how your body responds. Second, make sure you are eating enough total daily calories. If your weight has come to a standstill and you are trying to put on more try adding an additional 250-500 calories per day. Third, make sure you are woking out hard enough. I don’t know what your workout routine is like or how much experience you have in the gym but I would avoid using high reps/light weights and avoid long, slow cardio for the time being and use HIIT training instead…check out this article for some guidance http://blog.nutrabio.com/2017/03/22/maximizing-muscle-growth-through-proper-training-nutrition-and-supplementation/. There will also be an article next week titled “3 tips for more mass” you will definitely want to check out. Last but not least the stack I would recommend for a hard gainer is:

      NutraBio Creatine Monohydrate: 5 grams per day immediately post workout
      NutraBio Extreme Mass: 1 serving between breakfast and lunch and another serving between lunch and dinner
      NutraBio Micellar casein: 1 serving immediately before bed

      If you are working out for more than an hour each day I would also throw some NutraBio IntraBlast in the mix and sip on it during workouts. I would also recommend getting a good digestive enzyme as you can see from above you will probably need to eat more if you are a true hard gainer.

      Once you get to your goal weight you can swap out the Extreme Mass for a whey isolate or concentrate.

      I hope this helps….let me know if you have any other questions Ron.

  4. Hello,

    This is a little off-topic but is muscle training nevertheless. I was in hospital for 5 weeks in 2015 and lost a lot of muscle. After nearly 2 years, I still have not recovered my walking ability to comfortably get up and walk. I stand up, wait for stability and then hobble initially to where I am going. After a bit of walking, I can walk fairly well but need to stop and just stand and rest for a couple of minutes, then feel refreshed to walk again.

    Back in 2005 (12 years ago), I weighed about 475 lbs and walked MUCH better, quite easily actually (I used to have a muscle intensive job years before, pushing and pulling 2000 lb racks around for 8 hour shifts). But now at merely (merely!) 400 lbs, I can’t seem to regain stability for walking.

    What muscles do I need to concentrate on to get that stability back and to walk easily again, and what kind of exercises? The workouts to get there I know will further help me lose weight too.

    • Hi Shannon. Thank you for the question. A couple of things before I give you an answer. First, please get clearance from your doctor to start an exercise program if you have not done so already. If you still haven’t gained stability after 2 years there may be some other things going on. Second, the best case scenario would be for you to find a qualified personal trainer (NSCA, ACSM, or NASM certified) and have them do a postural evaluation and from there develop a program that would suit your needs. Without being able to do some initial screenings on you my best answer to increase stability would be to focus on the lower back muscles, core, gluteals (butt), quads, hamstrings, and calfs. Dropping more weight, like you mentioned, would also be helpful since you would be carrying less around. I would start with relatively simple exercises like wall squats, leg extensions and curls, calf raises, back extensions and some upper body exercises as well like a chest press, lat pulldown, and shoulder presses. Start with 2 sets of 15 for each exercise at a light weight and rest 1-2 minutes between sets. As you get stronger you can increase the weight and start incorporating more complex exercises like the deadlift and squat. With all that being said I want to stress again I would seek out a trainer who could work with you in person for a month or two to get you started and make sure the program is safe and effective.

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