As a beginner, the most important part is the technique of any movement. You will see the best progress while focusing on compound movements and adding in isolation exercises to ensure no muscle is missed.
When you’re new to training, it is recommended you start with basic exercises and get to know the technique before piling on the weight.
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.
It's essentially important to warm up before any exercise. This will reduce the chances of injury, prepare the muscles and joints for the movements and improve the body's range of mobility allowing for better form.
If you have access to a resistance band, this would be a very useful way of warming up.
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 the below.
1. Flat Barbell Bench Press
Likely to be the most popular chest exercise and one of the most basic. This compound movement will cover more chest muscles than most.
- Grab the bar shoulder around shoulder width. Position your body so your eyes are directly under the bar.
- Ensure your core is engaged and feet planted as you lift the bar off the rack.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down. This makes you stronger through the movement.
- Keep your shoulder blades squeezed tightly and engage your lats and lower the bar to your chest. You are looking to position the bar around the nipple position.
- Return to the start position and don’t be encouraged to hunch the shoulders forward.
When you first perform the Flat Barbell Bench Press, I recommend performing 8-10 sets with just the bar, whilst practicing the correct technique. Your first workout should not be treated as a heavy workout, as form needs to be ingrained first. This may apply to the first couple of weeks of your weight training program.
- It is a very basic exercise, and the 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.
- 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). This provides extra strength and stability.
- 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.
2. Barbell Overhead Press
The Barbell Overhead Press is a great exercise for developing big shoulders and a strong pressing strength.
- 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 Flyes
Cable Flies are a great exercise to add workload to the chest muscles and, due to it being an isolation exercise, is not too taxing.
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 Flyes is suboptimal 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.
- 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 the movement, exhale on return.
Sets and reps
I suggest performing 2-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions.
Take Home Message
It is recommended that beginners seek advice from the trained professionals in the gym. Take a few weeks to gain confidence and learn the techniques as well as building some initial strength.
You can then start progressively overloading the weight to advance into further progress.