A Beginner’s Guide to Building Muscle & Fat Loss The Right Way

A Beginner’s Guide to Building Muscle & Fat Loss The Right Way

Building muscle the right way is tough, no matter your experience level. Choosing the right routine can get extremely confusing, especially for beginners.

After 20 years of lifting experience, I can tell you that some of them work, and most of them don’t.

If you are one of those people that doesn’t know where to begin, don’t worry.

We’ve broken it down for you into 3 steps. If you follow them, there’s no reason you shouldn’t see results within your first 90 days if you put effort into your nutrition, routine and stay committed.

Choosing the Right Workout Program:

Let’s face it.  If you don’t enjoy your workout, you are probably unlikely to continue doing it.

This is the single biggest mistake beginners make….

Most beginners go out and jump into a workout program thinking they need to hit the gym 5 days a week and by the time they hit day 3, they are sore, pissed off and decide that it’s just not worth it.

Here’s a little secret.

80% of your results will come from the kitchen, 20% from your efforts in the gym.  This is one area where keeping it simple will help you hit your goals, especially in your first 90 days which is the most critical time for any beginner.  Your goal in your first 90 days is to not only get fitter, stronger and build muscle – but to NOT GIVE UP!

We recommend a 3 day per week workout rotation with 5 core exercises and a few others that should be something you ENJOY doing!

When you are just starting out, it’s best to have a routine with compound exercises that hit every muscle group.

Find the compound exercises that you like most and stick with them.  Increase your weights every week enough to challenge yourself and still keep exercising fun.

Beginners should initially focus on strength training because your muscles are dormant.  Increasing strength will increase muscle size and benefit you mentally as you start to see strength gains.

5 Exercises you need in your workout program:

There are 5 must have exercises in every beginner’s workout.  Those 5 exercises are:

  1. Bench Press
  2. Squats
  3. Deadlifts
  4. Pull Ups
  5. Standing Military Press

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You can add other compound and isolated exercises of your choice, depending on the muscle group you are targeting that day.  This is where we always recommend you make it fun.  If you don’t like curls, don’t do them.  If you hate push-ups, find something else to do.

Keep your core 5 exercises and add other ancillary exercises as you see fit and make sure you are challenging yourself while doing them.

Note***If you hate any one of the 5 core exercises, find a viable alternative.  These are 5 of the top exercises that any beginner can do to see strength gains, and body recomposition changes right off the bat**

Related: To build muscle and burn fat, do away with these limiting habits

Sample Workout Plan:

Below is a sample workout plan that one of our editors uses.  He swears by it and he’s gone from a size 37 waist and 22% body fat to a size 30 and under 8% in under 9 months.

Mondays (Chest, Legs, Core):

  1. (Core Exercise) Bench Press – 5 sets of 5, increasing in weight
  2. (Core Exercise) Squats – 5 sets of 5, increasing in weight
  3. Incline Dumbbell Press – 3 sets of 8, increasing in weight
  4. Calf Raises – 5 sets of 20, done with the squat bar right after squats
  5. Push Ups – 3 sets until fatigue

Wednesdays (Back, Shoulders, Core):

  1. (Core Exercise) Deadlifts – 4 sets of 6, increasing in weight as necessary
  2. (Core Exercise) Standing Military Press – 5 sets of 5, increasing in weight
  3. (Core Exercise) Pull Ups – 3 sets until fatigue
  4. Renegade Rows – 3 sets of 8, same weight
  5. Bent over Barbell Rows – 3 sets of 8, same weight

Fridays (Chest, Arms, Legs, Core):

  1. (Core Exercise) Bench Press – 5 sets of 5, increasing in weight
  2. (Core Exercise) Squats – 5 sets of 5, increasing in weight
  3. Calf Raises – 5 sets of 20, done with the squat bar right after squats
  4. Barbell Curls – 5 sets of 8-10
  5. Dumbbell Curls – 5 sets of 8-10

Related: Starting out on Muscle building? Here are top 3 foods to help out

Anything not marked as a core exercise can be replaced with whatever you want.  We’d recommend picking something that you enjoy so it keeps you coming back to the gym and try your best to focus on a muscle group you didn’t hit in the prior workout.

It wouldn’t make sense to hit your chest again on Wednesday if you just did it on Monday.  You should aim to not do the same core exercise in a 48-hour time frame to keep your body fresh and rested.

Is this workout plan the right workout plan for you?  It’s only right for you if you enjoy the exercises and make it FUN.  Our notorious World of Warcraft playing editor made his workouts more fun by playing his PS4 in his home gym in between his sets!  Do whatever it takes to keep you going back week after week and make it both fun and challenging!

Related PostCompound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises; Which is better

Additional Workout Routine Resources:

There is one book that will benefit every beginner and that’s Mark Rippetoe’s starting strength.  It’s one of the top strength training books that advocates strength training above everything else for beginners and it’s considered a strength training bible by many experts.  We highly recommend the read.

Figuring Out the Right Diet:

Diet is a tricky one and this is where you can expect to see 80% of your results!  Everyone is different but there are some key basics that every person should stick to.

Depending on your body type and composition, you need to pick the goal that’s right for you.  There are two basic principles you should focus on with your diet.

  1. Calories
  2. Macronutrients

Calories are important.  You cannot lose weight if you are eating more calories than your body needs.  You cannot gain weight if you are eating less calories than your body requires.

Related: Grass-fed Vs Grain fed beef – Which one is right for you

Macronutrients are the metrics that you should be looking at to ensure your body gets everything it needs to operate at an optimal level (Carbs, Fat, Protein).

Fitness models don’t look like they do in magazines overnight.  They typically will eat excess calories to gain muscle while trying to minimize fat gain.  To prepare for a photo shoot they then operate on a caloric deficit while making sure their macronutrient requirements are met at a calorie deficit.

There should be different approaches for different bodies….

If you are currently an overweight couch potato that plays World of Warcraft all day (no judgment here, one of our editors is a diehard WOW fan!), then the goal is going to be different than someone who is pretty active and thin but just looking to build additional muscle.

What we recommend is first figuring out your body weight and body fat.  The link to this calculator should give you a good “estimate” of both.  It’s worth noting that the best way to get a body fat measurement is in a dunk tank or an air pressure pod, but the calculator below is a good place to start.

Body Fat & Caloric Intake Calculator: https://www.1percentedge.com/ifcalc/

Once you have an idea of where you stand, then it’s time to choose your goal, and set your diet up for success.

Before we touch on that there is one important thing that EVERYONE should remember….

That is..

Clean, nutritional foods are always more nutrient dense than processed foods.

Your body will process clean foods easier and turn you into a fat burning machine if you can eat non processed foods 70% of the time.

Remember – the shorter the list of ingredients, the better off it will be long term for your body!

Figuring out your nutritional goal:

While possible, it’s usually difficult to build muscle and burn fat at the same time.  Each goal requires you act differently with your diet… surplus vs. deficit.

Beginners get lucky here.  Usually because your muscles have not been used like they were meant to be used, you can experience muscle and strength gain while also decreasing the levels of fat on your body.

If you are extremely skinny, and have little fat, you should focus on adding muscle which will require you to eat more calories than your body needs while hitting your macronutrient goals.

If you are overweight, then your primary target should be to lose weight, operating at a caloric deficit while hitting your macronutrient goals.

Use the calculator we linked above and play around with your diet and your macro levels.  A good routine for body recomposition whether you are gaining muscle or dropping weight is to go for the “25/75 and 75/25” macronutrient split.  This means on workout days, 75% of your calories are coming from cabs, 25% from fat.  On your off days, 25% of your calories from carbs, 75% from good fats.

This will require a little calculating and tracking from you (spreadsheets are your friend).

While boring, we recommend setting up a food schedule and sticking to the same meals that fit your nutrient schedule.  Organize your day with the meals that fit your calories and macros.

Let’s cover a sample diet schedule….and remember that while they may be boring, they work!

Related: Try these simple but effective ways to lose weight fast

A Sample Diet Schedule:

Meal Plan Day 1: Workout Day 75/25 Carb Fat Split

Meal Plan Day 2: Off Day 25/75 Carb Fat Split

Meal Plan Day 1 (Repeat)

Meal Plan Day 2 (Repeat)

Meal Plan Day 1 (Repeat)

Meal Plan Day 2 (Repeat)

Does eating the same thing every day get boring?  Absolutely.

But the good news is that if you start small and BUILD on a proper diet schedule, you can slowly start to introduce new foods into your diet and start to rotate them as you build out a solid meal schedule that spans the course of a few weeks.

Nutritional Supplements & Should You Use Them:

While the best nutritional values come from real foods, it’s almost impossible to have real food on hand all the time.

So in a nutshell, you will probably need to use some type of supplements to hit your goals.

But keep in mind, supplements are only designed to fill the gaps in your diet while you are on the go.  There is NO magic pill.  They will help you reach your goals but only if your diet and workout plan are already in check.

Now the question becomes: Which supplements should I use?  That is a personal determination and one but there are a few that we recommend, which have been generally found safe and effective to use.

Related: Muscle Strain and Soreness – How to Get Rid of Them

Protein Powders:

Whey Protein: Whey has been found safe and effective to use for many years as a protein supplement.  This is the most basic supplement out there and is a bodybuilding staple for many professional athletes.

Casein Protein: A favorite for those that are glutamate intolerant and is best used right before bedtime or right before long gaps of not training.


Creatine is a favorite of many top tier athletes for many reasons.  Creatine essentially hydrates your cells which help increase strength and mass on a cellular level.   Creatine is generally safe for consumption, but as always – check with your doctor before starting any workout program or taking any supplements.

Weight Gainers:

Weight gainers are great for skinny guys looking to throw down on some calories to bulk up.  They should not be used by anyone looking to lose weight and shed excess bodyfat.  As always, there are a few brands here that stand out among the rest.

Fat Burners:

We typically don’t recommend fat burners for ANYONE that is caffeine or stimulant sensitive.  Check with your doctor before using fat burners, but they can be very effective if used right and if you choose the right brand.  Green Tea is a natural stimulant that has other health benefits and contains a mild amount of caffeine.  Green tea can be a good alternative for anyone looking for a little edge.


No good diet & nutritional plan is complete without a good multi-vitamin.  These are generally safe to use and will benefit you even if you aren’t working out consistently.

There are other supplements out there like testosterone boosters, pre-workout supplements, post workout supplements, fish oils, etc.  Those should generally be used by more tenured weightlifters and not by beginners.

Wrapping it up with a Bow:

While this might be a monster guide, we hope that we’ve tried to set it clearly that really all you need to do is follow 3 steps to a better you.

  1. Workout Plan
  2. Diet/Nutrition
  3. Supplements as Needed

It’s never too late to start and once you start to see results, you will be more likely to continue and keep your fitness regimen going.

Remember that no matter how many fitness articles you read, the one thing that’s never mentioned is that the most important part about any workout/nutrition plan is that you keep it simple and you keep it fun.  If you don’t enjoy it, you are far more likely to drop it and quit before you see results.

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