Start from Scratch Series: 6 Week Complete Beginner Program

Start from Scratch: 6 Week Complete Beginner Program
New to the gym scene? This first part of the Start from Scratch program can be used as a road map to help you learn how to build muscle the right way.

Workout Summary

Build Muscle
6 weeks
30-45 minutes
Barbell, Bodyweight, Cables, Dumbbells, Machines
Male & Female
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Workout Description

You’ve looked through old magazines, seen photos online, and read tons of info on weight training and nutrition, but you’re not entirely sure where to start with your beginner’s bodybuilding routine.

Don’t worry, with the vast amount of information available online, that’s a common stumbling block.

There’s no shortage of training and nutrition articles, but sometimes you just need to be told where to begin. We’re here to help!

The most important thing to remember is not to wait around thinking about it too much and simply get started.

Today is better than tomorrow – since “tomorrow” may never happen, but we’ve got a few tips to get you going, as well as a full beginner’s bodybuilding routine you can follow.

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Beginner’s Bodybuilding – Break-In Routine

This routine is based on the assumption that you know the basic exercises but you’ve either never taken to working out seriously or it’s been a long layoff since the last time you lifted a weight.

Also, if you’ve read all the old articles about Arnold or any of your favorite bodybuilders and you’re thinking that you have to spend six hours a day at the gym, get that out of your head. We’re going with a less-is-more approach which is much more beneficial to your health, your body, and your mind.

Related: The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Bodybuilding Supplements

As anxious as you may be to go full-tilt right from the beginning, there’s no sense in being so sore after your first workout that you can’t even move. If you’ve been training and are simply looking for a good beginner’s routine, you can skip this break-in routine.

But if this is your first time going for it or you’ve been away from the gym for months on end, use this basic break-in for at least one week (two weeks is recommended). Listen to your body, but don’t listen to your inner couch-potato voice.

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Squats 2 10-12
2. Leg Curls 1 12
3. Calf Raises 2 12-15
4. Bench Press 2 10-12
5. Pulldowns 2 10-12
6. Cable or Machine Rows 2 10-12
7. Overhead Press 2 10-12

Perform this workout three times per week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Before you ask, direct arm work is left off on purpose. Remember, this is a break-in routine you’ll be using to go through the basic movements to learn good form, develop better mind-muscle connection (feeling the working muscles), and developing a base for strength. Your arms get enough indirect work for this 1-2 week.

Yes, we also know you’ve got a deep desire for a huge chest, so you want to do your bench presses first. Again, this is a break-in routine designed to set the stage for the next phase.

Note: For the first couple of workouts, use enough weight to get the upper end of your rep counts easily. Once you’ve gotten through any initial soreness, increase the weights slightly, but do not sacrifice your form and make sure you can still get the specified reps.

Don’t rush your rep speed either. Concentrating on two seconds up and two seconds down (positive and negative) will keep things slow enough to feel the exercises and ensure that you’re not throwing the weights around.

M&S Female Athlete Performing Squats

Beginner’s Bodybuilding – The Routine

If you were patient enough to use the break-in routine for the recommended two weeks, great! You should be all set to start building some muscle now. If you got impatient and only used that routine for one week, keep in mind that you may still have some soreness issues to deal with.

The break-in routine was very basic, and that approach will continue for this routine but with a bit more volume and a different training split based on two separate workouts. You’ll still want to stick with a rep speed that’s two seconds for both the negative and positive strokes of each exercise.

You can work on power movements later, but the goal right now is building muscle and strengthening connective tissue, so the longer tension times will be much more beneficial. Plus, it will simply allow you to feel the target muscles more directly and potentially trigger more muscle growth.

workout 1
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Squats* 2 10-12
2. Leg Extensions 1 12
3. Leg Curls 1 12
4. Standing Calf Raises 2 12-15
5. Bench Press* 2 10-12
6. Flyes 1 12
7. Pushdowns* 1 12
workout 2
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Overhead Press* 2 10-12
2. Upright Rows 1 12
3. Lateral Raises 1 12
4. Pulldowns* 2 10-12
5. Under-grip Pulldowns 1 12
6. Pullovers 1 12
7. Cable or Machine Rows 2 10-12
8. Concentration Curls 1 12
9. Crunches 2 12-15

*These exercises require one light warmup set prior to the work sets listed.

As you can see, this routine isn’t overly complicated and you can hit your entire body over two workouts. Your goal during this routine is to use enough weight that you can just get the full number of reps. If you get to the rep total easily, continue the set until you can’t get any more and then increase the weight the next workout.

Keep in mind the recommended two seconds up/down cadence, and don’t throw the weights around. Focus on feeling every rep.

The split is designed so that you do Workout 1 on Monday and Thursday and Workout 2 on Tuesday and Friday with weekends off from training for full recovery:

Monday: Workout 1
Tuesday: Workout 2
Wednesday: Off
Thursday: Workout 1
Friday: Workout 2
Saturday: Off
Sunday: Off

The routine can be adapted if you prefer not to have two workout days in a row and if you want to work out one day during the weekend:

Monday: Workout 1
Tuesday: Off
Wednesday: Workout 2
Thursday: Off
Friday: Workout 1
Saturday: Off
Sunday: Workout 2

M&S Athlete Performing Pulldowns

Beginner’s Bodybuilding – Nutrition

This is a topic for another day, but nutrition obviously plays a huge role in your fitness or muscle-building program. In these early stages of getting started, the key thing to remember is balance.

You’ll obviously want to avoid any type of junk food if you’re taking this new bodybuilding venture seriously, and your overall goal should be to develop healthy eating habits so you’re not shortchanging your nutritional needs or going over the top with too many calories. And stay away from fad diets.

Related: How To Plan Your Muscle Building Diet

A very basic way to look at your nutrition program is to aim for around 30 percent of your calories to come from high-quality protein sources, 45 percent from complex fibrous carbohydrates, and around 25 percent from healthy fat sources.

The total calorie count and exact percentage breakdown will vary from one individual to another, so this is just a basic guideline to get you going.

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Remember that fast food isn’t considered a good source for quality nutrition, although you can get by in a pinch when needed, especially if you can order off-menu. It’s better to eat something than it is to go hungry, but do your best to eat smart.

In reality, your best bet is to get in the habit of preparing your own food, and while you don’t need supplements to get started, a quality protein makes it much easier to get what you need immediately after your workouts as well as adding additional protein to meals that may not be adequate otherwise.

Beginning Bodybuilding Summary

Once you’ve made up your mind to get into a bodybuilding program, start working at it right away. It’s too easy to continuously say that you’ll start tomorrow, and you know as well as anyone else that it probably won’t happen.

Start today! The break-in routine and 4-week routine are great starting blocks to get you going down the right path for a healthy, happy, and muscular future.

38 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Mon, 03/11/2019 - 15:25

I'm really excited to have found this and get started on the break-in week. Can you explain the light warm-up set for some of the exercises, or is that explained in the video links?

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Posted Fri, 01/18/2019 - 19:03

just curious as to what the benefit of doing only 1 set for some of the excersizes is? And would it be ok/beneficial to add sets if we feel ready for it?

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Posted Thu, 12/13/2018 - 04:50

Thanks for the workout, Team SAN! I just returned from a long 4-week vacation during which I didn't lift a single weight. I feel this plan is exactly what I need to resume training. The 2-week break-in routine feels like a great idea!


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Posted Mon, 11/26/2018 - 05:10

I am 31 year old. My height 165 CM, weight 54kg. Want to build muscle. What is suitable exercise for me ?. I am a pure vegetarian.Is protein supplements needed?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 11/26/2018 - 10:23

Hi Gajendra,

This is a good starting workout for you. In terms of protein supplementation, it's needed if you feel that you don't get enough protein through your diet alone. Being a vegetarian, it can be tough - but it is doable.

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Posted Mon, 11/26/2018 - 11:33

Thank you so much

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Posted Wed, 10/17/2018 - 16:31

Loving the workout, but should any cardio be mixed into the routine or warmup and if so would you recommend anything?

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Posted Sun, 10/14/2018 - 17:56

Phase 1 should be continued for how long ?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 10/15/2018 - 14:20

Hi Ritesh,

6 weeks is the duration listed.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Mon, 09/24/2018 - 10:40
Emelda Shahrill

is the break-in routine part of the 6 weeks??

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 09/24/2018 - 11:08

Hi Emelda,

No, it's not. Perform this part separately for 1-2 weeks before jumping into the 6 week program.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Thu, 08/23/2018 - 02:49

Need to add some extra workouts? Thanks

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Posted Tue, 08/21/2018 - 22:46
Kshitij Patel

How to follow this fige phases??
Do I have to start with phase 1 then 2 and so on... I currently goes to gym 3 times a week for weight training without any specific goals... How can I follow this if I set my goal for lean body building... Which Phase should I follow??

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Wed, 08/22/2018 - 08:30

Hi Kshitij,

Start with phase 1, then progress to phase 2, and finish up with phase 3.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Tue, 08/21/2018 - 19:06

What is the recommended weight progression?

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Posted Fri, 08/17/2018 - 08:27

Thank you so much guys,i'm skinny fat, can i do this workout?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Fri, 08/17/2018 - 10:56

Hi Htet,


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Posted Fri, 08/17/2018 - 11:00

Thanks for your workout and reply

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Posted Fri, 05/11/2018 - 00:10
Jeremiah Olivo

I was wondering if i can get a response to this because I do not have many around me who are affluent in muscle building.
I am currently 5'11 and 192 pounds (male)... I am 19 years old.
I think this would be a good workout for me to start with and id like to go through all 3 of the phases.
I am a little chubby, i was wondering if this would be a good workout for me in your opinion? I want to become big. Substantially big.
Is this a good workout routine for me to start off with, and also what would be a good diet plan for someone of my age and weight and stature. Should i try to lose a little weight first? Since this is a beginners workout, should I consume less protein, protein shakes, and good carbs? Or should i consume just as much as I would in an intermediate level workout?
Please answer all of my questions and thank you for your time!

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Fri, 05/11/2018 - 08:45

Hi Jeremiah,

Yes, this is a good workout to begin with for your goals.

In terms of diet, start here:

Then, go here:

And finally, finish up here:

Hope this helps!

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Posted Sat, 05/05/2018 - 20:49

Thanks for the workout! I’m starting Week 3/adding the new exercises Monday. I should’ve asked this before I started week 1...but are Pushups daily ok with this workout?

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Posted Wed, 04/25/2018 - 10:03

What about the rest between sets and exercises?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Wed, 04/25/2018 - 11:37

Hi Saif,

rest between 60-90 Secs in between each set and exercise.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Mon, 04/23/2018 - 17:57

Is it alright to replace barbell with dumbbells?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Tue, 04/24/2018 - 08:47

Hi Craig,

Yes, that should be fine.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Sat, 03/24/2018 - 21:04

Thanks for the workout! I saw that you mention in one of the post there’s a follow up to this workout, where’s it at? I would love to try it out after I’m done with this one. One more week.

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 03/26/2018 - 09:16
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Posted Thu, 03/22/2018 - 20:53
Thomas Annal

Is it alright to add abbs to this work out and a light swim on off days

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Fri, 03/23/2018 - 08:58

Hi Thomas,

Sure, that should be fine.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Tue, 03/13/2018 - 16:40

Just want to say thank you for making this available. Makes it so much easier to start after 20 years of neglect.

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Tue, 03/13/2018 - 16:55

Hi Tr,

It's never too late to start! Best of luck! Feel free to reach out with any questions along the way!

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Posted Fri, 10/13/2017 - 01:19

Exactly what I was looking for after almost 10 years out of lifting due multiple operations.
Will be doing all three phases of the Start From Scratch series.
I assume I can incorporate 20mins of low intensity cardio after each day and have active rest days on non lifting days?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Fri, 10/13/2017 - 08:41

Hi Rob,

Absolutely! Best of luck with the program! Let us know how it goes!

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Posted Sun, 10/15/2017 - 06:59

Thanks for the reply, Josh.
Aim to take measurements every 4 weeks.
Forum seems a nice place to talk all things lifting. Will join up.

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Posted Wed, 07/19/2017 - 14:57

Would this be good for a male and female couple eating in a calorie deficit whose main goal is fat loss?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Wed, 07/19/2017 - 16:40

Hi Deano,

Yes, absolutely. Both males and females can utilize this workout to accomplish their fat loss goals.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Sat, 03/18/2017 - 11:42

Exactly what I was looking for! Thank you!!!

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Sat, 03/18/2017 - 15:26

Hi Angie,

Awesome! The guys at SAN have a second part to this workout that you can progress right into after this one. It's coming out later this month, so be sure to stay tuned!