The 2017 Starter’s Guide is a five-day program which involves three days a week of lifting—an upper-body focus, lower-body focus, and full-body workout—with two forms of cardio sandwiched in between lifting days. If you can get the program done during the week, take the weekends off. If not, you have to do the work whenever duty calls.

As a beginner, you’re still trying to find out what works and what doesn’t. Anything less than three days per week doesn’t give you enough reps and volume to learn the movements and stay consistent. And anything more than three days per week can hinder your recovery. Three weekly lifting workouts is also doable for most people when first starting out—it’s enough days that you can fit the sessions in your schedule, but not too much to be overwhelming. 

How it works

HIIT cardio burns more fat quicker and helps you adjust to higher-intensity training that you may not be used to while making you a better-conditioned lifter. Steady-state cardio will enhance your recovery and increase your work capacity, better translating to your overall fitness and health. 

On paper, the volume in workouts on Day 1 and Day 3 may look like a lot to get started. But this works because many of your sets will be at a lower, submaximal weight. This acts as practice for your neuromuscular system, which will adapt to the movements. Though you’ll have a fair amount of muscle tissue breakdown, it won’t be so much that you’re overtrained, since you won’t be using a ton of weight. Beginners are still trying to find their groove and see what they can handle as far as weights for certain exercises and rep schemes are concerned. 

Directions

Say you’re performing three working sets for 10 reps each, the first set should be about 50 to 60% of your 10-rep max (10RM)—the maximum amount of weight you can lift for 10 reps, and no more, with good form—just to get a feel for the movement while warming you up. Bump it up to about 70 to 75% of your 10RM after that for a little more intensity. The last set should be close to your 10RM. At this point, you’re still finding out what works, what doesn’t, and how to execute the movement. For most movements, save the hard set for last.

The Friday workout in this program employs some old-school bodybuilding supersets to bump up intensity. Doing this one day a week will help prep you for harder training down the road while building some muscle in the process. 

This program should be followed for at least four weeks to see progress. Any more than around eight weeks is too long. After four to eight weeks, sit back and analyze your training log and make adjustments.

TRAINING NOTE: In the below lifting workouts, for each A and B exercise pairing (i.e., 1A and 1B, 2A and 2B, etc.), alternate between the two exercises one set at a time—similar to supersets, except follow the dedicated rest periods between exercises.

On Day 2, use the Concept2 rower or a stationary bike and perform one of the following HIIT cardio routines.

Concept2 rower

Week 1: 10 x 100 meters at 90% intensity; rest 60 sec. between intervals
Week 2: 6 x 300 meters at 80% intensity; rest 90 sec. between intervals
Week 3: 8 x 200 meters at 90% intensity; rest 75 sec. between intervals
Week 4:  8 x 200 meters at 100% intensity; rest 75 sec. between intervals

Stationary bike

Week 1: 10 x 10-calorie sprints at 90% intensity; rest 60 sec. between intervals
Week 2: 6 x 30-calorie sprints at 80% intensity; rest 90 sec. between intervals
Week 3: 8 x 20- calorie sprints at 90% intensity; rest 75 sec. between intervals
Week 4: 8 x 25- calorie sprints at 100% intensity; rest 75 sec. between intervals