Training Programmes: Beginners

I wrote this for an FAQ on a forum but thought it would be useful here. Other members of that forum did provide feedback and suggestion on my draft so I can’t take sole credit. I will be posting it as a series of bite sized chunks.

Picking the right routine

You will noticed that all these routines centre on compound exercises (those that involve more than one joint moving) and that’s because they are more result for your effort. In terms of gaining muscle, other exercises are useful in focusing on specific muscles but as some pretty or entirely new you need to focus on every muscle so compounds make a lot more sense. In terms of strength, you can exert, and hence train, much more strength across multi-joint movements so again make a lot more sense.

First you need to know if you are a beginner or intermediate. If you have never/barely lifted a free weight before you are a beginner. If you aren’t sure then you are a beginner. The intermediate routines are listed so you have something to come back to look at later after you are getting to be done with a beginner routine.


The three most tried and tested are Icecream Fitness 5×5, Starting Strength and Stronglift. You need to pick one and stick to it, this matters much, much more than which one you pick. You also need to do it as written- if you don’t know enough to write your own then you don’t know enough to be tweaking one either.

One common problem with new lifters is they don’t start with a light enough weight. Each of the programmes give slightly different advice on exactly how much you could start with but the common theme is not a weight you find particularly challenging. Normally being challenged is fundamental to progress but as a noob you are an exception because you need technique practice more and lighter weights makes this easier. If in doubt always begin by erring on the side of lighter.

Icecream Fitness 5×5 (ICF)

This routine will take you more time than the others, this is because it has more assistance exercises. Assistance exercises are those that aren’t central to your progress towards your given goal but will help you get there. ICF has these because it focused more on looks more than the other two. You’ll gain muscle (diet depending) and get stronger with any of the 3 but ICF helps you develop a more balanced physique. So the question is do you care enough about anaesthetics to spend more time in the gym? If the answer is no then you want to do Starting Strength or Strong Lifts.

Starting Strength (SS) vs Strong Lifts (SL)

If you spend a bit of time googling then you’ll have no trouble finding people swear one is better than the other. The reality is they are so similar it’s a fairly trivial debate and you shouldn’t worry about it.

The main difference is whether you do a power clean (SS) or a row (SL). If you think you might want to move into weightlifting (as in the Olympic sport) eventually then you may well want to learn to power clean now or you might just like the look of it. However power cleans are significantly more complicated to learn to do well, hence make progress on, than a row. If you aren’t that bothered about learning to power clean or aren’t willing to be a bit patient with it then go with a row/SL.

If you’d like notifications when the rest of this series are posted then check out the follow options in the widget tab.

Going to the Gym: Why You Should

Well, in short, you need the equipment. To appreciate that you need to know a bit about what a strength training programme looks like. If you don’t then go check out my posts on that.

But what about training with just body weight?

Push ups: a classic bodyweight exercise but not a great strength builder

You can do a fairly decent upper body routine with just body weight exercise though the main problem is training legs. If your legs are weak then you will never be strong as a whole. If your legs are twig shaped and your upper body gets decent then you’ll look silly in shorts. Plus, even for upper body it is much simpler to use weights and you can still have bodyweight exercise within your lifting routine.

Or do you plan to buy equipment for a home gym?

This is a valid option so long as you are really willing/able to make the required investment. To make good progress you should be doing one of the routines I’ve mentioned previously or something rather similar.

For them you will at least need:

    • Squat rack, preferably with safety bars, that goes low enough to bench from (£130)
    • Bench (£60)
    • 20kg bar (£90)
    • 100-120kg in weights (£200)

You may also want:

  • Rubber floor matting- to protect it from weights being dropped on it
  • Dumbbell handle- then you just need one/two handles that you load the needed weight onto instead of a whole set
  • Pull up bar- the sort that you hang from the door is usually most practical

And you’ll be surprised how quickly you need more weight. In the brackets is a rough idea of what it would cost new (in the UK, in case the £ didn’t give that way :p) but you can save money if you get lucky on gumtree/ebay. The new costs are for the cheap end of the market, personally if I were to be setting up a home gym I’d spend a bit more to have it work and last well.

You’ll notice I didn’t say go to Argos and get a 50kg weights set. You can’t bench or squat properly with no other equipment and 50kg is nowhere near enough to be challenging for long enough to make any noticeable progress. Trust me I did it. I lifted 50kg in my room for months and the progress I made was nothing compared to when I finally went to the gym.

There’s more posts to come on the barriers trans guys face to going to the gym. Check out the follow options in the widget tab (those buttons on the top right) if you want notifications when I get them up.

Training Without T and Starting T

This post is going to be about training before you start T/never being on T and then when you first start T. I know that there can be many complication, like changing room and binding, so posts on those sorts of things are upcoming. If you want a notification of when those posts are online, check out the follow options in the sidebar.

I am only covering not being on T and when you just start T because otherwise I think trans guys are in the same boat as cis guys. So once you’ve been on T a bit all the advice out there for men applies to you too.

Pre/No T

If you are not on T then obviously your ability to build muscle is going to be lesser than that of someone with higher T levels. That said you can still get bigger and stronger so it’s not in itself a reason for you not to start lifting.  Exercise is good for you mentally as well as physically and you may well find you like your body a bit more as you start to gain strength and size.

Posts on training programmes are on their way so read those but I would suggest some tweaks to them. These programmes (unfortunately) assume the person doing them has T levels higher than your’s. But it’s nothing major that needs changed. The difference is in how quickly you can progress, particularly in your upper body.

For overhead press start with 10kg/20lbs, your gym should have smaller fixed weight bars or a smaller set of plastic weights that you can use. This means you’ll need to lift the bar off the floor instead of out of a rack but it’s light enough that you will be able to do that fine. Switch to an empty bar when you get to 20kg/40lbs.

a plastic weight set that will allow you to start lighter than 20kg/40lbs

For bench, start with an empty bar then add half the weight the programme recommends.

For everything else do it as recommended by the programme but once you’ve had to deload a few times consider halving it too.

Starting T

Firstly, if you’re just starting T then congratulations!

You probably know that you will now be able to build strength much quicker. As such, no matter how long you have been training already, I recommend you switch back to a beginner’s programme. You might not run it for as long as genuine beginners would, but the increase in your potential is enough that you will be able to make at least some linear progress again.You would make the same progress over a longer period of time on an intermediate programme but why not make it ASAP? That’s what switching back to a beginner’s programme will allow you to do.

How much muscle you can gain has increased along with your ability to get stronger. In the run up to starting T I’d suggest doing a bit of a cut if you’re a bit squishier around the edges than you’d like to be. Then when you start T make the most of that increased muscle building potential by bulking. By cutting first you should be able to bulk for longer-hence gain more muscle quickly- than if you were already a bit higher body fat % than you like.

A note on bulking though, when I say it I don’t mean it as an excuse to get an unhealthy body fat percent. I recommend gaining 1lbs per week to keep your fat gains minimal. I’m not saying everyone should want to be lean enough to have a 6 pack but I don’t think many people want to be gaining big amounts of fat.

My One Bit of Bodybuilding Advice

I’m not going to make a habit of offering advice on bodybuilding/ training for looks since there’s plenty info out there and it’s not something I know an awful lot about. But you know the ‘but’ is coming.


If your first puberty was female then, compared to a cis guy, your density of androgen receptors is higher in your lower body than upper. Which is to say, you will make lower body gainz pretty easy compared to upper body in terms of building muscle.

If you are just interested in strength then don’t worry about it. Sit back, put your feet up and enjoy the view of your awesome quads. It took me quite some time to figure this out so if I cared about creating a balanced physique it would have been a bit frustrating.

If you are into looks then as a noob still don’t pay much attention to it. It’s certainly not an excuse to skip squats! But as you progress you are really going to want to think about some extra volume for upper body which is good regardless since you need to press more to press more anyway.