Who is the Ultimate Beginner program for?
The Ultimate Beginner program can be for anyone!
If you have never lifted weights before, this is a structured, 6-week program that provides a calm and inviting atmosphere to guide you through the most common movements performed with weights as resistance. It is also great for someone who has been training for a while and wants to learn more about gaining more out of their training. It is packed with tips, cues, Caroline’s own learning experience, variations, modifications, and insights into progression.
The workouts are structured with time to practice the movement, followed by structured rest.
Each major muscle group will be targeted at least twice per week in the beginning with full body days, using compound movements during the first four weeks. Following that, we transition into upper and lower body splits. These are based on at least two rest days between the same muscle groups.
Caroline is confident you will feel well-equipped to continue your journey of self-discovery and growth, having spent these six weeks learning the fundamentals.
The Ultimate Beginner program is perfect to repeat several times to increase familiarity and build the base to grow.
Is there a printable Ultimate Beginner calendar?
We get it – sometimes it's easier to have a physical copy to stick on your fridge to track your progress. Not to worry, we've got you covered!
We have two versions of the Ultimate Beginner program calendar available for download: one in full colour, perfect for digital use, and one in black and white, which is great for printing and saves on ink. Click on the links below to get started and choose the version that suits you best. Happy printing!
- Ultimate Beginner Program calendar (colour version)
- Ultimate Beginner Program calendar (black & white version)
How long are the workouts?
The Ultimate Beginner workouts are between 20 and 30 minutes long. The average is 25 minutes. These all exclude the brief, warm-up, and cool-down.
Do the workouts include a warm-up?
There is an appropriate suggested warm-up that will appear before the workout commences. Once complete, the brief will appear, where Caroline will provide a quick introduction and overview of the workout itself.
You can select ‘Skip warm-up’ if you prefer to perform your own routine!
Do the workouts include a cool-down?
Yes, a gentle cool-down is included. However, please feel free to stretch further on your mat afterwards for as long as you wish!
The cool-down is a time to relax and reflect and not necessarily with the intention to increase flexibility, so don't strain at any point.
What equipment do I need?
- A pair of dumbbells (ideally a heavier pair and a lighter pair)
- A mat
- A chair (mainly for hip thrusts, decline push-ups, dips, and Bulgarian lunges)
- A yoga block(s) / wedge / small stepper
Note: It is possible to complete this program with no chair or yoga block if preferred. Here are some suggestions for alternatives:
- Hip thrusts / glute bridges on the mat
- Decline push-ups / standard push-ups or pike push-ups
- Dips / tricep push-ups / tricep press
- Bulgarian lunges / regular lunges
Here are some awesome alternatives if you can gain access to other equipment:
- Tricep push-down instead of a dumbbell tricep exercise
- Pull-ups on pull-up bar instead of a pullover
- Lat pull-down instead of a pullover
- Smith machine squat instead of a dumbbell squat
- Leg press instead of a dumbbell squat
- Landmine / viking press instead of dumbbell shoulder press
- Leg extension instead of a heel-elevated squat
- Barbell chest press instead of a dumbbell
- Cable flyes instead of dumbbell flyes
- Cable rope frontal raise instead of dumbbell frontal raises
- Landmine row instead of a dumbbell bent over row
What should I do if my weight feels too light?
The aim of the lifting exercises within Ultimate Beginner is to try to learn the technique first and perform in a way that feels best for you: controlling the movement, moving through as large of a range of motion as comfortable for you, and slowing down the eccentric!
You can even pause at the bottom of the movement, such as a squat, to help eliminate any momentum. Or pause at the top of a row before slowly releasing.
Investing in heavier dumbbells can bring benefits over time. Investment in yourself is an incredible gift.
If you are new to training, many movements will take time to practise though you may notice quite quickly that you want heavier dumbbells!
What’s the best way to schedule the workouts?
The Ultimate Beginner program is based on 20 workouts over six weeks:
- Three workouts each week across the first four weeks
- These workouts will target the largest muscle groups within the body and comprise primarily compound movements – a.k.a. the fundamentals
- Four workouts each week across the final two weeks
- These are split into upper or lower-body focused training, still containing those compound movements but including isolation exercises to target specific muscles
The Ultimate Beginner program calendar can be altered to suit your preference, energy levels, and life commitments! One workout per week, or two... there is no right or wrong!
Here’s our suggested schedule for the first four weeks:
|Tuesday||Rest / active rest day|
|Thursday||Rest / active rest day|
|Saturday||Rest / active rest day|
|Sunday||Rest / active rest day|
And for the final two weeks:
|Wednesday||Rest / active rest day|
|Saturday||Rest / active rest day|
|Sunday||Rest / active rest day|
Again, this is simply a suggestion. You can even complete two workouts per week, for example, and train one day, then rest three days and so on. You can work through this at your own pace!
Remember that if you are completely new to lifting, it will take time to feel comfortable with some of the movements. However, you may be surprised at how quickly you progress!
I prefer not to jump. What should I do?
There is NO jumping throughout the Ultimate Beginner program.
You can perform your own cardio-based workout, of course! If low-intensity, this might be perfect for those days of training.
What if I can’t keep up with Caroline’s pace?
Absolutely perfect… this is your workout! You may have lighter dumbbells than you wish so that you can perform more reps, of course. For example, it may be better to perform push-ups more slowly but deeper – all at your own pace. The movements are performed at a slow pace, always with control. Please never feel pressured to rush. Stop, take a moment to reset, then carry on any time you feel you need to.
Throughout every single workout, work at a pace to suit you. The timer is simply a guide, so stop when you feel you need it, particularly if the form is being affected.
I can’t carry out the exercise without stopping at points before the timer beeps… what does this mean?
If you are pushing yourself and training hard, not managing to last 40 seconds, for example, it can be a positive! These workouts are time-based. Always focus on quality, not quantity!
I’m not able to do a movement within a workout… what should I do instead?
The Ultimate Beginner program is for those who are new to training. And there may be many movements that you have never completed before. Remember, we ALL started at this point! Give yourself time and be patient. Remember how far you have come, and be excited about what you have yet to learn!
There will be times when you prefer not to do a certain exercise and perform an alternative! Some modifications will be displayed for some exercises, however, it is important to adapt them to you. For example, forward-stepping lunges can be performed as rear-stepping if the knees prefer.
If you can’t do push-ups with your knees off the floor at the moment, try doing push-ups with your hands on a chair. Over time, aim to place your hands on a lower surface, such as a box/yoga block, and then the floor. However, with push-ups, quality is better than quantity to progress, so even when you do reach the level of push-ups on the floor, if you are doing one or two during the time period, perfect! Simply stop, take a second and see if you can do another one or two; this is better than, say, 20 on the knees!
The same applies to squats, for example. Perform all squats at bodyweight to practice the movement pattern for as long as you wish, and only use extra weight in the form of dumbbells when you feel confident.
My knees hurt during lunges and squats… what should I do?
Different issues, including weak glute muscles, restricted ankle mobility, or incorrect form, can cause knee pain.
Strengthening the entire hip area, including the glutes, will allow extra support in a squat and lunge position. Practising bodyweight is a great way to familiarise yourself with the movements, and even performing bent-over rows with filled water bottles to learn the movement pattern is a great idea!
For the range of motion of the squat, for example, ankle joint mobility is essential. Using bands and bodyweight movements can increase the flexibility of the calf muscles and legs and post-injury or surgery stiffness.
The incorrect form is often the reason for stress on the knees. Practise bodyweight squats to perfect technique and focus on control of movement.
For a standard squat, feet slightly wider than hips, toes slightly pointed outwards (approx. 15 degrees). Keep your gaze straight ahead. Feet firmly on the floor, and toes should be able to wiggle!
Brace your core, inhale, and push your hips back to sit down whilst keeping your chest open and up the entire time. As you are lowering, focus on knees staying in line with feet, not allowing knees to cave in but also not pushing them wider than feet.
Lower slowly, aiming for your hips to be lower than your knees.
Exhale to rise, maintaining alignment of knees with feet and squeeze glutes at the top.
During lunges, keep the chest open, chin up, brace the core, and front knee in line with the front foot. The back knee should also be inline and point to the floor in the bottom position, and both knees should be approximately 90 degrees. You may need to adjust your stance to the distance between your feet.
Practise bodyweight only and use a mirror to check for your alignment.
If you experience tightness of the quads or hip flexors, it may be down to a lack of flexibility, ensure more time is spent warming up and stretching before beginning and reduce the range of motion of the lunge.
It is important not to continue with any movement that brings pain or swelling. For example, please do not push through the ‘pain’. It is recommended to seek professional guidance from a physical therapist.
Wall sits, sitting down to a chair and rising up or even holding a squat position are great alternatives to squats to help strengthen the lower body!
My lower back is aggravated during Romanian deadlifts / bent-over rows… should I not perform them?
Both exercises will help strengthen your back, but if not performed correctly, they can cause injury. Correct form is crucial.
Practice bodyweight or holding something very light such as small bottles of water.
During both movements, the back must stay long and flat.
During Romanian deadlifts, only lower to where it is comfortable, and you can maintain a flat back whilst feeling a stretch in your hamstrings.
During a bent-over row, prevent any momentum, lift, and lower at the same pace.
I feel stiff and have aches post-workout… is this normal?
DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) is common, particularly when the body is exposed to a new stimulus.
It is quite common to feel discomfort following a workout, and it can last up to 3 days.
Symptoms can range from muscle tenderness to severe rehabilitating pain, depending on the type of activity, if new or returning from time off, intensity, duration of exercise and amount of eccentric activities (such as lowering the weight or even running).
There are many hypotheses related to why novice and seasoned athletes experience this experience; ‘lactic acid, muscle spasm, connective tissue damage, muscle damage, inflammation and enzyme efflux theories. However, an integration of two or more theories is likely to explain muscle soreness. ¹
When we exercise, we place a stimulus on the body that essentially causes trauma... doesn’t exactly sound the best, I know! But this micro-trauma helps promote adaptation within the body, so we are better equipped to deal with the exercise next time.
Progressively transition into a new exercise/training modality, particularly if new to it or after long periods of inactivity.
Sufficient protein at main meals (approx. 25g or more) and carbohydrates will promote tissue healing and recovery.
Foods high in antioxidants can also combat inflammation and promote recovery.
A systematic review assessing the effects of antioxidant supplements and antioxidant‐enriched foods relating to helping with the severity and duration of DOMS concluded, ‘There is moderate to low‐quality evidence that high dose antioxidant supplementation does not result in a clinically relevant reduction of muscle soreness after exercise at up to 6 hours or 24, 48, 72 and 96 hours after exercise.’
So even though antioxidants are often used as a buzzword but generally in relation to DOMS, eating whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts are all rich in naturally occurring antioxidants, so there is no need to overthink this!
Incorporating recovery techniques such as massage, compression, or foam rolling can help reduce the soreness and pain associated with DOMS or even gentle movement!
Depending on the level of discomfort, you may wish to refrain from exercise or training for a few days, but it is a good idea to move your body still, even lower intensity. You can also continue to train to focus on those muscle groups that aren’t as sore.
Keep an eye on your body and the duration of discomfort. It is advised to seek medical attention should it last longer than seven days, your urine changes and is abnormally dark in colour, or you have severe swelling in your arms or legs.
And should you not experience DOMS post-workout, it’s great too! It doesn't mean that it wasn’t an awesome session or that you didn’t train hard enough!
Will this 6-week program help reduce body fat / build muscle?
This full-body resistance training program has many different training methods to develop the skill of applying resistance to place a load on the muscles. When combined with correct nutrition, sufficient sleep, rest, and movement outside of exercise specific, this can contribute to the reduction of fat loss if this is your goal.
If you train intensely and focused, consume sufficient protein throughout the day, alongside adequate calories (if in deficit, this should be minimal), perform the repetitions (notably the compound lifts), lift heavy (of course, this is different for everyone, and most of us are not in a typical gym setting but you can still make those weights feel heavier with this program and perform each movement the best you can and a full range of motion), give it your all on the burnouts at the end, incorporate cardio / non-exercise activity, get plenty of sleep and taking those active/rest days will all contribute to building strength, seeing changes in your body composition and help you feel simply amazing!
Having realistic expectations with this and any program you embark on is also essential. Firstly, what you put in is what you get out of it!
Consider training as a way of building a strong body, cardio activity for heart health and nutrition for overall health. It is nutrition that will have the most impact on fat loss and support the building of muscle.
If wanting to build muscle and increase your body weight or lose body fat, the training is the same! It comes down to the energy balance, which primarily considers your nutrition considerations.
If you are aiming to become stronger but don’t focus on the lowering portion of the movement or want to lose body fat but not move through the day aside from the workout alone, these are examples of how you could be hindering your progress.
Consider a realistic timetable and schedule for your training and any extras such as that daily walk, prepping food or weekly cycle session outdoors.
Also, be realistic with the expectations of yourself…there will be days when you are fired up and with much energy that that 10kg feels so much lighter, but then there’ll be days where you could think of nothing worse than lifting a dumbbell or holding a plank! I would suggest that when you feel lethargic, go for a walk, do a stretch session, even low-impact cardio and resume the next day! Though we are all different, many of us come around as soon as we begin and get into it!
Eating in a calorie surplus and resistance training will help build muscle due to the extra energy available. However, it will also correlate with increased energy stored within the body, therefore, fat storage. A slight calorie surplus will mitigate and minimise the increase in stored energy alongside correct resistance training and protein intake.
Will ab-specific workouts or exercises help reduce fat around my tummy? Will this leg workout slim my legs?
Simply put, you cannot spot reduce; however, exercise will contribute to energy burned. Ab-specific exercises help strengthen the muscles in that and surrounding areas.
I have missed a day(s)… what should I do?
Simply carry on where you left off!
There will likely be times when we need to manoeuvre our training days, so feel free to change to suit your schedule and energy levels!
I am new to weight training / this intensity of training, and the scales say I weigh heavier.
Initially, a new training program will stress the muscle fibres, causing micro-trauma and some inflammation. This initial response can lead to temporary water retention, but this is temporary.
Listen to your body during the workouts and give your muscles rest days.
Stepping on the scales will not consider muscle mass and growth, hormones, fluid retention, and females’ menstrual cycles.
Check out the article relating to weight when relatively new to training to learn more!
I am still the same weight on the scales but have lost body fat.
1 kg of fat weighs the same as 1 kg of muscle, but muscle takes up much less space than fat. It is possible to weigh the exact same as someone else or even heavier yet be ‘leaner’ than that person at the same height! That is what we call body recomposition!
Is there cardio within this program?
For many years, cardio was considered 30 minutes on the cross trainer or a walk; however, weight/resistance training also benefits the heart, which is basically what cardio relates to, being any activity that requires the heart rate to be elevated and sustained.
Squat to press, push-ups, HIIT with dumbbells, circuits, and complexes will elevate the heart rate. Resistance training is cardio!
Low-impact cardio, such as walking, is a fantastic accessory to lifting weights as it won’t impact training, and overall movement increases physical and mental health.
Does Caroline talk for each workout?
Yes, Caroline talks during the Ultimate Beginners Program as she can focus on tips, cues and alternatives as she moves through the workouts. You may notice she is using lighter dumbbells to demonstrate throughout.
How do I implement ‘progressive overload’?
Progressive overload comes in many formats, not just slowly increasing the weight you use (whilst maintaining correct form) but also those training variables, including repetitions, giant sets, slower eccentrics, isometrics and many more!
If you are relatively new to resistance training, you can find you could lift heavier sometimes within a short space of time; however, always be careful. It has taken Caroline years to progress to the weight she uses, and she has never injured herself as she focuses rather than solely on the weight but also on the importance of not ego lifting. In fact, it could take Caroline up to a year before she increases weight for specific exercises; however, this is because she has been resistance training for many years! It isn’t exclusively about going heavier either…. she reiterates the importance of using the muscle(s), squeezing the muscles as opposed to simply ‘getting the weight up’!
If you are new to training, though, increases in strength can be faster, so the need for investing in new dumbbells may appear!
Simply note down the weights you have used for that specific workout on that day, either on the printable calendar or the notes section on the app under each workout. Should you revisit that workout or program, you may want to increase the weight or remain the same but perform more reps or even improve on the quality of the reps (my favourite!).
Enjoy the process…trust the process. It will take time to familiarise your body and mind with the movements but remember that we are building our body stronger because we love it and want to look after it.
Cheung K, Hume P, Maxwell L. Delayed onset muscle soreness: treatment strategies and performance factors. Sports Med. 2003;33(2):145-64. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200333020-00005. PMID: 12617692.
Ranchordas MK, Rogerson D, Soltani H, Costello JT. Antioxidants for preventing and reducing muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD009789. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009789.pub2. Accessed 06 February 2023.