T Nation

Beginner Questions


Here are some simple questions that I would like to ask about working out, hope they aren't silly questions.

  1. When doing a workout of say 5 different exercises, each having 3 sets. Is it better to knock out all 3 sets of the 1st exercise, then all 3 sets of the next and so on, or is it better better to do one exercise after another and do the full order 3 times over?

  2. With regards to beginners, I always see that a full body workout 2-3x/wk is recommended as opposed to split workout, why?

  3. I know that free weights are better than machines whenever possible. From a beginner's perspective, is it better to use machines to make sure that good form is used and that proper muscles are used for a given exercise?

  4. In using machines, since the apparatus movement is fixed, does it mean that using them provides better symmetric results as opposed to free weights?



I do not know about the merits for (1), but if I'm not mistaken, during traingin you are actually tearing the muscles. So more work will induce more tearing resulting in bigger muscle if you eat right & enough. I think it is better to do all sets for one exercise then go to the next. That way, the muscle group(s) you trained don't have time to recover too much.

About (2), I've no idea, but sometimes it seems that the reason is to allow for a beginner to have enough time to do other things and not be training all week long. Personally, I started with a 3-way split, 4 days a week (and will increase to 5).

Free weights are better because you will be teaching the nervous system and your motor system good balance and control, something that the machines do on their own. Proper form is the hardest thing to get at first, but the most rewarding.

Don't know about 4, but I don't use machines and always had the left side of my chest be smaller than the right side, after a month of training (been lifting for 1.5 months) they became even.


It depends, a lot on what the exercises are and what the whole program looks like. If you go through five exercises one set at a time, then rest, and then run through the whole series again, that's circuit training and not the best plan for muscle growth.

You can usually alternate (sometimes called "superset") two, sometimes three, exercises if they're for opposing muscle groups (chest/back, biceps/triceps, quads/hamstrings, etc.) without any problems. This is a way to save time in the gym without sacrificing effort.

Doing all sets of one exercise before moving on to the next exercise is probably the most basic way to get a workout done, and it allows you to focus and go balls out on that exercise, and then be done with it and move to the next.

Aw geez... nice work. :wink: This topic is probably the single biggest cause of 97% of the arguments on this forum. You'll get people from both sides saying each is "best" for a beginner, and they'll all have examples, reasons, and "proof."

I think Alwyn Cosgrove might've said it best:
"90-95% of the population, 90-95% of the time, will respond best to either total body or an upper and lower split."

I find this is especially the case with beginners, because they get more "practice" each week with the basic exercises, rather than only getting one chance to squat like you might find in a bodypart-split with one leg day per week.

Full body workouts are also a nice balance of frequent training and full recovery while the beginner gets accustomed to consistent weight training. After an initial introductory period (could be a month, could be four months depending on how progress is going), you can "graduate" to a slightly more advanced program related to your goals. That could be a bodypart split, or it might not be.

Nope. Free weights are preferred because is teaches you to use good form and the proper muscles. If anything, start by learning basic bodyweight exercises (squat, lunge, push-up, pull-up) to build strength in connective tissues and supporting structures, which machines are terrible at doing, before moving to free weights.

It's not like machines are evil or anything. They're essential for some exercises. It's just that, given the choice between a barbell military press or a machine shoulder press, the barbell will get the same job done and then some.

Nope again. If anything, machines are less effective at training for symmetry. Again, think of a shoulder press machine. If I'm sitting there and my left arm is struggling, the machine will still lock out and look like a solid rep as long as my right arm does the work.

Now think of a barbell, or dumbbell, shoulder press. If one arm is struggling and not up to the task, it's going to be very obvious and I might not get the rep finished at all. On a related note, it's very common to have one arm and/or one leg that's stronger or bigger than the other. The best way is address this is not with machines, but with targeted free weight exercises.


1) You can do either. The first option is what is called "horizontal organization". The second option is "vertical organization" or popularly called "circuit training". Circuit training is usually assumed to be done with little to no rest between exercises (until you finish 1 of each), but it does not have to be that way. You can rest whatever amount you decide in between exercises. I have used both effectively.

Usually people mean "horizontal organization" when talking about exercise routines unless they explicitly say 'circuit training/style'. Supersets are an exception, but are usually labeled as such. ( eg-- "bench 3x10, superset dips/pushdowns 3x10 [each], abs". OR "bench, a1)dips 3x10 a2) pushdowns 3x10, abs")

2) There's lots of debate on bodypart splits vs. whole body or upper/lower splits. But one reason they are often recommended for beginners is that whole body routines allow you to hit all the main power/strength movements several times a week to learn them. Also, there's less localized soreness and it's easier to get used to the overall volume for some people because there's less localized soreness (you're not so sore you can't walk on leg day, or can't sit, or whatever).

Whole body splits are limited in what they can give an advanced/intermediate bodybuilding trainee, but they have a lot of uses, or potential uses, for athletes and beginners to bodybuilding. 2x a week though is simply not enough training.

3) Generally for beginners, NO! Machines give you a completely different and false feel about how to do a large multi-joint exercise. They are in no way comparable to free weighted versions of the same exercise, except in the most superficial way. They do not engage stabilizing muscles or balance nearly as well and as a result can lead to a false sense of security. The best way to learn an exercise properly is to concentrate on the details and execution of it. It is not easy for some exercises (like the squat) but it is necessary for reaching the upper echelons of physique development.

4) Also generally no, for a variety of reasons. This is because unless you are only using 1 arm/leg/side at a time, your dominant arm/leg/side takes more of the weight than your non-dominant side and thus there is no real advantage. This is a general problem for all bilateral movement. There are a couple exceptions but they don't bear going into at this time.