A lot of fitness and weight loss information targets experienced exercisers with methods like five-day workout splits, high-intensity interval training, and intermittent fasting. While these approaches are effective, they can be overly complex for beginners.
Consider this analogy – if you’re new to exercising and dieting, even simple interventions can be impactful, as your body is encountering these changes for the first time. For beginners, advanced training and nutrition strategies might be excessive. It’s like running: you wouldn’t start with a full marathon; you build up to it. This philosophy is central to a more enjoyable journey in weight loss workouts and dieting.
In this article, tailored for beginners, we’ll present an easy-to-follow nutrition guide and workout plan. This approach is grounded in my over 30 years of experience in powerlifting, bodybuilding, sports conditioning, fitness for seniors, and weight management. As an educator with a College Diploma in Physical Education, a Premier Global Diploma in Personal Training & Sports Massage, and certifications as a BAWLA L2 Weightlifting Coach and YMCA Group Exercise Instructor, I understand the importance of starting with the basics. My favorite exercises, deadlifts and pull-ups, epitomize the strength and simplicity that beginners can work towards.
By leveraging this extensive expertise and experience, I aim to provide clear, trustworthy, and useful advice that aligns with your fitness journey’s beginning stages.
Eating for Weight Loss
You may be wondering why an article titled Gym Workout for Beginners to Lose Weight starts with a section on nutrition. The answer is that, to lose weight, your diet is arguably the most important factor affecting your success.
We have a saying in the fitness industry; you can’t outrun a bad diet. Honestly, it doesn’t matter how hard you work out; if you aren’t paying attention to what you eat, your progress will never be anything but disappointing.
Think of good nutrition as your weight loss foundation.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to provide you with a diet to follow. After all, we all have different food preferences, eating schedules, nutritional needs, and grocery budgets. A diet that’s perfect for one person may be entirely unsuitable for someone else. Instead, follow these steps to create your own sustainable eating plan.
1. Determine your daily calorie requirements
Body fat is stored calories. One pound of fat is roughly equal to 3,500 calories. To burn fat, you need to provide your body with fewer calories than it needs. This creates a calorie deficit or negative energy balance. Faced with a calorie shortfall, your body is forced to burn fat for energy. No deficit means no fat loss – simple!
While you could just eat less and hope you’ve created a caloric deficit, you’ll probably get better results if you work out how many calories you need per day and then adjust your food intake accordingly.
The easiest way to do this is to use an online Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) calculator like this one.
Just type in your info, and you’ll find out how many calories you need to eat to MAINTAIN your current weight. Make a note of this number, and then move onto the next step.
2. Create a calorie deficit
If you consume calories equal to your TDEE, your weight should remain relatively stable. To lose weight, you need to eat less.
Create that all but essential calorie deficit by subtracting 500 from your TDEE. Bear in mind that 500 calories are just a starting point. You may need to adjust this figure according to your progress. However, it’s an excellent place to begin and should work reasonably well for most people.
Once you’ve subtracted 500 from your TDEE, you know how many calories you need to eat to lose weight.
3. Track your food intake
Now that you know how many calories you need to eat per day to lose weight, you need to make sure you hit that number. The easiest way to do this is to use a food tracking app. There are lots to choose from, and many of them are free. Simply type in the contents of your meals, and the app will tell you how many calories you’ve consumed. Make sure that you do not exceed your TDEE minus 500 calories goal.
Try to eat as clean as you can. This means more natural foods and less processed junk. Clean foods like lean proteins, vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and healthy fats are generally lower in calories than processed junk food. That means you can eat more and still lose weight.
While calories ARE the most crucial nutritional consideration for weight loss, your macro ratios (the relationship between dietary protein, carbohydrate, and fat) are important too. If you can, try and adjust your meals so that macros fall in line with the following guidelines:
- Protein: 40-50%
- Carbs: 10-30%
- Fat: 30-40%
Meals built around these ratios are generally more filling than high-carb meals.
4. Add a few fat-burning tricks to your diet
Make no mistake; eating fewer calories than your TDEE is the nutritional key to losing weight. However, there are a few things that you can do to supercharge your diet, so you lose weight faster. Examples include:
- Drinking more water
- Eating more high-fiber foods
- Planning and prepping your meals in advance
Learn more in our article: The Top 20 Simple Weight Loss Tips
While you could just eat yourself slimmer, you’ll lose weight faster if you exercise too. Working out increases your daily caloric expenditure and preserves your muscle mass, so you don’t become skinny-fat, and allows a little dietary latitude so you can still enjoy the occasional treat.
A lot of people focus on cardio for weight loss, but strength training is equally important. In fact, you’ll lose weight faster and more easily if you do both.
Beginners may be tempted to dive head-first into an intense workout plan, but that would be a mistake. Doing more exercise than you can comfortably handle is a good way to end up sore and even injured. Also, training too hard too soon could put you off exercise for good.
The key to exercising for weight loss is sustainability. You need to follow a workout plan you can stick to. Not for a week or a month but for the foreseeable future.
For most beginners, this means following a full-body workout plan, and hitting the gym three times a week on non-consecutive days. This gives you a day in between each workout for cardio and rest/recovery. We’ll talk more about cardio in the next section. For now, here is your beginner’s gym workout for fat loss.
Do the following workout three times per week, with one day in between, e.g., Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Click on the linked exercises for instructions on how to do them.
|Chest press machine
|Dumbbell shoulder press
|Dumbbell biceps curl
|45-degree back extension
A lot of workouts are very prescriptive regarding how much weight you should use for your workouts. This is often based on your one-repetition maximum, or 1-RM for short. As a beginner, you won’t know what your 1-RM is, and nor should you try and discover it.
Instead, pick a weight that makes your feel fatigued within the specified rep range. If you can’t do 12 reps with your chosen weight, it’s too heavy. But, if you can do more than 20 reps, it’s too light. Providing the weight you are lifting starts to feel challenging somewhere between 12-20 reps, it should have the desired effect.
It may take you a couple of workouts to determine the proper weights for your workouts, but that’s okay. Make a note of the weights you use so you can adjust them next time.
However, to ensure your workouts keep producing results, you need to work a little harder from one week to the next. Try to do an extra rep or two per exercise or increase the weight slightly. Never sacrifice good exercise form for extra weight or reps but do try to make your workouts progressively more demanding.
Finally, make sure you start each workout with a warm-up to prepare your muscles and joints for what you are about to do. Do 5-10 minutes of easy cardio, followed by some dynamic mobility and flexibility for your major muscles and joints.
The key to effective cardio is actually doing it! It really doesn’t matter much if you ride a bike, run, or use an elliptical or rowing machine. So long as you do it regularly and for long enough, any cardio workout can help you burn calories and lose weight.
For this training plan, we want you to do two or three 20-30-minute cardio workouts per week. There is no need to do interval training; just maintain a steady pace for the entire duration of your workout.
How fast should you go? Ideally, you should stay at around 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. This should feel comfortable and sustainable. You’ll be out of breath but still able to talk.
If you want to monitor your heart rate, you calculate your range like this:
- 220 minus age in years x 0.6 = 60%
- 220 minus age in years x 0.7 = 70%
Just keep your heart rate between these two numbers.
As well as burning calories, cardio is good for your cardiovascular health and will also help ease the muscle soreness that often follows strength training. Choose whatever cardio workouts you enjoy. But, if you are a little on the heavy side, avoid high-impact activities like running, as they can be hard on your joints. Instead, choose a low-impact workout like cycling or rowing.
With the strength training and cardio, your workout week should look something like this:
Add Some NEAT to Your Workout Week
Following our plan means that you’ll accumulate about 4-5 hours of exercise per week. That’s pretty good! But, if you’ve got an office job or are otherwise mostly sedentary, that leaves 160 hours per week when your caloric expenditure could be very low.
Ultimately, the less you move, the fewer calories you’ll burn, and the slower you’ll lose weight.
Speed up the weight loss process with NEAT, short for non-exercise activity thermogenesis (1). NEAT can have a significant impact on your daily energy expenditure but, because the intensity is low, it won’t tire you out and won’t detract from your workouts.
Examples of NEAT include:
- Carrying groceries back from the store
- Cleaning your car or bike
- Cycling for pleasure or transport
- DIY projects
- Mowing the lawn
- Playing with your kids
- Raking leaves
- Recreational sports
- Taking out the garbage
- Taking your dog for a walk
- Walking for pleasure or transport
- Washing the dishes
- Washing windows
It’s not easy to track NEAT, but you should try and clock up an hour or two per day. One way to do this is to use a pedometer and accumulate about 10,000 steps per day. 10,000 steps are equal to about five miles of walking, which should take about 90 minutes.
That might sound daunting, but NEAT does not have to be done all in one go; just do your best to break up periods of sedentarism with short bursts of physical activity. Ultimately, any time you get up and move will be beneficial, and when it comes to NEAT, more is better.
The fundamentals of weight loss are simple – eat a little less, exercise a little more, and keep at it for as long as it takes to reach your goal weight. Providing you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight.
Beginners often get bogged down in the details and forget (or are never told) about the basic components of weight loss. They end up following extreme diets or complicated workouts and drop out simply because they try to use methods or programs that are too advanced.
The information in this article is straightforward and easy to follow, but that’s the point. The easier something is to do, the more likely you are to do it!
There is nothing wrong with things like the keto or intermittent fasting diets or two-a-day workouts, and Tabata training. It’s just that, as a beginner, you don’t need to use these things yet.
Sometime in the future, you may need to call on more advanced methods to maintain your progress. However, just as a child must learn to walk before they can run, you need to pay your dues with the basics first. After all, they’re the foundation on which all other diet and exercise strategies are built.
- Levine JA. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Dec;16(4):679-702. doi: 10.1053/beem.2002.0227. PMID: 12468415.
Article Updates Timeline:
Our editorial team experts constantly update the articles with new information & research, ensuring you always have access to the latest and most reliable information.
January 6, 2024
Tom Miller, CSCS
Fact Checked By
June 21, 2021
Patrick Dale, PT, ex-Marine
Matthew Magnante, ACE