New to the gym and looking for a workout plan to begin your muscle building journey?
This 3-day full body hypertrophy focused workout plan is a great starting point for new lifters. Or indeed anyone after a solid program that isn’t yet intent on becoming a YouTube fitness model, a strength competitor or an athlete (so, 99% of us!).
The workouts focus on the big compound lifts, with each session having four main exercises with 1-2 accessory lifts.
It hits all the key muscle building fundamentals;
- Each major muscle group is hit 2-3 times per week
- Each major muscle group is worked at least 10 sets per week
- It utilises compound full body movements
- It allows for adequate rest and recovery between sessions
- It utilises progressive overload
So it’s a great place to start or enhance your muscle building journey.
Read on for the workout plan itself and tips on how best to run it.
Please lift safely with good form and within your limits. Consult a professional coach or PT at your gym if you have any doubt about how to perform any of the exercises listed.
How you lift is more important than how much. Leave your ego at the door of the gym before every session.
Is a 3 day full body workout plan right for you?
A 3 day day workout plan is great for beginners and those new to weight training.
And, really, this is a great longer-term workout template for anyone who isn’t a youtube fitness model, strength competitor or pro athlete.
If you are a complete lifting novice then you should ease into the programme and work at the lower volume levels indicated for your first few weeks.
This will give your body time to get accustomed to the new strains and stresses of lifting. And starting slowly with lower weight and lower volume will give you time to hone your lifting technique.
But before we get into the details, let’s remind ourselves why we are lifting up lumps of metal in the first place.
What the hell is muscle hypertophy anyway?
When we lift weights we aim to cause muscle fibre hypertrophy.
In simple terms, this means an increase in the size of the component parts of our muscle fibres. For the nerds out there, the sarcomeres and myofibril.
Muscle hypertrophy occurs in response to a stimulus (your training) and when the rate of protein synthesis within your body exceeds the natural rate of breakdown.
Protein synthesis is your body’s process of breaking down the protein and other food you consume and then using the constituent parts to build new body tissues.
Provided you’ve provided a sufficient stimulus, that is you’ve trained hard enough, your body will use protein synthesis to repair and then build new muscle tissues.
Given enough time, training sessions, adequate nutrition and recovery, this can lead to an increase in muscle strength and size.
In summary, you stress, stimulate and even damage your muscles through regular bouts of resistance training. You then consume the right nutrients in adequate quantities to support your body to repair and regrow the muscles in a stronger and bigger state.
From your body’s point of view, you are then better placed to handle the stresses the next time you encounter them, i.e. future training sessions.
This constant dance of stressing and then supporting our muscles, through adequate nutrition and recovery, is the ongoing life of a lifter.
The workout plan will see you hitting the gym 3 times per week.
Perform the sessions in the order prescribed below (i.e. session A, B then C) and take a day off between to aid recovery.
So, if you start on Monday, your weekly schedule will look like this:
- Monday – Session A
- Tuesday – Rest
- Wednesday – Session B
- Thursday – Rest
- Friday – Session C
- Saturday – Rest
- Sunday – Rest
Repeat the cycle again from the following Monday.
Technique and lifting tempo
Measured controlled lifting is the order of the day.
Your aim should be to maximise the tension you place upon your muscles, which has been shown to be the most dominant contributor to muscle hypertrophy.
Work through a full range of motion every rep, utilising a 2-3 second count for the eccentric portion (the lowering phase of each exercise) and a 1-second pause at both the bottom and top of each lift to remove any momentum.
Lifting with correct form and efficiency may mean you need to lower the weights, for a few sessions/training cycles.
So, as the cliche goes, swallow your pride and check your ego at the door. How you lift is more important than how much.
Make use of progressive overload to maximise gains
Your body is amazingly adaptable and without a regular change in stimulus your gains will stall.
This is where progressive overload comes in.
As the name implies the idea is that we progressively increase the stimulus we apply to our muscles over time. This forces our bodies to adapt to ever increasing demands by becoming stronger and growing more muscle.
By increasing weight, reps or sets each week/month we are increasing the stimulus on our muscles and continuously pushing them to adapt.
Using a notebook or app, log each and every one of your gym sessions, noting down the weight lifted and the sets/reps completed for each exercise. Importantly, also note down the reps in reserve (RiR) you felt you had for the last set of each exercise.
Reps in Reserve is a measure of how many more reps you could do with correct form after you’ve finished your prescribed number.
If, for example, you were working to failure you’d have an RiR of 0, that is you couldn’t do another rep with correct form if your life depended on it. At the other end of the scale, if you push out 10 good reps but had at least another 5 in the tank you’d have an RiR of 5.
For this programme, you want to be working to an RiR of 1-2 reps for each exercise. When you can finish your last set of a given exercise with an RiR above 2 it’s a good indication that you are ready to increase intensity. Increase the weight by a small amount if you can, or 1-2 reps, until you are back working at the 1-2 RiR range. Rinse and repeat.
Remember, form is paramount and you should only be increasing intensity where you can safely and effectively perform a given exercise at the new weight or rep/set range.
Should you train to technical failure?
No, training to failure isn’t necessary for a beginner, or relatively untrained individual, for either muscle strength and/or hypertrophy.
And, even though training to technical failure may create a greater training stimulus, it will also create a disproportionate amount of fatigue that can increase the risk of injury. This in turn will negatively affect your recovery and subsequent workouts.
You will be best served by completing the majority of your working sets in the 1-2 RIR range and using progressive overload to increase training intensity over time.
That said, it may be worth incorporating training to failure in a limited capacity every so often, however, as both a means of benchmarking progress and keeping yourself honest regards your effort.
For example, working to failure on the last set of a specific muscle group at the end of a 4 or 6-week training cycle wouldn’t be without merit, if done safely.
As a general rule, working to failure is less of an issue for smaller muscles and isolation moves (e.g. bicep curls, calf raises, side delt raises) as you won’t cause too much fatigue. You should avoid working to failure with the big compound moves (e.g. squats, deadlifts, bench press) too often, however, as the amount of fatigue created and the injury risk is not worth the limited benefits (1RM strength PB chasing notwithstanding).
Finally, a health warning – If you are training to failure please only do so with a competent spotter and/or safety bars in place.
Finding your strating weight for each exercise
If needed, experiment with different weights between sets in the first week of the workout plan to get your weight right so you are working in the 1-2 RiR range for at least the last set of each exercise.
If you are doing an exercise for the first time then start light so you perform each move correctly. Increase the weight by a small increment each set until you get to an RiR of 1-2. This will then be your working weight for your next session.
Gauging reps in reserve is a skill to practice and learn
The effective use of reps in reserve is a skill that you need to learn, just as much as correct squat or deadlift technique.
It takes time to learn how hard you can really push yourself and what working to technical failure, and consequently 1 or 2 reps in reserve, really feels like.
You will likely underestimate what you can do when you first start out lifting. This is mitigated somewhat, however, through the use of progressive overload as you are still increasing intensity over time.
As covered above, it can be a good idea to work to failure on the last set of some of your exercises at regular intervals. Provided it is done in a controlled manner with a spotter and/or safety racks as required.
This testing allows you to gauge what you can really do and if you are working as hard as you should be and to the target reps in reserve range.
Reps in reserve (RIR) and relative perceived effort (RPE) are both excellent tools to help gauge effort and progress in the gym.
Progressive overload is perhaps the most important law in strength training and bodybuilding. How should you utilise it for maximum gains?
Taking 90-120 seconds rest (be consistent) between each set you should be able to work through each session in 50-60 minutes. This means that with your 10 minute warm up you should be done in just over an hour.
That’s just 3-4 hours per week total to improve your body composition and appearance.
3 day workout plan progression
You want to run the workout plan in 6-week cycles, increasing intensity from week to week, where you can. For example, you may increase reps or weight for one or more exercises or increase the number of working sets you complete.
E.g. if you can perform 6 reps of the bench press at 60kg, increase the reps to 8. Once you can perform 8 reps you increase the weight a touch but lower the reps back down to 6 before working your way back up to 8. Use this pattern for all the exercises listed below but stick around the rep ranges suggested.
Increasing working sets is also a great way to see continued gains as accumulating sufficient training volume is vital for muscle growth.
But, you don’t increase working sets in the same way you would reps or weight.
There is no need to go higher than the numbers we’ve provided in the templates below, but increasing from 2-3 or 3-4 working sets per exercise over 6 weeks is a great way to see improvement.
After 6 weeks of training, it’s a good idea to build in a deload week before starting another 6-week cycle.
In the deload you drop your volume by 50%, lower the weights or take another rest day or 2. This allows your body to recover and prepare for the next 6-week cycle.
As long as you are seeing gains in the weight/reps can lift and the shirt off selfies (these are permitted for research purposes only) you can repeat 6-8 week cycles for at least 9-12 months, if not far longer.
If, however, you feel you are hitting a plateau, that is you can’t add more weight or feel your muscle growth has stalled, moving to a higher volume plan, such as a 4-day upper/lower split or 6-day push/pull/legs routine, is a sensible move.
You may find that certain body parts lag others in growth and strength gains. This is normal and can be addressed through a specific focus on the lagging muscle/s.
We do this by re-ordering our exercises so we start with a focus on the lagging area, and/or adding in a small number of additional working sets.
As this is more of a beginner workout, it’s sensible to only target one or two muscles at a time for additional volume. As suggested above, if you need to increase volume across several muscles you will be better served by switching to a 4 or 5-day split programme.
A body part split, often referred to as a bro split, sees you dedicating each gym session to just a single muscle group.
A high frequency, high volume training plan that’s laser focused on muscle hypertrophy.
Rest and recovery between session
For your body to do the actual “growing bigger and stronger” part, it needs to be allowed sufficient rest and nutrition for the recovery to take place. Studies show a significant part of muscle recovery and growth occurs while you are sleeping. So, make sure you are getting that magic 7-8 hours sleep per night and find a sleep routine that works best for you.
Feel free to add in some light/moderate cardio on your rest days if you aren’t feeling too beat up from the gym and are getting sufficient sleep and fuelling your body properly.
Don’t neglect stretching and flexibility/mobility work
For maximum gains, health and longevity you should look at mobility and flexibility as an essential part of your training.
Book into a regular class at your gym or get online and find a whole body stretch and flexibility routine you can do at home.
Dedicating just 15-20 minutes a day to improving your mobility and flexibility will pay huge dividends now and in the future.
Nutrition and fuelling your workouts
As important as the hard graft you put into the gym is, it will all be for nothing if you don’t work equally as hard on your nutrition.
The amount you eat and what you eat are important.
This means tracking what you eat and knowing your target daily calorie count to ensure you are fuelling enough to workout and grow (just 200-300 extra calories per day above your TDEE is sufficient) or, conversely, not overeating and putting on excess fat.
Stick to natural whole foods and meals you prepare yourself and ensure you are consuming adequate protein to facilitate muscle growth.
Aim for approximately 1.6g – 2.0g of protein for every kg of bodyweight. It’s also a good idea to aim to consume a decent portion of your protein (30-40g) post-exercise, within an hour or two, as studies show this helps with recovery.
But, don’t get too hung up on meal timings. The main goal is ensuring adequate calorie and protein intake over a 24 hour period.
Remember to drink water when you are thirsty, and during your workouts, and aim to down at least 6-8 glasses (1.2 -1.5 litres) per day.
For more in-depth nutritional information for muscle growth take a look at our nutrition for muscle growth primer.
3 day full body workout plan
Flare your toes out slightly and sit back and down with your knees moving out laterally
Incline Dumbbell Press
Keep your shoulder blades pinched together and the weights slightly rotated at a 45 degree angle in order to keep the elbows in a neutral position
Keep you back parallel to the ground. Pull your working arm back at your sides and finish with your elbow above your body
Seated dumbbell overhead press
Keep your lower back firmly against the bench. Work through a full range of motion with the DB moving from the tops of your shoulders to full lockout
Actively resist the negative/downward portion of each rep
Standing calf raise on block/step
Pause at the bottom of each rep to remove achilles assistance and to stretch your calves, push all the way up on your toes and don’t bounce, hold a DB or plate to add more resistance, as needed
Cable Abdominal Crunch
Keep your hips high and locked in place throughout the movement, hold the rope in front of your forehead, not over your neck/shoulders
Flat Barbell Bench Press
Keep your shoulder blades retracted and down. Tuck your elbows at 45 degrees
Use an overhand shoulder width grip, think about driving your elbows backwards to move the bar, squeeze your shoulder blades together for a 1 count at the top of each and every rep
A flat or incline machine is fine. Drive each rep through your heels
Side Lateral Dumbbell Raise
Focus on squeezing your side deltoids to initiate the movement, keep the dumbbells flat throughout each rep with a slight bend at your elbow
Tricep Rope Push Down
Lean forward slightly and keep your upper arm still throughout the move with your elbows close to your sides
Hanging Leg Raise
Focus on flexing your spine and don’t swing between reps. Add weight, via a weight belt or holding a DB between you ankles, as required
Keep your chest up, brace your lats and pull the slack out of the bar prior to each rep
Use a just wider than shoulder grip, brace your core as you lift the bar directly overhead, avoid tilting you pelvis forward
Narrow Grip Flat Barbell Press
Use a shoulder width grip, elbows down at your side
Take a shoulder width grip and think about pulling your chest up to the bar, use an assisted machine or add weight as needed
Barbell Bicep Curl
Keep your elbows by your side and ensure each rep is initiated with the bicep, think about driving the bar upwards with your pinky (as if trying to turn your wrists), pause at the bottom of each rep to remove all momentum
Kneeling Cable Face Pull
Use a pulley machine with a neutral, overhand grip (your thumbs should point back behind you), the rope should be above your head with your upper arms parallel to the floor at the end of the movement
So, there we go, a simple to follow 3 day full body hypertrophy focused workout plan suitable for both beginners and more intermediate lifters.
Plus it is a great starting template that you can build on as you become more experienced in the iron game.
By following our plan and being disciplined with your training consistency, nutrition and recovery you’ll see solid gains and improvements in how you look and feel, all for just 3-4 hours per week.