Evidence based medical wellness for active people from a doc who walks the walk

Weight training for beginners: what the ACSM recommends


I have been in the weight room almost all my life, doing what ever exercises seemed fun.  (Hmm, probably not very effective!)  I read lots of magazines, my favorite is FitnessRX. (If you go the website, please ignore all the supplement ads.  I am in no way advocating for unproven supplements!!!)  All the magazines seem to focus on either 1) hard core lifters with biceps the size of Popeye 2) 20 somethings in leggings and sports bras that are undoubtedly fitter, prettier, smarter, healthier, and wealthier than I ever was or will be or 3) “elderly” patients sitting on exercises balls lifting one pound weights.  I thought it would be helpful to know what the garden variety new comer to weights should do.

Luckily, the American College of Sports Medicine came to the rescue! In the September/October edition of ACSM Health and Fitness Journal, they include the following program of resistance training for most adults:

  • Frequency: train every muscle group 2 -3 times per week
  • Intensity: 60-70 % of 1 rep max.  What you say? Conservatively, start with a weight you can lift comfortably for 10 -15  times in a row.  (This is a “set”.)  Once you can do that comfortably for several sets, increase the weight by 5%.
  • Do each exercise for 2- 4 sets, each set containing 10 -15 repetitions.

Okay, fair enough.  BUT WHAT EXERCISES TO DO? ACSM gives the following programs:

Machine exercises for beginner exercisers:

  • leg press
  • chest press
  • seated row
  • lateral raise
  • abdominal
  • low back
  • leg curl
  • shoulder press
  • pull down.
  • They also recommend let extension, but given all my knee issues, I just couldn’t include it.

Free weight exercises for beginning exercisers, using dumbbell or kettle bell:

  • squat
  • bench press
  • bent over row
  • lateral raise
  • biceps curl
  • triceps extension
  • stationary lunge
  • step up
  • shoulder raise
  • pullover.

If you are a beginner, or coming off a period of inactivity or injury, or chronic illness, check with your doctor for medical clearance.  A personal trainer can show you the basics, and of course physical therapists can bring you back from injury stronger than before!  Maybe I will see you in one of the sports mags!

Last, a great resource to see exactly how the exercises are done is by watching the Revo Physiotherapists demonstrate them on  YouTube.  Check out the bent over row below.  You can go to YouTube and search for Revo, and lots of helpful videos pop up. That’s Bryan Briggs, in the video below– the PT that I see, demonstrating proper form on the bent over row.



Author: PookieMD

I am a board certified internal medicine physician. I love medicine and seek to bring evidence based medicine to the fitness and wellness world.


  1. I like this post! That is absolutely great post with brilliant information. Of course, I have to thank you specially for sharing this post because it will work mostly for the beginner.

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