Strength Training for Sedentary People

by Facundo Martin

November 15, 2019

We spend more time chained to a desk than we’d like to admit. I, for one, despite having never set foot in an office, would be sitting pretty much all day if it wasn’t for strength training. I’m a 27-year-old freelance translator who goes nomadic from time to time. But for all its appeal and the sense of freedom it gives you, this lifestyle in no way guarantees you’re staying fit.

You might be hopping from plane to plane and filling your Instagram feed with world landmarks, but are you doing any real exercise? And even if you don’t have to see your boss every day, you still likely need to spend hours on end in front of a computer. If you need a break from your sedentary work, weight lifting might be just perfect for you!


Are You Ready to Start Lifting?

If you’re a sedentary person, strength training might seem like a daunting exercise to pick up. But you don’t have to be a bodybuilder or an Olympic athlete to lift weights and I’m not promising you’ll become one, either. When I started training two years ago, I was a 6 feet guy who weighed a meager 130 lbs. Since then, I’ve put on 20 lbs of lean gains—I haven’t got sick once and have considerably improved my work productivity, to boot. Still, I have no impressive muscles to flex or chiseled abs to show, and that’s alright. Anyone can lift, you just need to adjust the weights to your strength level.

How to Start Strength Training

The only thing you need for strength training is some sort of resistance, something to push or pull against. Here are the things you can use:

Free Weights

Free moving weights, such as barbells and dumbbells, are one of the most useful types of equipment. They’ll allow you to work on your balance and coordination, train your core-stabilizers and do more athletic exercises. They are used in powerlifting and are my favorite type of equipment.


Weight machines are a great way to get started if you’ve never lifted before. They are easy to set up and generally safer since they prevent you from dropping weight on yourself when failing a rep. I like to use them to isolate specific muscles (e.g., doing one leg hamstring curls). On the downside, they don’t give you the same bang for your buck as free weights or provide functional training.

Body Weight

When I’m somewhere where I don’t have access to a gym or equipment, I know I can fall back on staples like push-ups and body squats. Bodyweight exercises also train you for real-life movements and are used in everything from yoga to calisthenics. On the other hand, adding more weight to these exercises can be difficult and impractical.

Is a Gym Membership Worth It?

Gyms offer both free weights and machines. I love going to the gym and some days it’s my only excuse to leave my apartment. If you’re a people person, going to the gym can also be a great way to interact with others and stay motivated. If you’re often on the go or on the road, having a membership with a big chain is also a plus.
But, if you prefer the comfort of your own home, you can build your own gym with minimal resources. All you really need is a barbell, a flat bench, a rack, some plates, and clips.
As I mentioned, if you don’t have access to any equipment, you can always rely on bodyweight exercises. Anabolic Aliens on YouTube is great for workouts you can do wherever you are using just your body.

What is the Best Workout Routine for Beginners?

Your ideal workout will depend on your goals. The most important thing is that it motivates you to keep lifting and that it doesn’t put you at risk of injury. You’ll also want it to be effective at driving hypertrophy (muscle growth) and making you stronger.

How to Lift Weights Safely and Effectively

Strength training is very safe and boasts a much lower injury rate than contact sports. Still, you must learn and always use proper form for all exercises to avoid any mishaps — more on that later. In addition, don’t overexert yourself by doing too much volume or pushing yourself to failure too often. A mistake I’ve been guilty of is using too much weight with poor form.

What is the Right Volume for a Beginner?

Training volume is the weight you use for an exercise times reps times sets. A rep is a full motion of one exercise and a set is a group of reps. Start with a comfortable weight until you’ve mastered the form. As you progress, aim to stop 2 or 3 reps short of your limit for each set. 5-10 sets per week per large muscle group (legs, chest, back, shoulders) is plenty for a complete beginner.

How to Stay Motivated for Weight Training and Get Results

As a beginner, it’s nice to have a simple program that eliminates the mental burden of keeping track of lots of things. You’ll also want to apply progressive overload – lift increasingly more volume by adding weight or doing more reps when you’re ready. This is not only a science-backed strategy to get results, but also a way to challenge yourself and stay motivated.

Workout Ideas

Full-body Circuit Training with Machines and Dumbbells

Dumbbell chest press 3 x 6-8*
Wide grip lat pulldown 3 x 6-8
Dumbbell shoulder press 3 x 6
Hamstring curl 3 x 10
Leg press 3 x 10
Ab crunch 3 x 10-15
Triceps rope pushdown 2 x 10-12
Dumbbell biceps curl 2 x 8-10

*The first number is the number of sets and the second one is the number or range of reps. E.g., 3 x 6-8 means 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps.

The first routine I ever did looked somewhat like this. This program is suitable for absolute beginners and mainly uses machines, which don’t put pressure on the joints. Feel free to also use machines for the chest and shoulder presses if you need to. You can do this workout as a circuit: complete one set of each exercise and then start the round over until you’ve finished all sets (notice the last round will be shorter). You can perform this workout once or twice a week for around 3 months and then move on to a new program.

5 x 5 Workout

This was the workout that made me passionate about lifting. Popularized by StrongLifts, this program incorporates 5 big compound lifts (deadlift, squat, bench press, overhead press and barbell row). These lifts require less equipment, hit several muscles at once and will make you grow much stronger. You should also treat them with more respect. While still suitable for beginners, you might want to start with an easier program if this is your very first time training for strength.

Lifting with Proper Form

If you don’t have someone who can teach you the different lifts in person, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to watch video tutorials. You can check out Buff Dudes, Jeff Nippard, Alan Thrall or Jeff Cavaliere on YouTube. Remember: it’s essential to always lift with perfect form, using full range of motion, both to avoid injuries and to make better gains.

So there you have it. Strength training is all you need to break free from your sedentary lifestyle!

Facundo Martin

By Facundo Martin

Translator by training, writer by vocation, travel nomad at heart. I have lived in corners of the earth as remote as Taiwan and Argentina and traveled to many places in between. I'm also a fitness enthusiast currently doing a push/pull/legs split. Everything I do is infused with my passion for stories.


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