When it comes to training for strength just getting a foot in the door can be a bit daunting. The internet has proven to be a fantastic resource of information regarding all aspects of training, but there are so many contradictory accounts and opposing theories that selecting an appropriate workout pattern can be confusing.
This is intended as an aid to all those beginners out there, the people just starting strength training. Perhaps even a few inermediate lifters whose gains are slowing down and are looking to mix things up in their routine.
My philosophy is to keep it simple, and to keep progressing at a steady rate, even if the pace can seem a little slow. One of the first things you should know before starting strength training is that everybody is genetically different from everybody else in some way. Some people are seemingly able to eat junk and train sporadically but still look pretty good, others work far harder and eat far cleaner to achieve the same. This should never deter you from achieving your goals however, with the right diet and amount of training, anybody can reach the targets they set for themselves given time.
When I first started lifting weights I tried doing a five day split, training one or two body parts a day over a five day period. This works well generally for bodybuilders looking to maximise gains to certain body parts. They train like this because they want to pump as much blood into the muscle as possible, which will pump more necessary protein to aid muscle growth. They do this by training body parts to exhaustion over many long sets.
The problem that I encountered when emulating this is that most people starting their training - people like you and I - just don't benefit from this type of exercise in the same way. What beginners need are big, heavy, compund lifts. Lifts that use as many muscles as possible and really tear down the fibres. The science behind this is rather simple. As you train, you create miniscule tears throughout your muscle. Your muscles use the proteins you eat as a cellular bulding block, rebuilding your muscles with stronger replacement fibers.
I, personally, would recommend starting with only five different exercises. Mix them up over three days in a week, but always have a least one day off between training days. Rest is just as important as the training itself, as it is during this downtime that the muscles heal and recover. If you overtrain it will actually have a negative impact on your gains, as it does not give your muscles time to grow.
The five exercises are: Barbell Squats, Bench Press, Barbell Rows, Overhead Press and Deadlifts. Perform three exercises on each day you train, and perform these exercises for five sets of five repetitions. You can take as long a break as you like between sets, as the aim here is not to keep the muscle pumped with blood, but to break down those deep fibres and build dense muscle.
Form is paramount, I suggest visiting youtube and watching as many videos as you can. Start with a low weight until your form is perfect. This way you are far less likely to injure yourself by performing a lift incorrectly. Once you have perfected your form you can start increasing the weight. As previously mentioned, my philosophy is about slow steady progress: it's important to increase what you lift every time, even if it's only by a single kilogram.
A few last points to remember: safety is paramount, always train with a spotter; keep hydrated during your workout, keep a big bottle of water handy; and try not to miss workouts, even when you'd rather spend an evening in front of the TV!