Learning Your Level

Megan Dahlman
March 14, 2022

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All of my workout plans refer to beginners, intermediates or advanced. What level are you? No clue whatsoever? Perhaps three years ago you worked out regularly, but you haven’t stepped foot in a gym for a long time. You feel like you’re starting from scratch…but, not really? Or perhaps you are pretty fit, but you have an injury that you’re working around. What routines should you try? This is all so confusing.

Let me break it down for you so you know which workouts to gravitate towards.


True beginners have never, ever done this before. You are a beginner if you have no idea how to strength train, you’ve never squatted before other than tying your kiddos shoelaces (and maybe other activities of daily living...), and it frightens you to even think of doing a push-up. You need to start at square one, teaching your body the basics of how to move properly. Learning technique. Learning how to balance. Learning how to listen to your body and what it means to push it in a workout. My beginner workouts will teach you this.

I would also suggest that you are a beginner if your body is pretty rusty. Even if you used to workout and had a personal trainer years ago (good for you!), you should probably start at square one. Like a true beginner, you need to take some time to master the basics and ensure that you have proper technique with the simple stuff before you move on. Your body will probably remember very quickly what to do, and then you can move on to intermediate workouts.

(I get a little giddy when I have a client who has worked with a trainer in the past, even if it was a mediocre one. Generally, having a professional watch the way you perform an exercise and correct your technique will stick with you for a good long time. If you’ve never worked with a trainer, don’t fear. Watch every single video I post, absorbing the nuances of mechanics. Watch yourself in a mirror and scrutinize your form. Even beginners can lay a good foundation of proper technique to build upon.)


Plug yourself into the intermediate routines if you dabble in fitness on a regular basis. You consistently participate in workout classes or do lots of workout videos, you’ve worked with a trainer here and there, and you feel fairly strong. Intermediates usually have a good grasp on what their body is capable of. You can bust out five or even ten push-ups if you had to with good technique, but don’t ask for more. You just might not feel like you’re in the best shape you could be in right now, but you’re definitely not starting from scratch.

Intermediate level is also a great place to be if you’re an experienced trainee, but you’re nursing an injury and can’t handle the intensity of advanced workouts. Having an injury is another ballgame, so just be careful here. Always err on the side of caution.


Advanced routines are intense. When I create programs for the advanced, I really don’t hold back. They’re fun, but you need to make sure your body can handle it. You will need to balance, produce power, absorb impact, coordinate multiple body parts at the same time, all while not getting nauseous. Your technique must be impeccable, even on complicated exercises. Advanced routines are for the experienced only. If you don’t know what you’re doing, do NOT start here just to try it. I would hate it if you hurt yourself just because you were being macho.

As a good rule of thumb, “train down” a level. Be conservative. If you think you’re an intermediate, try a beginner workout first to see how you do. If you think you’re advanced, make sure the intermediate workouts are a piece of cake. Never “train up”. And honestly, even advanced trainees can benefit from the technique focus that you find in a beginner routine.

However, a time will come when you really need to move up a level. If you have completely mastered all the beginner routines, move on to the intermediate workouts. You need to progress. If you stick with what is in your comfort zone, you will never see improvement.​

Hey, guess what? You can start showing up for your body in simple ways, right now.
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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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