Are you interested in working out, but have no idea how? That's where I was until a year and a half ago. I avoided the gym because I was so clueless about what to do there that I didn't want to make a fool of myself.
Looking information on the internet is almost pointless, because every document out there is for people who know what they're doing. I didn't.
I finally got an idea of what to do when I moved to LA. One of my roommates, Tyler, is considered to be perhaps the most obsessed and analytical pickup artist in the business. I mean that in a good way - for a while he made it his life, and as a result he got to the top faster than anyone else ever has.
He had gone through the same process with weightlifting in the past and was an encyclopedia of knowledge. Additionally, I had a platinum Amex which, upon signing up for our gym, entitled me to six free personal training sessions.
After badgering Tyler and my trainer with questions, and continuing my education elsewhere, I was able to get respectable results in a fairly short amount of time. Hopefully my knowledge will be of use to you as well.
The first thing to realize is that there are two components of building mass (I'm assuming you're a decent weight and want to gain muscle. If you want to lose weight, make sure to read all the way through because I have a special case for you at the bottom). You need to concern yourself with diet and with exercise.
The reason everyone's always soiling their diapers over protein is because it is the building block of muscle. Exercising puts the building blocks in place and creates muscle. If you have no blocks, the exercising is just torturing you. If you have the blocks and no exercise, most of them will be digested. And I've digested a couple buliding blocks as a kid - it's not the optimal solution.
Anyway, you want to get a good protein blend. My favorite place is The Protein Factory (and just to let you know how much I like them, every other place will pay me to direct people to their store, but I still recommend the one that doesn't). The reason I like them so much is that you can custom make your protein blend, and the price is still reasonable. Make sure that you have it sweetened with stevia. It's the healthiest sweetener by far.
I like to get unflavored protein and add it to smoothies, but most people just get flavored protein and add it to water. It doesn't really matter.
You want to take in 1g of protein per pound you weight per day. If you can't hack that much protein (you probably can), then do what you can.
Foods that are high in protein include fish, nuts, and chicken. It's pretty easy to steer your diet in that direction.
Also, you want a lot of water. The easiest way to drink a lot of water is to always have a glass near you, even if you aren't actively drinking it. I put a water machine next to my desk and I drink tons now.
The best time to eat lots of protein (read: your protein shake) is directly after working out. I usually saved a chicken breast and my protein shake for right after the workout.
As for the actual workout, it's going to last about 40-60 minutes. Some people get nuts and do 90 minutes, but the return after an hour diminishes greatly.
You'll work out three days a week. Probably Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. If you want to switch the days around, that's fine - just don't have two in a row if possible. If that's the only way you can do it, fine. If you're trying to lose weight, you want to jog 3 times a week if possible (or do the elliptical, treadmill or stair machine).
If you're jogging, try to keep a 10 minute mile or so and run for 30 minutes after it gets moderately uncomfortable. Up until that point you're warming up, so make sure to push, otherwise you're doing a lot of work for almost nothing.
What is a rep?
A rep is a single instance of motion that brings you back to where you start. So doing one chest press rep, for example, would be lying on a bench on your back, holding the bar at your chest, pushing all the way up, and bringing it back down.
A set is just a group of reps. So three sets of 15 reps would be three groups of 15 repetitions, for a total of 45 "pushes".
In general you want to be doing three sets of about 10 reps. By the 9th or 10th rep on the 3rd set, you should be having great difficulty continuing, possibly even unable to do it. The weight that you choose is the variable here, so as you get stronger you do the same amount of reps, but with a bigger weight.
On day 1 (Monday in this example), you're going to work out your chest. This is what makes the ladies swoon (I'm told), so don't slack.
Pick three or four different chest exercises and do 3 sets of 10 for each of them. Here's where you can get great descriptions of each : Bodybuilding.com. Try not to be freaked out by the scary muscly man, or the even scarier muscly woman. You won't ever have to look like that.
Also do 3x10 of one tricep exercise. Last, do the first rotator cuff exercise on this page.
Day two (Wednesday) :
Three shoulder exercises, two lat exercises, one middle back, one lower back
Day three (Friday):
Two calf, Three hamstring, two bicep
In addition, every single day (whether working out or not) you should do three sets of fifteen situps or crunches. These work your core, which unlike the other muscle groups, doesn't need a break.
This quick guide is all you really need to know to productively get started working out. I'm sure experienced body builders will read this and say "he totally forgot about working the ankles! you need to work out everything!" and it's true - if you want to be a body builder. But if you want to get impressive results without become a gym nerd, just follow this guide. If you get more serious about it, you can start investing money in a personal trainer or tons of workout books.
Where do I work out?
You can either join a gym or work out at home. Each has it's own set of advantages and disadvantages. Gold's Gym tends to be a favorite, as is 24 hour fitness. If you have a gym at school or at your apartment complex, just use that.
You can do most of the exercises at home with a bench. Right now has one at half price that looks really versatile. I paid more than that for a more basic one used off Craigslist (also a good option for instant gratification). You can buy weights online, but it's not worth it with shipping. Just go to Wal Mart and get them there. To start off all you need are pairs of 15lb dumbbells, 20lb dumbbells, and 25lb dumbbells. Instead of a bar with weights on the ends, just use the two 25lb dumbbells. It's safer and it saves money.
The only thing you can't do from home without more equipment is your back exercises. Most of them will require a pulldown bar. I built one in my house pretty cheaply using stuff from Home Depot.
What to expect
Now, you aren't going to notice any changes for about a month. This gets frustrating because it seems like you're working for nothing - stick with it. By the end of month two, people will be commenting on your bigger muscles even if they don't know that you've been working out.
The most important factor (as with anything) is consistency. Work out three times a week, EVERY WEEK. If you work out when you feel like it, you won't ever make progress.
If you want to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time, there is an excellent book called Burn The Fat. If you are a reasonable weight already, then don't bother complicating things - just start today!
Oh, and if you're a lady type who doesn't want to get all jacked up and you feel left out - don't worry... I have a story just for the ladies coming out soon.