You’re new to the gym, and it’s a scary place. You find yourself in a sweaty room filled with people doing weird things with metal bars and circular chunks of metal that look pretty heavy, while staring at you with a disregard that is on the borderline of pure hatred.. and some of them are even lying down while doing it! You don’t know what to do, where to begin… So you ask around – but that just makes you more confused.. Why is everyone telling you something different?
Have no fear, puny human (yes, Hulk reference) – I am here to offer some help. I can’t promise I can do anything about those glances of pure hatred – you may just have one of those faces – but I can help you train so that at least you should be earning some respect around the place. Well, at least I would respect you. Everyone likes an underdog, and I’m always much more fond of that fat kid on the treadmill who’s been running for the last hour and looks like he’s about to fall on his face, than the built guy who spends the half hour between each set examining his arms in the mirror. If you want to change, and you’re putting the effort in – I’m your biggest fan.
Where to start
So, you’re in the gym and you know you’re meant to throw some heavy things around – but you don’t know how to, how much, or how hard. Everyone is going to tell you different, and usually they will just be prescribing their routine. But routines are suited to an individual, and what works best for them may not be optimal for you. And you want optimal, right? So here’s a little advice:
Make the most of it when you’re starting out, because you will never have that opportunity again.
Something thats common knowledge to fitness people around the world, is the idea of ‘beginner gains’ – you never have more potential to grow than in your first six months of weight training. You can do more to your body composition in those six months, than double or triple that time later on. Your body is completely unused to weight training, and any lifting stimulus is going to make it grow like a mad man.
So how best to make use of this?
It’s my opinion that full body workouts are the best way to make use of all that extra potential. Too many people will get caught up in doing endless isolated bicep curls and performing sets of flys until the sun comes up when they first start out – but your body isn’t ready for that yet.
guideline #1: Compound exercises (aimed at more than one muscle group) are the key to your success
Compound exercises (like bench press, squat, and dead-lifts) will generate more testosterone, allow you to lift heavier weights, and cause less muscle fatigue than isolation exercises, so that you can workout for longer – all of which are beneficial to muscle growth. Not to mention compounds burn more calories than isolation exercises (aimed at a single muscle group) and help to maintain joint health, and are a better simulation of real-life movements that you would use in sports.
Isolation exercises will become more beneficial later on, when you’re body is more accustomed to weight-training.
guideline #2: Sometimes less, is more
Resting is a major component in building both muscle strength and size. You won’t be doing yourself a lot of favours by training every single day for hours on end. Your muscles, and central nervous system (CNS) need time to recover after intensive bouts of exercise like weight-training – and working out too long or too often will only cause you to develop over-training syndrome and stall your gains.
As a beginner, you don’t need as much rest time as you will later on in your lifting ‘career’, but it’s still important that you give yourself the necessary time to recover after intense sessions. You should aim for, at a very minimum – two days off per week (completely rested, no training).
If you’re training different muscle groups on different days – say back & bis, chest & tris, legs & shoulders – try taking a day or two (depending on how you feel) to rest after you’ve done the three days in a row. Or, if you’re doing three days of full body a week, take a day off between each session.
guideline #3: Diet is just as important as training itself
How much you eat will directly affect how much you grow. If you aren’t eating enough – you won’t be gaining enough. It’s not as simple as the more you eat, the more you grow, because your body still has limitations of just how much muscle it can build in a period of time – but as a beginner this limit is higher than for an experienced trainer.
As a beginner, your potential is much higher than the experienced weight lifter. Take this advantage and don’t think too much about calories, just eat, and eat a lot. If you think you’re gaining a lot of fat as well as muscle (nearly everyone will gain a little fat) – dial back the amount of food you’re consuming a bit. And try to make sure the food you are eating is the good stuff, please please please don’t go to macdonalds and eat five BigMacs claiming it’s ok because “you’re bulking” *shudder*. Don’t be scared of carbs, fats, and foods that you like – but do try and get some meat (proteins) in with most of your meals.
I’m a huge advocate of full-body training when you first start out – your body can take this kind of session at least three times a week, and it has a number of benefits ranging from increased testosterone, to getting you accustomed to the lifts that are going to make you or break you in the future. Compound movements like squats, dead-lifts, and yes – the bench press – are great mass-builders, and will be staples of your lifting diet. It’s a good idea to be properly schooled in those movements before you progress into lifting considerable weight that could do you harm if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Two programs I can recommend for beginners are the Strong-Lifts program, and Starting-Strength. Both of which are built on foundations of compound movements, and well-backed schools of thought behind muscle growth. It’s easier for you to research those (hello, google) and read up for yourself, than for me to explain them to you – but know that either of these is a great starting point, and you will be reaping the benefits for months, or years to come.
I hope this has helped you out with a few ground-rules, and covered some of the basics. One thing I implore you to do, is look up how to do the exercises you want to perform, before you do them with any significant weight. Proper compound techniques will go a long, long way – especially for injury prevention.
If you have any more questions, feel free to send me an email or leave a comment below!