There’s a lot of confusion out there when it comes to starting off on a strength training program. Although there are plenty of ways to get the job done I’ve pulled together a list of what I consider to be the most important things for a beginner starting off!
1. Stick With Free Weights
Free-weight exercises utilizing dumbbells and barbells are a great choice for people starting off. Not only will they allow for a vast array of exercise and require accurate control through the use of smaller stabilizer muscles but they will also allow you to do compound exercises like squats and deadlifts which work the entire body. Getting used to moving them around will also give you an incredibly strong foundation for the more advanced lifts down the road.
Although some of the weight machines have their uses, they only really hold their own for advanced lifters looking to target specific areas. Beginners don’t have this requirement as they need to build up a solid base before worrying about this!
2. Go With A 5×5 Program Like Stronglifts Or Starting Strength
The benefits of the exercises included in these programs are that they are compound, full body movements. They require you to move your entire body through space and utilize the muscles from head to toe to get the job done. When your just starting out, your body is itching to grow and can take a fair beating. Doing full body exercises maximizes this potential and ensures your progress comes on thick and fast.
Not only that, but at the start you have no real idea how much weight you can safely put on the bar. These programs have this issue worked out for you and start easy enough to make sure you don’t get hurt but progress fast enough to get you moving serious weights, fast! Plus they help in your mental ability to focus when you’ve got a heavy bar on your back.
3. Feel Every Rep
Its rare these days that you see coaches ensuring that people are doing the reps with the correct concentration that they should be. Rather then just moving the weight through the motions, you should feel the particular muscles your working activate and try to squeeze them as much as possible.
For example, if doing a bench press, rather than just moving the bar from the rack to your nipples and back again, feel the weight affect your muscle on the way down squeeze your chest on the way back up. Doing this across all exercises will not only build up the “mind muscle connection”, allowing you to lift more down the line, but also will fully activate your muscles and CNS leading to further muscle growth.
4. Form Comes Above Weight On The Bar
For many of us, when we start, the weight on the bar wont be much compared to those around us and we want to progress fast. Often the only marker used to determine strength for those starting out is weight on the bar, but unless you can do it with the correct form you are wasting your time. Not only will bad form hinder your progress as you get stronger, it will also dramatically increase the risk of injury!
Keep a focus on maintain correct form above all else. This will keep you healthy and safe, allowing you to train for longer.
5. Stick With One Program As Prescribed
The most common mistake that beginners make is that they “Program Hop”, they move from program to program without completing any of them. This is usually caused by “Paralysis by Analysis”, the flood of information that is available to a beginner just causes more confusion than help and they constantly think that they are starting down the incorrect path.
In reality, there are a million and one ways to get strong, but only if you stick with it. Having a huge selection of training methods is great because it means its more or less impossible to not find something you enjoy, but you need to have the knowledge and basic skill to make that choice.
I recommend starting strength and Stronglifts because they aren’t very complicated, get you strong and give you the experience you need to choose where to go once the program is finished. So, whatever program you initially pick, just stick with it to the end. Those other programs will still be there when the time comes to choose the next one.
6. Ignore Supplements Like Pre-Workouts And Protein
Although these too have their place with more advanced lifters, when you are starting off they are worth less than 1% of the results you get. You’d be far better off spending that money on membership to a quality gym and on fresh whole foods. Although protein does have its place, it is NOT a magic powder that will build muscle fast. It’s highly processed nature is probably doing more harm than good and the same amount of protein can be gotten from higher quality sources like meat and nuts.
Pre-workouts too are more or less useless at this early stage. Take the time to build up a base level of strength before even thinking about these because it can all to easy become a crutch that people use to get through a mediocre workout. Once your more advanced and knowledgeable about where you want to take your training you can revisit your decision to take them or not!
7. Build Your Diet Around Real, Whole Foods
This is a no brainer. Not only will eating real, whole foods give you a vast array of nutrients and minerals, but it will also help boost metabolism and build up your cooking skills. You will make progress faster having a full spectrum of your daily requirements and will save money on supplements by getting everything you need through real, healthy meals.
8. Don’t Do Cardio If You Don’t Have To
Unless you are competing in a cardio based sport, don’t bother including it. Rather, if you’re trying to lose some fat or even just keep it at bay, stick with some conditioning exercises like sprints, sled pushes or skipping. You’ll get it done faster, see better results and these exercises will only help your strength progress. Something that cannot be said for typical cardio.
See this previous article I pulled together on why this is the case!
9. Focus Energy On Recovery
When it comes to strength training, more is not always better. If you are completing your program as prescribed as often as you should, you do not need to add in any more. At this stage you have no idea how much volume you can tolerate and run the risk of under-recovering.
Concentrate on keeping stress to a minimum, getting adequate sleep and doing some soft tissue work like foam rolling as required and you’ll make leaps and bounds of progress in the gym. All too often someones progress has stalled or even reversed due to being stressed out or not getting enough sleep.
Please do not under appreciate the importance of sleep and relaxation.
10. Understand That Its Not The Only Way
We have all seen the websites and articles saying that there is only one way to get strong and lean and everything else is wrong. The reality is very different. The truth is, as I alluded too already, that there are many ways to get strong. People get blinded by their own success and think that because something worked well for them that it has to be the best way, forgetting that everyone is different.
Try to understand this early. You will always hear that there are better ways to do what you are doing and tweaks or changes you can make. As true as that might be, it doesn’t matter. Strength gain is a marathon, not a sprint, and you’ll have plenty of time to try other programs and methods once you finish your current program.
The only thing that seems to be a part of all the methods and techniques across the board is that you need to be consistent. Jumping ship every week will just hinder your progress.
There you have it. The ten things I think beginners should concentrate when starting out. Get these under control and your well on the path to getting swole.
As always, reach out if there is anything I can help with.