Every person who lays eyes on this article was a beginner at some point. Many of us who’ve spent years refining our skills still consider ourselves beginners (I know I do), and that’s a great attitude to have if you ask me. I believe that it pays to remain humble and open to ideas, old and new.
What I’m about to present to you isn’t a magic program or anything like that – it’s just a few common sense training tips with a dash of motivation thrown in for good measure. So, whether you’re just starting out and you need guidance, or you’re looking for something to reflect upon as you move to the next stage, I think you’ll find this a good read!
Find A Balance
When you begin your journey, it can be tempting to buy into the “more is better” philosophy and spend every day in the gym for hours on end, but some consideration for factors outside of training is necessary. We have jobs, families, and other hobbies that require our time and energy. This puts a limit on how much time we can devote to exercise.
After years of training, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that missing an important birthday or social function because you were working on your deadlift is only cool until you hurt the feelings of someone dear to you.
Always put what matters most first. Don’t feel bad about missing a workout. Training can always be rescheduled. Fit exercise into your lifestyle, not the other way around, and you’ll set yourself up for long-term progress and results.
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Train Efficiently and Don’t Be Too Specific
Speaking of long-term results, it’s paramount to acknowledge that what you’re doing today influences what you’re going to be capable of in ten years. For you to get there, you’re going to have to commit. There are no shortcuts.
To that end, we’ve all been exposed to the idea that working hard is the key to progressing and while I personally believe that that holds true for fitness, it has to be applied correctly. If you work efficiently and apply just enough overload to your body to get things moving in the right direction, you can see MASSIVE improvements.
Plain and simple, as a beginner, you can’t can’t push yourself as hard as someone with 10-20 years of experience – your mind and body aren’t developed yet – and you need substantially less specific training stimulus to grow compared to someone with decades under their belt. You can get better by doing just about anything and you need to take advantage of that.
To better understand this concept, consider yourself a piece of clay – malleable, soft, and easily manipulated. Pretty much anything can shape clay; dull instruments, bare hands, even water and flame leave quite the impression.
Consider then the elite athletes that you aspire to be like – veritable slabs of marble weathered by the storm of athletic achievement. The same tools, techniques, and intensities that mold a clay figure are insufficient when it comes to sculpting a beautiful marble statue. Likewise, a chisel driven by the concussion of a hammer will pummel a softer material into an unrecognizable mess.
When you’re just starting out, your time is better spent performing lots of different movements and styles of training to improve your general physical preparedness (GPP).
Get good at a number of things, don’t put yourself in a box, Jack of all trades, master of none, that sort of thing.
As you progress and figure out what you like best/what you’re good at, you can develop your special physical preparedness (SPP) and you’ll have a great athletic base to build upon.
As an example, I’ll share a bit about myself. When I started working out, I liked running, sprinting, weight training, barbell complexes, circuit training on machines, calisthenics, and I even did yoga! After a couple years, I realized that I love moving heavy weight and I started training for powerlifting competitions. Although I’ve got some medals and I hold a state record, I still take the time to revisit the things that helped me build the general work capacity I needed to endure powerlifting specific training. You should do the same!
Focus on Building Your Base – Don’t Chase Max Lifts Year-round
This next topic is directly related to the last section, so pay attention.
Whether you’re interested in general health, or you want to improve specific sport performance, a dense base of muscle will be very important. The more muscle you carry, the greater potential you have for strength. (Muscle also looks pretty good.) Most people know this, and they make the correlation that if larger muscles move heavier weight, moving heavier weight must be the focus of their resistance training. That’s not entirely true.
As it turns out, building muscle has a lot to do with total training volume – weight x reps x sets. Lifting heavy for low reps is important when you want to develop peak strength but it’s hard on your body and nervous system, especially if you want to achieve the same volumes you can with moderate weights and higher reps. 225 x 2 x 10 is the same volume as 150 x 10 x 3.
In other words, to build muscle (and strength) in the most efficient manner possible, you don’t need to lift super heavy all the time! To quote Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, foremost expert on muscular hypertrophy:
“…the best approach to building muscle is to perform a combination of heavy and moderately heavy loads. The “hypertrophy range” is applicable from the standpoint that it allows the performance of a greater amount of volume without overtaxing the body’s resources. Adding in loads in the 1-5 RM range can enhance strength (which ultimately allows the use of heavier loads during moderate rep lifting) as well as providing a potent hypertrophic stimulus.”
Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to drop everything to do the latest “arm blaster” routine – far from it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t build a solid physique without dozens of isolation exercises…but next time someone argues that lifting heavy is the ultimate way to develop muscle, show them this study and rep out a set of stiff-leg deadlifts to build that posterior chain. When it comes time to PR your squat, the extra meat on your hamstrings will come in handy.
Set Long-term Goals
To wrap everything up and put a bow on it, I’ll leave you to consider this question:
“What’s going to keep you going after the “beginner” phase is over?”
As you move on, your initial increases in strength, speed, endurance, and muscle mass will slow down. After the “newbie gains” are exhausted, it’s very common for folks to become discouraged and chase tail (or quit outright). I’ve seen it happen dozens of times, to some of my closest friends. Indeed, the intermediate stage of development lasts a LONG time and getting through it is quite the task.
So what separates the folks who give up right out of the gate from the ones who march on to achieve their wildest dreams?
From what I can tell, the people who’re ultimately successful are the ones who accept that they may need to devote the next decade of their life to becoming who they want to be. The journey excites them – they look forward to getting up out of bed to take a cold shower and hit the gym. People who get left behind consider working out a task, a chore if you will; the men and women who make it all the way simply can’t imagine life without their training.
Above all, the ones who succeed are internally motivated and positive that they can achieve the desired outcome as long as they keep chipping away. They don’t view failure, or hardship, or pain as a sign that it’s time to stop. The most daunting obstacles present the greatest opportunities for growth.
To quote Muhammad Ali, “…Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”