Getting serious about working out for the first time is both exciting and daunting. Exciting because as a beginner, you can make extraordinarily fast progress. It’s very motivating and means you get MORE results in LESS time.
This article will tell you how to avoid common pitfalls and give you tips for starting a successful training program.
Please be aware that these tips can be used even if you already work out but haven’t been very consistent or haven’t seen results. This article will show you how to make the magic happen.
#1: Pick a training mode that speaks to your goal.
The most important thing for beginners is to make sure the type of training you do will give you the outcome you want. This probably seems really obvious, but many people make mistakes here that lead them to quit, get injured, or get nowhere.
Here are some basic guidelines for picking a training mode that matches your goal:
* Want to lose body fat and get lean?
Prioritize a strength training program. Add sprint interval training to accelerate results.
* Want to run a 5K and train for endurance?
Definitely do cardio or distance running as your main training mode. Incorporating weight and interval workouts can help you get faster and avoid injury if you have time.
* Want to age-proof your body?
Weight gain and a decline in athleticism don’t have to happen as you age! Strength training can prevent it by improving coordination and fixing your metabolism.
* Does your doctor recommend that you start working out to improve cardiovascular health or reduce diabetes risk?
Strength training is a superior choice, helping you lower blood pressure, boost cardiovascular function, and improve insulin sensitivity for lower diabetes risk.
Notice that strength training meets most goals because there’s no single type of weight workout. Modifying the weights, how fast you lift them, or how much you rest (or don’t rest) in between sets, can allow for the fulfillment of just about any goal.
#2: Learn proper technique.
It’s imperative that you learn proper technique because you’ll reap the following benefits:
You’ll accelerate strength development.
You’ll gain more muscle and likely lose more body fat.
You can eliminate joint pain linked to faulty movement patterns.
Most importantly, you won’t look like a bonehead in the gym.
It's worth the effort to take some time learning how to do the top strength training exercises that you should include in your program: deadlift, squat, split squat, step up, chest press, pull-down, and overhead press.
#3: Plan workouts around what you can do correctly.
When it comes to bad technique, doing something incorrectly is never better than doing nothing.
For example, if you squat with incorrect form, you’ll create motor patterns that aren’t ideal for the body. This will cause pain and seriously increase your injury risk. Therefore, it’s best to use exercises that you can do properly and employ modifications when necessary.
For instance, if you have poor range-of-motion in your ankles and you lean forward excessively with your upper body when you squat, it’s better to modify your squat by standing on a wedge board or with weight plates under your heals than to not squat at all.
Squatting without a modification is NOT a good idea, especially with a loaded bar on your back because when you lean forward too much, you radically increase the stress on the vertebra of the spine, which is never a good idea.
#4: Always have a plan when you walk in the gym. Always.
Let’s face it: The people on the free weight floor are rarely the friendliest or most etiquette conscious people out there.
If the gym is busy, it’s often hard to find an empty squat rack or even a place to set up a free weight circuit. Throw in someone giving you a funny look, or people who are more interested in posing in the mirror, getting in your way, texting, and chatting, and the gym becomes a less then welcoming place.
If you have a plan for every workout, you know exactly what to do and your only task is to execute. No need to come up with exercises to hit all body parts, figure out rep schemes, or wonder about the correct number of weight plates to put on the bar.
No chance you’ll be intimidated or come up with excuses so that you bag it and go home. You’ve got it all written down in and advance and your biggest challenge is to work hard and kill it during your workout.
#5: Whatever you do, BE CONSISTENT.
Inconsistency not only keeps you from losing body fat and getting stronger, it makes you think your plan doesn’t work and you need a new one. In fact, all you have to do is FOLLOW THE DARN PLAN and the results will come.
Many people think they should see changes in their body within a few days. Good news is that as a newbie, you will get results faster than someone who’s been working out for years, but it still takes time.
If you change your diet in addition to training, fat loss results can begin to appear in a few weeks, but putting on real muscle takes longer. The key is to stay the course and follow the plan. The successful people are the ones who show up and use their time wisely.
#6: Use this time to develop a few very simple nutrition habits.
Many people start a diet/workout plan in desperation. They feel so bad about their bodies that they want to make a drastic change. They slash calories, clean up their diets, and commit to daily gym time.
As admirable as this may be, it’s changing TOO much all at once. It doesn’t account for the extra time and physical and mental effort these new things require.
You’ll get better results by devoting yourself to working out and slowly adding changes to your nutrition. Here are few things you could try (go for one at a time, not all of them at once):
* Start eating protein at every meal.
* Make sure to add a vegetable or fruit to every meal.
* Drink more water and remove all soda, juice, and sports drinks from you diet.
* Set a meal frequency and stick to it instead of eating at random times.
* Stop eating processed, refined foods, or reduce them from your diet, only eating one a day.
You could also start by doing an honest food journal in which you write down every single thing you put in your mouth. Based on that data, make a list of nutrition changes, working through them from easiest to hardest.
#7: Accept that most of what you’ve been told is wrong.
Whether it’s that you should stretch pre-workout, focus on cardio for fat loss, or never lift heavy weights if you don’t want to get big, the world of fitness is overflowing with detrimental training myths.
It gets even worse when you throw in nutrition myths since nutrition scientists seem to change their advice about what we should be eating every other year.
All these myths are due to incomplete understanding of how the human body works, leaving many trainees, both novice and advanced, completely confused.
Therefore, it’s highly recommended you learn from an experienced trainer who uses principles based on exercise science. You can test your coach by asking them to explain why they are having you train in a certain way.
Can they explain it in a way that makes sense to you? If not, there’s probably no method to their madness. Look for a new coach.
#8: Stick to the basics.
Excitement or bad advice may tempt you to train a wide range of exercises, from Olympic lifts to shoulder shrugs, but there’s no need to go crazy.
Learning a few multi-joint exercises that use more than one muscle at a time is most effective for creating metabolic stress and burning calories fast so that you lose body fat.
Training these exercises is also the best way to develop the base levels of strength that are required to progress to more challenging lifts and complicated programs. For example, studies show that higher baseline strength predicts the magnitude of your training success over time.
Finally, you’ll improve your movement patterns for daily life by learning to squat, deadlift, lunge, press, and pull.
#9: Don’t get sidetracked by more advanced training tools.
As enticing as it may be to adopt a professional athlete’s training plan or to take nutrition advice from elite bodybuilders, don’t. Beginners need to keep their eyes on prize and stick to simple, well proven training strategies that will allow them to progressively “fix” their bodies from the ground up.
Advanced trainees have different training and nutrition needs than novices. For example, an elite athlete needs to optimize recovery so that they can train multiple times a day. They put themselves through punishing, muscle damaging workouts thatrequire a large amount of calories and nutrients for recuperation.
Novices who are training 3 to 5 times a week for an hour have different nutrition and recovery needs. And if your goal is fat loss and general health, you’ll get best results by focusing on sane, simple, sustainable nutrition.
#10: Learn a few basic program design tools.
The key to getting stronger and changing your body with exercise is to challenge it each workout so that it adapts. This is called “progressive overload” because you’re continually making things a little bit harder each workout.
Here are simple ways for using this concept when designing your workouts:
* Plan your workouts in 3 to 6 week phases. The body responds very rapidly to the stress of training loads, which means that you must change your training frequently.
* Alternate between volume and intensity when planning your phases. First, use volume, which refers to doing more reps and sets, generally in the 8 to 15-rep range with 3 to 4 sets. The primary change to your body with accumulation training is more muscle and less fat.
Second is intensification, which refers to lifting heavier weights so that you get stronger. When you train for intensity, you do less volume, spending less “time” under the weight—typically you use 5 or fewer reps and anywhere from 4 to 8 sets.
* Let the reps dictate the load. This allows you to make sure you are lifting the correct amount to produce results, which is critical because novices have no idea of their strength capacity.
Use a weight that has you reach failure by your last rep. Failure is when you can’t do any more reps without cheating. For instance, if you’re working in the 10 to 12 rep range, but can perform 13 or more reps, the weight needs to be increased. Likewise, if you can only perform 8 or 9 reps, your load is too heavy.
* Control the speed with which you raise and lower the weight. Many people, even experienced trainees, “throw” the weights around, using momentum to lift the weight and then letting it fall with gravity.
A better way to train is to control the “down” motion of the lift, and then raise the weight rapidly. Novices should start by lowering the weight on a 4-second count and raising it on a 1-second count. For example, if you are squatting, you’d take 4 seconds to go from upright down into a full squat and then come up quickly taking 1 second to do so.
Final Words: Be excited!
Starting a strength training program is literally learning a new sport. Not only are you going to have a blast with a little hard work thrown in, you’re going to enter into a whole new world where people value physical ability and have the knowledge to change their bodies however they desire.