Exclusively for Beginners
This thread is for those of you that are just picking up a barbell for the first time, though it also applies to those who recently (past few months) started but still haven’t made much progress. We need a thread dedicated to your situation. To start it off, what follows are some guidelines you can use to get on the right track.
1) Limit your routine to “big” movements only. Do not waste your time with calf exercises, arm exercises, or grip exercises. (Rotator cuff exercises are certainly acceptable.) There will be plenty of time for these later. For now, just do what we call “big” movements. Here is the entire list of “big” movements: squats, deadlifts, leg presses, chin-ups/pulldowns, rows, dips, bench presses, overhead presses. You won’t do all of these, but if it isn’t on the list, don’t do it! (Special exceptions – abdominal exercises and shrugs.)
2) Do the same routine every time you workout. Until you become very proficient at doing those few movements, you will get stronger faster if you just keep doing the same lifts, over and over and over.
3) Train two or three times per week, or just train every other day or every third day. Again, you will get stronger faster if you practice the lifts more frequently.
4) For each movement, do two or three work sets with the same weight and for the same number of repetitions. Once again, you will get stronger faster if you keep practicing the lifts.
To illustrate, here is a sample program.
Squat. Three sets of 10 – 12 reps. Overhead press. Barbell or dumbbell. Three sets of 8 – 10 reps. Deadlift or shrugs. Three sets of 8-10 reps. See note below.* Chin-ups, pulldown machine, DB rows, or machine rows. Three sets of 8-10 reps. Dips, barbell bench press, or dumbbell bench press. Two sets of 8 – 10 reps. Crunches. Two sets of 10-15 reps.
* If you are just starting out, do the deadlift every time. When you get good at this, you can alternate from workout to workout between deadlifts and shrugs.
You should be able to complete this routine in an hour, once you know how to do all the lifts. The first couple of times it may take longer. If you are pressed for time, just do the first four movements. In that case, forget about the bench or dips, but try to do the crunches at home when you get time.
Don’t add weight to any lift until you can complete all of your sets while maintaining good form. It is normal while learning to have some wobbling, and it would not be unreasonable to stick at the same weights for a month (when you first start) before adding weight. You want to be in control. After you have that control, you should be able to add weight at least once per week.
Besides lifting, here are some areas you should be working on:
1) Diet. Unless your diet has been very poor, don’t worry about adding calories or protein to try to gain weight. Let your appetite dictate how much you eat, and let clean food be your diet. That means eat as much fish, lean meat, low fat dairy, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains (and no other grains) and legumes as you feel like eating. Drink lots of water. No soda, no junk food, no packaged food. If you have diet questions, please pose them on the Diet Forum.
2) Conditioning. If you haven’t been exercising, start using a rowing machine, a versa-climber, or swimming. You will make faster progress with the weights, including gaining weight if that is your desire, if you are in good condition. If you have questions about conditioning, please pose them on the Health Forum.
3) Flexibility. Learn to stretch, and learn a few stretches specific to your needs. Do them regularly after your workouts. These will help your lifting. If you have questions about stretching, please ask them in the Health Forum.
Because you are new to this, I am sure these guidelines raise questions. Ask them here; other beginners may have the same questions. I am asking some of the more experienced lifters on this board to watch this thread and help out. Let’s get all the answers out in the open so that you can make the best progress possible.
This is YOUR thread. Make the most of it.
what happens next?
What are the stages during the beginner’s routine?
The lifter trains as often as possible, using very submaximal weights. They struggle with form, flexibility, eating and sleep habits.
The lifter builds up the poundages until they start getting hard. Squats and deads somewhere around 135-155 usually. Time to change the program, right? Wrong. Instead, they get a message “eat more.” And this is invariably good for another 20 pounds worth of progress on their squat and deadlift. 20 pounds progress isn’t the important bit though; it is just a marker. What is really valuable is the lesson about how food intake affects progress. You can’t learn it from reading about it. You have to experience it. You have to learn to recognize the signs of when you can and should add food.
Pay close attention to this, and share it with new board members who fear that training squats and deads 3x a week will be overtraining: most of the guys who have done the beginner’s routine on this board have worked up to 155-175 for those lifts, for 3 sets of full rep count, before needing any change in program. More have exceeded that level than failed to meet that level – by far.
At about that level, two adjustments are made. 1) Deads are reduced to being done every other workout, while shrugs are done on non-DL days. On the non-DL day, shrugs are done after the chins/rows the lifter was already doing, allowing a surge of progress on that movement. 2) A warmup set at 135 x 8-12 is added for squats.
When the lifter passes 185 on squats and deads, one of the work sets becomes a warmup set. So now the lifter’s squats might look something like this:
135 x 10, 185 x 10, 195 x 12, 195 x 12
On deadlift days, the lifter will usually drop the squat work sets. So it might look something like this:
SQ 135 x 10, 185 x 10 MP DL 155 x 8, 205 x 10, 205 x 10
If the lifter makes it to 225, as a few have, the pattern repeats. A new warmup set at 225, and a reduction of work sets to just one. Also at this point, it may be necessary to reduce training frequency or to split up squats and deads. This is handled on a case by case basis.
What? Why wasn’t frequency reduced before this point? Because when the young lifter asked about such, they were told “eat more.” And usually they could keep going by adding food. However, sometimes a reduction is actually needed. Again, this is handled on a case by case basis. A lifter without a foundation isn’t very good yet at identifying when they are really pushing their limits. Remember that a first routine is intended to set the lifter up for future success. One important factor behind success is knowledge about how your body responds. You can’t learn it from reading about it. You have to experience it.
What happens after the lifter completes their first foundation routine?
The lifter is ready to try some of the exciting workout programs others are doing right? Wrong. They still don’t have their foundation. Read the qualifications in the link above. There are still a few holes in almost all cases. Finishing building the foundation should still be the priority. It sets the lifter up to make better progress on any other routine. Keep that in mind. That routine that seems so exciting now will still be available for you to use after you have built your foundation (and you will be lifting for decades, right?), and you will be able to to do it better later. How? You will make faster progress and you will be less likely to have your progress stopped by illness, injury, or just plain screwing up.
This seems like good time to go off on a tangent. There is an old saying “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.” A corollary might be “insanity is doing something different and expecting the same result.” Now if you have been making good progress, it seems a mild insanity to change what you are doing. Especially if you lack experience. What makes you think that your changes would improve things? If you have been making good progress, the odds are badly against you improving on your progress. Why? Because you can only progress so fast if everything is perfect, and the difference between good progress and perfect progress isn’t that great. The odds are greatly in favor of you making things get worse. Keep this in mind. You will usually be far better off improving your execution of your existing program than by changing it. It isn’t the program, it is the lifter that makes the difference. Improve the lifter first.
So the lifter has completed their first foundation routine. How does the lifter improve? Review the eight points of the foundation. Think also of the knowledge inherent with achieving them. That is what the lifter works towards.
In terms of program, the changes are slightly more dramatic than the changes that went on during the beginner’s routine, but only slightly. More warmup sets are required, so the number of movements done each session is reduced. As a general rule, the following are done:
Squats and deads are split so that only one is done each day. If somebody is doing SLDL instead of DL, it is reduced to 1x a week.
The “other” back movement is added. So now the lifter will be doing a chinning movement and a rowing movement, rather than just one. These are alternated so that just one is done hard each day. However, the new one needs practice so it is done every day, at least for a while.
Since the lifter has a decent press, press and bench can be alternated as to which is done first. Whichever is done second can be done at a more moderate effort. Not easy, but not killer; maybe just a bit short of failure.
So the general template might look like this:
MP 1 warmup, 2-3 work sets SQ 2 warmup, 2-3 work sets Chins 1 warmup, 2-3 work sets BP or dip 1 set rows 1-2 practice sets
DL 2 warmup, 2-3 work sets BP 1 warmup, 2-3 work sets Rows 1 warmup, 2-3 work sets MP 1 set Shrugs 2 sets
Reps are kept above eight for all movements, though chins can be done with less by some. Of course ab work is done. The two routines are alternated. Many are electing to stick to 3x a week, at least to start. When it gets tough, what should the lifter do? Try adding food and sleep! Then after a bit, a shift to 2x a week is appropriate.
Just as with the beginner’s routine, the exact program can and should be customized to address the lifter’s weaknesses, equipment and physical limitations, and any other factors that may be relevant.
How long does this pre-foundation stage last?
It depends on the lifter. What is their background? How fast do they learn, how well do they apply what they learn?
In an old HG, Mike Thompson commented on how lifters at the gym he used as a young man were required to go through a sequence of programs, lasting about a year, before they were really “turned loose.” On this board, Tom Bourg has commented that with less than two years of productive training, most lifters are better off sticking to basics for two years before trying much else (Tom, sorry if I have misquoted or misinterpreted you). I think that for the lifter training alone, starting from scratch getting a full foundation may well take in the range of one to two years. Don’t lose sight of the conditioning, the flexibility, the diet, the knowledge that are involved. You don’t acquire these things over night. Be patient. You will be lifting for decades. And in just a few years, you will look back with nostalgia at your gains during this period.
Determine your quantities
The idea behind the core diet is simple. Whatever your physical culture goals – muscle gain, fat loss, improved conditioning, recovery from injury – your progress will be better if you provide your body with adequate nutrients. So the core diet is something you eat “no matter what.”
Here are the guidelines:
Vegetables. Divide your BW (in lbs) by 30 to get a number of servings per day (always round up, e.g., 6.25 -> 7). A serving is 100 grams or one cup, whichever comes first.
Fruit. Divide your BW by 70 to get servings per day; again round up. An apple, orange, or fruit of that size counts as a serving. If you get different sized fruit, estimate how much you need to get a serving.
Meat/Fish/Fowl. Multiply BW x 3 to get grams of m/f/f per day. If you need to work in pounds, divide that number by 450. Those are net so if you buy meat with bone,increase the size accordingly.
The above are minimums. You can eat more if you like. If trying to cut fat, try to stick to citrus for your fruits.
Nuts and seeds. Raw. No set amount. If trying to drop bodyfat, a single brazil nut and some almonds and walnuts is probably best.
EFAs. See this thread for guidance. A spoonful of oil after breakfast and one after supper will suffice if you are not chronically deficient and your diet is good.
Post-feed. Even if trying to lose BF, always do a post-feed after lifting.
If you are lean enough and trying to gain muscle mass, you eat the core diet. In addition, do a pre-feed, and add more of the above foods, add dairy, add legumes, add whole grains or sprouted grains. What you add depends on what fits your budget, beliefs, and body.
Putting it all together
We’ve discussed shopping, eating to lose fat, and eating to gain muscle. These are all connected. Let’s examine the connections.
1) You always eat the core diet. The core diet is made up of unprocessed, nutrient dense foods, plus supplemental EFA oils as required. Quantity is adjusted based on appetite and need. For more detail on the core diet, see http://www.hardgainer.com/forums/sho…&threadid=2294Also note the place of “junk” foods, and seehttp://www.hardgainer.com/forums/sho…&threadid=2502 for more info on that subject.
2) You always do a re-feed after training. It does not matter if you are in gaining or losing mode. Very critical for gaining muscle, very critical for fat loss. Remember, this is in addition to your normal meals.
3) Be realistic in assessing your body and whether you should be attempting to lose fat or get big and not worry about fat. Seehttp://www.hardgainer.com/forums/sho…light=hormones
4) If you are trying to reduce bodyfat, the core diet is about all you eat. To see the additions, see http://www.hardgainer.com/forums/sho…&threadid=2492
5) If you aren’t very overweight, you always do a “pre-feed” – some protein and carbs 1-2 hour before your workout. Remember, this is in addition to your normal meals.
6) When trying to gain muscle mass, on top of the core diet, you strategically add in legumes, spuds, whole grains, sprouted grain products, and so on, to boost caloric intake when you can’t do it with the core diet. i.e., you can simply increase quantities on the core diet, and you can add in these other foods. Do this through progressive eating, as described in http://www.hardgainer.com/forums/sho…&threadid=2077 Don’t turn this into rocket science. Just decide, at the beginning of each week, what you will add to your diet for that week. Maybe you decide to add a baked potato or sweet potato to supper. The next week, maybe you also add an egg to breakfast. Whatever.
7) You can’t plan for it, but if you meet the conditions for it (see last link) you can bulk for about six weeks.
8) Enjoy your food. There are lots and lots of threads in this forum with recipes and ideas. Keep sharing them.