When novices step into the gym, they set pretty high expectations. They see the big guys in the gym heaving around big dumbbells and plates. They see guys easily bench pressing 300 pounds and that’s what they want to do. But what often ends up happening is that beginners set unrealistic expectations for themselves. They’ll start by doing the same workout as those guys- same sets, reps, exercises etc. But really they have no clue what’s going on. This leads to a lot of issues down the road, both mentally and physically. As a novice strength trainer, you have to realize that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It may take many years to acquire the level of strength you want. If you’re not willing to put that time in, then you may as well walk away.
A lot of novice trainees drop off the radar after a few months. This is because they never considered how hard it actually is to get results in the gym. You have to pace yourself and be committed for the long haul to really reach your goals. You may notice that the top powerlifters are usually all in their 30’s. This is because it takes a long time to build superior strength, and also to truly understand your body and how it reacts to different exercises and programs.
Benefits of Strength Training
The strength gains will certainly entice a lot of people to start hitting the weight room, but in addition there are many other important benefits to strength training. Here are a few of the best:
Perform Better in Sports
If you’re a high school or college athlete then strength gains can lead to major improvements in your sport. The perfect way to get a competitive advantage over your opponent is to be stronger than them. And this applies to just about any competitive sport- whether it’s football or tennis. Even if you just play pickup basketball games at the YMCA, you will still see improvement in your game.
Good for Emergencies
If you ever get into a fight, then you will be glad that strength trained. With everything being equal, the stronger man wins a fight. Also if you’re on the ground with someone on top of you, then you should be strong enough to push that person off you.
Having a body that is either thin or fat can have a negative impact on one’s self-esteem. But strength training will make you toned and proud to show off your body to the world. No need to walk around shirtless (although we won’t judge if you do), but people will notice either way.
Before you set foot into a gym, you should have a firm idea of what you hope to accomplish through your strength training program. This is essential for seeing success in the long-term because it will keep you focused on what you’re trying to achieve.
It’s also helpful because it will give you a better idea of how long it will take to achieve something, what workout programs are best, what diet is best etc. There is a lot of information out there on this subject and it’s so easy to go in circles and not see any progress. Don’t let this happen. Focus on what you want and go after it with passion and energy.
When creating your goals, you should also make them as specific as possible. Making your goal ‘I want to be ripped’ is not a good goal. Why? Because it’s not quantitative- you can’t measure being ripped because that’s a subjective opinion. A better goal would be to reach 10% body fat. This is a good goal because body fat is measurable.
Beginning strength trainees should focus their energy on the exercises that will give them the most efficient results. This would be what is known as compound exercises that utilize multiple muscle groups in each exercise. This is in contrast to isolation exercises- ones that only target one muscle group per exercise. Isolation exercises have their place, but they should not be the staple in a program for beginners.
The compound exercises beginners should focus on are squats, deadlifts, presses (standing and bench), cleans, pullups, and rows among a few others. A novice trainer could create a very solid program around these few exercises as they all contribute to development of strength and physique. In fact, there are quite a few that follow this pattern.
One of the most popular beginning strength training regimens is Starting Strength, often called Rippetoe’s. The latter gets its namesake from the creator of the program, Mark Rippetoe. The program is an internet phenomena in fitness circles because it’s a simple program that brings results. The program is based around a few compound exercises performed frequently at low reps. It’s based around the principle of progressive overload, which forces trainees to constantly take their gains to the next level.
A sample program from Starting Strength looks something like this:
3×5 Bench Press
More details of the Starting Strength routine can be found here.
Pretty straightforward right? Yet that’s all novices need to start gaining strength. They can also expect to gain some size with the program as well. Over time, trainees can begin to add more compound exercises and eventually even isolation exercises like bicep curls. But these compound exercises should always be emphasized first and foremost. As far as reps go, the compound exercises should be performed for low reps like in the workout shown above.
Many beginners fail to understand the importance of diet. Guys can lift all the weights they want, but if they fail to eat properly then they will see zero progress. The reason for this is twofold: 1.) For the body to complete an intense workout, it requires a surplus of calories and 2.) If an adequate amount of nutrients aren’t consumed, such as protein, then the body will not have the resources to replenish its muscles and gain strength.
Your meals should all be based around a protein rich food source like eggs or chicken. Along with that protein, you should eat a complex carbohydrate like rice or potatoes. This is crucial for getting energy and calories to meet the body’s demands.
Another aspect is meal timing. Rather than just 3 meals a day, it’s better to spread your meals out. Though this is more than a beginner needs, eating more frequently is a smart way to get essential calories all throughout the day.
Here’s what a sample diet may look like:
Meal 1 (Breakfast): 7 AM
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup oatmeal with berries
Meal 2 (Pre-workout snack): 10 AM
- Handful of nuts
- 1 apple
Meal 3 (Post-Workout): 12 PM
- 1 scoop protein powder
Meal 4 (Lunch): 2 PM
- 1 Chicken Breast
- Salad with oil and vinegar
Meal 5 (Dinner) 6 PM
- 1 Chicken Breast
- 1 large Sweet Potato
Meal 6 (Evening Snack) 10 PM
- 1 scoop protein powder
- 1 serving fruit
As you can see there are a few factors at work here: frequent meal consumption (every 2-4 hours), and protein at every meal.
Using supplements and meal replacements like protein shakes are helpful as well. Drinking 1-2 protein shakes daily will help you get the required amount of protein.
Creatine is also a really helpful supplement for strength training. It will give you a small boost in strength, but the main benefit is that it will allow you to workout for longer periods of time. Read our article on creatine to learn more about this popular supplement.
Make sure not to rely solely on supplements. They’re called supplements, because they are used to supplement a workout and diet regimen.
Additional Lifestyle Factors
One of the main keys to progress in the gym actually lies outside the gym- rest. Recovering from a workout is absolutely essential and is something that is often overlooked. Perhaps the biggest factor is sleep. You must get plenty of sleep at night, 7 hours minimum, to see the best results you can. This may mean turning off the TV or skipping a night out with friends, but those tough decisions are what separate those who do and don’t succeed in the gym.
This article will get you moving in the right direction to achieve your fitness goals, but that’s all it can do. To truly achieve success you need to instill discipline, motivation and hard work into your mindset. Achieving a strong body takes time, but it can be done. You just have to go out and take action.
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