This is for those of you who have never trained before or have just started in the gym. I’m writing this as a guide to what I wish I knew when I first started training.
Joining a gym can be a daunting prospect. I remember when I first started training at my university gym. Everybody seemed to be an expert. The truth of course is that the vast majority of people I see training in the gym are anything but.
The majority of guys only train upper body pressing movements (bench press, over head press, bicep curls) and claim they do cycling and running to train their legs. Women tend to stick to the machines and treadmill. Nether is optimal.
The following points are the most important things to focus on when strength training. Whether you’re a guy or a girl.
Benefits of Strength training
Strength training helps protect the body against injury, disease and illness.
It improves circulation, increases bone density, increases muscular strength and improves posture.
Along with all the physical benefits it improves energy, mood and cognitive function. It also reduces stress, anxiety and improves sleep.
As a result of all the above impacts strength training makes you a much more capable and confident person. It lowers your risk of injury, gives you more mental focus, and increases will power and self-confidence. This means you are much more adept at making a positive impact on the people around you.
To summarize Eric Cressey:
Think of strength as a glass of water. The liquid that you put into the glass is everything else (speed, power, endurance etc). The larger your glass, the more liquid you can put into it.
The greater your strength the more athletic potential you create. You can train with more intensity and a reduced risk of injury.
Use a simple program
Avoid magazine and bodybuilding website workouts. Bodybuilders (a lot of who are taking performance-enhancing substances) do these programs not you.
There is no need to do 5 variations of the same exercise in a workout. Keep it simple.
My favorite workout is 531 by Jim Wendler. You only do 3 exercises per workout.
Here is an example:
- Squat 3×5 ( 3 sets of 5 repetitions) The catch here is you do as many reps as possible on the last set. This is where the magic happens.
- 5 reps of 70kg
- 5 reps of 80 kg
- 10 reps of 90 kg
- Bodyweight lunges 5×10
- Leg raises 5×10
That’s it. The whole workout (including warming up and cooling down) should take less than 60 minutes.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll achieve faster results with some advanced or technical training program.
Stick to the program for the duration and do exactly as it says.
I am a recovering program hopper. Up to last year I never stuck to a program to the end. I saw the latest workout and jumped on it expecting amazing results. I was keen to try everything to deepen my understanding and knowledge. The truth is I tried many but mastered none.
I moved from program to program, exercise to exercise but never stuck with a routine long enough to get consistent results.
Find a coach or friend who can guide during the first few months. A few sessions with a decent coach can save you months of trying to learn techniques and reduce the risk of injury.
It is a good investment of time and money. A training partner is a great help also. For spotting you, helping with form and holding you accountable. A training partner will get you to the gym on the days you’re not feeling it.
Pick a good gym
It wasn’t until I moved to Thailand that I realized the importance of this. In Ireland I went to a commercial gym.
Most of the people were overweight doing cardio on the treadmill and getting nowhere. There were only a handful of guys training with good technique and exercise selection.
It can be hard on them days when your energy is down to find inspiration from the 4 grannies gossiping on the treadmill!
Now my gym is awesome. It has no machines, all free weights. Most of the guys are into bodybuilding style training.
Everyone is there for one reason, to get stronger.
I look around at how hard everyone else is working and it motivates me to keep going. I look at others guys and aim to get to where they are. The bar has been raised and the results show. My strength levels have improved.
They say your abs are made in the kitchen. You can do all the crunches in the world but if your body fat is too high you’re never going to see them.
The below quote is an easy guideline for what your should and should not be eating.
“If man made it, don’t eat it.” – Jack Lalanne.
Eliminate the processed crap, eat nutrient dense natural food. Drink more water, eat more protein, eat more veggies and healthy fat and you won’t know yourself in a few weeks. You can get more nutrition information in this article.
Make a timetable and stick to it
Pick 2-4 days per week to train. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are common weight training days.
When starting it is good to implement routines to make it easier to make it into a habit. Leaving the weekend free allows for recovery and minimizes the chance of missing a workout if you go away.
Find your motivation behind training. Why do you want to do this? Is it to lose fat, build up your legs, gain self-confidence, rehab an old injury?
Make sure you know the real “why” behind this. Once you do it will help keep you motivated when you aren’t feeling too pumped about getting yourself to the gym.
During a workout you breakdown your muscle fibers. It isn’t until you rest and recover that they grow back stronger.
Proper recovery reduces injury risk and promotes maximum muscle growth.
Recovery is often neglected when exercising. People think more is better but this is not the case with strength training. Depending on your age, sex, diet and day to day stressors recovery will vary with you from week to week.
Waiting 48 hours before training the same muscle group is a safe way to ensure adequate recovery.