10 Things All Beginners Should Know
Below are the more common sources of confusion and misunderstanding that newcomers to resistance training share.Every experienced gym goer out there can remember the first time they moseyed into the gym, full of fear, confusion, and insecurity. Though most of us make it past these initial stages, some never do. Some quit training, mostly because they don’t understand it. If only there was a seasoned lifter at every gym that could talk to beginners and educate them on what things are important and what things aren’t very important…..
- Hypertrophy is Your Friend
The word hypertrophy refers to muscle growth. If you’re a male, then chances are you don’t need any convincing about the merits of strength training for hypertrophy. However, if you’re a woman, then you might be on the fence. Perhaps you just want to get skinny and don’t want any appreciable gains in muscle mass. This is all well and good, but just know that your diet largely determines whether you gain weight, maintain weight, or lose weight. Exercise certainly helps, but not as much as most people assume (at least not in the amounts that most people perform).
At any rate, in a caloric surplus, strength training will cause the weight that you gain to consist of a higher proportion of muscle and a lower proportion of fat. At a caloric maintenance, strength training will cause your body to recompose so that you gain more muscle, lose fat, and improve your bodyfat percentage. At a caloric deficit, strength training will cause the weight that you lose to consist of a higher proportion of fat and a lower proportion of muscle.
This is important, as you want to maintain your muscle as you lose weight. First of all, muscle mass influences your metabolic rate, so holding onto your muscle will keep your metabolism elevated. And second, holding onto muscle will allow you to retain your curves. Nobody ever says, “My goal is to get skinny-fat.” If you get skinny but you have little muscle, flabby glutes, and 30% bodyfat levels or more, then we’re almost certain that you won’t be pleased with your physique. When you lose weight, you rarely just lose fat for weight loss. You have to do everything in your power to preserve the muscle and whittle off the fat.
As you can see, strength training is “pro-anabolic” training when gaining weight and “anti-catabolic” training when losing weight. It helps no matter what your goals are and what your diet is like.
- The Exercises Become Easier Over Time
Starting out, nothing seems to feel natural. Asymmetries are everywhere, rhythm is lacking, and coordination is terrible. This is especially true for compound, multi-joint lifts. Maintaining good form is incredibly difficult, especially as load and effort increase. The ability to contract certain muscles or feel certain muscles working during movements can be challenging at first, and cues like, “stay tight” don’t seem to make much sense early on. Going to failure leads to terrible break-down in form, as does performing anything heavier than 5 reps. Don’t worry, this all changes over time.
The good news is that every single training session, you’ll be rapidly increasing your stability and coordination. Every week, the lifts feel more and more natural. In 2-3 months, most of the lifts will feel right, and in a year, you’ll feel quite confident in your form and exercise competency. You’ll be able to get much more out of heavy lifting, and you’ll be able to hold much better form when taking a set close to failure. Make sure you consistently use strict form – your nervous system will be grooving motor programs so they become roughly automatic, and you want these memorized motor patterns to be solid.
- Soreness is Overrated
Many lifters gauge the effectiveness of their workouts on how sore they are over the following couple of days post-workout. This, is short-sighted. Soreness is a decent indicator of muscle damage, but muscle damage is just one of three primary mechanisms (and probably the least important) of muscle hypertrophy. Moreover, exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) is more related to strain than activation, meaning that you can just do a ton of exercise that stretches the muscle to long lengths without highly activating the muscle and you will create damage. Finally, novelty leads to greater soreness, so if you were hell-bent on getting sore, then you could just do a bunch of new exercises.
However, these strategies aren’t ideal for building muscle, building strength, or shaping the body. Some soreness is good, but the law of diminishing returns applies. Excessive soreness prevents you from achieving quality workouts on subsequent days. If you perform full body training sessions several times per week, then soreness will prevent you from gaining strength. Building a stronger body over time should be the long-term goal, not crippling yourself so that you can barely move the following day.
- Cardio is Overrated
Sure, cardio is great for your health and stamina. But so is strength training. Ever wear a heart rate monitor when you lift? If so, then you’re well aware of how effective plain old resistance training is for stimulating the cardiovascular system. But we know what you’re thinking – cardio is vital for fat loss. Is it really?
Think about this. Two twins weigh 90kg and are 25% bodyfat. They want to get leaner. Twin A does cardio all year long. By the end of the year, he loses five kilograms. 2.5 of the kilograms lost are fat and the other 2.5 are muscle. Now he weighs 85kg and is now 24% bodyfat. Twin B lifts weights all year long and consumes some additional protein each day. By the end of the year, he too loses 5kg. However, he ended up putting on 2.5kg of muscle while simultaneously losing 7.5kg’s of fat. He’s now 85kg and his bodyfat percentage has dropped to 18%. Twin B looks much better than twin A.
Lifting weights is incredible for improving body composition over time, but you have to gain strength and engage in progressive overload. You want to get as strong as possible in all rep ranges in a variety of movements at a given bodyweight to maximize your aesthetics.
- Strength is Underrated
It’s not just about going to the gym and doing the exercises. Showing up and simply “going through the motions,” will not yield fantastic results. You have to push yourself on many levels… push yourself to maintain sound technical form when the going gets tough… push yourself to squeeze out another rep… push yourself to add 2.5-5 more kilograms to the bar… push yourself to master new exercises and variations.
There will be times when your strength gains stagnate. You’ll have to analyse your form, analyse your training program, and consider everything else outside of the gym (diet, sleep, stress, etc.). But if you’re dialled in on gaining strength, you will prevail. Every year, your body will be stronger than it was the year before, and your physique will continue to improve. Strength creates curves and shapes the body. The same cannot be said for cardio and stretching. Prioritize progressive overload and your body will thank you for it.
- Consistency is the Name of the Game
We know you’re gung-ho. You want to fast-forward your results and do everything possible to get ripped quick. However, less is more. Training four hours a day, seven days per week won’t help you reach your goals more quickly, quite the opposite. It could easily lead to overuse injury, which would stop your progress dead in its tracks. You don’t need to combine every method under the sun. We all read about new exercises and new regimens. We see the headlines just like you… sprinting for fat loss, plyos for power, gruelling conditioning workouts to get you shredded, and various stretching movements for “long, lean muscles.” The temptation to train for hours on end is there for all of us, but it didn’t work for us, and it won’t work for you. What you need is not endless exercise or crash diets, but consistency in the gym. It takes time to create adaptation.
However, the rate at which these adaptations occur is rather slow. You will not get the body of your dreams overnight. In fact, you won’t get the body of your dreams in 30-days. In a year, you’ll be very pleased with your progress, but it is very likely that you still will not be completely satisfied. Building your best body is a work in progress that takes years to achieve. Consistency is the name of the game, make small improvements each week to gradually
- Neural Improvements Precede Hypertrophic Improvements
During your first couple of months of strength training, you’ll likely be asking yourself, “What in the heck is going on – I’m gaining tons of strength, but my body isn’t changing much?” This is normal. During your first six weeks of training, your strength will rapidly increase, but these improvements will be brought upon largely by the nervous system. Your brain will figure out what you want it to do and will begin to coordinate the muscle actions and activate the proper muscles in the proper timing sequence more effectively. After a month or two, the primary cause of strength gains begin to be brought upon by hypertrophy. Your muscles will now begin to grow, and your shape will start improving. Make sure you stick it out during these initial times so you can reap the rewards of your hard work.
- You Can’t Out-Train a Crummy Diet
Diet is equally, if not more, important than strength training for physique purposes. The person who consumes a nutritious, healthy diet and stays active will have a better physique than the person who trains hard but eats poorly, even if this person doesn’t lift weights. You need to make sure you’re regularly consuming the proper number of calories and the proper ratios of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Many women don’t consume enough protein, and this negatively impacts their rate of physique improvement. Many individuals regularly consume too many calories, too much sugar, and too much saturated fat. Don’t get me wrong, a healthy diet has room for sugar and fat, but you can’t just eat whatever the heck you want and expect to possess a great physique. That is, unless you have elite genetics or you rarely crave junk food. Good nutrition and training go hand-in-hand, so make sure you don’t sabotage your gains by eating poorly.
- Suffering and Progress Aren’t Linearly Correlated
Many lifters mistakenly believe that the more they suffer the better results they’ll see. Sure, strength training is challenging. Sure, you will have to sacrifice in order to make progress. Sure, you will have to abstain from eating too much of certain foods. As you gain experience, strength, and conditioning, your workouts become more and more rigorous and demanding, which can be daunting. However, life doesn’t have to absolutely suck in order for you to see excellent results. You can get in and out of the gym in around an hour, you can and should take days off from training, you can season your foods, you can incorporate the foods you love into your diet in proper amounts, you can enjoy variety in your diet and experiment with new recipes, and you can plan ahead of time to allow yourself some wiggle room at social gatherings so you can splurge a little bit. You need to create a regimen that’s flexible and sustainable, so make sure your training and diet isn’t so gruelling that it’ll cause you to quit in a couple of months. Start thinking about longevity and learn to enjoy your healthy habits.
- You will have terrible days in the gym
Some days, nothing will go right. Technique that you’ve demonstrated correctly hundreds of times begins to break down for no discernible reason. Weights that you’ve doubled all of a sudden feel brutally heavy. You just can’t get into the groove of the session and everything is slow and grinding. This can be down to many reasons but ultimately, bad training days happen to all of us at some point. You’ve just got to get your work done if you can, try and take some positives away with you and hope for a better session next time.
So there you have it – ten things that all beginning lifters should be aware of. Lifting weights is tough. Stepping inside of a weight room for the first time is intimidating. Changing your daily routine takes determination and dedication. But you must stick with it, as the rewards are numerous.
Lifting weights makes you look good, feel good, and function well. But you need to know what you’re doing. Hopefully this article has shed some light on what things are critical in allowing you to reach your full potential.