So you want to begin weight training? This is a valuable guide to any novice who wants to develop size, strength and muscle in the most effective way. This article is geared to the very inexperienced to outline the key principles that must be considered to maximise the inevitable gains a complete beginner will make and to get into the good habits as early as possible.
So often neglected by the beginner and yet the most important ingredient in success…. DESIRE. So many fail by seeing it as a short term goal to improve your physique. This will contribute to failure. Get it out of your head that you need to get in shape for your holiday in 8 weeks time. You should see it as a lifestyle. A way to live your life. "A bodybuilder is for life not just for Christmas"
Accept the condition your body is in and make the decision to change your life to achieve your objectives. Accept it is a long term plan and you will not be disheartened if it takes time to improve. Lets face it folks, if it was easy then everybody would be doing it.
Be realistic about your goals. A beginner should not be saying I want to lose 30Ibs of fat and gain 20Ibs of lean muscle in 2 months. It Just won’t happen, yet people time & again put this sort of image in their mind and become disheartened when it doesn’t happen that fast. Time to wake up and forget the brainwashing from much of the health & fitness industry we have endured most of our lives to sell their latest fat loss or muscle growth gimmick.
Prepare yourself for hard work and sacrifice and you will see it as something you love and not as a chore. You will see it as something that distinguishes you from the masses who cannot be bothered or those who shoulder too much pride to seek advice. As soon as you see it as a chore you are on the path to failure.
2. Objective Setting
First of all assess your physique. Decide what you need to do most of all – Lose fat, build muscle. How fat you are, or how small your muscles are, will determine where your priorities are. I feel this is important so that you can set yourself some attainable targets. Remember…for fat loss, the more muscle you have the more calories your body burns at rest (approx 50 cals per hour as opposed to 5 cals per hour of fat) and while exercising a Ib of muscle burns roughly 10x as many calories as a Ib of fat (approx 70 cals per hour compared to 7 cals per hour for fat). Do the math…. If you add an extra 14Ibs of lean muscle to your body you will burn an extra 1200 calories per day just by having the muscle. This is 8400 calories per week (remember that 1 Ib fat is 3600 calories) so that’s almost the equivalent of an additional 2Ib of fat per week that your body burns off just by having that extra muscle. This means that you have a much faster metabolic rate than you would have without that muscle.
Set some sensible targets e.g. to lose 10Ibs of fat in 5 weeks and gain 5 Ibs of lean muscle mass. Despite what we think, it is physically more difficult to build muscle than to lose fat. You can, though not advisable, lose 4 or 5 Ibs of fat in a week (as you are likely to lose muscle mass). You cannot build 5Ibs of lean muscle in a week.... live with that fact as It will not happen.
Setting some lifting targets as you become familiar with the exercises and your routine e.g adding 20kg to your bench press in a month, will help you gauge your progress.
3. Training – Weights
Your weights routine will be the bedrock of your lean muscle gains. To make consistent and long term gains you should make of point of having a structured weight routine from the start.
My first recommendation is to join a good gym. A gym that offers a comprehensive induction process, members of staff who know what they are doing. It should have a full range of free weights & equipment, lots of dumbells and plates (especially plenty of the heavy plates-20Kgs) for you to work your way up to the bigger weights. A good gym will be one where you feel comfortable.
It is very important that as a novice you are NOT INTIMIDATED by training alongside much more experienced bodybuilders. They won’t bite you !!!! Most are very nice, helpful and normal people that are good fun and often quick to help out. They will not be looking down at you because you are new to the sport. We all were at some time! In fact use their experience to help show you how to do exercises correctly, etc as most of us just love the sound of our own voice and will not hesitate to help someone less experienced. Swallow that pride folks.
My preference is to start as you mean to go on and learn to use free-weights asap. They will allow a much more thorough workout of the muscles than machines due to the full range of natural motion you can achieve in the exercises and that they recruit many more fibres in the supporting muscles and working muscles than machines. More fibres recruited….. More muscle gains you’ll make.
GET YOUR FORM RIGHT!!!! This cannot be stressed enough. Poor form is rife amongst the MAJORITY of gym goers and will vastly hinder your progress. Do not sacrifice good form in ALL exercises for more weight just to feed your ego! Your muscles will develop MUCH quicker and you will have much less risk of injury if your form is good. If you cannot complete good form with the exercise then the weight is too heavy for you. It's that simple! Live with it! And work at getting stronger while having perfect form. Do not try and compete against the bloke next to you who is doing it wrong but lifting heavier. (in 6 months time he'll be the one that won't have grown much at all and you can leave him to wonder how you have put on so much mass.)
Try and separate your workouts into splits – chest, biceps, triceps, back, traps, legs, calves, shoulders, abs. Train each group once a week and your body will have plenty of time to recover and rest. You grow when you rest.
A nice 4 day split that will not kill you is
As a good rule aim for 9-12 sets (MAXIMUM) for Large Muscle groups (Chest/Back/Legs) followed by a smaller muscle group for 6-8 sets (MAXIMUM)(Biceps/Triceps/Shoulders/Abs/Calves). Go easy on the biceps as they are much smaller than the triceps so will probably respond better at the lower end of that set range. Forget about doing 50 sets of bicep curls for big arms! You'll overtrain them and they will not grow to their full potential.
Also as a good rule work at a weight that you can perform 6-8 reps with strict form with before you can’t hold good form anymore. When 8x becomes comfortable then you can add a little more weight on. 6-8 reps is the best compromise between hypertrophy gains (muscle growth) & strength gains. Where you see "train to failure " - this means until you cannot do anymore reps at that weight with perfect form.
This is very important. You should aim to give your muscles a week’s rest for recovery and growth. Muscles grow while you rest. This is why you train each muscle group once a week, so that you give the muscle a weeks recovery time before you hit it again the following week. It is very easy to overtrain and when you do your body goes into catabolysis (where it starts using the body’s protein source – muscle). This is not good. Many budding bodybuilders overtrain and wonder why their biceps haven’t grown in the last 6 months! (that is why I have listed the rep & set numbers like I have). It is very easy to overtrain, especially when you are very enthusiastic at the outset. To begin with you will most likely gain some muscle but not nearly as much as if you rested properly. No good doing 20x sets of bicep curls 3x a week. Your arms will not grow!
You should get a minimum of 8hrs sleep every night. You grow while you sleep. Less than 7hrs and you start to risk catabolysis of the muscles and lose those hard earned gains.
5. Training – Cardio
Important for fat loss & cardiovascular fitness. You should aim to do cardio on separate sessions from weights so that your muscle glycogen is used while weight training to fuel the muscles. DO NOT perform cardio before the weights sessions otherwise you reduce the potency of the weights session.
Fat loss cardio should be at 65% Max Heart Rate (MHR) for 30-40 mins and ideally before breakfast so that your body can tap into its fat stores for fuel immediately. Any more than this and at a higher intensity then your body will also utilise protein for fuel and lead to muscle loss (HIIT is the exception to this but we’ll keep it simple for now).
EAT CLEAN!- Try and eat every 3hrs to keep protein flowing through your body to provide a positive nitrogen balance and to keep your metabolic rate high.
Muscle growth – High Protein, High Complex Carbohydrates, Moderate Fat (good fats – flax seed oil, rape seed oil, etc)
Fat Loss – High Protein, Lower Complex Carb, Very low simple carb, Lower Good Fat, No Saturated Fat.
To lose fat you need to use more calories than you consume. To gain muscle you need to raise the calories to a higher level than you would utilise. This means a little fat gain but with some gentle adjusting you’ll find where your level is at. Aim for 1.5g of protein per Ib bodyweight for gaining & fat loss. 200Ib person would need 300g protein in diet per day for bodybuilding.
Worth going to the diet forum for specific diet advice as this is a BIG area.
Also remember to get protein in you before you go to bed, when you wake up and immediately after weights. This is when your body needs it most.