When it comes to building muscle, it’s frequently the start that stops most people. The training, they believe, will be too complicated or the results too difficult to achieve. And so they just never get started.
While it’s true that training can be complex, it doesn’t have to be. It’s entirely possible to attain high-level results with only the most basic exercises, along with the proper amount of work and recovery.
The trouble isn’t that there’s not enough training information available these days, but that there’s too much of it.
Information overload can paralyze you if you’re only just beginning to consider the gym. Instead of more information, what you really need is a compass to navigate through the knowledge you already have.
This article is that compass. It will help keep you from becoming trapped by the often overcomplicated pitfalls found in every gym.
The most important thing to remember, though, is that training is actually not complicated. According to fitness expert Bill Parisi, you just need to “use a few effective things well and be consistent with your training,” adding that if you do that over time, results are practically guaranteed.
The Beginner’s Six-Point Compass for Training
1. Get a good warm-up.
Too many athletes skip or underperform here. “People often tune out during their warm-up, but that requires just as much attention as the workout,” said Ingrid Marcum, director of programming for the Battling Ropes system. You need at least 15 to 20 minutes of activity to get both your body and mind focused and ready for the upcoming workout. Five minutes on the treadmill or bike, then 10 minutes of calisthenics, jumping rope or hitting a heavy bag is a good, solid start.
2. Use bigger, complex lifts first.
Training economy can be defined as getting the biggest bang for your training minute. “Work on the major, complex lifts. They will work the most muscle and produce the greatest amount of results in the least amount of time and are the most valuable tool a beginner can use,” said Joe Kenn, strength and conditioning coach for the Carolina Panthers football team.
3. Pay attention to reps and sets.
Tracking your reps and sets helps you verify you’re getting the right amount of volume in your workout. Simple guideline: The more reps you perform, the less sets you’ll do. A good beginner rule of thumb is to shoot for 16 to 18 sets as a maximum for the workout.
4. Make sure you use tempo and proper rest periods.
The purpose of training is to put your muscles under tension. The way to increase that tension is to spend more time on each rep by increasing the lowering and pausing phases. Taking two full seconds on the lowering part of each exercise, rather than just letting the weight fall, will produce significant results. And to get the most out of your sets, it’s critical you take a rest between each one. The harder you work, the more rest you’ll need. Take one-and-a-half to three minutes between each set, depending on difficulty, to recover.
5. Use proper frequency and duration.
In terms of lifting, less is more. This holds true for both the frequency and duration of your workouts. According to Marcum, “A lot of people get overzealous and think they need to train every day to get results.” Even though you may want to start lifting five or six days a week, three is the right number to start with. This will allow your body to heal and recover between workouts. Because upper-body muscles are smaller and heal faster, however, you can work them more often than the lower body. Your workouts should last no longer than one hour and 15 minutes.
6. Recover and get good nutrition throughout the week.
When you’re recovering between workouts, you’re not doing nothing. Your body is actually busy rebuilding itself and recovering from the training you did. Three days a week of lifting must be coupled with rest and good nutrition to get maximal results. And eating is as straightforward as lifting. Just have simply prepared whole foods; get a good balance of protein, fat and carbs; and drink plenty of water.
Beginner’s Muscle Workout
This three-day-per-week workout should be performed for the first four to six weeks of training.
Each workout involves only four lifts (one major lift and three accessory lifts), so the goal is not only to use good form, but– most importantly– to develop the habit of being consistent in the gym.
Once you’ve built this base, you can then follow up with more advanced training.
Note: The “number x number” that follows an exercise indicates how many sets and reps are advised. So, for example, should you see “Bench Press 4 x 8,” you would perform bench presses in four sets of eight reps.