So you’re starting out at the gym, and you have absolutely no clue what to do. All these exercises and ways to perform them and different equipment and machines and everything are just so confusing.
Relax. We have all been there and after a couple of weeks, you will be doing just fine!
In this article, I go over 5 things that you should do when starting out on your weight training journey, to put YOU in a position for success! These 5 steps flow in a logical order to get yourself set up and ready to roll!
Step #1 – Why Are You Working Out?
This may not seem relative to the gym, but trust me, this will set you up for long term fitness success.
We will not always be motivated to workout. Understanding why we set out on this journey in the first place will give us reason to push through when motivation is not there to support us.
Do you want to build muscle? Do you want to build strength? Do you want to improve your heart health? And why do you want to do these things? Did your girl dump you? Do you want to compete in powerlifting? Do you want to be healthy and live longer to be there for your kids?
Additionally, knowing what training goal we want to achieve will help us determine what we should actually be doing once we get in the gym.
Step #2 – How Often Will You Be Training?
Like above, there are two benefits to this. The first is it gives us a specific target of how many times we will hit the gym. Whether we are feeling good and want to go, or we need to drag our asses there.
What this does is, when executed consistently, it builds momentum.
You start feeling good when you tell yourself you will go to the gym, let’s say, 4 times each week, and after 4 weeks, you have gotten your ass there 16 times, whether you wanted to or not.
This momentum helps build a good relationship between yourself and getting to the gym, and once we hammer down training principles and execute them for long enough, and start seeing results, those results will build an EVEN BETTER relationship between yourself and hitting the gym.
The second reason for setting a specific number of days that you will be going to the gym is to help us determine how we will construct our training. Based on your goal and training frequency, we will see what workout split (the types of workouts you do day to day each week), make sense. Once we have this, we can start to formulate our individual workouts.
Step #3 – Exercise For Your Goal:
Alrighty, now we have to figure out what exercises to do for our specific goal.
If our goal is to grow muscle, we want to focus our exercise selection on which exercises will provide the training stimulus to the specific muscles we are working for that day. Examples would be the dumbbell bench press for the chest, barbell rows for the back, and bicep curls for the, well… the biceps.
If our goal is strength, we want to lay the foundation of our training with compound movement patterns, since these are the exercises that will allow us to use heavyweights, that are most relative to strength gain. Think squat, bench press, and deadlift.
If our goal is to improve conditioning, we would be choosing exercises that get our heart rate up. So you’d hit the treadmill with an appropriate speed for an appropriate time period to where you are challenging yourself. 3 sets of 8 reps on the bicep curl won’t make our heart work more, and since we can’t choose exercises that directly move the heart like we can ones that move a specific muscle, we choose exercises that make it beat faster, which helps to strengthen in.
It is important to choose exercises that EFFECTIVELY load the specific muscle groups you want to load, or that properly apply the stimulus you want to apply in the case of the strength and conditioning goals. For example, the bicep curl is great for bicep development, squat based movements if loaded heavy enough are awesome for strength, and circuit training that gets your heart rate up is great for conditioning.
I suggest choosing fundamental movement patterns. These are exercises that are foundation layers to other exercises and are easy to load for seamless progression via weight. Although sets and reps can be progressed just as well with less fundamental movement patterns, the primary movement patterns will lay the best foundation and provide the most opportunity for progression.
Squats, deadlifts, horizontal and vertical presses as well as horizontal and vertical pulls. Choosing primary exercises in those categories that can be loaded with some degree of heaviness, to lay the foundation for your training is a good idea.
So whatever your goal is, you would choose exercises that are conducive to that goal, and fit in well for whatever training day you have, relative to the workout split you have chosen.
Remember, the workout split is simply how we split up the different areas of our body or specific lifts that we are training, relative to how many days we are committing to the exercise program.
A four day per week program for example might look something like upper, lower, upper, lower. Meaning you will focus on the upper body twice per week and the lower body twice per week, choosing exercises that correlate to those types of sessions, on a specific day.
Step #4 – Technique Before Anything!
Once we decide what exercises we are going to do, we need to know HOW to actually do them. Poor technique does nothing but increase our risk for injury and give us a poor base to progress from.
Finding the exercises to do, relative to our goal is easy. Just some simple research of exercises that fit the criteria that I described for the specific goals, will get you started and on the right track. But what is not easy is learning how to execute them. It makes a ton of sense to do your research on how to perform these different exercises, but at the end of the day, it will take time and practice.
So once we learn our technique and get that all good to go, what do we do?
Step #5 – Progression!
Alrighty, we know why we are training and what our goals are. We know how often we will commit to hitting the gym and we have created our workout split, or at least thought about what we will do, generally, when we are in the gym on different days. We have chosen our primary exercises and know how to execute them with sound technique… now what?
Doing the same workload with our exercises will only produce results for so long before our body stops receiving sufficient stimulus to induce further results because the exercises won’t be done to enough level of fatigue.
So, we must implement the principle of progressive overload.
This involves taking your exercises, and week to week, or maybe as a fresh beginner even session to session if performing the same exercises more than once per week, and progressing either the weight, reps, or sets of those exercises.
There are many more ways to induce progressive overload, but we don’t need those methods when starting out since progress comes easy and the primary methods will give us the most bang for our buck.
I suggest focussing your efforts on weight progression. This will be best for strength gains, and it will solidify your technique SO LONG AS we keep our technique proper, even when we are progressing. You should never progress at the expense of your technique.
Reps are a great way to progress through a given rep range. Let’s say you want to do the bicep curl using 20-pound dumbbells, and you want this exercise to be done in the 8-10 rep range. You do 3 sets of 8 one week, then 3 sets of 9 the next, and 3 sets of 10 the following. You reached the higher end of the desired rep range, so you could increase the weight to bring the rep range back down to 8.
Sets are great for hypertrophy (muscle growth) specific progressive overload. I like to progress sets (functional volume) throughout a program. So if I am looking to grow muscle, I may start my hypertrophy program on the low end of sets per week, per muscle group, at 10, and by the end, I may be sitting at 15 to 20 depending on the muscle. Sets are the focus/foundation for hypertrophy. Whether this is your primary goal, or you do some volume-based sets after your heavy exercises during strength training. There would be some applications of this for conditioning too if you are doing circuit-style workouts.
And that, my friends, is how I would try to structure your entry into the weight training world.
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