Archive for the ‘Beginner Training Advice’ Category

Tell the truth….

Do you really want a great body or is having nice arms and a six pack just a thought that dances through your mind every now and then?

Have you decided you’ll do whatever it takes to build some serious muscle mass and lose body fat or are you waiting until everything is “just right” before you take action?

Do you take a precise, intelligent approach toward your training and nutrition, in order to achieve actual RESULTS or do you just go “workout” and “eat well”, in hopes that somehow you’ll end up with a great body?

Have you put in the time and effort to educate yourself on great training techniques and proper nutrition or do you think you’ll get where you want to go by “winging it”?

Have you set specific goals, and a timeline for achieving them, or do you just hope and wish that you’ll build a muscular physique someday?

Are you willing to make real sacrifices and pay your dues in order to build a body that most people never will or are you content with looking, feeling and being just average?

Now is the time for a brutally honest self-assessment….

Take a long, hard look at yourself. And, I don’t mean just from a physical standpoint, although that is important. I mean dig deep, way down to your core, or very essence of your being, and search for what you’re really made of.

Are you truly motivated? If so, what motivates you?

The way I see it, so many people say they’re motivated to change their body and life, and they may even convince themselves of it, but their actions (or, inaction) speak louder than their words.

A person who really is motivated to make dramatic changes to their body makes training a priority in their life. They don’t go to the gym only IF they can fit it into their day. Most days they can’t wait to hit the iron and, if they’re truly motivated, even on days when the gym is the last place they want to be, they still find a way to make it happen.

They take the time to shop for nutritious foods and they prepare meals ahead of time so they’re able to consistently feed their bodies the materials it needs for growth. They realize the initial effort they put in up front pays off tremendously on the back end and makes the whole process so much easier.

A truly motivated person does whatever’s necessary to afford a gym membership, groceries and supplements, even if it means getting a second job or cutting back on the expenses that don’t serve their purpose and help them achieve their goals. They’re willing to sacrifice the smaller things now in order to get to the big prize waiting around the corner.

So, what do you think now? Still think you’re motivated?

If you thought you were motivated, but now you’re questioning just how strong that motivation is, that’s actually a good thing. You can decide, here and now, if pursuing an amazing physique is worth it for you. If it’s not, then stop wasting your time. Because, unless you’re giving it your all and doing the things necessary to build muscle and lose fat, you really are just wasting your time.

Never forget, your time is your life.

If the answer is “yes”, then maybe I can help you find your motivation.

In my opinion it comes down to asking yourself a simple question and then giving yourself the most honest answer you possibly can.

Why do you want a better body?

To put it another way… what are YOUR reasons?

You see, I’ve found that when people clearly identify their real reasons for wanting to build muscle, lose fat, get healthier and make a dramatic change to their body, it automatically sparks motivation.
Unfortunately a lot of people never really think about their reasons.

They don’t really know why they’re spending their time picking up heavy things, physically exhausting themselves and enduring so much soreness.

They’re not quite sure why they’ve given up eating cheeseburgers, french-fries, ice cream and cake. They don’t know why they’re sacrificing and putting in so much effort when other people are living a “fun” and “normal” life.

Most people have some idea of why they’re doing it and it’s usually something along the lines of “to get in shape”. However, that kind of surface level reason most often isn’t meaningful enough to make people do what’s necessary to get REAL results; at least not for the long haul.

A lot of people will start off with great intentions and a full head of steam but, when the shit starts getting tough and results don’t come after a few weeks, they gradually lose their drive.

You have to dig deeper than that….

Now, I can’t tell you what your reasons are but, if you’ve decided to start working out and eating better, I can tell you that you’ve got em’. You just need to identify and understand what they really are.

Maybe you were skinny in high school and had to put up with stupid jokes and dumbass remarks. It hurt your confidence and caused you to be very self-conscious. Or, even worse, maybe you were bullied by some ass hole that was bigger than you.

Probably some fat ass, that hadn’t seen his dick since he was 10 years old, so he was pissed at the world.

Becoming fed up with the embarrassment, mental anguish and pain could all be POWERFUL reasons for you to hit the gym, build muscle and get bigger… if you make the conscious decision to use those reasons.

Maybe you’re overweight right now and have to put up with some of the same bull shit. You don’t feel good about yourself at all and you’re tired of people snickering and laughing behind your back. If you grow tired enough of it, and you decide you want to look better, feel better, have more confidence and shut those dumb ass’s the hell up, you’ve found your reasons for changing your body.

Maybe you’re on the other side of 40 and decide you’re not going to just settle for growing old, tired and weak. You refuse to let your best years be behind you and you decide you want to look and feel good for life. You want to live long enough to see your kids grow up and even be able to keep up with the grandkids someday.

Those are your reasons and, if you use them, they can motivate you to achieve amazing results.
In my humble opinion, finding your reasons, and using them to light a fire within yourself, is the key to everything. It unlocks the motivation, discipline, determination and drive that it takes to build the body of your dreams.

Find your reasons and harness the power they hold to help you make dramatic changes to your body.

Write them down, read them every day and think about them often.

Let your reasons motivate you. Let them inspire you. Let them be your guiding light along your journey towards building your body and becoming the best ‘you’ that you can possibly be.

I can tell you from experience; if you have strong enough reasons to get what you want, you will find a way to make it happen.

So, it’s up to you. Go find your reasons and start experiencing the success that you know you deserve.

Until Next Time,
Michael Wheeler

Hey guys, what are your reasons for hitting the gym every day? Why do you do what most people won’t in order to get what most people don’t? I’d love to hear about them!!

Stop me if you’ve heard this one already….

A couple of young guys walk into the gym all wired up from the dose of “Super Maxx Jacked Bull Testicle Formula 9000” they just chugged.  Neither of them carries much muscle mass but they seem pretty motivated to workout.

They take about 30 seconds to “warm up” before heading to over to do some barbell bench presses.  After all… it is Monday night so it’s gotta be chest day!

They throw a 45 on each side of the bar and start their sets with 135lbs.  The first guy eeks out a wobbly 10 reps, bouncing the bar off his chest every time.  His buddy follows suit.

The very next set they add another 45 to each side.  Newbie 1 struggles to push the bar off his chest for 1 rep, elbows flared out so wide you think his shoulders might pop out then and there, before his buddy steps in to “spot” him (he’s actually doing the ugliest shrug you’ve ever seen in your life) while yelling to his buddy “It’s all you, man!”

For the record… it’s rarely “all him”. 

They continue on this way for another 5 or 6 sets before heading to the incline bench for another round of nonsense.  Then the decline bench… followed by machine bench presses…. followed by cable crossovers.

Those of you who’ve been tossing iron around for a while aren’t waiting for the punchline.  You’ve already seen this joke in your gym… probably time after time. 

Now, if you’re a beginner and this is similar to the way you’re currently training, I don’t mean to hate on ya.  I simply want to show you there is a better way; a way that will actually help you get the results you’re working so hard to get.

I know about the scenario above all too well because when I first started training I was on of these guys.  I would read bodybuilding magazines, find an article that listed the routine some juiced up monster was using, and copy it.

Every exercise, set for set, rep for rep.

I figured they obviously knew what they were doing.  I’d look at how big and muscular the were and thought that if I would just train the same way I could build the same kind of body.

I built next to no muscle, hardly gained any strength and the frustration set in deep.

Fortunately for me there were a few seasoned bodybuilders at the gym I went to who weren’t total douche bags.  I guessed they noticed me working hard and decided to help a clueless newbie out.  I showed them my training program and, to them, there was no mystery to why I wasn’t growing.

They told me I was using far too many exercises, sets and reps for each body part.  They said I didn’t need a “chest” day or “arm” day and that I was wasting my time doing isolation movements like cable crossovers, lateral raises and concentration curls.

They told me that if I would focus my effort into getting stronger on basic exercises, and eat all the good food I could get my hands on, I would start growing.

So… that’s exactly what I did.  Let me tell you, in terms of bodybuilding, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.  Within a month of training the way they told me to my body began to grow and my strength increased from one workout to the next.

The fundamentals they taught me helped me lay a foundation of muscle size and strength.  Those principles are part of my training to this day and they have provided me with continuous progress and success in the years that have followed.

Now, I would like to impart the same wisdom on you guys that are just starting out so that you may experience the kind of results you’re looking for.

Or, if you’re a guy who’s been busting your ass in the gym but just can’t seem to get results, I’m gonna send you down the path towards actual muscle growth.  I know, all too well, how disappointing and frustrating it is to work hard for 6 months (or a year….or more) and not see your body change one bit.

But first, we’ve gotta start with a lil’ honesty and self-reflection…

What level are you honestly at right now?

I ask this because I know there are so many guys that think they’re more advanced than they really are. In order to determine the most effective ways for you to train you really need an honest self-assessment of your current level of experience and development.

If you have less than 6 months of consistent training under your belt you should consider yourself a beginner. And, if you’ve been following the type of bull shit training program in the example above for 6 months or more, you’re probably a frustrated mother fucker right about now.

I’d bet a one night stand with Mila Kunis that you haven’t put on anywhere near as much muscle as you want to.

If this is you, do yourself a favor, and go back to the drawing board. Start using a solid beginner program, like the one I’ll outline in a few, and you’ll grow more in 6 weeks than you had in the previous 6 months.

What is the best training split for a beginner to use?

Short answer, if you’re just starting out or have less than 6 months experience (maybe even as much as a year experience) you shouldn’t be using a split. At least not the kind you’re probably thinking of.

While no training plan, technique or split is ideal for 100% of the people who follow them, a full body training program is widely accepted by the best, most intelligent bodybuilders and strength coaches as the most effective way for a beginner to train. In fact, some schools of thought say that full body training programs are the best way to build muscle regardless of your experience level.

Full body training programs entail using a handful of basic exercises that work your entire body in one training session. This is accomplished by performing compound movements the vast majority of the time and rarely, if ever, including isolation exercises.

For those of you who may not be familiar with ‘compound’ and ‘isolation’ exercises…

Compound exercises are movements that require the use of more than one muscle group in order to lift the weight. You may also hear them referred to as ‘multi-joint’ exercises as they require movement of multiple joints in the body.

Compound exercises are most effective at stimulating muscle growth and strength gains because the assistance of multiple muscle groups and the movement of multiple joints allow you to use heavier loads (weights). There is a direct correlation between getting stronger and getting bigger. Simply put, as you progressively lift heavier weights during your exercises you will adhere to the overload principle, which will cause muscle growth, if you’re providing your body with the quality calories it needs. (More on overload in a moment).

A great example of a compound exercise is the barbell bench press. If you perform the bench press, correctly, you’ll effectively work your chest, front delts (shoulders) and triceps. That’s a lot of bang for your buck in one exercise.

And, what do you think isolation exercises do? Hmmm… I dunno… maybe, isolate a  muscle group? Ding, ding, ding, ding…. You guessed it! Your prize is a 20 rep set of squats. Now get to it!

The use of a single muscle group, and the movement of only one joint, limits the amount of weight you can handle during the exercise. The lighter weights that are necessary to use for isolation exercises can hinder your ability to overload your muscles and limit gains in strength and size.

An example of an isolation exercise is dumbbell flyes. In which exercise do you think you could move the most weight, flyes or bench presses? Obviously, the bench press, right?

Don’t get me wrong, in my humble opinion there are times when isolation exercises can be very useful and they should be incorporated into people’s training plans. But, I believe they only become necessary after a person has spent some time building real muscle mass and strength with compound movements. Isolation exercises tend to be better for providing detail to muscle; to help bring out separation and “cuts”. However, you can’t add detail to muscle you don’t have. And, gaining muscle is best accomplished through hard training with compound movements.

Plain and simple, a beginner (and even most intermediates) is far better off putting their time and effort into big, basic, compound movements rather than isolation exercises. Doing so effectively stimulates muscle growth and strength gains. An added bonus is the fact that hard work on compound exercises, like squats and deadlifts, causes a much greater release in anabolic (muscle building) hormones within your body than movements like leg extensions and concentration curls.

And, I’m talking about the “good shit” that a lot of dudes pay thousands of dollars a month for; a cocktail of testosterone and human growth hormones. This anabolic environment within your body is the perfect recipe for muscle growth.

Therefore, you’ll find that the beginner program I’ll recommend towards the bottom of this post only includes result producing, muscle building compound movements. Trust me and train this way for a couple of months. You’ll be glad you did, especially if you’re a person who’s new and has spent too much time doing isolation exercises. The difference in your results will be night and day.

Compound Exercises:
• Squats
• Deadlifts
• Overhead Press
• Bench Press
• Clean and Press
• Barbell/Dumbbell/Cable Row
• Pull-ups & Chin-ups
• Cable pull down
• Upright Row

Isolation Exercises:
• Flyes (dumbbell, cable)
• Curls (dumbbell, barbell, cable)
• Raises (front, lateral, rear)
• Leg Extensions
• Leg Curls
• Triceps Push downs
• Dumbbell Kickbacks
• Overhead Extensions

Should you use free weights or machines?

I’ll try not to get into a long, drawn out explanation of why but I’m thoroughly convinced (along with almost anyone who knows anything about training correctly) that free weight exercises are superior to machines the majority of the time.

Using free weights requires the use of stabilizer muscles to help balance the weight while you perform the exercise. This results in better muscular development and coordination, greater increases in strength and increased difficulty of the movement. All of this leads to better results, faster. The use of stabilizer muscles also goes a long way towards injury prevention. Believe it or not, overuse of machines can cause muscular imbalances that not only hinder muscle and strength gains but can also set you up for injury.

Now, I definitely feel there are times when including machines or cables in your routine can be effective, possibly even for beginners. For example, Lat pull-downs using a cable machine are an excellent exercise for your back muscles. The same goes for Cable Rows; they can be an extremely effective exercise for developing thickness in your back. Sometimes I even find it worthwhile to use the Smith Machine for Overhead Barbell Presses.

However, for the most part, if there’s a free weight version of an exercise available, I would choose it over a machine, especially as a beginner. Learn proper form on basic free weight movements using barbells and dumbbells. Focus your effort into getting stronger on these exercises and you’ll experience far better results than any machine can provide.

How many exercises, sets and reps should a beginner do?

In bodybuilding the number of exercises, sets and reps within a training routine is referred to as ‘volume’. And, volume is an area that so many beginners get wrong. Specifically, they use too much. This is a big mistake that I used to make myself and one that I see made every single day in the gym.

Remember the guys in our example above? They performed 4 friggin’ exercises for their chest alone! And, no doubt, they were doing this because they read about some program that contained this amount of volume in a magazine or on the internet. What they failed to realize is that this kind of program is meant for a very advanced lifter whose been doing this for years. A person at a beginner’s level has no business whatsoever doing this many exercises for one body part.

To make matters worse a lot of beginners, like the ones in the example, commonly do anywhere from 3 to 5 sets, usually of 10-12 reps, of 4-5 different exercises for the same damn body part!

Let’s look at the simple math. I know… no one told you there would be math involved here. You just wanna build some fucking muscle, right? Hang with me. This won’t be too painful, I promise.

Let’s say a beginner were to do 4 sets of bench presses for 10 reps each set. That’s 40 reps for his chest right there, right? Ok, I have no problem with that volume for a beginner. But then let’s say, conservatively, he throws in 3 sets of 3 more exercises for 10 reps each set. He’s just added 90 more reps for a total of 130 reps, for one muscle group.

No fucking wonder he won’t grow!!

When beginners do this they are overextending their body. A lot of beginners, because they’re motivated as hell to force muscle growth, mistakenly think that more is better. This notion isn’t true, especially for newbies. There is a point of diminishing returns and, if you continue to push your body beyond this point, you’re not stimulating muscle growth but actually hindering it.

More is NOT better….

Being careful not to over train, and giving your body time to recover, is very important regardless of what your level of experience is. However, it’s especially true for beginners who are highly motivated, more often than not, and who think that if some training is good more must be better.

I could go on and on about this but it’s really quite simple. You must do what it takes to stimulate muscle growth and then get the hell out of the gym so your muscles can be repaired and your body can recover so it will get stronger and grow. As a beginner, doing multiple sets of multiple exercises short circuits this process.

But, I haven’t quite answered the question, have I? How many exercises, sets and reps should a beginner do?

When most intelligent bodybuilders and strength coaches design programs for beginners they recommend one exercise, and no more than two, per muscle group each training session. And, as already discussed, this is almost always a compound exercise that allows the beginner to go hard and heavy before moving on to another exercise, for another muscle group.

If you’re brand spankin’ new to lifting weights, and plan on stepping foot in the gym for the first time today, I would recommend 2-3 sets per exercise (not including light warm up sets). After a month or two of consistent training you should be able to safely bump the volume up to anywhere from 3-5 sets per exercise.

What about the rep range?

The rep range a beginner should use is fairly wide. Scientific evidence and real world practice tells us that the ideal range for building muscle is between 6-12 reps. Some say that if you use a weight heavy enough to force you below 6 reps, in the 3-5 range, the main outcome will be an increase in strength without muscle growth being significantly stimulated. On the flip side it’s said that a rep range above 12, usually around 15-20 reps, will enhance muscular endurance without much impact on gains in size and strength.

Here’s the thing…. Bodybuilding can be highly individualized. The rep range that works best for me might not be ideal for you. So, these guidelines are a great starting point but that’s all they really are; guides. I’ve seen some people’s body respond with excellent growth while consistently using sets of 5 reps. Even though conventional wisdom says that sets of 5 aren’t good for building muscle, it works well for them.  So, no one can really tell them that they shouldn’t train in that rep range. Other guys I’ve known don’t experience great results using low reps but, when they switch to reps of 10-12 (and some as high as 15) their body starts growing.

Regardless of the rep range… You MUST work hard!

This next piece of advice should go without saying but I have to keep in mind that some of you reading this may have never lifted weights before. If your program calls for you to do a set of 10 reps it MUST be a difficult 10 reps! Putting this as simply as I can, if by the time you get to rep 10 you feel like you could knock out 3, 4, 5… 10 more, you’re not using a weight that is heavy enough to challenge your body and cause muscle growth.

I’m not a huge of going to failure (the point where you can’t do another rep) very often but you do need to push yourself. Use a weight that is very challenging but allows you to complete your reps in good form.

Some strength coaches advise lifters to never go to failure.  The late, great, Reg Park was a very successful bodybuilder, with an amazing physique, who also recommended staying away from failure.  They state that training to failure has a very negative impact on your central nervous system, leads to over training and, eventually, will cause an injury.  World renown Russian strength and conditioning coach Pavel Tsatsouline recommends for bodybuilders to “leave a rep or two in the bank”, meaning end your set at a point where you think you might be able to do 1 or 2 more reps.  Doing so keeps you relatively fresh throughout your workout and allows you to continue to use fairly heavy weights.

By the way, whether you’re brand new to training or have been at it for years, if you’re interested in learning more about the art and science of strength training, I highly recommend for you to check out Pavel’s articles. 

If you really want to push yourself hard, it’s ok to use a weight that makes it so 10 (or whatever rep range you’re using) is all you can do; that there’s no way you could do 1 more rep with good form. If you choose to do this, Pavel advises “Go ahead and lift to your rep max, but never start another rep if you’re not 100% sure you can complete it with good form.” So, if it took every bit of mental and physical energy you had  to get that last rep up, and you have any doubt that you could get the next one, end the set right there.

The key is to find what works best for you. This is also true with so many other training variables. It will take a little trial and error to find what’s ideal for you. This can only be accomplished through putting in the time and gaining experience.

I’ve recommended a rep range for you to use in the beginner training program in this post but, after you’ve paid your dues, learned some things about your body and mastered proper form, by all means feel free to give other rep ranges a try. Keeping safety in mind, given that as a beginner you’re still learning proper form, I don’t think it’s a great idea to go extremely heavy for low reps. You’ll find the rep range I recommend to be on the higher end.  I would advise for you to keep it that way, at least for the first several months.

How often should a beginner train?

The best, most intelligently designed beginner training programs most often include a training frequency of 3 days a week. What this means is, if you’re a beginner, you should train your entire body 3 days a week. And, to strike a great balance between rest/recovery and training to stimulate muscle gains, each session should be 48 hours apart, except for the first session of the week which usually occurs after having two days off.

So, a very common and effective setup is to train your entire body on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and take weekends off. Of course you could rearrange this to fit your personal preferences and lifestyle if you wanted to. There’s nothing wrong with training on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday if you prefer. Just be sure to take Sunday and Monday off if you decide to use this schedule.

How about Wednesday, Friday and Sunday? Is that ok? Absolutely, it is. Again, just allow a day between workouts and be sure to take Monday and Tuesday off. With this setup each muscle group is trained to some extent every other day, which is the optimal frequency for producing gains in muscle mass for beginners.

In fact, I came across a site the other day which I believe is a much needed “breath of fresh air” in terms of the plethora of dumb ass bodybuilding advice floating around out there on the internet. To me, this guy has created one of very few sites (including this one) that offers real, valuable, intelligent, no bull shit training advice that can help people get results.

His thoughts on beginner training, and a lot of other training subjects, almost mirror my own.  I highly suggest you check him out if you’d like to gain even further knowledge on beginner training as well as intermediate and advanced training routines.

Muscle Growth simplified into ONE principle…

I mentioned this earlier and promised that I would touch on it again. Don’t mistake and think that this isn’t important just because it took me so long to fully explain it…. I’m about to fill you in on the most important principle you could possibly understand, in terms of training, in order to actually experience results and gain muscle mass. It’s called OVERLOAD.

You see, without properly overloading your muscles, growth is impossible. And, for the life of me, I cannot understand why so many people who lift weights and supposedly want to build serious muscle, do not properly address this key component of muscle growth.

Alright, let me start here. When you’re completely new to training the stimulus of lifting weights is new to your muscles and your central nervous system. Given that this is all new to your body, when you train, it has no fucking clue what just happened. Therefore, as long as you don’t overtax your muscles and nervous system, and you’re providing it with the quality nutrition it needs, your body will adapt to the resistance you’re placing it under by growing bigger and stronger. This is known as beginner or ‘newbie’ gains and it’s a phenomenon that most bodybuilders have had the pleasure of experiencing when they first started training. Quite simply, because you’re new and your muscles have never felt anything like this, almost anything you do in the gym will cause an adaptation (i.e. results, growth).

However, the human body is smarter than Dr. Sheldon Cooper and it will quickly catch on to your tricks. You don’t want your body to become used to or comfortable with what you’re throwing at it. It will set itself to cruise control because it can easily handle the demands you’re placing on it. If you continue to use the same weight, or number of reps, day after day, week after week, you won’t give your muscles any reason to adapt, therefore they will not grow.

Plus, your body doesn’t give a shit about the thick chest and six pack abs you want to sport this summer. It will put up a fight like Ronda Rousey because it does not want to change! It fears change…. Just like mom and pop, it wants “the good ole’ days” and for everything to stay the same. This condition is called homeostasis. You see muscle gains as a way to look better, feel better and get more sex. Your body doesn’t. In fact, it sees new muscle as some fucking asshole boss that just walked in the office to make it work even harder.

Just like when you turn 18, high school is over, and you realize “holy shit, I’ve gotta actually live in the REAL world now”…. eventually you’ll have to live in the real world of bodybuilding.  Those newbie gains won’t last forever….

So, once those beginner gains have come to a standstill (and they will eventually…sometimes quickly) you will need to take matters into your own hands in order to keep your muscles growing. The only way to do this is to consistently and progressively overload them.

Although some magazines, sites and forums claim you can “shock” your muscles into growth through extreme intensity techniques and other bull shit like that, the 3 most effective ways to overload your muscles are:
• Use more weight (with good form) per exercise than you did during the previous training session
• Use the same weight as the previous training session but perform more reps
• Reduce the time you rest between sets
BONUS: A combination of two or all three of the above. If you could use a heavier weight, do more reps and take less time between sets, that’s definitely a recipe for effective overloading! However, it’s gonna take some time before you can get to this level.

As I mentioned already, there is a direct correlation between getting stronger and getting bigger. To put it another way, if you’re able to use more weight on you exercises next month, than you did this month, you’re muscles are going to be bigger. IF… and that’s a big ‘IF’, you’ve provided your body with the raw materials it needs for growth. Those raw materials come from good, nutritious sources of calories and a quality protein supplement.

And, as I mentioned, if you’ve been resting for 2 minutes between sets you could overload your muscles by cutting that rest time down to 45 seconds. No doubt you’ll experience a subsequent decrease in the weights you can handle from one set to the next but it is a great way to place more demand on your body. However, I like to keep things simple, especially when learning something new. For beginners I would recommend that you focus on using more weight and/or doing more reps and keep your rest times the same.

So, if you’re serious about muscle growth, when you perform an exercise you should make it your MISSION to add at least 5 more lbs. to the bar than you used during the previous training session. Or, perform at least 1 more rep. Either way, you’ll be making progress and placing higher demand on your muscles than you had previously. That, my friends, is overload. Essentially you are forcing your muscles to grow.

How to Progress…

Let’s say it’s Monday and you’re going to do some Barbell Squats. Your program calls for 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps. You feel like you can handle 135lbs for this exercise and decide to go for 3 sets. After warm ups, use the same weight for every set. If you’re able to complete all 3 sets, with 135lbs, for anywhere between 12-15 reps, increase the weight by 5lbs the next time you do Barbell Squats. So, the next time, you would try to complete 3 sets of 12-15 reps with 140lbs. That’s progression and you’re overloading the muscles of your legs.

Now, if you failed to get 12-15 reps during any of your sets, you would stay with the same weight the next time you did Barbell Squats, but push to get more reps. For example, on your first set you were able to complete 15, the second you were able to get 12 and on the third set you could only get 9. That’s fine as long as you were pushing as hard as you could and 9 was honestly all you could manage on your last set. The next time you squat you would stay at 135lbs and do your best to hit 12-15 reps on all your sets. Even if you only manage 10 or 11 you’ve still progressed and done what’s necessary to build muscle. Keep going until you can complete all 3 sets for anywhere between 12-15 reps.  Once you’re able to do that, increase the weight by 5lbs.

Repeat this pattern, striving to add weight to the bar and/or reps to your set every time you train, and you will effectively overload your muscles, make progress and BUILD MUSCLE!

Finally…. The Beginner Training Program (about time, huh?)

Alright, so now that I’ve written a novel on beginner training let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of the program(s). I’m going to list one for those of you who’ve never picked up a weight in your life AND/OR the ones who haven’t trained since new episodes of Seinfeld were dominating the television. I’ll also provide a program that is slightly more advanced but still appropriate and effective for beginners.

Start out with weights that you can handle fairly easily. Take the time to learn and master proper form on every exercise. Using good form will not only help prevent an injury but it will also work your muscles far more effectively than using sloppy form.

As the weeks go by try to add weight or additional reps to each exercise (as long as you do so in good form). Focus on getting stronger in these basic movements. Doing so will give you better results within 3 months than some people get in a year.

I suggest following this routine for at least 2-3 months before moving on to the slightly more advanced beginner routine. Train 3 days a week following this schedule:
Day 1 – Training Session A
Day 2 – Off
Day 3 – Training Session B
Day 4 – Off
Day 5 – Training Session A
Day 6 and 7 – Off
Begin the next week with Training Session B

*Perform 5-10 minutes of cardio to warm up your body and prepare it for weight training. You should do just enough to break a light sweat but not exhaust yourself. All sets listed below are work sets. Perform 1-3 light warm up sets before the work sets. After you’re finished training take 5 minutes for some stretching and a cool down period.

True Beginner Training – Completely new to lifting weights or coming back from a long layoff

Training Session A

Barbell Squat – 3 sets of 12-15 reps (Works your quads (legs) and calves but also stimulates strength and muscle growth throughout your entire body)

Incline Bench Press – 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps (Works your chest, front delts (shoulders) and triceps)

Barbell or Dumbbell Row – 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps (Works your mid to upper back, traps, rear delts and biceps)

Training Session B

Deadlift – 3 sets of 10-12 reps (Works your lower back, core muscles, legs and stimulates increases in strength, power and growth over your entire body) Caution: it is very important to use proper form on every exercise but you MUST learn the techniques for doing these correctly. If you have someone who’s more experienced, that wouldn’t mind showing you, it would be ideal. Instructional videos, which can be found online, are also a great resource. Start off VERY light and only increase the weight when you’ve developed good form.

Bench Press – 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps (Works your chest, front delts (shoulders) and triceps)

Barbell Shoulder Press – 2 sets of 10-12 reps (Works your shoulders, upper traps and triceps) Caution: Shoulder injuries are very common in people who train with weights. You should make every effort to prevent a shoulder injury. Be sure to warm up your shoulders thoroughly with a few light sets before pushing hard. Complete your reps in a slow and controlled manner and do not use more weight than you can handle.

Slightly More Advanced Beginner Training

Training Session A

Barbell Squat – 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps

Bench Press – 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps

Chin-ups – 2 sets of 10-12 reps using only your body weight.  If you can complete both sets of 10-12 start adding weight by using a belt or by holding a dumbbell between your feet. (Works your lats (back) and, at this point, will stimulate growth in your biceps better than any curl can.)
If you can only complete 1-3 reps at a time, do as many sets as it takes to reach 15-20 total reps. If you cannot complete any reps it is ok to substitute an assisted chin-up machine or use reverse grip (palms facing you) lat pull downs on a cable machine until you can use a weight that equals your own bodyweight.
Barbell Shoulder Press (standing) – 3 sets of 10-12 reps

Triceps Extension (press down) – 2 sets of 10-12 reps (Isolation movement for triceps) Stand, facing a cable station, and use either a straight bar, v-bar or rope attachment. Keep your elbows fairly close to your sides but you do NOT need to dig them in or touch your rib cage.

Calve Raises – 2-3 sets of 20-25 reps (Works your…. calves) Because of the limited range of motion it is recommended to perform exercises for your calves in a higher rep range.  In fact, a lot of bodybuilders find that their legs respond with more growth using high reps, even on exercises like Squats and Leg Presses.  Perform calve raises either standing while holding a set of dumbbells, on a calve raise machine or on a leg press machine that is locked towards the top of the range of motion.

Crunches – This is a basic, but great, exercise to build your abs.  Complete as many sets as necessary to complete 50 reps total.  (You may also substitute hanging leg raises, decline sit-ups/crunches, rope crunches or an ab machine).

Training Session B

Deadlift – 3-4sets of 8-10 reps

Incline Bench Press – 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps

Barbell or Dumbbell Row – 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Dumbbell Shoulder Press (seated) – 2 sets of 10-12 reps

Barbell or Dumbbell Curl – 2 sets of 10-12 reps (Isolation movement for your biceps. Although barbell curls are technically an isolation movement, if done correctly, this basic movement is a powerful mass builder for the biceps that allows you to use fairly heavy weight.)

Calve Raises – 2-3 sets of 20-25 reps

Crunches – As many sets as necessary to complete 50 reps total. It would be wise to choose a different ab movement than you performed during Training Session A. 

All that’s left to do now is…. Take ACTION!

God himself could create a training plan specifically for your body and it wouldn’t mean a thing if you didn’t get in the gym and put in the work!

Make it happen.  Get yourself a cheap notebook and write down your goals.  What do you want to accomplish?  How much muscle do you want to gain?

WHY do you want to gain muscle and strength?  Knowing your reasons, and writing them down, is a POWERFUL motivator.  Use them to light a fire within yourself.  Read them often and remind yourself what you’re working towards and why you want to achieve it.

This post, along with the resources linked within, provide you with valuable information that can help you build a foundation of muscle size and strength.  I know this training plan is so much different than what you’ve probably read in the magazines but this IS the way a beginning bodybuilder should train.

Follow the plan, work hard and put just as much effort into your diet.  Doing this will ensure that you’re never the joke in your gym.

Until next time,

Michael Wheeler