Whether you’re a gym newbie, or returning to the iron after an extended layoff, it’s always best to start at the beginning.
As a beginner it is easy to be swayed by all the online fitness hype. The internet plays host to a plethora of fitness information. So much, in fact, it can be overwhelming and even confusing. Reading about other peoples’ successes with different training protocols can lead to trying programs that may not suit you. Hearing about the latest gizmo that takes a workout to the next level could possibly leave you with a small closet full of novelty items, which you’ll probably only use a handful of times. Over on your favorite fitness forum someone starts a thread about “muscle imbalances” or “bringing up lagging body parts.” And you take mental notes, eager to try the suggestions offered in the many replies. This is all well and good, but when it comes to just starting out, keeping it simple will get you further.
Choosing a program
Sure, you can put together a workout for yourself, but it is best to go with a well-written program. It takes the guesswork out of progression and keeps you from jumping around to other different and unnecessary programs (AKA: Training A.D.D.). When choosing a lifting program, there’s no shortage of choices. The following is an oversimplified list, or glimpse, of the options out there.
The “Bro Split” (single body part split) is defined as training 1-2 body parts per day, 5-7 days a week. With a bro split you will only hit each muscle group once a week. The bro split is best suited to advanced lifters due to their slower recovery ability.
The “Upper/Lower” split is a workout consisting of 4-6 training days a week, with alternating upper body days and lower body days. This program works well for intermediate lifters, but beginners could do well with it, though it’s not optimal. Depending on how many rest days are taken, each muscle group will be trained 2-3 times per week.
“P/P/L” (Push/Pull/Legs) is another intermediate program that can be run 3-6 days a week. One day is devoted to all pushing exercises (bench press, overhead press, triceps press, etc.), which essentially hit the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Another day is slated for all pulling exercises (deadlift, bent-over row, pull-ups, etc.), which hit the back and biceps. And finally there’s a day for legs (including glutes and calves). With this program each muscle group is trained 1-2 times a week.
Finally, the “Beginner” program usually consists of 3 days of training full body. I say usually because there are many ways to format a beginner program and many to choose from. Most beginner programs are strength-based, calling for 5 sets of 5 repetitions or 3 sets of 5 reps for compound lifts. If any accessory lifts are included in the program, they are usually performed in the 8-12 rep range. Listed below are a few good ones to look into.
StrongLifts 5×5 – https://stronglifts.com/
Starting Strength – http://startingstrength.com/get-started/programs
AllPro Simple Beginner’s Routine – http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=160947761&pagenumber=1
These programs may not look like much. Yes, they start out easy, but believe me, you’ll be asking for your mommy in no time. I made the mistake of thinking beginner programs looked too easy, and I thought I needed lots of different exercises to get a great workout. I started out with the Upper/Lower split and enjoyed it quite a bit. I made a little progress. I then went with a P/P/L program (which I liked, too) and made a little more progress, all the while killing myself with lots of exercises. It wasn’t until 3 years into lifting that I tried a 3 day, full body workout. And wouldn’t you know it? That’s when I started making the most progress. I still run a full body program to this day because I enjoy it so much. I’ve tried to go back to body part splits, but I can never stick with them very long. In this case, I really wish I had begun at the beginning.
A Word on Training Accessories & Thingamajigs
When I first started out, I bought training items that I thought were cool, or I thought would enhance my workouts. One of them was Mark Bell’s bench press Slingshot, and I also splurged on Fat Gripz. Turns out they are cool and they do enhance workouts, but I didn’t need them yet. So they’ve pretty much just sat in a corner, collecting dust. It is only now I am finding that these accessories are beneficial, now that my training has advanced beyond the beginner stage. It’s time to dust them off and incorporate them into my lifting program.
Muscle Imbalances & the Like
Things like muscle imbalances (e.g. one biceps bigger than the other) or bringing up lagging body parts (e.g. training the shoulders heavier and more often to even out their proportion to the larger biceps/triceps) are bigger issues than a beginner needs to deal with. These things will become a focus, eventually, but not just yet. Do yourself a favor and block out all the static. Work on perfecting your squat form or deadlift form. This is what’s important right now.
When coming back to the gym after an extended layoff, be it from an injury or ten years on the couch, it’s best to start at the beginning. It doesn’t matter that your squat was 375 or you could deadlift 450 back in college. Starting your training too aggressively could result in an injury. Or another one. So start over, do it right, and you’ll be back to where you were in no time.