So you’ve decided you want to start getting in shape- Good. You’re tired of being scrawny, overweight, weak, doughy, skinny-fat, whatever, and you want to get better.
But do you know where to start?
Maybe you used to lift back in the day, maybe you lift on and off, or maybe you’ve never lifted a weight in your life, but in all likelihood your head is swimming with lifting programs and advice and you just need somewhere to start. The internet is full of broscience, seemingly conflicting advice, fad workouts, and all around bullshit, and sifting through it all and deciding what to do and who to listen is pretty fucking tough.
Furthermore, it can often be very difficult for the uninitiated to understand the why behind a lot of different lifts and the why behind different arrangements of sets, reps, rest times and so on. I suppose the best way to put it is that when you are bombarded with stupid but flashy workouts (half-Swiss squats, anyone?) and when you have a hundred different people arguing over various rep volumes and intensities and everyone saying theirs works the best, it can be hard to create a solid lifting philosophy for yourself.
Luckily for you I’ve been lifting for at least 5 years, and it is retarded how much of that time I spent on worthless routines and bad lifting philosophy before I figured shit out. I wasted a good deal of time fucking around thinking I knew what I was doing- You don’t have to.
For starters, you need a simple framework for your philosophy. What to do, how much to do, when to do it. For those of you just getting started, let’s keep it simple with some general guidelines that should be common sense but aren’t-
- Low reps (3-6 range), higher weight builds power and size
- High reps (10+), lower weight builds endurance and tone
- Compound lifts (primarily squats, deadlifts, and bench but also chin ups/pull ups, rows, overhead press, etc) are far superior than isolation lifts such as curls, skull crushers, and side raises. This isn’t to take anything away from isolation lifts, but you build your foundation upon the compounds.
- Lifts that use free weights (barbells and dumbbells) are superior to machine lifts. Machines isolate and emphasize a certain movement, whereas free weights force you to balance, building core strength and recruiting secondary and tertiary muscles. Some machine lifts have their place, but free weights are generally better.
- Building on the last two points, when you do compound lifts and use free weights your core gets a very good workout. Ab workouts are not very beneficial from a cost-benefit point of view- doing hundred of crunches or fucking around with Swiss balls will not make them much bigger or more defined. A strong core is built under the barbell, showing it off takes effort in the kitchen.
- Cardio improves your vascular endurance but does not burn fat very well compared to heavy lifting and having a good diet (more on this in a separate article).
- Rest is very important. You are going to have a tough time gaining if you aren’t getting 8 hours of sleep and taking off days.
- Protein is very important. Recommendations vary, but as a good rule of thumb you need to be eating at least your body weight x1.5 in grams of protein every day. Without enough protein and rest you’re pissing a lot of your effort away. I try to shoot for body weight x 2.5.
- Bring a notebook with you to track your progress. It is an impossibility that you can remember everything you did your last workout, making it incredibly difficult to move up. Seriously, this makes a huge difference.
I wanted to keep it basic, so you experienced lifters can feel free to chime in with some of your own insights. For me, I can only imagine where I would be at now if I had known most of these or had chosen to adhere to them consistently throughout these past years.
So now that you have a basic framework for your lifting philosophy, it’s time to get started on a program.
Strong Lifts is a program I recommend to every newbie emailing me for ideas. Mehdi’s program focuses on only 5 lifts- squats, bench, deadlift, rows, and overhead press, in an easy to execute 5×5 structure. It is a great way to get started the right way- doing compound lifts. I did it for a long time before moving on to more advanced stuff, and the results were very good. Something that really needs to be stressed: Start with the empty bar just like he says, it is a necessity. Those new to the big compound lifts will need to train their body in the movements, honing the form through repetition and experience. Yeah it will suck being that guy, but trust me no one actually gives a shit.
Starting Strength is also a great program (book and Wiki). While I can’t personally vouch for it, tons of other experienced lifters can and do. Rippetoe’s philosophy appears to be very similar to Mehdi’s in that there is a large emphasis on the big compound lifts from which beastliness is birthed.
Read up, get your mind right, and hit the fucking gym. You will love this journey you’re about to start on.