A Beginner’s Guide to Building Size & Strength – Newbie Gains

Looking to get bigger and stronger in the gym? If you’re new to strength training, then this is the guide for you.

Before we get started, just a disclaimer – this isn’t going to be your usual “do 3 sets of 10-12 reps” kind of guide. We’re going to get into some behavioural aspects as they’re just as important.

Table of Contents

I’d like you to consider the terms “size” and “strength”, because technically we don’t lump both size and strength in together – they’re different.

If we’re wanting to create muscle growth (so size – get bigger) we can introduce the use of light weights as well as heavy weight to help with progressive overload – this technically wont help with increasing strength (your PB) though.

And then if we’re wanting to just focus on strength (to lift heavier weight) we might want to limit overloading our muscles and have longer rest times so we can recover – this means we probably wont get the same increase in overall muscle growth.

But… there is a time when you can lump these in together when you’re going to get increases on both size and strength…

And thats with Newbie Gains!

Newbie gains happen when you’re relatively new to the gym and you start with an exercise program that works and you stick to it. Time frames for rapid early success are dependent on the individual of course, but expect a sharp increase over the first 3 months or the completion of your first 12-week program in both muscle growth and strength. Then still some pretty good gains over the first year.

There are a lot of different elements to cover for building size and strength in the gym but for this post I’d like to focus mainly on behaviors.

With our behaviours we can set a solid foundation to work from.

Goal Setting

So I want to bring up goal setting first because this is where it starts.

What do you want to do? Get bigger arms? Generally, get bigger overall?

Also, how committed are you? It starts with a plan because if you dont have one you wont be getting what you want.

Unfortunately just showing up wont get you the gains, there needs to be a system and understanding in place on how and when you’re going to get there.

If you’re showing up without a workout plan you’re whats called “Intinctive Training”, this means you hop from one machine to the other without any reason behind it. This will lead to membership cancellation every time. In fact I did that myself early on, turned up did a few of those, a couple of those ones, some of these and then expected to make progress.

I didnt make any progress and because of that I quit.

So in short, look at downloading, buying or creating some sort of workout plan. Workout the details and commit yourself to the timeframe.


Compound Movements

When writing a workout plan the main exercises in that workout plan should be compound movements. Compound movements are going to give you the most bang for buck, especially in the early days.

Compound exercises are exercises that incorporate multiple muscle groups at the same time. Here are some examples:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Bench Press
  • Bentover Row

They should be performed at the start of your workout so as your session progresses you haven’t compromised any of your larger muscles with a smaller complimentary group.

For example, on a chest day we would perform a Bench Press or Chest Press BEFORE a Tricep Extension. The tricep is part of the larger chest press movement and if we burn out our triceps first this doesnt allow us to lift as heavy on our bench press.

So to give an example of this –

Not always, but most of the time, the correct order for an upper body push day would be:

  • Chest/Pectorals
  • Shoulders/Deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Forearms

Progressive Overload and Intensity

Progressive Overload is a strength training approach that makes workouts more challenging over time. The idea is to increase the difficulty throughout your set program.

This can come about in a number of different ways –

  • Increasing the weight that you’re lifting
  • Increasing the volume you’re lifting or
  • Increase the frequency that you lift
  • Increase time under tension
  • Decrease your rest period

When you start training, any stress put on your muscles will result in muscle breakdown and when you rest and repair they grow back stronger.

So in short with Progressive Overload, make sure you’re increasing your weight if it becomes too easy, and this brings us to my next point – Intensity.

What you should be aiming for is failure on your last rep. To successfully get here you need to make sure you’re lifting the correct weight. Typically you want to aim for for the 8-12 rep range. If you’re failing before 8 decrease the weight, if you have more in the tank at 12 increase the weight.

Some say the real reps start when your body says stop and I would have to agree with them. Work hard to get to those final reps where you really have to strain, thats where you will find your rewards.


Focus and Rest Periods

This one is mainly about time spent in between lifts, phones have become a god send as well as a hinderance in the gym. Consider having a ban on picking up your phone during each exercise or muscle group.

When training for muscle growth we want to keep our rest periods between sets around the 90 second mark… and thats not long! So if we were to get into a converstation on our phones or start searching something, our rest period is quickly over, this then minimises our time under tension and we lose the opportunity for gains.



Above your typical training routine, your diet and supplementation will have a massive effect on the amount of size you can put on.

Although there are many streams of thought for diet and supplementation, you must include and understand the roles of protein and carbohydrates.

In order to successfully grow muscle, you need to have the right amount of protein and carbohydrates in your diet. As a general rule, the range is 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight.

Bodybuilding.com have a good Protein Calculator

They also have a good Carbohydrate Calculator.



In addition to creating a plan and sticking to it, make sure you train every session with a certain amount of intensity.

Remember, just turning up wont guarantee results, make sure you get uncomfortable and push yourself past what you thought was the last rep.

Using these guidelines as a foundation you wont go wrong.

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