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 behavioral 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 heavyweight to help with progressive overload – this technically won’t 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 won’t 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 in both size and strength…
And that’s 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 behaviors, we can set a solid foundation to work from.
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 don’t have one you won’t be getting what you want.
Unfortunately just showing up won’t 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 what’s called “Instinctive 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 didn’t 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.
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 your buck, especially in the early days.
Compound exercises are exercises that incorporate multiple muscle groups at the same time. They can be done with weights or just body weight alone. Here are some examples:
They should be performed at the start of your workout so that 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 doesn’t 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:
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 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, that’s where you will find your rewards.
Focus and Rest Periods
This one is mainly about time spent in between lifts, phones have become a godsend as well as a hindrance 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 that’s not long! So if we were to get into a conversation on our phones or start searching for something, our rest period is quickly over, this then minimizes 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.
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 won’t 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 won’t go wrong.
What are newbie gains, and why do they occur?
Newbie gains refer to the rapid muscle growth and strength gains experienced by beginners during their initial months of consistent resistance training. They occur because the body is adapting to the new stimulus, making it highly responsive to exercise, resulting in quicker progress compared to experienced lifters.
How long do newbie gains typically last for a beginner?
Newbie gains typically last for the first 3 to 6 months of consistent training. However, the duration can vary depending on factors like individual genetics, training intensity, and nutrition.
What is the best workout routine for a beginner looking to build size and strength?
A full-body workout routine that focuses on compound exercises (such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, and rows) performed 3 times a week is ideal for beginners. These exercises engage multiple muscle groups, promoting overall size and strength development.
How important is nutrition in maximizing newbie gains?
Proper nutrition is crucial for maximizing newbie gains. Adequate protein intake (around 1g per pound of body weight) and consuming enough calories to support muscle growth are essential. A balanced diet that includes healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and micronutrients will help optimize overall performance and recovery.
How frequently should a beginner work out to optimize muscle growth and strength?
A beginner should aim to work out 3 to 4 times a week with a focus on compound exercises and at least one rest day between sessions to allow for proper recovery and muscle growth.
What role does proper form play in building size and strength?
Proper form is essential for targeting the correct muscle groups, maximizing gains, and preventing injuries. It ensures efficient and safe training, allowing for consistent progress over time.
When should a beginner consider progressing to more advanced training techniques?
Beginners should consider progressing to more advanced training techniques when they have built a solid foundation of strength and size, mastered proper form, and reached a plateau in their current routine. This typically occurs after 6-12 months of consistent training. Advanced techniques include periodization, drop sets, supersets, and more specific training splits.
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