While bodybuilding is not as complex as rocket science or brain surgery, the process of building muscle, gaining strength and losing fat still takes a tremendous amount of knowledge, as well as hard work. It’s vital that beginners have the right information from the start so that their journey with exercise provides maximum results, without injury, distress, or too much time wasted. Although your program will evolve as time passes, much of what you learn, and put to use from the start, will create a solid foundation that will serve you throughout all your years in the gym.
While there’s nothing wrong with picking up your favorite bodybuilding magazine or visiting your favorite IFBB pro’s website to learn how your hero trains, it would be quite a mistake to try and copy what they do. First of all, you must remember that you’re a beginner, and most pros have been training anywhere from 5-25 years to achieve their development and level of exercise tolerance. Second, most of the routines you see reflect what each pro does now, and not how they started out in the gym. And third, it’s vital to understand that all pros are “enhanced” and genetic freaks, which makes much of what they do inapplicable to 99% of trainees out there.
I understand that when you’re young you feel like Superman, without a single pull, strain, or pain holding you back from attacking the iron However, while it’s tempting to just jump right into your heavy working sets without a reasonable warm up (e.g., a five-minute walk on the treadmill; callisthenic exercises; high repetition break in sets), this will come back to “bite you in the butt” in later years. Make it a habit to prepare your body for the intense exercise to come, and as the years pass you’ll minimize damage to muscles, tendons, and ligaments, allowing you to train “balls to the wall” for as long as you desire.
Most commercial gyms these days carry a vast array of fancy machines that cover every muscle group from a variety of angles. While there is not necessarily anything “wrong” with these devices, the “mistake” manifests when a beginner relies on them for almost his entire program. Certainly, machines and cables have their place, but when starting out there is nothing more effective than the most basic, free-weight exercises like squats, deadlifts, rows, military presses, bench presses, incline presses, dips, pullups, and BB curls. Master these exercise first before dabbling in the machine world.
I understand that as a beginner it can be a bit intimidating in the gym seeing all of these big dudes pushing/pulling these giant DB’s and 45-lb-plate-filled bars. I also understand the need to try and “fit in,” which often leads to beginners attempting to utilize weights that are far too heavy for them to lift with proper form. Not only is this a complete waste of time, but it can also lead to injury. And, in fact, experienced lifters will be more impressed watching a beginner train with perfect technique and light weights than the other way around. Be smart and use proper exercise technique from the outset, and one day you too will be loading 45’s onto the bar with muscle size that matches your power.
I know there are those out there that think there is “no such thing as overtraining,” but they’re simply incorrect. Overtraining is a real phenomenon and can hold you back from manifesting optimal progress from your efforts. Because of their unbridled enthusiasm and impatience, many beginners train far too much when they start out, believing that the more time they spend in the gym, the more muscle they’ll gain. However, we do not build muscle while we train, we do so while we rest and recover. Most novice lifters will get amazing results from 3-4 days in the gym per week maximum, and should never weight-train more than two days in a row.
Almost every top bodybuilder I have spoken with has told me that when they started out they would train chest and arms just about every day they were in the gym, while neglecting muscle groups like thighs and back (yeah, I know squats, deadlifts, and bent rows are rough). Of course this is understandable, as the muscles that really stick out of a tight T-shirt or tank top are the pecs, bi’s, and tri’s. When someone asks a muscular guy, “Hey, can I see your muscle,” they’re certainly not asking him to drop his pants or spread his lats. They want to see the guns! As a beginner, do not fall into this trap. Train all body parts with equal effort and intensity so you build a proportionate physique that’s balanced in strength from head to toe, front and back.
As mentioned earlier, entering the gym as a complete novice can often be quite intimidating. This is why many beginners choose to work out with a friend so that each can support the other. However, while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, make sure the person you pick is equally as serious as you are about hitting the weights. If you make the mistake of choosing someone who is only there to goof off, constantly no-shows, or doesn’t pay attention when you need a spotter, you’re better off sucking it up and training on your own.
The first time I lifted a weight occurred because I wanted to be as big as the Incredible Hulk. I was a very skinny kid, and I was tired of being picked on and made fun of when my shirt was off. I was hoping that if I ate enough food, got enough sleep, and hoisted enough weights I could quickly go from my pathetic 125lbs to a monstrous 275 in no time at all. Of course, I was very wrong. This kind of impatience is typical of beginners, but unfortunately can lead many to quit before any meaningful development is achieved. If you decide to go into the gym because you want to transform your physique, make sure you understand that for most of us the process is a marathon and not a sprint. Do the work—be patient—have faith, and one day you will look in the mirror and smile as wide as your giant delts and lats.