Alright, so you’ve decided that you want to change the way you look, lose weight, tone up and put on some muscle mass. That’s great. That’s how every jacked guy you see in the gym started out.
But the truth is that very few people actually achieve a physique which they are proud of. A body they are happy, a physique that looks aesthetic, symmetric and well-proportioned which turns girls heads on the street.
Most quit just months after they started out because it seems like they are making no progress. Some workout for years and still look like they just got started or they are average-looking at best.
And then, there are the very few that are really nailing it. My question is, will you be one of them?
So in this post, I am going to outline the absolute best 6 tips that will help you jump-start your fitness journey, and make the most out of your newbie gains.
What’s up with the newbie gains after all?
So there are two main reasons why the progress you are making as a beginner is so darn important.
The first one, and most important in my opinion is the impact it will have on your mindset and mentality. When you see your body changing rapidly with your own eyes and when you have friends or colleagues telling you that you look so much better, or you’ve lost weight, or you’ve gained muscles it really boost your self-confidence and drives you to keep grinding.
So you will be even more demined to continue training and workout even harder, you will be motivated to stay on top of your diet, and to continue your transformation.
If you work hard and you don’t see any progress or not even your family is noticing any changes in the way you look, you will feel like shit. Everything that you put into it will feel like it is for nothing and it’s just not worth the time and effort. So you will be very likely to stop training.
The second, and the more scientific reason why starting with the right foot is very important is because during your first year of weight lifting you will be gaining around half of all the muscle you will ever gain in your entire lifting “career”.
Just look at these numbers.
Lye McDonald’s model
|Year of Proper Training||Potential Rate of Muscle Gain per Year|
|1||20-25 pounds (2 pounds per month)|
|2||10-12 pounds (1 pound per month)|
|3||5-6 pounds (0.5 pounds per month)|
|4+||2-3 pounds (not worth calculating)|
Alan Aragon’s model
|Category||Rate of Muscle Gain|
|Beginner||1-1.5% total body weight per month|
|Intermediate||0.5-1% total body weight per month|
|Advanced||0.25-0.5% total body weight per month|
I guess that shows why starting off on the right foot is really important. Why would you want to pass on these massive gains?
On top of that, as an untrained beginner, you will be able to lose fat and build muscle at the same time. That’s like cloud 9 of bodybuilding. You will never be able to achieve that naturally once you are beyond the beginner level.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s look at the top tips for maximizing your gains.
1. Know your numbers
Building muscle or losing fat is 60 or 70% about your diet. If you are eating all the bad stuff and you don’t have the slightest idea of how much calories you need or what is a macro split you are not going to see results anytime soon.
This is probably the less fun part about fitness, but counting calories and macros should be on your day to day to do list. It’s all down to calories in versus calories out. And there’s no way around it. You need to stay on top of your diet otherwise all the time and effort you put into your training will be for nothing.
Now, most guys have a little bit of extra fat around their waist when they start working out, so they are trying to get a six pack or at least get a narrow waist and lean out. So they cut back on food quite a lot.
That’s why they fail to build muscle optimally. Cutting back on your calories too much when you are starting out is really stupid. Unless you are above 25% body fat you shouldn’t cut back on calories. Just eat at maintenance and you will be losing fat anyway. As mentioned above, in your first months of training you can build muscle and lose fat at the same time, provided that you eat enough.
So keep track of everything and make sure your calories are at maintenance level, even if you have some extra fat. If you are skinny you can eat in a 10% surplus. And only if you are severely overweight you can maybe cut back your calories with 20% or so of your maintenance level.
2. Train every muscle
The next thing you want to do is hit every major muscle group like your chest, back, biceps and triceps, legs, shoulders and abs. Don’t you skip the leg day.
As a guy, even though I’m a certified personal trainer, I know it’s tempting to skip legs and only focus on your upper body, specifically chest and biceps, but if you are in it long term you want to develop a solid all-around foundation.
It is not like you can’t compensate lacking muscle groups later down the road, but it helps to have the habit of training everything equally. Pick a training routine and stick with it religiously. Don’t be that guys that gets to the gym and decides that to train on the spot.
Have a training plan and stick with it no matter what. If it is chest day you’re doing chest if its shoulders day you’re doing shoulders.
3. Heavy compound movements
This tip is probably one of the most important ones.
Picking the right exercise selection as well as the right training volume and training intensity is kind of a big deal. It will have a great impact on the way you will be progressing. Luckily there’s been quite some research on this topic and we know for a fact what works best for building muscle.
And it’s called heavy compound exercises. This might sound like a fancy term, but there’s nothing too complicated about it.
Compound movements are exercises which activate more muscle groups at the same time and use more joints. Bench press, shoulder press, squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, dips – are just a few examples.
Because you are using more muscles and more joints, with these kinds of exercises you will be able to train using heavier weights than you would if you were doing an isolation exercise such as a bicep curl. The more weight you lift, the greater the amount of stress (or stimulus) you apply to the muscle.
Sure, isolation exercises have their place in a workout routine and should not be disregarded. But your focus should be on the compound movements. If you spend around 70-80% of your time and effort on compound exercises and the rest on isolation exercises you should see great results.
You always want to start your workouts with the compound exercises and then finish off the muscles with lighter weight isolation movements.
Muscles need a stimulus to grow, and that stimulus is resistance training. If you are not using heavy enough weights your muscles will have no reason to adapt to anything. Therefore they will not grow.
So your goal in the gym should to always apply a new stimulus to the muscles so that they constantly need to adapt or grow. This leads us to the next tip.
4. Progressive overloading
To keep in short and to the point, progressive overloading means that you need to increase the amount of stress you put on the muscle over time.
This can be achieved by increasing the weight, by increasing the number of reps or the number of sets. It can also be achieved by training 5 days a week instead of 4 days a week or you can do it by using more advanced training techniques such as doing really slow negative reps or doing pause reps or decreasing the rest time between the sets.
As a beginner though, your best course of action would be to do it simply by increasing the weight. Once a weight becomes too easy for you, add more weight to the bar. Adjust the weight you are using so that you stay in the 6 to 12 reps range. Or the hypertrophy rep range as it is commonly referred to.
If you are doing fewer reps you will work on your strength training more rather than your muscle building. If you are doing more reps, you will start to work on your muscle endurance more, triggering those slow-twitching muscle fibers.
So when you can perform 10-12 reps with a given weight add more weight and start working your way up to 10-12 reps again. It is as simple as that. Nevertheless, I encourage you to experiment with different rep ranges as well every now and then and see how that feels for you.
5. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Cardiovascular training is kind of a big deal which you don’t want to overlook. It is a two-edged sword though. Doing too much of it or the wrong kind of cardio will hinder your progress. You’ve seen how marathon runner look like, right?
There are 2 simple rules that will keep you safe though.
The first one is to always do your cardio at the very end of your workout, after your weight training. This way it will not get in the way of your actual workout.
And the second one is to do a type of high-intensity interval training. Such as sprint drills for example. HIIT will burn more calories in less time. So instead of doing 1 hour of incline walking, or light jogging you can do just 15 minutes of HITT and burn the same or even more calories.
6. Knowledge is power
The issue with all beginners, regardless of the field is that they don’t know shit about whatever they are doing. And it’s the same with fitness.
You won’t know which exercises to do, how many reps, how many sets, when to rest, when to do cardio, what to eat, what good form looks like and I could go on forever.
So what I always recommend all beginners to do is to train with someone which is more experienced than they are. Preferably you want to team up with a guy which has been training for at least 2 years. And when you see him on the street you should be able to tell he’s working out. That’s a proof he knows what he’s doing.
By training with someone like that you instantly have access to years of experience and knowledge right from day 1. So you will not waste months and months by figuring out stuff on your own.
Sure, you can start reading blogs, books, look at studies, but that takes time and no one guarantees that you will be reading the right stuff. There’s a ton of misleading tips flying around.
So definitely get an experienced training partner or a personal trainer if you can afford it.
So this is pretty much it in a nutshell. With this handful of tips, you should be able to fast track your progress for at least your first 12 months of training.
Remember to stay on top of your diet all the time and don’t diet down unless you are seriously overweight. You will lose a ton of fat anyway, just by lifting weights. Always watch out for your calories though.
Build yourself a workout plan which focuses on compound movements and always challenge yourself in the gym. Try to become stronger each and every week. As a beginner, you will notice strength gains very fast, and you can literally come back in the gym stronger each workout.
Lastly but not least, team up with a training partner who is more experienced than you and do your own research at the same time.
Melissa Bell has a strong background in nutrition education, fitness and yoga, and experience working on specialized stretching, bodybuilding and weight loss programs. She is actively studying Japanese, doing research and travelling for conferences while taking care of two children.