Are You A Beginner?
If you found your way to T-Nation via a search engine or aren't yet involved in any type of resistance training, you are a beginner. It's great that you've decided to do something about your health and your appearance, but you must understand that in order to truly succeed you will have to change your habits - and that isn't always easy!
Using the Web Site:
First, if you are new here, you might not realize how much great information is available on this site. Before you do anything else, bookmark this thread so you'll be able to find it again. Once you've done that, familiarize yourself with the article library, the search feature and the archives.
The article library is accessed via an appropriately named button on the left side of the web site. Within it you can find articles organized by author, topic or category. Things change a bit from time to time, but at the time of writing the button is blue and located below the forum list and above several features including a gallery of T-Nation images as well as Chris Shugart's web log and the cool tips.
The search feature and archives are accessed at the top of the screen. Click the word search and you are off. You can search for T-Nation articles or for content that you know was written in a discussion forum thread. The archives let you browse through previously published material in a chronological fashion. There is a ton of great stuff here for you to sift through.
Being A Beginner:
Everybody starts as a beginner. When you are a beginner there are so many things to learn and know. Also, as a beginner your goals are often no longer understood by those that have been in the game for a while. To make matters worse, those with more experience quickly forget what it was like to be a beginner. They forget how hard it is to change lifestyle habits and to understand concepts that have become second nature to those that are more advanced.
As a beginner there are a number of issues that you need to learn. Hopefully the following information will provide you with a bit of a roadmap. How fast you progress and what kind of goals you end up setting for yourself are personal choices. However, if you are like most of us, once you start to travel down the iron road your goals will shift with time.
The Myth of Weight:
One of the first things you need to know is that your weight is not the true issue. How much you weigh depends on factors including your lean body mass and your fat mass. Looking and feeling good has a lot to do with losing fat mass. However, most strict diets coupled with a lack of exercise result in a loss of a lot of muscle.
It is important to not lose muscle mass for several reasons. First, it is your muscle mass that generates the most metabolic activity. The more muscle you lose the easier it is to put on fat! Second, and perhaps just as importantly, it is muscle mass that makes you look good once you stop covering it with fat.
As alluded to above, how you look generally is defined by how much fat mass you have covering your muscles. If you don't already know this, losing fat is controlled by your diet. If you consume less calories than you expend, you will use some of your fat to make up the difference. There are a lot of complicating factors, not the least of which is your bodies ability to adjust, but this is the basis of becoming lean.
At the same time, putting on muscle mass requires that you eat more calories than your body would generally use. If you are exercising appropriately and eating the proper foods you will generally put on some combination of fat and muscle. As a complete beginner it is possible to lose fat and build muscle at the same time, but as you progress that becomes very difficult to do.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to change your health is to change your dietary lifestyle. Forget everything you think you know about how to eat and start over. Perhaps the simplest place to start is with the following:
7 Habits of Highly Effective Nutritional Programs
If you are starting your quest for fitness from an overweight starting point, then once you've been able to incorporate the 7 habits into your lifestyle, ponder this diet:
The T-Dawg Diet: Version 2.0
If, instead, you are a very thin person who has trouble putting on weight, you will want to examine this article once you have the 7 habits nailed:
Massive Eating: I, Caloric Needs
Massive Eating: II, Meal Combinations and Individual Differences
Those of you attempting to undergo fat loss will notice that the diets presented on this site generally do not induce ketosis. It is not necessary to be in ketosis in order to burn fat. These diets represent healthy lifestyle changes that you can maintain indefinately -- helping you build muscle, reduce fat and simply eat healthy foods.
Hitting the Gym:
As an absolute beginner it can be a bit intimidating to start going to the gym. Everybody there seems to know what they are doing and you may imagine they will laugh at you if you obviously don't know what you are doing or simply because you lift such small amounts of weight. Don't let your ego get in the way! They were beginners at one point too.
Of course, you should check with a physician before starting your fitness program just to make sure you don't have any conditions that would make it dangerous for you to engage in physical activities. Anyway, if you are truly out of shape, don't be ashamed by the fact that you may need to work on your level of general physical preparedness (GPP) before you incorporate weights into your gym visits.
If you have to start out on the cardio equipment, then so be it. If you are only willing to use the machines at first, then so be it. You have to start somewhere. Those of you that are still active in sports or other physical activities will find it much easier to jump into the weights if you aren't already using them.
Regardless of how quickly you feel comfortable adding resistance training to your workouts, it is important that you do the lifts with proper form. The following link will help with that:
UWLAX Video Index
Only now, after all of the above, we are finally ready to pick a program and get lifting. Some things to look at include:
Bustin' Ass 101
Total Body Training
Escalating Density Training
OVT: Optimized Volume Training
Fat to Fire
The Anti-Bodybuilding Hypertrophy Program
Program Design 101
Honestly, it doesn't matter all that much what you pick. As a complete beginner any serious routine will give you plenty of gains. Try to pick something with plenty of compound exercises such as deadlifts, squats, chins, dips, rows and of course bench presses. Do not go to the gym and single mindedly focus on curls and bench presses!
Edit: The following note is posted later in this thread by user jsbrook and should probably be included here...
I would like to mention that most of the strength coaches on this sit and elsewhere recommend complete novices stay in the 8-15 rep range. But any of the programs in this thread, with their excellent exercise choices, should work with modifications made to rep range. After some solid training like this (at least a good few weeks) the switch can be made to heavier loading.
Rest and Recovery:
Okay, now that you've got your nutrition in order and you are following some type of reasonable lifting program, you want to make sure you maximize your recovery:
The Recovery Battlefield
Solving The Post-Workout Puzzle, I
Solving The Post-Workout Puzzle, II
The Real Scoop on Post-Workout Recovery Drinks
Of course you know that you grow muscles when you aren't in the gym, right? Something you may not realize is that it takes a lot of time to put on serious amounts of muscle. With hard work and proper nutrition you will be lucky to gain one pound of lean body mass during a week.
After you have got your nutrition and workout in order, only then is it time to consider supplementation. For example, taking a fat loss supplement won't help you lose fat if you are consuming more calories than you are using in a day. Similarly, if you don't consume enough food, supplements designed to aid muscle growth will have very little effect.
Supplements cannot do the work for you. They are not a replacement for discipline and desire. They are something you use in addition to your other strategies in order to speed your progress. For fat loss investigate HOT-ROX. For muscle growth try Surge, Grow!, Metabolic Drive! or Carbolin 19. For focus, intensity and CNS recovery look into Spike and Power Drive. If you are looking for a testosterone or libido boost, consider Alpha Male or RED KAT.
This web site is sponsored by Biotest, so all of the products mentioned are avaialable online via the products section of the home page. Before asking questions, you should probably read the product information threads available within this area and also the relevant threads in the special reports which are shown above the products. A lot of information and answers to other users questions are available for review.
Though the product lineup does change from time to time, here are the currently available product information threads:
Maximum Strength HOT-ROX
You can also buy various T-shirts if you are so inclined. You'll see threads on the forums here and there discussing reactions that the general public has when you where them.
Testosterone Shirt Comments
All in all, with all the free information avaiable, the support in the forums, the great products and the awesome features, such as Prime Time, you'll find a large vocal crowd of devotees to T-Nation and Biotest. I'm one of them myself, obviously.
What ever you do, do not get stuck looking at all the information present instead of doing something. At the very least, follow the 7 habits and start some type of resistance program. While you are taking these early steps you can plan out what to do after the program you have chosen ends. Getting stuck in analysis paralysis will not do you any good. Remember, you don't have to find the perfect program. It does not exist!
Another common problem is the search for the magic pill. There is no magic nutrient, supplement, fitness program or strategy that the rest of the world is hiding from you. The only way to magically achieve your goals is through consistent hard work. Unless you have a serious health problem, there is nothing else to really think about. Too many people, whether newbies or not, search for a magic problem that must be at fault for their lack of progress.
If you are new to all of this you should learn some gym etiquette. You don't want to be one of those people that performs curls in the squat rack. A good way to pick up on gym etiquette is to read some of the humorous threads relating to poor gym practices:
Top 10: Gym Etiquette Rules
Welcome to the community! If you have the desire and the discipline, T-Nation has the information you need to succeed. However, between visits to the gym maybe you'll want to ask questions or otherwise amuse yourself in the forums. Some things to keep in mind when posting:
o Use regular language, not instant messaging short forms.
o Capitalization and punctuation greatly improve readability.
o Respect contributing authors when commenting on their articles.
o Attack the issues instead of the person.
Here are a couple blogs from Chris that talk about some of the things that occur in the forums:
Worse Than Stupid
Die, Straw Man, Die!
Also, please note that forums are moderated here on T-Nation. It will take a few moments for your message to get posted to the forums. Given what does get let through I can only suggest we be thankful that the worst is filtered out for us. Anyway, when you post your first message, don't post it a zillion times if it doesn't show up right away.
This is the second edition of this thread. It was updated at the suggestion of another site regular because a lot of beginner questions have been popping up. This time it is being posted in the Beginner's forum, which didn't exist last time around. Anyway, the following useful material has also been deemed useful by various people...
USDA National Nutrient Database
Carbohydrate Roundtable 1
Carbohydrate Roundtable 2
Fat Roundtable 1
Fat Roundtable 2
Cardio Roundtable 1
Cardio Roundtable 2
Beginners Blast Off Program
Basic Training for Beginners
Back Off and Grow
Ian's Top 10 Mass Makers
Ian King: Limping into October 1
Ian King: Limping into October 2
Training Frequency, How Much, How Often?
Top 7 Ways to F-Up in the Gym
The 1-6 Principle
The Lost Art of the Finisher
The Little Black Book of Training Methods
A Thinking Man's Guide to Sets and Reps
The Lazy Man's Guide to Stretching
Train Right for Your Type
The Velocity Diet 1
The Velocity Diet 2
Merry Christmas, Bob
Steroid Newbie Thread
Finally, here is a link to the original article, in case you are a total geek and want to look for differences or inconsistencies.
Are You a Beginner?
[ Note: As before, feel free to add new links - there will probably be a version three at some point. In addition to your own favorite links perhaps suggest good motivational articles, additional new user information categories or maybe other good resource style threads. ]