T Nation

Are You a Beginner?

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!

Being A Beginner:

Everybody starts as a beginner. When you are a beginner there are too 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.

Nutrition First:

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 onweight, 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 when 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!

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!

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! or Low-Carb Grow! 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.

Common Pitfalls:

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. 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:

Squat-Rack Curls

Top 10: Gym Etiquette Rules

Frat Curls

Finally, though this might have been good as the first item mentioned, be sure you use the search feature and put some time into reviewing material on the site before asking questions. The T-Nation community is chock full of helpful people, but you have to respect their time by using your own time to find information that is readily available.

Oh yeah, welcome to the community. If you have the desire and the discipline, T-Nation has the information you need to succeed.

[Note: This is a bit of a work in progress. Please post your own newbie suggestions or PM me if you feel strongly that I need to update something.]


nice work.

Now instead of posting all the damn links I can simply link Here.

Great idea

Nice job, vroom. But you forgot to tell the pigmentally-challenged about proper skin tone, and how to maintain their fish-belly whiteness:)

Just wanted to add these they seem to do a GREAT job of answering many of the questions that arise after ppl first read the nutrition articles. A little explaination of the whats and whys behind it all.

The Carbohydrate Roundtable, Part 1&2
Fat Roundtable I&II
Protein Roundtable

Hope that helps this AWESOME post,


Oh yeah, this recent article is one that I think is useful too. Once you’ve been training a while and hit a plateau, it might help:

Back Off and Grow!

Phill, great additions. Almost all of the information here is great, the only problem is that there is so much of it! Not a bad problem really.

Rainjack, heh, I heard ya! I’m going to see about going outdoors this summer…

Great article! You have taken posting to a higher level.



This has to be your best post ever. Really great stuff!

Just an outstanding collection of links in one thread.


Well done vroom. Even though I like to think of myself as past the newbie/beginner stage, there is still a lot of information out there, hell I don’t think we ever stop learning new things. Nice work man.

THANK YOU. This thread is a great idea, and a great help.

I hope you won?t mind a few beginner questions here.
I am 17 years old, and after discovering T-Mag, and getting over analysis paralysis, have gone from 130 to 140 pounds (at six feet) in the last month. I am after MASS, and am training hard and (somewhat) intelligently, and am working to change my food habits to fit the decrees of His Holiness John Berardi.

However, I have just had to switch gyms, and my new one has no squat or power rack, only a Smith machine. My question is: Where do I curl now? No, just kidding. I love to squat, and realize the great benefits that squatting gives, but I also have heard a whole lot of badmouthing about the effects of the Smith machine on the knees. What is the final verdict about squatting with a Smith machine? If that is out of the question, then what are some exercises that I can substitute, with similar effect? Different types of squat that don?t require a rack? Deadlifts plus leg press?

Currently, for my back I am doing chins and that chest supported angled lever row deal. I know that the chins are good, but what is the ?best? form of rowing that I should be doing?

Squatting and deadlifting on the same day ? yeah or nay? If nay, should I deadlift one week, squat the next, or switch off between workouts (I lift 3 times a week, if it matters).

Finally ? military presses? Behind the neck presses? What?s the preference?

Awesome job Vroom.

Another article that might help give some direction to beginners is this one:

Ian’s Top 10 Mass Makers

And if you’re feelin’ saucey these might help to:

Cardio Roundtables 1 and 2


Welcome Fooligan, nice to have you here, hopefully we can help. I will chime in with my 2cc on your questions.

Sqauts and smith machine. Well the problem is it takes you out of a natural ROM and keep you in one that can be potentially harmfull.

I would avoid it. As for other movements. Single leg squats. This way you can simply clean a weight heavy enough to load one leg. No rack needed as much at least if you fail use the other leg as support. Weighted HIGH step ups, hack squats, and various deads. Then maybe throw in a leg press.

Oh get into a new gym . LOL

Chins are awesome and should be a part of everyones program but without ignoring other rowing movements. Bent over BB & DB, upright, t-bar rows, just mix it up and use them ALL. Vary your grip, hit em all and they will hit all areas needed. Also deads can be Great for your back as well. Just try to put ATLEAST as much back/pull work in as push work. Many times ppl will benefit from extra pulling do to a lack of them earlier in training.

I prefer not to Squat and Dead heavy on the same day. I like to concentrate on one or the other. In a traditional manner anyway. I will combine say squats and Stiff deads, or deads and GM’s, or deads followed by some VERY heavy 1/2squats. I will chose one as the main movement and then a variation of the other that targets a more localized area.

Military front/back. Touchy subject. I once again I say mix it up as long as you have no shoulder problems. Just be carefull as with all lifting. Nail your form and dont load the weight beyond your capability. Not saying dont work hard and advance but leave your ego at the door and realize what you can handle. I do them both.

Hope that helps.


Another suggestion for hooligan is to try sumo squating hanging onto a dumbell… but considering this gym doesnt have a squat rack i doubt it has dumbells to make it worth your while… disregard what I just said then lol. Props to getting in the gym and putting in the hard work up ten pounds is awesome!! Keep working hard and stay to the basic movements (when possible) I wish I had come onto this site as early as you have its got some awesome information.

p.s. what kind of gym doesnt have a squat rack??

I keep thinking of new things to link to. For example, if you finally start to keep a food log, you are going to have to look up nutritional data. A great place to do that is here…

Search the USDA National Nutrient Database


I’m going to take a short cut and just link to a couple more articles. They talk about other things you can do for legs…

Ian King: Limping into October, I

Ian King: Limping into October, II

Personally, I’ve recently done squats and deads on the same day, but found that the lift done later suffered. So now I alternate those lifts each workout. If I do squats today I’ll do deadlifts the next time I’m at the gym.

Also, as Phill said, there is discussion about which shoulder movements to do. If you watch your form and check your ego and stay somewhat balanced between pushes and pulls, I think most lifts are just fine as long as you don’t have any existing problems.

However, I’d really recommend searching out more information and making your own decision.

[quote]TwistedLocal wrote:
p.s. what kind of gym doesnt have a squat rack??[/quote]

Sadly, mine does not.
It’s a local req center and while it’s undergone a $3mil renovation that was finished only a year ago, it does not have any barbell free weights.

So far, I’ve been able to use a cable machine for bench and squats when dumbells wouldn’t do. It’s not the most comfortable thing to start in the down position, but it’s gotta’ be better than nothing.

Oh - and for $100/yr it’s not bad considering it’s got everything else I’d want a gym to have. (Raquetball courts (4), pool, water park(for the kids, heheh), tennis courts (5), gymnasiums (2), cardio rooms, aerobic rooms, weight room (one with machines, one without), etc.

/me wishes it had a squat rack though.

This is a great post. I just wanted to add a link to Chris Shugart’s Beginner’s Blast Off Program.
As a beginner, I used this program with TD 2.0 and got great results. It’s straightforward, uses compound movements, and gets you in and out in an hour max. Hope it helps.


I agree with Vroom, do squats and deadlifts on separate days.

And Vroom-

What you’ve started here is similar to the original FAQ’s on T-Nation, which in my opinion was easier to send newbies to than the current archives, because the description of the articles in the archives doesn’t always tell you what the article is about.

Good work.


I haven’t updated it in a few months, but that’s been up for awhile to try to help people out.

Due to the code redesigns I’m not sure if all of the links work anymore, but I think the majority do.

Nice work, vroom!

This should be required reading for all beginners and newbies to the world of lifting.

TTT (to the top) great article man even though ive been lifting for 3 years i dont consider myself anything but a beginner because of this site now im off to study the T-Nation religion