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.
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.
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:
Top 10: Gym Etiquette Rules
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.]