T Nation

General Advice for a Complete Beginner


#1

Hello everyone.

I'm very excited that my neighbor and friend has decided to give lifting a try. He's a very cool person and I think he will adopt a good attitude about doing things the right way. I am hoping to get a reliable workout partner out of this, as well as helping him improve his health.

I've done a fair bit of homework on beginner training, but I am a beginning lifter myself and in no way whatsoever a top-tier trainer. I'd like to see if anyone here has any suggestions for me before I take him out for his first spin with a barbell tonight. He's 33, 5'11" and 220 lbs or so, sedentary lifestyle but not a total weakling (by sedentary person standards). He's got a fairly big frame and I think he could have much success with a variety of lifting goals if he applied himself.

Here's what I have in mind:

1) Try to keep it fun.
2) Encourage him to read everything he can and watch everything he can.
3) Starting Strength 5x5 or my very similar beginner 5x5 program will be my suggested routines. I am still on 5x5 myself and plan to ride that horse as far as it will take me.
4) We won't be going heavy for the first two weeks or so. Form will be the point of emphasis (even though I'm hardly a trainer, I can at least steer him in a good direction).
5) Major compound barbell movements will be emphasized. Squat, DL, rows, BP, OHP, front squat are the main lifts I will teach him.

What am I missing?

Your time and feedback is greatly appreciated!


#2

lots of compounds, HIIT, plenty of sleep, good diet make sure your getting your fats. Contrary to popular belief fats play a crucial role. I am on stronglifts 5x5 at the moment myself and I recommend it. Don’t set a time frame such as first two weeks to learn form, do it for as long as it takes. External cues such as “bend the bar” (bench press) “spread the floor” (squats) “push your feet through the floor” (deadlifts) help a lot when teaching people form. As opposed to tuck your elbows in, keep your knees out, etc.


#3

I’ve already given him a primer on diet and sleep. That was also a major selling point on getting in to lifting, as it is a great exercise path for the man who likes to eat and sleep.

Good reminder on the cues and not setting a specific time frame for going heavy. Those cues helped me tremendously when starting out.

Keep 'em coming!


#4

I think you’ve done a pretty fantastic job of this yourself, OP, and would do best by getting your friend to follow a similar pattern while, of course, keeping in mind that he may not progress EXACTLY the same way that you did. I think your five key points above are a good start.

I’d agree that weight should not be a major emphasis at the start BUT would note that a lot of beginners seem to respond well to some tangible form of “progress” so I might encourage an approach of starting with weights far lighter than he can handle as you teach him good form, then gradually allowing the weight increase (even if it’s well within his range to lift more earlier) so he feels himself going from 95, to 115, to 135, etc in those first few weeks.


#5

I have every confidence that he can handle 135 on all of the major lifts except front squat and OHP. He’s a grown man, not a douche and not an idiot, so if he feels comfortable with a little weight on the bar I’m not going to go Form Nazi on him and tell him that he needs to spend two weeks lifting the bar.

I’ll definitely stop him if he’s putting himself in a position for injury, but I want to keep it fun and interesting for him as well, which may mean using a little weight.


#6

Oh, I agree. I think you may have misunderstood me. I think you should put SOME weight on the bar, but do it gradually (beginners like to feel as though progress is happening). Starting him out at 135 is fine as long as his form as good. My point is that if he starts at 135 and handles it fine, don’t put more on in that first workout; save that little confidence boost that he’ll get when he comes in for workout #2 and you can put 145 on. Then workout #3, when he can handle 155, and so forth. Even if it looks like he can handle more, leave a little in the tank for those first few workouts so he feels tangible progress. After 2-3 weeks’ worth, once he’s gone from 135 up to 185 or so, then he’ll be hooked.


#7

That’s how I got hooked! Addicted to strength!

But yes, I think we are on the same page. 135 will be the cap for this week and probably next week as well (which will be his first full week).

See how he reacts.

The week after we’ll increase the poundage by 10-30, see how he reacts. Rinse, repeat for another few weeks and when he’s ready we’ll get him up to a heavy-for-him work set weight within a month or two and really start following the week-to-week 5x5 progression protocol. No specific time frame, though.

I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that he gets hooked. I think he’d make an outstanding lifting partner, which is something I’ve been really wanting to have. He’s a smart guy, not a pussy and we live next door with similar schedules and similar goals.

He’s just a little soft right now, but that can be remedied! I really want to do everything I can to give him a good leg up in to the world of lifting. He’s already observed my progress over the last year or so, and I’m sure he could do just as well or even better with the right approach.


#8

[quote]twojarslave wrote:

  1. Try to keep it fun.
  2. Encourage him to read everything he can and watch everything he can.
  3. Starting Strength 5x5 or my very similar beginner 5x5 program will be my suggested routines. I am still on 5x5 myself and plan to ride that horse as far as it will take me.
  4. We won’t be going heavy for the first two weeks or so. Form will be the point of emphasis (even though I’m hardly a trainer, I can at least steer him in a good direction).
  5. Major compound barbell movements will be emphasized. Squat, DL, rows, BP, OHP, front squat are the main lifts I will teach him.[/quote]
    Those are a pretty solid start.

I’d emphasize the importance of not training to muscular failure. It might be instinctual to lift until you can’t move the bar an inch, but everything from post-workout muscle soreness to between-session recovery to rep by rep form improves when you don’t grind and griiiind and griiiiiiiiiind that last rep.

If you have a copy of the Starting Strength book, lend it to him. It’s a great and insightful read even if you’re not doing the program. The technique explanations are top notch.

Also, I’d be surprised to see a sedentary person, even with a “big frame”, squat 135 to good depth and with good form right out the gate. Letting him “have fun” with feeling some weight is one thing, but it’s a very slippery slope letting the load dictate the training, instead of vice versa.

Just make sure his goals are his goals. If they coincide with yours, even more awesome. But he may eventually end up working on a different path than you. It’s something you guys can discuss if it comes up down the line.


#9

Thanks for the thoughtful reply Chris. I completely agree on avoiding muscle failure, and it has served me well, generally speaking. I’ll also tread lightly on the squat. It was a problem lift for me, and I’ve got a lot of lessons learned on going too heavy too soon.

Right now we both fall firmly into the “chubby 30-somethings trying to get in shape” category, so it is entirely possible that our goals will evolve in different directions over time. For now he is simply accepting my tutelage and the only weightlifting tutelage I can offer is how to move iron with compound movements, as its all I’ve really done in the weight room. Bicep curls and various shirt-lifting mirror poses will be covered in week 16 of my program.

He’s a pretty cerebral fellow and I’m sure he’ll do a good job of sorting out the information he needs as he gets exposed to it. We’ll probably get into more detailed discussions about diet, macros, food scale, calorie counter applications over some beers and wings tomorrow while we watch game 4 of BOS/DET.


#10

[quote]twojarslave wrote:
He’s a pretty cerebral fellow and I’m sure he’ll do a good job of sorting out the information he needs as he gets exposed to it. We’ll probably get into more detailed discussions about diet, macros, food scale, calorie counter applications over some beers and wings tomorrow while we watch game 4 of BOS/DET.[/quote]

Eating right is good, but I’d be careful with how you introduce it. I don’t think a major lifestyle overhaul like going from sedentary to bodybuilding is something that will stick for most people if you introduce it too quickly. If he feels pressured to make major commitments (and let’s face it, consistent gymming + diet + sleep is a pretty big commitment), you might scare him off or cause him to burn out or resent training.

You got him to agree to go into the gym and follow a reasonable training program. That’s a big step already. The most important thing here is to get him to like lifting and turn it into a habit. While I wouldn’t hide or downplay the importance of diet, I wouldn’t start trying to get him to eat like a bodybuilder right away. Small things like cutting down on or cutting out sugary drinks, eating a little more protein on training days, better snack choices, etc. are good places to start.


#11

[quote]Apoklyps wrote:

[quote]twojarslave wrote:
He’s a pretty cerebral fellow and I’m sure he’ll do a good job of sorting out the information he needs as he gets exposed to it. We’ll probably get into more detailed discussions about diet, macros, food scale, calorie counter applications over some beers and wings tomorrow while we watch game 4 of BOS/DET.[/quote]

Eating right is good, but I’d be careful with how you introduce it. I don’t think a major lifestyle overhaul like going from sedentary to bodybuilding is something that will stick for most people if you introduce it too quickly. If he feels pressured to make major commitments (and let’s face it, consistent gymming + diet + sleep is a pretty big commitment), you might scare him off or cause him to burn out or resent training.

You got him to agree to go into the gym and follow a reasonable training program. That’s a big step already. The most important thing here is to get him to like lifting and turn it into a habit. While I wouldn’t hide or downplay the importance of diet, I wouldn’t start trying to get him to eat like a bodybuilder right away. Small things like cutting down on or cutting out sugary drinks, eating a little more protein on training days, better snack choices, etc. are good places to start.[/quote]

That’s more or less how I approached it with him. Let him know the importance of diet for recovery and muscle growth, but told him not to sweat the details too much. He’s a vegetarian, so I felt it necessary to emphasize protein. I did this by making him a protein shake, which he liked. Told him to drink 3-4 per day, eat like he normally would and not worry about much else besides achieving consistency in the gym.

The first night went great. His deadlift form looked very good and he picked up fast on everything. He kept a positive attitude and didn’t beat himself up at all about poundage or reps or his overall work capacity.

I’m placing my protein order tomorrow and he asked me to put an order in for him and split the SH costs. He’s also agreed to show up Friday.

So far, so good.

Thanks for all of the great suggestions, everyone.


#12

Hahahaha he likes the protein shakes… for now.

Looks like you’re off to a good start.


#13

Read a bunch of articles by this guy and you’ll be well a head of the pack…


#14

[quote]RampantBadger wrote:
Read a bunch of articles by this guy and you’ll be well a head of the pack…

I’m reading it now, and I will definitely read it several more times. It will also be on tap for my friend. He’s already been given a reading assignment, so I’ll send this one over to him next week.

Thank you.


#15

I just wanted to bump this thread and thank everyone for the advice. My buddy has not missed a planned workout yet and seems to be having fun with the activity. It turns out I grossly overestimated his initial strength and we’re not anywhere near 135 on anything but deadlift yet.

Side note: He’s got a really impressive-looking chest for someone who was a sedentary bum until a few weeks ago. He sure LOOKED like he could bench 135. I suppose I probably look more like someone who could pull a Big Mac out of a bag instead of 515lbs on a barbell. Looks don’t mean much it seems.

Since Chris Colucci seemed to think I already had a copy of Starting Strength I thought it would be wise to buy it. And I did. And I wish I had bought it a year ago. I’m still working my way through it. I’ll probably read it twice, lend it to my friend and then put it in my hallowed sanctuary of reading, on the magazine rack by the crapper.

We’re still working with light barbells, but his strength is increasing very rapidly already and I think he’s really digging it. Only one direction for him to go in.

So far, so good.


#16

I wanted to bump this thread again, as it is shaping up to be a beginner success story.

My buddy is still going strong and staying consistent. He’s hit a few milestones already and is not showing any signs of slowing down. He’s still working on his diet (he’s a vegetarian, too), but that is not unusual for chubby 30-something men who have spent their lives being fat and weak. He’s lost about 10 pounds and looks noticeably better.

His approximate progression so far…

Squat

We started with air squats and just the bar. This Monday he squatted 225 for 3 sets of 5. Full depth, good-looking squats.

Deadlift

We started with 135, which was a struggle for him at the time. Yesterday he did 295 for 5. He’s jumping up to 315 next week.

Bench

He started very weak here, 65 pounds for 3 sets of 5, I think, and is now at 145 for 3 sets of 5.

He’s also vowed to not shave his beard until he can squat 315. He should be ready for that shave right about when it cools down enough to make a full beard comfortable.

Again, thanks for all of the help. It feels good to help someone improve their health!


#17

This is great. I love reading stuff like this instead of all the failed bulk, steroid strength and fake natty bullshit.

Awesome job! And i feel you are giving yourself far too little credit for his results.

This should be a testament to the fact that a lot of beginners should just stop reading so much online and stick with the basics or find someone much stronger than themselves to train with.


#18

Really awesome progress. Should keep you motivated too :slight_smile:


#19

[quote]dt79 wrote:
This is great. I love reading stuff like this instead of all the failed bulk, steroid strength and fake natty bullshit.

Awesome job! And i feel you are giving yourself far too little credit for his results.

This should be a testament to the fact that a lot of beginners should just stop reading so much online and stick with the basics or find someone much stronger than themselves to train with.
[/quote]

I can’t take too much credit. All I did was help him get started and give him an idea of where his strength could be in a year or two if he sticks with it. As a matter of fact, we have not been training together for most of the summer due to incompatible schedules. I was a bit worried he’d fall off the horse when he could no longer train with me, but that turned out to be unfounded. He’s doing great on his own.

To top it all off, he’s recently gotten his girlfriend to begin lifting as well.

I definitely agree with your last paragraph. Getting stronger does not need to be a complex endeavor. I don’t think anyone has ever failed because they chose Stronglifts over Starting Strength or worked in the 5 rep range instead of the 10 rep range.

Effort and consistency seem to be the main factors for success.


#20

[quote]ActivitiesGuy wrote:
Really awesome progress. Should keep you motivated too :slight_smile:
[/quote]

Once he starts looking better than I do it may help to get my ass in gear! He’s got a much smaller gut to lose than I do.