T Nation

Getting It Right (Beginner Ramble/Questions)



I got a job that comes with free Gym, so for the last month or so I've been working out.
at first (lets say three weeks?) I was going approx 5 times a week, and just sort of copying what other people where doing.

Before you ask: due to gym rules about no free weights without a spotter, and the Gym being exclusive to employees, I can't reliably include dumbbell or barbells into my workout because more often than not there is not enough people around to keep an eye out.

Doing about 10-15 minutes cardio (about 3km on the treadmill, or hills, whatever) then about
3x20s on
Shoulder Raise
Chest Press
Pec fly
Lat Pulldown (cable)
cable Row.

I decided to do a bit of research and came across this site, and as recommend read up on the Beginners tips,
so I've changed my attendance to 3 times a week, with alternate days and weekends off.

doing 4 sets of rep range 5-8 on
Chest Press
Lat Pull down
Cable Row
Shoulder raise (no machine for shoulder/military press, so this seemed the best alternative?)
Leg Press
and leg curls

Obviously it's too early to make any claims on how great this workout is, but it's what it suggests in the beginner guide, so I'll stick with it.

What are some guidelines for recovery and food? (I'm on a budget, currently eating a lot of rice/potatoes, cause they're cheap)
I'm happy to consume powders/formulas etc if they're a cost-effective way of adding required nutrition.

and what are some possible body-weight exercises that might fill in the gaps in my stabliser muscles etc that are not being worked due to not being able to use free weights?

Other available machines are: pullover, pec fly, tricep, bicep, rear deltoid.

Would it be best to do other exercises on my weight training days or on my rest days? (sprints, burpees, 2 mile runs)

Is it possible to combine the pursuit of Strength and Endurance, or should I focus on one for a couple of months, then the other? (Since I'm effectively starting at "0", I'm sure everything will improve regardless of what I do, so I suppose it is not a huge issue at the moment)

Thanks for any help, snarky or otherwise :smiley:


strength and endurance have different rep ranges (pure strength about 1-5reps and endurance 12+) so it would be hard to include both.

i find body weight exercises: pushups, tricep dips, pull-ups etc (especially if you add weight to them) are a good way to work stabilisers and the large muscles without using free weights


That really sucks. You should suggest getting a power rack so you can lift without needing a spotter.

That'll be good enough for now. You'll make progress as long as you keep moving more and more weight. Another option for when you need more volume is push/pull with arm work added in (arms can never get too big):

Chest press (If you can, do these on an incline)
Lateral raise
Pec flye
Leg press
Leg curl
triceps (you can't eve do DB work without a spotter? Lame.)

Lat pull (try the single-arm version from Shelby Starnes' livespill)
cable row
rear delt
Leg press
Leg curl

Just alternate those two. So one week you'll do two pushes/one pull, and the next week you'll do one push/two pulls. And working legs every other day is a good option until you start moving some really heavy weights and need more recovery time.

More later. Gotta get ready for work.


If nobody is in there to spot you than nobody is in there to stop you either. Break the rules. Or find another employee to get as a training partner.


Jay, just so I understand you correctly, you mean in each session, only do "pull" exercises (and legs) then in the next session, only "push" exercises (and legs)?

Is there any benefit to this, or reason I shouldn't do both push and pull exercises in one session? (I think I read that doing opposing muscles was a common technique?)

As for "breaking the rules" - I'm new, so I'm not going to ignore the big signs all over the walls just yet, I'm hoping once I've been going a while one of the cool kids will let me hang out with them and I'll use the real weights.

That said, I have seen people playing with Dumbbells on their own, so I might be allowed to do curls, dumbbell rows, or other one-handed exercises.


I agree with enders ie if there is nobody there to spot you then there is nobody to check on you either.

Is there anyone actually there enforcing the 'rules' ??. It seems like other guys are using free weights--why not just ask if one of the more experienced guys would just keep an eye out for you.

If you are happy to push the rules just a little then one exercise that i would think about adding in is the goblet squat with a dumbell, start light or start at body weight and learn the movement. From there it's quite an easy step to squat and then lift the dumbell overhead which turns into a whole body movement.

Sorry--having a bit of a rethink about this on the way in to work this evening so here goes :

First--good first post, interesting situation at work-great that you have access to a gym at all and not so good about the rules, maybe they don't like having to clear out the dead bodies !! (only joking).
It's good that you have got into it and done some basic research and that has got you to the point of thinking what you are doing rather than just copying everyone else.

My main though is to try to turn the whole situation to your advantage ie getting to the position of being able to use the free weights. That might just be a matter of speaking to other gym users and asking if you can join in--might be a really nice surprise and you get included in on the bigger stuff that you want to do.

As to the design of your own programme--i won't try to advise as i am only just out of absolute beginner state myself however :
My understanding is that as a beginner it's good to try to have a whole body workkout some 3+ times a week so you are on track with that.
As to doing 'opposites' i actually agree with that as it is something that a lot of coaches say to do, so ...say pair up press up and pull up for a great upper body exercise routine.

As to diet, what you have described so far is all carb !! (rice and potatos) great if you are going to spend all day carrying a rucksack--awful if you want to get strong. If budget is a major constraint then look at protein sources :
Eggs --probably cheapest
Canned tuna --often get good deals on multi packs.
Chicken is pretty cheap these days.. i buy packs of cooked chicken drumsticks and have one of those after a workout.

If you can..think about posting a bit more information about yourself and your routines.

Good luck and welcome aboard the iron bus...


It really depends on how much volume you need in one workout. For an average of nine work sets per muscle group, you'd have to warm up two muscle groups, and then do 18 total work sets. Then you have to figure out how to put some arm work in it, and still fit it in a one-hour block. Oh, and make sure every rep counts...

Not gonna happen. Short-term, it can work. But in the long-run you'll screw yourself out of making some serious gains.

I'm not saying do this immediately, though. When your gains start to slow down and your work capacity improves for each muscle group, that's the time to switch it up. What you posted will work for now.


There are lots of free weight exercises that can be safe even if you hit failure, as long as you use proper form, measure the space around you properly, and don't use an unreasonable amount of weight. Deadlifts, front squats, overhead presses, rows, cleans, raises, curls, extensions, and loaded carries to name a few.

And just like what others said, if nobody's there to spot you, there's nobody there to monitor you either. So bench that iron! :slightly_smiling:


What's the significance of that?
Time constraints of my day aside, does a workout have to be done in a certain period?

My last session took about an hour and a half, as I was trying to do every rep in the complete range that the machine would let me, and take a full rest between sets

What do you need to know?
I've only been working out for just over a month, so I can't really measure any changes. I've been keeping a diary since the 1st august (and consider that my "start" as that was when I began following what I'd read in Christian's newbie training article, anything before that is irrelevant)

I'll keep following what I've started.
On one hand, I want to do "the best thing", but on the other hand, anything is better than nothing, and I should probably practice discipline, otherwise I'll be trying something new every week and never know what is working!

By September I'll be a bona fide regular, and hopefully I'll change to weights, (either through knowing enough people, or knowing that the rules are flexible)


Ok then , tell us what you are eating on a daily basis.
Also--what is your previous experience and what you are trying to achieve.

The whole thing...isn't just about being in the gym, you are working on that side and that's all to the good, but you described your diet as heavily based on rice and potatos. You could probably make some really basic changes there too.
Do you keep a food log ?

One thing to think about is using the thread to post some of your actual workouts as :
What exercise
What weight
How the workout was in terms of percieved effort or difficulty etc.


In general, you're going to get the best results (as a natural lifter) from keeping sessions to 45-60 minutes. Any longer than that, your intensity will suffer and you'll exceed your recovery capacity. You'll still make progress, but it won't be the best you can do.

Good attitude to have. Consistency and intensity trump the latest fancy program. Truth is, there is no 'best program ever'.


Not sure if your serious with the first response or if you were joking? About the time limit.


1/Aug Breakfast:
Bean + Bacon + Rice risotto
Lunch: Chicken shnitzel roll
Can of Coke
Roast Potatos

2/Aug: Didn't log it, probably similar though.

B/F:Bean Bacon Risotto, Pancakes, Coffee
Lunch: Green Beans, Rice, Lamb stew, Coffee.
Dinner: Rice + Dhal, Salad.

B/F: Fried Eggs, Pancakes.
Lunch: Rice, salad, baked veges.
Dinner: Salad, Pasta, Potato, Bread Pudding,

B/F: Muesli Bar, Fried Eggs, Pancakes, coffee, hot chocolate.
Lunch: Pasta, Cauliflower, apple, salad, potato.
Dinner:No Log.
B/F: Bacon Bean risotto, fried eggs, pancakes, coffee.
Lunch: Pasta, salad, coffee.
Dinner: Pasta, Salad, salmon.

As you can see, it's pretty similar throughout.

Previous experience: Mostly calisthenics type stuff, push ups, sit ups, jogging. No previous serious workout programme or effort.

Trying to achieve: Getting fully 'ard. :smiley:

First Goal: Get strength to a minimum standard (not sure what this standard is, maybe I never will, & I'll just keep going)

Currently I can't press my own weight, or do a set of pull ups, so my first "milestone" will be that. I'm currently at about 65%. I suppose only time will tell how long it takes me to progress that far.

I'll worry about the next milestone when I'm slightly less of a pansy.

Second Goal: improve endurance, agility, power, all that cool stuff.



Coach Thib lays down some great information in this article.



Lots of big science words, but it seems the take away is "keep it under an hour"

I'm a bit disappointed though.
A million years of eating, fighting and fucking my way to the top of the food chain, and my hairless chimp body can only cope with 1 hour of hard work out of every 48 I'm alive?

Lazy evolution if you ask me.



He's talking about intense lifting. Doesn't include cardio, warmups, stretching or anything. From your first work set until your last should be under an hour.

And it's not that you're not capable of lifting longer than that, it just wouldn't be optimal.


As Dan John put's it 'that thing you are trying to brush off your face--that will be the floor' !!

Back to your post later..


Looking at the diet then :

This will probbaly get commented on quite a lot and i would like to start positive as you are asking good questions here.

It's a good move keeping a log and if that is a typical sample of what you are eating then there are some big gains to be made from some easy tweaks.

What you are eating seems to be very carbohydrate loaded and a lot of that is very high on the glycaemic index (gi) so you are getting lots of big insulin spikes.
The result of that is you will have to be storing lot's of that fast carb as liver and visceral fat--and that heads you into diabetes land via fat-bastardville !!.
High carb diets might (might) have a place in endurance sport or as i used to do in long distance activity outdoors ie plenty of fuel but not much else.

(note..if none of this means very much then do your next research on basic food types, insulin response etc--if you alreday know this stuff i apologise in advance)

Generally what is advocated on T Nation is a much smarter diet, some like 'paleo' which is, in 'takeaway' form
lean meat,fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, berries,fruit and not much else.
That is a very lean and clean diet and a lot of the folks around here seem to thrive on it.

What most agree on is taking out of the modern diet all of or as much of as possible all the highly refined and processed stuff like pasta/bread etc and eating primarily unrefined and whole foods--lots of meat, lots of vegetables, salsds etc.

Most argue that to get strength you need to be eating lots of protein so that your muscles can take up the amino acids and create new muscle fibres.
It's actually quite hard to get that much protein in--you need to eat protein at every meal to do it and usually supplement as well.

A good first move would be to think about getting rid of the pasta and the risotto (arboreo rice based ?) and the pancakes and adding a lot more fish,meat,eggs and vegetables.

One aspect of your current diet is that it is the kind of diet that is almost guaranteed to keep you hungry --going to higher protein causes a hormone response that does the opposite ie makes you less hungry and it can become a real discilpline to eat well.

If budget is a problem then finding good cheap sources of protein will be the key--eggs as we have mentioned are good value as is tinned tuna/salmon.

More later
Hope it helps but it's a big subject.




My current diet is a recent thing, more or less due to finance issues.

In previous times I would have been eating meat every dinner (nice lean fillets) and tuna every lunch, and fruit every breakfast (I also lost weight during that time)

The easiest change I can make currently is to add more Chickpeas/legumes, which have a bit more protein-punch than rice and pasta.

I can swap pancakes for more eggs and vegetables.

Unfortunately I can't forgo rice and pasta completely, as I simply don't have enough alternative food to sustain me.


Nothing wrong with potatoes, especially sweet.

Rice depends on your particular physiology. Some handle it just fine, others get fat in a hurry. If you eat beans and rice, eat them together. Rice has an amino that the beans are missing to make a whole protein (that the body can use as a building block instead of burning as energy), and the fiber in the beans helps the rice digest slower.

Protein, Protein, Protein! And get plenty of good fats in there as well. You need all kinds of fat, too, not just mono-unsat. Your body uses different kinds of fat for all kinds of functions, so leaving anything out is a mistake.

If you're trying to get STRONGER, you need to make sure you take in enough carbs. Fat just doesn't burn fast enough, and your body will have to break down proteins and burn them as BCAA's to supply enough quick energy for your lifting sessions if you don't eat enough carbs (how's that for a run-on sentence). Keep the carbs limited to breakfast and before and after training as much as possible.

But then, sometimes you just gotta gain WEIGHT. Just gain raw WEIGHT and worry about refining it later. That's my recommendation to skinny newbs. I'm not talking about binging on ho-ho's and ice cream, but don't be scared of carbs and fat if you're skinny. And don't be scared to gain some fat and lose your abs, either. I was caught in that trap for a very long time and got nowhere. I started listening to the guys here and just started eating to gain a pound a week, and immediately started getting stronger and bigger. Three years later... I'm 45lbs heavier and twice as strong, and with less fat than I had before. But I never would have gotten here without that initial weight gain.