I’ve been considering my 5-year training history, and while that (granted) isn’t long at all compared to some guys, I’ve had 4 years worth of plateaus, bumps and bruises, stupid training, and finally, some intelligent training and realizations. I thought that maybe through cataloging some of these experiences, I might help other (beginning) lifters. Most/all of this has been said before in different places and different ways, but if I even provide one useful piece of information to one or two people, then this was worth it.
I started lifting out of necessity rather than desire, as I was playing football as a sophomore in high school. My coaches didn’t know s**t about training, never instructing about proper form on the lifts and never even mentioning nutrition. This led to injuries and a lot of wasted time in the gym. This leads me to
Tip #1: get coaching, if you can’t, then watch videos, talk to other people, read forums, do WHATEVER it takes to learn proper form. If you haven’t received some form of instruction on an exercise, don’t do it. After some instruction, seek more, from more experienced people. You can ALWAYS improve your technique, it takes years to perfect it, especially on the big lifts (Deadlifts, cleans, squats, bench etc…). Get someone with expertise (not your buddy who’s watched a Dr. Squat video and thinks he knows his stuff) to watch your form, and correct it. Also, keep your back straight, regardless of what exercise it is. If you can’t, then lower the weight.
I played football for three years, over that time I probably gained 25 pounds. 15 of this was just naturally growing up, and 10 was from going from no training to some training. With proper nutrition this could have easily been 45 pounds (30 of muscle), a quicker 40, higher jump, and harder hit.
Tip #2: Nutrition is key. You can have the best training program ever, but without good nutrition, you won’t get any real gains to speak of. “Good nutrition” I’ll leave ambiguous, because it means different things for different people (do your research!) but, I will say, if you aren’t getting somewhere around 1g protein/lb of bodyweight, nothing you do will help you. No amount of product will do you any good without enough protein.
After football, I started lifting more for myself than my sport, I enjoy the challenge of progressing weights, and the sensation and look lifting gives me. My biggest breakthrough was when I went to college and started controlling my diet, I went from 6’1" 180 to 6’1" 205 in 3 months without noticeable gain in bodyfat (nothing scientific here, just a mirror, but I can’t see any appreciable fat gain). I’ve discovered that real, heavy, hard training makes me very hungry, and I eat pretty much as much fruit, vegetable, and protein (even fatty protein) that I want, and it’s come with noticeable gains in lean body mass.
Tip #3: If you’re doing real training, I mean the kind that makes you drip sweat, pant your ass off, gives you actual gains from week to week in strength, leaves your shins bruised/bleeding and your hands not only calloused but in pain, if your doing that kind of training, you can probably eat more than you think without gaining fat. It will probably just increase your strength/size gains. Try it for a few weeks, if you start getting fat, you can always stop.
Tip #4: Buy psyllium husk and take 10g per day. If your eating right, you won’t be crapping right without it.
On training splits (big disclaimer, what worked for me may not work for you. I’m not saying this is the best way to do it, I’m saying that for me, this worked great): I used to do a bodypart split, push day pull day leg day, with reps in the 5-8 region, and lots of different isolation exercises. I had modest gains, but little strength increase, and honestly little size increase from week to week, month to month. I decided to try a different strategy, and shifted from a “hypertrophy” standpoint (higher reps, lower weight) to a strength standpoint (lower reps, higher weight). I currently do a full body workout, three times per week. For several months I was pure strength focus, doing only a handful of exercises (Bench/Overhead press for push, pullups for pull, power clean/deadlift/squats for leg), and followed a 5-6 set, 3 rep guideline (after warmup). My strength took off from what it had previously stagnated at, I gained 20 pounds, and felt great. However, I began to plateau on several lifts, so I am currently doing this:
Full body every day, with one push, one pull, one leg all 5setx3rep, with additional weak point work AFTER main sets, 3-4 sets, 8 reps.
Push: Alternate Flat Bench and Barbell Overhead Press, with either dips (often weighted) or skullcrushers for a little extra because triceps are my weak point
Pull: Weighted pullups, sometimes Tbar Row/ Bent Row tochange the focus, but back size is not a priority, mainly definition. I also do preacher curls every other day
Leg: Always the first set of the workout, alternate Deads, cleans and squats, with front squats or lunges thrown in every other day for some added oomph.
This, 3 times per week, has worked great for me. However, now that my strength base is up, I’m starting to shift more towards a traditional split, to bring out the maximum size I can get at my current strength, I would then theoretically switch back to a strength phase.
Tip #5: On training splits: self-evaluate constantly. If you aren’t getting results from your program after (at least) 3-4 weeks, consider switching it. I’ve had great results on a strength phase then hypertrophy phase then strength phase etc…
Tip #6: You can’t read enough, and there’s always good new stuff coming out. However, experience trumps knowledge. If you’ve read every insert strength/bodybuilding author here article ever, it doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing. But you’re probably much better off than if you didn’t.
Tip #7: Read Thibaudeau.
Tip #8: Supplements help. But usually to a lesser degree than the hype, and a solid diet and solid training outweigh ANYTHING a supplement has to offer. That said, I use multivitamins, creatine and fish oils (not to mention protein powder), ZMA and psyllium as a bare minimum. Other stuff helps a lot too, I’m just too poor to afford it
Tip #8: Sleep. Consider ZMA.
Tip #9: 1 night heavy drinking = 3 training sessions, one week of eating to recover from.
Tip #10: Actually very important. Gains don’t come overnight, in a week, or even sometimes in a month. To look the way you want will take time. You’ll see improvement month-to-month, but you have to give your program/diet time to work. And a week is not “time”.
That’s what I’ve got so far in my life. Hope it helped, comments VERY much welcome as I said above, I believe that the only thing I can do is get better, and that my knowledge is limited compared to others’.