T Nation

Prof X -Training a Beginner


Hey Prof, if I may ...

A typical nameless, faceless 150 lb, 18-30 year old, skinny-fat guy commits to building a bodybuilding physique. He jumps onto T-Nation and reads all the articles - becoming conceptually familiar with the basics of training (ie, progression, form, intensity, focus, consistency, etc)

However, when he steps into the gym for the first time, he's as confused as ever about which actual workout to begin with. He has no idea how his body responds to any form of resistance training whatsoever

Then he spots you training, reckons you might know 'a little' about getting big and strong and builds up the courage to ask for your help

So, what would you have this guy do?

Thanks :slight_smile:



First, give him a slab of steak. Powerful animals are much easier to deal with when their bellies are sated.


If he was doing biceps curls, I would initially see where his strength lay (assuming he wasn't completely clueless and actually understood how to do a biceps curl). I would choose a random light weight and watch his form. For his next set, I would pick a weight that I would hope would be much heavier for him. My first goal is to see how he does under heavier weight and if he has to cheat too much. From there, we would choose three different exercises total. The first day is about watching form and seeing just how strong he actually is.

Things like squats and deadlifts would be held until after I see how does with basic movements. Some people are completely uncoordinated and can't even balance an Olympic bar for bench press without nearly dropping one side. You don't throw someone like that head first into squats.


I'm obviously not your target response, but I would tell them that since they were a beginner that they should start and keep a food log to check the macronutrients and bring their diet in line with whatever goals they had in mind (a search would lead to some of Dr. Beradi's guidelines OR you can click on "ARTICLES" over there on the left hand side of the screen <--then click on "Diet Programs").

Since they don't know how their body responds to different types of weight training, I suggest that they find out. I would suggest that the person search for and obtain several of the methods and routines outlined on this site (Look over there at "ARTICLES" on the left hand side of the screen <--then click on "Training"). They would then perform a specific routine for a set length of time, record progress, and then switch to another routine and repeat.

Learn by doing. -Aristotle

You won't get it right the first time, but you will learn more for the effort.


I respectfully disagree, the first thing you want to do is get the guy doing bodyweight or broomstick squats to build his coordination. Why start building strength in any area if the guy is so uncoordianted taht he can't balance a bar.


In order to give me an idea of what I am working with. That is why. Are you claiming there is only one way to train someone correctly?


Broomstick squats are reserved for overweight spandex-wearing women only!

I saw a woman doing broomstick box squats the other day...

Now, back to you, Professor X...


no, i understand what you are saying, its just that if the guy can't even balance a bar (your words) than it is pretty obvious what you are working with...a blank slate, actually these people are the best to train because you have the opportunity to teach them good habits from day one.


Thanks Prof

So you wouldn't have him on a basic program from the get go (ie, X exercises, for Y sets and reps, for Z times a week) and see how he goes on that? How early on would you have him doing 'bodybuilding' exercises (eg, flyes, etc)? Or would you just focus on the basics for a while? Assuming passable form on most exercises and no functional limitations

Incidentally, my reason for asking is more than intellectual curiousity. I am pretty much in the condition of the newbie I described - albeit with a whopping 3 months of solid training under my belt

Others are free to respond as well of course, but the reason I'm specifically asking X is because (a) his results show that he clearly knows what he's talking about, (b) his training philosophy is somewhat different from most T-Nation writers, and (c) he isn't afraid to admit that a big part of the reason he trains is to look good (as do I - with apologies if I have this wrong, X)




And part of those good habits is seeing just where they are. I have trained one guy before who just immediately adapted to any movement if he was shown correctly one time. Obviously, you wouldn't handle him the same as someone who can't even walk straight. Bottom line, no, I personally would not start someone out with broomstick squats. One reason against that is the mentality of most beginners who are truly completely untrained. I would pick a movement closer to something they have actually done before...like curls. That serves the purpose of allowing them to see that they can actually do this. It would also give me a chance to get to know what kind of person they are as far as character (by how hard they try with basic movements...ie, whether they naturally push themselves or whether they complain at the slightest hint of effort). It also gives me knowledge of their basic strength. If the guy can't curl a 20lbs dumbbell, we would progress differently than if he immediately curled a 35-40lbs dumbbell with minor effort and decent form.


Flyes suck Cambodian royal turtle droppings. I see nothing wrong with starting out with a basic routine. However, my idea of basic involves a beginner working 2-3 body parts a day no more than 5 days a week attempting to do 3 exercises per body part while pyramiding up in weight over 6-10 reps. I also like the basic concept of working the larger muscle group first.


I can see your point bro. It all depends on the individual. Giving them a little taste of success early on by using simple movements has some merit.


I love this third person thing.

"If someone wanted to help me what would they say"?

Nice approach and it worked!


Ah, just the info I was after! Thanks. One last Q - how often would you have him train a body part each week?


I would say once with full knowledge that everyone doesn't recover the same and that I often trained twice and made progress. You give someone the basics. Hopefully they have the common sense to understand that eventually, adjustments may need to be made based on what they see as results.


:slight_smile: Well I was originally going to PM the big guy with my question - but thought that many other newbies on these forums might also benefit from his response

Thanks again Prof


im confused, how can someone read all the articles and have a basic understanding then be confused as hell...sure he'll get overwhelmed, but if this kid had a brain, he would know how to start atleast, IF, as you say, they have read the articles.

No doubt he would have seen the beginners thread, noticed that he would have to start by finding a program (along with basic nutrition info), going over it in his mind, doing 'ghost' lifts at home (practicing the lifts) and then when he steps in the gym, his first port of call is either the bench or squat rack or even smith machine for a real beginner.

well, thats how i would have answered the Q. lol


That's the one thing I'll say about this site- as much as I love it, it is probably very hard for someone who really has never worked out before to get a grip on.

There are just so many articles on here, and many of them say completely contradictory things. You kind of have to have time under iron to understand what you respond best to. When alot of info contradicts itself, it can be hard to figure out where to start.

Maybe its not a good thing to read all the articles when you're new. Better off choosing a simple one, and ignoring other workouts for the time being.


It could be very easy to be confused. Think of it this way, most (if not all) of the regular contributors give some kind of beginner routine but the methods vary significantly (ie. Tate/ Waterbury/ D. John), all will likely work but with so many options how do you choose?

Generally newbies want the "right" program that will give the "best results".

More information isn't always better, even if it's good information.


true guys...maybe not read ALL articles, but im sure a 'newbie' is influenced by a friend or family so will have other support networks to work with...

thinking back, a mate got me involved in lifting and got me onto this site and i guess i didnt get a grip of it straight away...(hell, ill always be learning from this thing).

point taken.