T Nation

Training a Complete Beginner

Hey guys, I have a question stemming some recent sessions where my buddy has joined me to train.

I’m stronger than he is (which I’m thinking contributes to the issue) and do a moderate amount of volume with my training. Usually I’ll do a main lift (bench, squat,dead,OHP) and then 3-5 assistance exercises for 3-4 sets, pretty basic BB style split. I’m having him do 5x5 on the main lift and one less set on all the assistance work.

I’ve tried explaining to him that he shouldn’t be going to failure on every set, saying he should choose a weight where he can get 5 with a few left in the tank on at least the first 3 sets so he doesn’t burn out and so he can learn proper form.

He doesn’t listen. (I’m assuming it’s a ego/self-conscious thing) So he’s basically choosing his 4RM on the first set and doing 4, then getting a spot for the fifth, then he’ll either keep going or ADD weight and get less and less reps each set. By the last set he gets like 1 rep on his own and needs a spot for the last 4 with shitty form. Then he’ll insist on doing a drop set, going to failure before each drop.

By the time we’re on to the assistance work he’s fried, weak and gets pissed, which only discourages him more

I’m posting this to see what techniques you guys have used to get across to beginners and explain to them that starting out like this is only going to limit them big-time in the long run? How can I show this dude that he can still work hard and feel like he’s worked hard without fucking himself up and teaching his body how to fail and have bad form?

I plan on getting my personal training cert in the near future and working with a lot of newbies, so this is something I’d like to get a handle on now.

Thanks in advance

Ask him why he does that thing and whether it’s working for him or not?

It´s hard to teach people to leave their ego behind. Of course if they know the stuff you are telling them works it makes the job a little easier. People like that will more likely learn the bad way or quit.

The best way I believe would be to let him make the mistake and show him that what you are telling works and is extremely important. Some of us follow the wrong track in a rush for getting everything right now and only by experience we learn.
That said I think the failure mindset is one of the worst things that could happen to strength training.

[quote]Salpinx wrote:
It´s hard to teach people to leave their ego behind.[/quote]

This.

My best friend is also my training partner, but have had some similar issues with his progress (though not NEARLY to the extent you describe). Slowly shifting his training toward powerlifting and having him spend more time with powerlifters (where we’re both scrawny weaklings lol) seems to have helped his mindset a good deal, though.

Hopefully, CC will have some awesome words of wisdom. Didn’t he write an article specifically about training young guys (dumbass mindset and all) not too long ago?

I’ve never trained anyone, but…

Show him that video of Kai Greene working out with some amateur where he talks about feeling the stretch and contraction (posted somewhere in BSL in a post about biceps). He only curls like 10 more lbs than the amateur, which demonstrates it’s how you lift, not how much.

Your buddy is basically saying you don’t look impressive enough to respect what you say.

[quote]Andrewdwatters1 wrote:
I’ve tried explaining to him that he shouldn’t be going to failure on every set, saying he should choose a weight where he can get 5 with a few left in the tank on at least the first 3 sets so he doesn’t burn out and so he can learn proper form.

He doesn’t listen. (I’m assuming it’s a ego/self-conscious thing)[/quote]

It doesn’t HAVE to be an ego thing. I train like this every time I step in the gym. I can’t leave reps in the tank because when I was an athlete, I would’ve gotten cussed out for leaving energy in the tank at practice.

It could just be that is how he is wired. You should respect that. Adjust to the circumstances. If he doesn’t want to stop going all out, perhaps educate him in recovery. Some people (like me) need to learn the hard way how to adjust your recovery / life to a balls-to-the-wall mentality in the gym.

edit: Ya the shitty form part isn’t too exciting to hear though.

[quote]Andrewdwatters1 wrote:
I’m posting this to see what techniques you guys have used to get across to beginners and explain to them that starting out like this is only going to limit them big-time in the long run? How can I show this dude that he can still work hard and feel like he’s worked hard without fucking himself up and teaching his body how to fail and have bad form? [/quote]
You can only do so much. I’m not going to tell you to spot him any less so that he feels just how much you’re helping finish the sets, because he’ll probably just bitch at you for “being a bad spotter.”

Here’s what I’d do, probably, maybe, possibly. Adapt the program. If you know this dude is dead-set on training to failure and then grinding out more, and you it’s not going to be worth the effort trying to reprogram his mentality, then give him a program that incorporates training to muscular failure.

We all, pretty much, now agree that keeping a rep or two in the hole is best for size and strength, but hitting muscular failure was popular (and still is, with some guys) for a good decade or three. If dude wants to hit failure, then have him hitting one or two bodyparts per session, 2-4 exercises for 2-3x8-12 each. Stereotypical bodybuilding stuff, “hitting the muscle from different angles” and whatnot. He’s gonna complain about being sore, so make sure he buys the two of you lunch right after lifting.

It’s going to be a little more hassle if you guys want to still lift together, but that’s the first way that comes to mind to kinda circumvent the situation. Is it ideal? No, not really. But it’s better than him getting burned out from lifting dumb. Explain that the strongest powerlifters rarely hit failure, and if bodybuilders do train to failure, it’s in a higher rep range, not hitting failure for sets of 3-5.

That’s definitely cool, but as a heads up, training friends/relatives is a little different than training paying clients. I think the familiarity influences their psychology on some level, and they tend not to see you as professional since they know you’re the same schmuck who wet his pants on picture day in third grade.

In general though, there are two main methods when dealing with difficult and/or argumentative clients. Either pull a Dr. Phil and ask them “And how’s that working out for ya?” This works well when they’re hesitant to change whatever they’ve been doing (training, nutrition, whatever). Having them reflect on themselves and actually think about what they’ve been doing is shockingly simple. (Note, this is also why I’m a fan of the classic ‘what exactly did you eat yesterday?’)

Second method is to simple overwhelm them with evidence (anecdotal or otherwise) that supports your position. Female client fears weight training will make her bulky? There are dozens and dozens of Crossfit women, female Olympic lifters, and female powerlifters to say otherwise. Obese 250-pound client thinks 150 grams of protein is “dangerous and unnecessary”? Well, Mr. client man, tell me exactly what you ate yesterday and then let’s talk about “dangerous and unnecessary.”

[quote]Apoklyps wrote:
Hopefully, CC will have some awesome words of wisdom. Didn’t he write an article specifically about training young guys (dumbass mindset and all) not too long ago?[/quote]
Ha, thanks, man. Yeah, I put this together for younger (particularly teenage) beginners.


Whether it’s appropriate for this dude, or if he’ll listen, who knows.

[quote]Salpinx wrote:
It´s hard to teach people to leave their ego behind. Of course if they know the stuff you are telling them works it makes the job a little easier. People like that will more likely learn the bad way or quit.

The best way I believe would be to let him make the mistake and show him that what you are telling works and is extremely important. Some of us follow the wrong track in a rush for getting everything right now and only by experience we learn.
That said I think the failure mindset is one of the worst things that could happen to strength training.[/quote]

I’m really trying to keep that to the absolute last resort is the thing.

[quote]1 Man Island wrote:
I’ve never trained anyone, but…

Show him that video of Kai Greene working out with some amateur where he talks about feeling the stretch and contraction (posted somewhere in BSL in a post about biceps). He only curls like 10 more lbs than the amateur, which demonstrates it’s how you lift, not how much.

Your buddy is basically saying you don’t look impressive enough to respect what you say.[/quote]

Good call. And sure, I don’t look like Kai AT ALL but the dude is like 25% bf and a complete newbie…

[quote]Claudan wrote:
t doesn’t HAVE to be an ego thing. I train like this every time I step in the gym. I can’t leave reps in the tank because when I was an athlete, I would’ve gotten cussed out for leaving energy in the tank at practice. [/quote]

Definitely can relate to this. Being able to sprint past people at the end of a 5k never went over well with the coaches.

It’s one of the reasons 20rep squats appealed to me for so long.

[quote]Chris Colucci wrote:

[quote]Andrewdwatters1 wrote:
I’m posting this to see what techniques you guys have used to get across to beginners and explain to them that starting out like this is only going to limit them big-time in the long run? How can I show this dude that he can still work hard and feel like he’s worked hard without fucking himself up and teaching his body how to fail and have bad form? [/quote]
You can only do so much. I’m not going to tell you to spot him any less so that he feels just how much you’re helping finish the sets, because he’ll probably just bitch at you for “being a bad spotter.”

Here’s what I’d do, probably, maybe, possibly. Adapt the program. If you know this dude is dead-set on training to failure and then grinding out more, and you it’s not going to be worth the effort trying to reprogram his mentality, then give him a program that incorporates training to muscular failure.

We all, pretty much, now agree that keeping a rep or two in the hole is best for size and strength, but hitting muscular failure was popular (and still is, with some guys) for a good decade or three. If dude wants to hit failure, then have him hitting one or two bodyparts per session, 2-4 exercises for 2-3x8-12 each. Stereotypical bodybuilding stuff, “hitting the muscle from different angles” and whatnot. He’s gonna complain about being sore, so make sure he buys the two of you lunch right after lifting.

It’s going to be a little more hassle if you guys want to still lift together, but that’s the first way that comes to mind to kinda circumvent the situation. Is it ideal? No, not really. But it’s better than him getting burned out from lifting dumb. Explain that the strongest powerlifters rarely hit failure, and if bodybuilders do train to failure, it’s in a higher rep range, not hitting failure for sets of 3-5.

That’s definitely cool, but as a heads up, training friends/relatives is a little different than training paying clients. I think the familiarity influences their psychology on some level, and they tend not to see you as professional since they know you’re the same schmuck who wet his pants on picture day in third grade.

In general though, there are two main methods when dealing with difficult and/or argumentative clients. Either pull a Dr. Phil and ask them “And how’s that working out for ya?” This works well when they’re hesitant to change whatever they’ve been doing (training, nutrition, whatever). Having them reflect on themselves and actually think about what they’ve been doing is shockingly simple. (Note, this is also why I’m a fan of the classic ‘what exactly did you eat yesterday?’)

Second method is to simple overwhelm them with evidence (anecdotal or otherwise) that supports your position. Female client fears weight training will make her bulky? There are dozens and dozens of Crossfit women, female Olympic lifters, and female powerlifters to say otherwise. Obese 250-pound client thinks 150 grams of protein is “dangerous and unnecessary”? Well, Mr. client man, tell me exactly what you ate yesterday and then let’s talk about “dangerous and unnecessary.”

[quote]Apoklyps wrote:
Hopefully, CC will have some awesome words of wisdom. Didn’t he write an article specifically about training young guys (dumbass mindset and all) not too long ago?[/quote]
Ha, thanks, man. Yeah, I put this together for younger (particularly teenage) beginners.


Whether it’s appropriate for this dude, or if he’ll listen, who knows.[/quote]

Good call on tweaking the program a little to get the point across by making him stupid sore without hurting him, I dig it.

I’m guessing I’ll have to use both of the methods you suggested to get the point across best. I’m thinking the first you mentioned will be fairly powerful here though.

Some awesome stuff for sure and I will put it to use, good point with training friends as well.

Thanks for chiming in Chris, I was really hoping to hear from you on this one. Will definitely be checking out that article as well.

I don’t really have a lot of experience training people per se, but I have worked out with a lot of people and spent a lot of time at the gym over the years. One of the worst things to see is guys trying to impress either themselves, their buddies, the girls I dunno, at the gym but lifting wrong and looking like a fool, and even worse hurting themself!!

I think it is important to stress to your buddy that even if he starts out a bit lighter and perfects his form, his gains will be bigger in the future and the near future at that!!! If he is lifting too heavy with improper form he will plateau a lot quicker. You also don’t want to make yourself so sore that you can’t work out properly the next time, there is no benefit to that.
I think if you can somehow incorporate a short term and long term plan for him that shows him there will be gains every session for a little while it might be more rewarding for him. I am currently doing the stronglifts program with a buddy of mine, and over the past month it has been great for both of us to see progress every single session and really motivating as well.( he is a complete newbie to weights) Anyways, just a couple of thoughts.