T Nation

WiP: Evolution Of A Trainee

WiP: Work in Progress

What is the process that we follow to get from a humble beginning to a desired end? How come so many people stumble along the way?

Sure, there are a lot of standard off the cuff responses. Genetics. Desire. Discipline. Knowledge. Supplements. Gear. Some of the above. All of the above. None of the above.

Anyhow, I’ve been thinking a lot about the stages, or transitions, that a person might go through as a bodybuilder. I don’t want to get stuck on terminology, so I simply mean someone that lifts weights.

How does a person know where they are and what they should do? If a beginner trains like a pro, we all know they are likely to be toasted quickly. Generally, the experts can look after themselves, and I don’t consider myself one, so I can’t say much about that end of things.

However, maybe we can outline a bit of a roadmap, as it might be useful for some people. I’m going to throw this out there for consideration, critique, ridicule, the usual thing. Maybe we’ll end up with something useful, but if not, the bottom of the forum page is never very far away.

What Is A Beginner?
Everyone gets to be a beginner once. The easy gains that come with starting to work out seriously while paying attention to nutrition. However, what do we consider the beginning?

Is it the young person who’s never really been sedentary but has never picked up a weight? Is it the older person living in a cube farm with ten years of sedentary life? Is it the young person who has been sedentary?

I’m guessing it doesn’t really matter except with respect to how hard and fast they can get into the game. However, I’m going to start with a sedentary person and go from there.

Sedentary
This person is the proverbial walking heart attack. They don’t need any sophisticated training advice at this point. Learning about nutrition, doing some cardio, losing weight and generally getting to a point that the body won’t collapse upon exertion is a good plan.

Injured
Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Nobody wants to be injured, but it happens to many people. In each stage below there are obviously things to watch out for, what are they?

Beginner
Here we are ready to lift weights. If we didn’t start as a sedentary lardass then it is time to learn about nutrition. In fact, there are so many things to learn that it can be daunting. This is where the mantra “lift, eat, sleep and repeat” gets said in various ways.

I believe it is generally known or assumed that beginners should not start out with maximal efforts. Their soft tissues such as tendons and ligaments need some time to get used to the new stresses being placed on them. Higher rep ranges are generally suggested.

Everyone knows that beginner gains are great and easy to come by. For a while there will often be simple fat loss and muscle gain at the same time. Generally, any newly worked muscle will first strengthen and then with continued work start to grow.

Tasks for the beginner include: pick a beginners program and start doing it, learn and try a lot of different lifts, seek guidance and get the form right on all of them, learn about nutrition and if necessary track consumption to ensure movement towards goals. When the initial program runs out, pick suitable ongoing programs until you actually know enough to design your own.

As an aside, I think at this point, when people start seeing progress in themselves, that they start to offer up advice to other people. Beginner’s should try to realize that almost everything generates results for a beginner so what they are doing and achieving may not apply to anyone else except another beginner.

The beginners task, keep working out safely and eating soundly until you hit a serious plateau. Make sure you continue learning everything you can during this period as well. This could take six months to a couple years or so to hit depending on how much of a muscle deficit you started with.

Beginner’s Plateau
Most beginners will eventually stop making rapid progress. The fat loss will stop, the muscle growth will stop, the strength gains and PR’s will stop. Everything comes to a halt, motivation plummets and this is where I think we lose a lot of people.

Intermediate
The defining point for this stage gets a lot more fuzzy. For the sake of argument I’m going to suggest it is when someone gets past a serious bunch of plateaus and starts making solid progress beyond that point.

Hopefully, by continuing to learn, the beginner has learned about all kinds of things. There should also now be a serious ability to engage in self-assessment:

  • Are there any serious muscle imbalances that are limiting progress?

  • Are there any nagging injuries or am I prone to any types of injuries?

  • How long will it take to recover from various types of effort?

  • What are my weak points and how do I address them?

As the trainee moves beyond simple muscle gains, the ability to perform work at a serious intensity level increases. One one hand, upping the intensity may be part of what allows them to continue gains, but it also changes the nature of recovering from exertion.

As gains continue to be made the need for stretching, prehab, warmups and other issues that don’t seem as vital to many beginners generally start to make a bigger difference.

While I personally don’t move huge amounts of weight yet, I am starting to see differences between stresses placed on the body while maxing out previously and while maxing out now. Maybe some more experienced people will comment and help me fill out this section.

What about injury avoidance? I personally don’t use spotters for anything yet. I know some people bench in a rack, so on a missed lift they can drop the bar down and get out from under it. Any advice?

Advanced
I certainaly don’t consider myself advanced, so I really don’t have much to say. Maybe we could define an advanced trainee as one that is currently competitive? I don’t mean that they win everything, but that they can legitimately begin to play in the big boy games and not have to consider it a “learning experience”.

Elite
Something to aim for? I really don’t have a definition except perhaps being able to win while competing?

Suggestions
Guys, help me out. Are there other plateau points or divisions that are needed? What things does a person need to understand or be capable of to transition from one to another? I like to think I’m in the intermediate zone, but maybe I barely have one foot in at this point, who knows.

For example, I’m thinking intensity and muscle stimulation are key for moving past beginner, but maybe it is something else. Toss in your thoughts and maybe we can flesh out this initial roadmap and help more people make it past the hurdle points.

Also, if you have some tips regarding what to watch out for in each phase, that would be great.

Wow. Good job in trying to undertake this challenge. I know I couldn’t do it, probably because I know I’m in that fog between beginner and intermediate.

Um…maybe include some of the words of wisdom from some of the trainers here? I know Alwyn Cosgrove talks about not using external loads until you can do 20 easy pushups and 8-10 1 leg squats. Dan John had something too, like being able to bench your bodyweight and deadlift 2x your weight.

In any case, I look forward to seeing what everyone else has to say and of course, the next draft.

Wow, vroom. This is a pretty in depth look at it. I wrote this whole thing below, and then re-read your original post and discovered that I pretty much reiterated most of what you said. So I’ll leave the post…but I think you have it pretty well.

-folly

[quote]folly attempted to help by saying:

As for beginners, I would say that the program they pick will determine the amount of beginner’s gains they get. If they pick a M&F “INCH ON YOUR GUNS TODAY” program, they will get to that plateau a lot quicker and make smaller gains than the trainee that does on squats, bench, deads, presses, pulls and rows.

Eating is also a big deal. There was a thread a couple of days ago with a kid who lost huge amounts of weight, and now he was trying to gain. His problem was that he thought he was eating a lot. It was half of what he needed.

Beginners have trouble with the basic information that we take for granted. Where they get their info will help determine the gains they make.

I think intermediates are made when the beginner starts to learn the real information and make changes based on what their body needs. Intermediates are determined by planning, execution and modification as required. If you can’t design and change a plan on the fly, with minimal input, based on your goals and progress, then you are still getting there.

That is not to say that people who use others’ plans aren’t necessarily intermediate lifters, but if they aren’t making progress, the intermediate will try to figure out why.

Advanced trainees I can’t really speak to, because I have a lot of work, knowledge and experience before I believe I can call myself advanced. [/quote]

Thanks for the posts guys.

As you can probably see I consider some parts of the concept simply “beyond me”. So, I’m really hoping that if we get our collective heads together we can get something resembling a trainee roadmap.

You are here. These are the issues most people at your position face. These are the injuries you are most prone to. These are things you shouldn’t do yet. These are the imbalance mistakes you are most likely to create. These are prehab and rehab articles for those issues. These are things you have to overcome to advance yourself towards the next level.

It’s also a great idea to link to or quote from various articles written by the authors here.

I’ll add a few quick thoughts

Beginners main barrier to progress is knowledge. At this point mastering the basics of program selection, goal setting, diet, progression, injury awareness, periodization, rehab, body part balancing etc. is what leads to progress.

Intermediates main barrier is time and lifestyle. At this point its not knowledge holding you back but the years it will take of steady consistent effort. This is also the point where progressing to the advanced level will require bodybuilding to be a high priority in lifestyle choices.

Once you are advanced the only thing holding you back from the elite level is genetics, injuries, and using anabolics. The greatest elite strength athletes will be advanced lifters that also have top genetics and effective usage of anabolic drugs. At this level of performance we approach the known limits of performance for the human body and wise athletes aiming for elite status are much more wary of injury because of this.

Huge topic and any post that takes five minutes will just be a scratch on the surface but there is my first contribution to keep the thread rolling.

Great thread!

I think, to identify one as elite, you must be able to place that person in the top 3% to 5% of others participating in the same activity. Of course ranking someone can be much easier in some forms of weightlifting than others. For example, powerlifters have a much more tangible form of ranking competitors as opposed to competitive bodybuilding.

My point is that elite should be a very high status that most won’t and many just can’t attain.