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