Unlike the pioneers of fitness culture who wrote the book on physique building exclusively through trial and error, contemporary lifters suffer from an overwhelming amount of often-conflicting information. Sure, a great number of programs and tips you’ll find here and on the web in general are incredibly valuable and effective, but some of that info is also gym-perpetuated bro science. Here are a few of the traps to avoid when starting a new program.
1. Go Heavy, Bro
Eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman famously said, “Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder but don’t nobody wanna lift no heavy-ass weights.” Well, beginners and those of us with sub-Olympia-level genetics may want to take a slightly different path, Big Ron. Training with “heavy-ass weights” over-generalizes the very specific concept of progressive overload, which basically requires you to incrementally push your body by placing more weight on the bar or reaching for heavier dumbbells. However, there’s no need to put your joints or muscle bellies at risk of injury for the sake of ego. A 2014 study revealed that training in the 25- to 35-rep range provided muscle-building benefits on par with training heavier in the six- to eight-rep range, only without the inherent risk of bigger weight loads.
2. Use Every Angle
As a beginner, it’s common to fall into the trap of training each muscle group through every conceivable angle in order to forge a more complete physique. For example, it seems to have become standard practice for newbies to do flat, incline and decline bench presses on International Chest Day (read: Monday). It’s important to note, however, that the benefits you will reap from early angle work are minimal at best. When you’re just starting out in the gym, your focus should be on base building, not spot training. Focus on basic movements — such as the flat bench, back squat, deadlift, pull-up, overhead press and dip — for the first few months and you’ll build proper movement patterns, not to mention heaps of strength and size.
3. Steady-State Cardio
So often, programming for beginners includes the age-old prescription of “20 to 30 minutes of steady-state cardio, two to three times per week.” Not that it’s a bad suggestion, but there is no reason your cardio game has to omit high-intensity interval training. HIIT is a great choice, even for beginners, because “intensity” is relative. Interval training is also more time-efficient and can preserve or even increase muscle size, a bonus for beginners looking to get bigger without increasing body fat. New lifters needn’t totally discount the idea of steady-state cardio, either. If you’re going to stick to two to three sessions per week, one to two of them should be HIIT oriented.
4. Train Often
If training three times a week is good for adding size, then four times must be better. Right? Negative, noob. Increasing training frequency may seem like a good idea for your hard-charging, low-mileage physique, but in time, you will learn that adequate rest and recovery are the greatest difference makers in physique building. Beginners should stick to the three-times-weekly equation at the outset, focusing on different muscle groups each time. This respects the reality that weight training breaks down muscle tissue and that the days that follow are when the repair and growth actually happen. Hit each major muscle group (i.e., legs, chest, back, delts) hard once per week and allow five to seven days of rest.
5. Buy All the Supps!
Serious training requires serious supplementation. But don’t get sucked into the gym-perpetuated myth that your supplement cabinet needs to look like you airlifted a shipment of pills and powders in. The good news for beginners is that your body will respond well to your training program with almost no dietary changes whatsoever. However, a few key supplements — along with clean, protein-centric eating — will bolster your recovery game. A quality whey protein, basic creatine monohydrate and a multivitamin should form the heart of your supplementation plan. Start small and let your supplement stack grow with you.