10 Important Tips for Gym Newbies
When you’re just getting started in the gym, you can really feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. This post will give you 10 tips to help you get started with the gym and make working out a habit that you can sustain.
1. Don’t worry about other people.
Gym intimidation is enough to deter many people from ever going back. Just ask Planet Fitness, they made their whole business model out of it. They even have something called the “Planet Fitness lunk alarm” which goes off whenever anyone drops their weights, grunts during their workout or wears something that might make someone else feel bad.
I’ve been intimidated by the gym.
I used to wander around aimlessly, without much of a plan. I’d go from one machine to the next, my routine dictated by whatever machine was free, and looked the least intimidating. I didn’t dare try and use free weights!
But you’ve got to stick with it! It can feel really difficult at first, but you will get there. You shouldn’t let worries about what other people might be thinking stop you from working out hard with weights and building some muscle!
I used to be intimidated by the free weights area. The fittest people were in there & I felt like a noob who didn’t know what to do.
But it’s important to remember that no one is actually paying attention to you!
I’ve never seen anyone laughed at in the gym for trying to better themselves. In fact, some of the nicest people in the gym are those who have been working out the longest and have built the most muscle. They love training, talking about training and sharing advice and tips!
2. Don’t go too crazy too soon.
Training with weights is going to be a new stimulus for your body. It’s important to remember that this is a stress. This is damage to your muscles and your body perceives it as something negative.
You haven’t adapted to this new stimulus yet. Volume (the total amount of work you’re doing as measured by the number of “hard sets”) should be low at first.
5-10 hard sets per muscle group per week is plenty for a beginner. You’re not going to build muscle faster by killing yourself in the gym with gargantuan workouts and a ton of exercises and sets. You’re just going to lengthen your recovery and spend a long time nursing stiff and sore muscles, unable to work out.
If you want a good routine for a beginner to follow, check out this full body program for beginners which has 3 workouts per week.
The real strength and muscle gains happen while you’re resting after your workout, not while you’re training, so place a high priority on recovery at first.
3. Start with higher reps.
Reps are how many times you lift a weight in a set. So if you lift a weight 5 times but cannot lift it for a sixth time, so you stop, you have done 1 set of 5 reps.
5 reps is quite low though. These would be weights that are quite heavy for you. If you’re a beginner, you’ll be served better by lighter weights you can lift for more reps.
I recommend beginners lift for sets of 10 reps or more.
Lifting weights is a skill. You haven’t learned how to do it yet.
Your nervous system needs to adapt and you haven’t developed motor control yet. You will develop it the more you practise, but while it’s still developing you’re likely to be very wobbly and shaky while you lift.
You don’t want to be wobbling and shaking all over the place with heavy weights. The risk for injury is high.
You won’t have good technique yet, and poor technique plus heavy weights is a good way to get injured.
You can still build muscle and strength with lighter weights though, so there’s no reason to lift heavier yet.
4. Don’t ego lift.
I know it can be demoralising to be lifting a lot less than other people, but you can’t rush it.
Don’t lift more than you should be, it doesn’t do you any favours.
If you’re shortening the range of motion or you have to bring momentum into it to complete a full rep, then you’re using too much weight.
Your muscles will actually respond better to less weight, lifted under control (to maximise tension on the muscles) and lifted through a full range of motion. This study and many others found no significant difference in hypertrophy in trained men whether they trained with high or low loads, as long as the sets were taken to muscular failure. So a low load set with good form will definitely trump a high load set with poor form.
This meta-analysis found that training through a full range of motion led to improved hypertrophy vs. partial range of motion.
What does all this mean? Using more weight than you can handle because you want to impress other people will get you worse results!
So no bouncing up and down on the lat pulldown, swaying as you do biceps curls or half squatting with too much weight.
Use a lighter weights, lift them well, and go close to failure if you want to gain muscle and strength.
5. Train the muscles you can’t see.
Too many people train the “mirror muscles”.
Chest, shoulders, biceps….
This can result in the anterior deltoids (on the front of the shoulder) getting very overdeveloped as they’re involved heavily in all of those sets of bench presses and pushups that people love to do. They’re also hit again on “shoulder day” and the biceps also attach here on the front of the shoulder.
On the other hand, the rear deltoids get hardly any love. They get hit when people do their back exercises, mainly rows, but they’re not worked enough to counter all of the pushing that develops the anterior deltoid on the other side of the shoulder. They’re rarely (or never) worked directly with exercises like facepulls and rear delt flyes.
The result is shoulders that are overdeveloped on the front, and underdeveloped on the rear (posterior deltoid). The powerful pectoral muscles also attach on the front of the shoulder, as well as the biceps, and contribute to pulling the shoulders forward. The small posterior deltoid on the rear struggles to keep the shoulders in alignment.
The result is poor posture with slumped, rounded shoulders. Shoulder pain is also typical.
Train your back!
6. Don’t train the same muscles on consecutive days.
Your muscles don’t get bigger in the gym. It may look like it, but that’s just a temporary pump from blood rushing to them.
You get stronger and repair your muscles while they’re resting and recovering from your workouts.
Your body is responding to a stress and producing an adaptation. Just like how your body produces a darkening of the skin (a tan) in response to the stress from the sun.
If you never get your skin out of the sun, it won’t get a better or faster tan. It will burn.
Working out is the same. Your body produces the adaptation of your muscles getting stronger and bigger in response to the stress of working out, but to do it you need to remove that stress and let your body do its thing.
So, if you trained chest and triceps on Monday, wait until at least Wednesday before you hit them again.
Don’t train shoulders the day after chest either – you use many of the same muscles.
Training full body? Rest between sessions.
You may actually need more than 48 hours rest for a muscle group to be fully recovered. Many studies, such as this one, have found that 72 or even 96 hours of rest for a muscle group was needed for recovery. It does depend on a person’s own individual recovery capacity though, as well as their training approach, nutrition, and commitment to recovery.
Training again before the recovery process has been completed is going to interfere with the adaptations your body is making. If you’re training many times per week, you should split your training up in a sensible way to maximise recovery.
7. Don’t skip legs!
Your legs are your base, they need to be strong.
Too many people are starting to work out, but never training their legs.
This is a big mistake. Developing strength with squats, deadlifts and lunges carries over to everyday life.
There’s also a correlation between lower body muscle mass and longer life!
(Also, a muscular upper body with skinny legs looks ridiculous).
Muscle mass is good for your health. The biggest muscles are in your legs and glutes. Training these is a really good idea, for many reasons.
One of those reasons is that muscle raises your metabolic rate. So the more of it you have, the more calories you will burn at rest. This makes it easier to stay lean, as you would need to eat more to be in a calorie surplus.
Muscle is also somewhere you can store glycogen, which is a substance the body makes from carbs you eat that aren’t needed immediately for energy. Most people have smaller glycogen stores because they have smaller muscles. Their stores are also always full, because glycogen is used when muscles need a burst of energy. If you’re not training hard, it’s unlikely you’ll ever use your stored glycogen.
If you’re training legs, you benefit from training these large muscles and increasing the amount of glycogen you can store. This means it’s harder for you to gain fat, because surplus energy in your diet can be used to refill these glycogen stores.
8. 2-3 workouts a week for a year beats 6 workouts a week for 2 months.
Going all in at the start with 6 workouts per week might not be the best plan, especially if these are long workouts. Not only is this unnecessary, it may be counter productive for more than one reason.
It’s much harder to stay motivated when you work out many times a week vs. a few. The gym will become stale much more quickly, and a couple of missed sessions can easily lead to falling completely off track.
Consistency wins, and as building strength and muscle is a long game, you’re much better off with whatever approach allows you to remain consistent over months and years.
9. If it hurts, don’t do it.
Now I’m not talking about some muscular discomfort, especially as you approach the end of a set and the weights start to move slowly (despite your best efforts), that’s to be expected!
I mean pain, proper pain. The bad kind. If you experience ANY sharp or sudden pain, stop immediately.
There may just be some exercises that cause you problems and you shouldn’t do.
There’s no exercise you HAVE to do. I can’t do skull crushers. Some people don’t get on with leg extensions.
There’s endless alternatives for every exercise. Always assess the risk vs. the reward.
10. Build in progressive overload.
You should always be aiming to get better from workout to workout.
Did 3 sets of 10?
Next time try to make one of those a set of 11, or go up in weight.
If you can’t add reps or go up in weight, improve your form, or use more time under tension. You may also be progressing from regressed versions of exercises to more advanced ones. This is progress too.
Whatever you do, make sure your system forces you to take tiny steps forward every week. That’s called progressive overload, and it’s vital to getting stronger. You should keep a training log and refer back to it often.
If you’re reading this, you’re smart
Most people just go to the gym and learn the hard way.
I certainly did, and I paid for it with some injuries that I’ve still never really gotten rid of. I have to avoid certain exercises and be careful with others. I also paid for it with lost time. I spent months (even years sometimes) making poor progress when I could have been making good progress, but I didn’t realise what I was doing wrong.
If you’re reading this, you’re one step ahead because you recognise that you can learn something and gain an advantage from it.
Here’s a bonus tip. If you want to lose fat, you should gain a good understanding of nutrition. This free ebook will help you to lose fat.
If you want personalised help, check out my online coaching service.