We've made it to late February. If you started hitting the gym around the new year and are still at it, congratulations! Making it part of your routine is the first step. To make the most progress and milk those 'newbie gains' as much as possible, we have put together 5 top tips that we wish somebody had told us when we first got into training.
Master the basic lifts
It sometimes seems like, on Instagram, everyone is inventing innovative, crazy exercises. Sometimes, these are to address a weakness specific to that person (for example, a sticking point on a lift)... and sometimes they are just complete rubbish. As a newbie lifter, you need to realise that you have room to improve and progress in every area. Someone who has stalled in their squat after 10 years of consistent training might need to use bands, chains, tempos and crazy variations to add that extra 2.5kg here and there, a beginner does not.
Some movements that you want to perfect include: squat, deadlift, bench, overhead press (OHP) and barbell rows. These are the foundations of a great physique. Focus each session around one of those movements, followed by accessory work that you enjoy, and you are bound to get years of growth out of this format so long as you continue to get stronger with perfect form and execution.
Don’t rush into a cut
Your body will never be in such an optimal position to grow as it is during your first couple of years of resistance training. Going into a large calorie deficit will only slow your rate of gain. While there is no reason to ‘dirty bulk’ and gain excess fat, which will be detrimental to both performance and hypertrophy, keeping a healthy, maintainable level of body fat will yield the most rewards in the long run.
A possible caveat to this is if you are beginning your fitness journey overweight. Like the ‘dirty bulk’ scenario, your body is not primed to gain muscle in this scenario. Focus on reaching a healthy body weight, then reverse calories back up from there as you continue to train hard and consistently.
The scale isn’t everything
Your body is going to be undergoing a massive recomp phase over the next few months. This means that your body is likely to drop weight from fat at the same time as it gains weight from muscle. This might lead to some crazy fluctuations and possibly a steady increase in scale weight. If you need a way to log progress to keep you on track, take measurements and take ‘check in’ photos for yourself in the same place/lighting/time of day once a week to compare.
Build mind-muscle connection
Until you’ve actually built a substantial amount of muscle in each area, it can be difficult to know if an exercise is doing what it is supposed to. For example, you might give a more advanced trainee the cue of ‘engage your rear delts’ during a low row, and that muscle will seem to instantly switch on. This is more difficult when the movements are new to you.
For isolation movements especially, picture the muscle that you want to be working in your mind and feel it contract during the movement. Hamstring curls are a great one to try this out with. It is easy to add weight to a hamstring curl by using your hips to thrust the pad up, but this is limiting hamstring recruitment. Hamstrings are the lower body equivalent to biceps. Lock the hips into the pad firmly and don’t allow them to move, feel the hamstring squeeze at the top as you would when performing a bicep curl, and control the movement throughout the eccentric and concentric portions.
Invest in learning
At this point, you probably don’t need a coach, and we wouldn’t advise adhering to any super restrictive meal plans or dieting strategies. If you are in the gym and aware of calories and choosing mostly nutrient dense foods, you are going to see changes regardless. But as you advance, having a good understanding of nutrition and biomechanics can be useful. You may want to start listening to some fitness podcasts, hire a personal trainer once a week to critique your form, or complete a short online course. Self-development is always a good idea!
There is no need to stress yourself over the final details just yet. Enjoy your training, enjoy fueling your workouts well and recovering properly. Remember to tag us in your transformations and mention any of our supplements you've used along the way! We would suggest starting simple: protein powder, pre-workout, creatine and a multivitamin or greens drink.