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WEIGHT TRAINING:

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO GET STARTED - PART 2

STEP 3

GO TO THE GYM & LET YOUR BODY LEARN HOW TO LIFT

It might not feel like it, but you DO have some muscle mass on your body right now. This muscle is the foundation for your future results, and for this to happen your brain needs to LEARN how control your muscles to move a weight properly. No matter what your reasons for starting weight training: building muscle mass, getting stronger, performing better at a sport, or simply being healthier, lifting weights is something your body hasn’t been exposed to before. Therefore, you need to give it time. Time to practice holding weights, lifting weights, and moving weights.

You will feel a bit shaky during your first few lifts, but over time, your body will unconsciously learn to control the weight and the movements become smoother and smoother. In fact, most of your initial strength gains can be attributed to your brain becoming better and better at activating the right muscles at the right time during a lift. Three important things to keep in mind during your first months are:

  1. During the lift, think consciously about how you are moving, which muscles you are using, and how close you are to failure.
  2. Make sure you are in control of the weight, allowing you to move with good form.
  3. Stop the set as soon as you lose perfect form. This will unconsciously encourage your mind to only execute movements with good control.

A. EXERCISES: DO WHAT YOU ARE COMFORTABLE WITH

There are thousands of exercises out there, and each has its place in a workout program depending on your goal. Exercises either train a single muscle (isolation exercises), or many muscles at once (compound exercises). Using compound exercises save time and are more “useful” for becoming stronger in real world situations: walking, jumping, lifting stuff etc.

For building muscle mass, your exercise choice doesn’t really matter. For strength development, improving useful movements movement and for building a solid base as a beginner, it is a good idea to base your workouts around the main compound lifts:

These movements require a lot of technique to execute correctly, which is why we recommend you take your time to practice the movement patterns. If do not want to compete in powerlifting, however, you don’t have to include these movements in your program. The movements are, however, very powerful at activating many muscles at once, and can save you a lot of time, which is why we recommend you include at least one exercise with a similar movement to the main lifts. 

For example, the barbell back squat can be replaced by the safety bar squat, goblet squat, or leg press. Once again, as a beginner you are teaching your body how to control weights, so stick to exercises that you are comfortable with, and go progress from there.

 

Keep in mind:

  1. There is a lot of bullshit online about how to execute the three big lifts correctly. If unsure, get a personal trainer or physiotherapist to help you.

  2. If you have prior injuries or joint pain (especially in the back, knees or shoulders) we recommend you get advice from a physiotherapist for suitable exercises.

B. WEIGHT: LIFT HEAVY ENOUGH

You can build muscle with both light and heavy weights. Based on studies on the topic, you have two choices:

1) Choose a light weight and lift it until you can’t anymore (failure).

2) Choose a “heavy enough” weight (at least 15 RM) and stop lifting 2-3 reps before failure.
(Remember a 15 RM weight is one which you can’t lift for more than 15 reps. If you can do more than 15 reps per set, the weight is not “heavy enough” and you need to go heavier.)

We recommend option 2 as going to failure can be quite exhausting. In that case go for a 10 RM weight if you like lifting heavy, or a 14 RM weight if you like lifting lighter and “pumping up” your muscles. Knowing how close you are to failure is difficult as a beginner, but will become easier with time.

C. VOLUME: DO 2-3 SETS PER EXERCISE

For each muscle group, doing one set will give you the most bang for your buck (3). Doing two sets instead might increase results by around 30%, while doing three sets may give you around 50% more results (4). Adding more and more sets gives less, and less added benefit. Therefore, a good balance is to start with a “warmup set” with a lighter weight, just to practice the technique, and then go on with one or two focused sets.

D. FREQUENCY: TRAIN EACH MUSCLE 2-3 TIMES A WEEK

Muscles need to be reminded of the demands that are placed on them. Training more often seems to enhance results (5), while more experienced lifters might benefit from having more intense workouts less often. Aim to hit each muscle 3 times per week.

E. REST: 2-3 MINUTES BETWEEN SETS

Longer rest has been shown to enhance muscle gains (6). This isn’t surprising as you will be able to lift more during each set if you are well rested. However, you also do not want to spend hours in the gym every day. The truth is that rest times aren’t as important as the other points made above. Rest long enough that you feel ready to execute the next set with good form. This usually means 2-3 minutes.

 

STEP 4

RECOVER & IMPROVE OVER TIME

A. PUSH YOURSELF

The average gym meme might make it seem like you need to die after every workout to get results, but this is simply not true. Like we said above, you do not need to lift until failure for results, but you do need to increase demands placed on your body over time (7).

Your body will want to adapt towards the demands you place on it, meaning that training should be difficult enough to let your body know that it needs to change. You should therefore feel at least somewhat breathless after each set, either by doing enough reps or lifting heavy enough (see above).

B. TRACK YOUR RESULTS

This may not be for everyone, but knowing that you are able to lift heavier weights week after week can be a great source of motivation. For each workout, keep track of how much weight, for how many reps, for how many sets your could do for each exercise. You can do this by hand on paper, or do like us and use an app like “Dr Muscle“, available both on iOS and Android. 

C. RECOVER PROPERLY

After each workout your worked muscles need a period of rest to be able to perform optimally again. We recommend you allow around 48 hours of recovery for each muscle before hitting it again. You cannot expect to improve week after week if you don’t recover properly. To keep things simple, you can improve your ability to recover by:

  1. Getting Enough Sleep: 8 hours is usually enough for most people.
  2. Eating Right: There is a lot to be said here, but for an overview you can check out our article on Eating Right: Everything You Need to Know and for details check out our e-book Diet Like a Doctor.
  3. Managing Stress: unhealthy levels of stress will stop you from going the gym (8) and even indirectly affect your hormone balance and risk of heart disease a negatively (9).
  4. Improving Aerobic Fitness: you need a certain level of aerobic fitness to stop you from becoming breathless too soon during your sets. If you are breathless before the muscles you are targeting are exhausted, you need to implement some cardio to stop your aerobic fitness being the limiting factor during your lift.
  5. Reducing Body Fat: You don’t need to be ripped, but lowering your body fat to around 15%/25% body fat for men/women will improve your ability to perform and recover from workouts. Losing fat is in large dependent on your diet, so check out our article on Getting Started with Nutrition” for more info (10).
Also remember, muscle soreness after a workout isn’t necessarily the same thing as muscles needing recovery. Chances are you will get a lot of muscle soreness in the days after your first workout. Don’t panic! This is natural sign that your body has experienced a new movement, as long as the pain doesn’t limit your ability to lift with correct form, you can keep working out.

D. STAY CONSISTENT: REDUCE VOLUME IF YOU FEEL TIRED

If you feel like the workouts are becoming too much, it is much better to make your workouts easier for a week than to skip the gym completely. This way you will not lose the progress you’ve made and still allow your body to recover. To make the workouts easier, avoid lowering weights as this will negatively impact your results. Instead do less sets (reduce volume) per exercise. Alternatively, you can reduce the number of days you work out during the “recovery week” to that your weekly volume is reduced. Cutting back on volume can instead of weight will allow you to keep going and possibly even KEEP making MORE gains! (11-13)

WE’VE PUT TOGETHER ALL THE ABOVE INTO
THE EBT BEGINNER WORKOUT ROUTINE

You now have all of the information you need to get started. Put it together into a programme that suits you and let us know how it goes. If you’d rather have us do it for you, we’ve designed a full body workout routine which takes into consideration all of the above. It gives you:

  1. 3 full body workouts, with exercises selected by us personally to make sure all vital muscle groups are targeted.

  2. Combinations of the main compound lifts as well as isolation exercises to give you a solid base, no matter what your goal after the beginner phase.

  3. A setup allowing for 48 hours of recovery between workouts.

  4. Information regarding which muscles are targeted by each exercise, and links to corresponding video instructions.

STEP 5

AFTER THE BEGINNER PHASE: ADAPT YOUR WORKOUTS TO YOUR GOAL

So how long should you consider yourself a beginner? Everyone is different, and some people need a lot of time to learn how to handle weights properly. Once you notice that you are not getting stronger as fast as you were in the beginning (that is, you are not able to add weights to your exercises as fast as before), we would say that you no longer are a beginner. In general this takes about 2-3 months of the above routine should be enough. After that your body should be able to handle a routine adapted more to your goals, be it:

  • Getting stronger
  • Building muscle mass and sculpting your physique
  • Burning fat and getting lean
  • Performing better in a given sport

If you’ve made it this far, you have no more excuses. You know everything you need to start lifting! There are many other details which people obsess over, like rest times and how fast your concentric and eccentric phases should be etc, but these barely matter compared to the information above.

Now get out there and lift!

 Artin Entezarjou,
M.D., Fitness Instructor and PhD Student

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