Beginning Weight Training Part 4

In Beginning Weight Training Part 1 I examined some of what defines a beginner in terms of entering the weight room along with examining some of the different reasons (e.g. appearance, performance, health/fitness) that people choose to start lifting weights.

In Beginning Weight Training 2, I examined in some detail what some of the primary goals of beginner weight training are including developing an overall base of strength (and/or muscularity), developing work capacity, learning how to perform the lifts, etc.

Finally, in Beginning Weight Training Part 3, I looked at some of the research (and experience) dealing with the loading parameters that are appropriate for beginners.  I’ve summarized them below as a launching off part for today’s final article where I’ll lay out three different basic weight training programs and talk about things like progression, when to change things, etc.

  1. Intensity (percentage of 1 rep. maximum): 60% or a weight that could be done for ~20 repetitions to failure
  2. Volume (# of sets): 1-3 sets per exercise/muscle group.
  3. Reps/Set: Variable depending on the circumstances and both high and low reps can be appropriate here
  4. Frequency: 2-3X/week
  5. Workout design: Generally a full body routine
  6. Exercise Selection: Highly variable depending on the circumstances

And with that I want to jump straight into examples of three different beginner programs.  The first is the Starting Strength program as developed by Mark Rippetoe (and reproduced here in full with his permission).  The second is a beginner program as outlined by my mentor, it would represent another standard approach to a barbell based routine based around the big compound movements.  Finally, and primarily to offend the barbell purists, I’m going to reproduce the basic machine-based program that I used with the majority of my beginners.

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Beginning Weight Training Part 3

In Beginning Weight Training Part 1, I looked at some basic concepts related to beginning weight training programs along with defining who was a beginner.  In Beginning Weight Training Part 2, I took a rather detailed look at some of the primary goals of beginner weight training which included neural adaptations, learning proper technique, conditioning connective tissues, improving work capacity, etc.  since those goals guide how to best set up a beginning weight training program.  I’d mention again that, fairly regardless of ultimate goal (e.g. physique sports, strength/power performance, athletic performance or general health), beginning programs shouldn’t and won’t vary too much.  I will note places where they might vary to some degree below.

I’d make the point again that one huge assumption that is going into what I’m going to write is that the individual has no underlying issues (such as muscular imbalances or injury) that are oh so common in the modern world.   In those specific cases, an ‘imbalanced’ program may be required to fix things.  But since I can’t cover that in any detail, I’m going to draw up what is basically a ‘balanced’ beginner routine.

Today, I want to look at some issues related to loading parameters for beginners including intensity, volume, frequency and exercise selection.  Quite a bit of research has actually looked at these topics in beginners (I’m unaware of much on exercise selection) and that goes a long way towards guiding the development of proper beginner programs.

Since I ran a bit long (as usual) today, on Friday, I’ll finally put all of this together and present some fairly ‘standard’ beginner routines along with suggestions on how to start, progress, when to change things up, etc.

Intensity

As I discussed in What is Training Intensity? there are a number of different definitions of intensity that are often used in the weight training world; for the purposes of this article, I’m going to be using the definition of intensity as percentage of 1 repetition maximum (1RM).  Now, 1RM refers to the absolute maximum weight that you can lift for one repetition.  You can think of it as 100% of capacity.  Training loads have often been set relative to that in terms of the percentage 1RM used.

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Beginning Weight Training Part 1

I don’t even remember when I first ran this article but I’ve probably run it annually since then.  And since it IS that time of the year again (and I wanted something a bit lighter than my last piece), it seemed appropriate to talk about beginning weight training.   It’s 4 parts which I’ll run two per week (so it doesn’t take forever to get to the point) and if you know anybody just getting started out, share it with them.

For the most part, articles about beginner’s training aren’t terribly popular.  This is because, with literally no exception I have ever run into in nearly 20 years of doing this, everybody thinks that they are more advanced than they are.  It’s simply human nature, nobody wants to think of themselves as a beginner or noob.  In the world of training and dieting the consequence of this is that folks tend to jump into advanced training or diet interpretations long before they are either needed or useful or they have developed the necessary fundamentals.

Not only is this not terribly productive, it can actually be detrimental to long-term progress.  Even if the person doesn’t get injured or burned out by doing too much too soon, they run into another big problem: by using advanced methods early on, trainees are limited when they do manage to reach a more advanced stage.  That is, if someone jumps into high volumes or advanced training methods right out of the gate, they run into problems later on when they actually need to increase something.  If volume is already high, increasing it further is difficult if not impossible.  And if advanced methods are being used too early, there’s nothing left to break plateaus when they occur later on.

Put a little bit differently, one goal of all training should always be to get the most adaptations/gains in performance with the least amount of training.  That way, when gains slow down, there is actually room to increase things.  Start too high to begin with and you’ve got nowhere to go when you actually need to do it.

Put a bit differently, if you can get the same gains out of 3 hours/week of training vs. 6 hours/week of training, you’re better off training 3 hours/week.  That way, when 3 hours/week stops working, you have room to increase to 4 hours/week then 5 hours/week then 6 hours/week.  If you start at 6 hours/week and stop progressing, you’ve got nowhere left to go.

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Supplement Marketing on Steroids by Alan Aragon

In January of this year I ran a guest article by Alan Aragon that was An Objective Comparison of Chocolate Milk and Surge Recovery.  If nothing else, that article may have been the most heavily commented and debated article on the site.  Well, last week Alan asked me if I’d run another guest piece by him and this is it.  Like the chocolate milk piece, I expect it to generate similar amounts of controversy.

On which note, to facilitate discussion, I’ve turned off comment moderation for this article.  Alan will be checking in on the comments regularly and this way folks won’t have to wait for me to get around to moderating them for their comments to appear.  I only ask that people keep it civil and no trolling.  I can and will still manually delete inappropriate comments after the fact if people get rambunctious.   I will not be responding to comments, this is Alan’s piece not mine.

And for those of you who aren’t swayed by the marketing hype and want more scientifically based information on changing body composition, I’d refer you to Alan’s monthly Research Review.  He examined both new and older studies of relevance in detail and you won’t be disappointed by the content.

Supplement Marketing on Steroids

by Alan Aragon

 

Bold claims vs. realistic expectations

A T-nation article was recently brought to my attention by a flood of emails. Folks expressed everything from awe to outrage, but the biggest sentiment was disbelief. “I, Bodybuilder” is in the form of a conversation between staff writer Nate Green and the owner of Biotest, Tim Patterson. It’s a prelude to the formal release of an upcoming supplement called Anaconda.

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What’s My Genetic Muscular Potential?

A question that comes up with some frequency on forums and message boards, usually from newbie lifters is along the lines of “What is my maximum muscular potential?”   Invariably this leads to a repetitive and pointless argument between those who believe that there are genetic limits to such things as muscular gains and athletic performance and those who believe that anything can be accomplished if you just try hard enough or have the right work ethic.

Now, it should go without saying that nobody can really say upfront what someones genetic potential actually is.  Until we live in the world of Gattaca where we can do a full genetic scan and know what it means, nobody can say ahead of time what someone can or can’t achieve.  Well, not unless you look at some pretty ludicrous extremes (you’re not going to see someone at 400 pounds ripped any time soon for example).

And, of course, worrying about such things before you even start training is sort of missing the point in my opinion.  At a fundamental level, trainees should train and eat properly and let the cards fall where they may.  Worrying abut what you might or might not accomplish is putting the cart far before the horse.  But that’s another topic for another day.  And, of course, doesn’t really answer the question in the title of this article.

I’d note that while I do believe trainees should simply get into proper training and not worry up front what they may or may not accomplish, I also believe that there are genetic limits set by underlying biology (again, modulated by behavioral choices and patterns). That’s just reality and recognizing them can save people from a lot of mental anguish about what they think they should be able to or could be able to accomplish if they just worked hard enough.

Which is a long way of introducing the topic of today’s article, what is the maximum amount of muscle that someone can gain over a career of proper lifting and nutrition.  I’m going to look at it from a few different perspectives but I think you’ll find that, on average, they all end up with pretty similar results.

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