Though I try and make my articles universally approachable and useful, I’ll admit that the advice is often geared towards advanced trainees.
But I haven’t forgotten about you my hungry, up-and-coming contenders. This one is for you.
If you’re just starting out, I feel your discontent with the mainstream fitness and strength training advice. You want to get fit, build muscle and maybe lose some fat, but everybody is telling you something different. The so-called experts keep contradicting themselves and the fitness professionals you admire on Instagram try to sell you one product after another.
So where can you go for legitimate advice? Who is there to trust?
I was in the same boat starting out. Reading every muscle magazine, every book, every article I could get my hands on, and trying every approach to strength and conditioning known to man. After researching and experimenting like a mad scientist for well over 10 years, I believe I have a good grasp on the subject.
I’ll let you in on the fundamentals of building a great body without over-hyped supplements, expensive equipment or any of that industry BS.
Building a good physique is incredibly simple. Once you understand the principles behind muscular development, you’ll know what to do and how to do it.
I will not cover any nutrition specifics in this article, but I encourage you to read my publications on how to eat for muscle and strength and how to lose weight and get lean. Alright, enough of the introductory rambling, let’s get to the good stuff.
1. Disregard bodybuilding templates
Forget “chest day”, “back day” or “arm day”.
When you’re starting out, you should concentrate on hitting multiple muscle groups in every training session. Full body or push/pull splits are much preferred to typical bodybuilding routines. Don’t get carried away with single muscle splits or any other popular bodybuilding templates, for the matter. They are a waste of time for drug-free athletes.
Base your training program on compound movements like push-ups, bench press, dips, pull/chin-ups, bent-over rows, horizontal pulls, overhead press, leg/knee raises and squats. These exercises are all you’ll ever need to get into fantastic shape. They induce a more powerful growth stimulus compared to single-joint isolation work (i.e. curls, extensions etc.), giving you the biggest bang for your training buck.
2. Get stronger
Pick 3-5 exercises per session and work with progressively heavier weights. Don’t concern yourself with super-sets, drop-sets sets or any of that stuff yet. Use compound lifts and add weight and/or reps every time you train. No rush. Simply make sure you’re moving in the right direction.
Never become complacent with your numbers or your performances. Make an effort to get stronger, increase your reps and/or decrease rest periods every time you step into the gym. This will be very important later in your training career when progress stalls.
The lack of consistent strength progress is why you see people in the gym looking the same year after year. Don’t be like them.
3. Track your workouts
Use an App, or do as I do and track your workouts with a pen and paper. Write down your numbers and always strive for improvement. This might be the single biggest contributor to your long-term fitness success.
If you don’t know what you’ve done the week before (and trust me, your memory isn’t that good) how can you consciously work towards improvement? Go out today and buy a log book or download an App and introduce some strategy into your game plan.
4. Don’t shun bodyweight training
Strengthening the body with the use of nothing other than its own weight is an underappreciated art. I believe mastering bodyweight movements is the only way to maximum human performance. I love lifting weights as much as the next guy, but progressive bodyweight training is a whole different animal. Once you’ve done multiple sets of handstand push-ups, followed by assisted one arm chin-ups, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
5. Intensity beats frequency
If you’ve ever flipped open a fitness magazine, you’ve seen the frequency and volume recommended by most experts and pro athletes. Rarely, however, is the importance of proper intensity touched upon within these sacred pages.
A novice trainer can train with a high frequency and still progress from workout to workout, week to week. As you get stronger and become more advanced, you’ll have to adjust your frequency accordingly.
Reaching an intermediate level, many trainees increase their training volume and frequency considerably, thinking this will speed up results. Ironically, in most cases, the opposite is true. Progress comes to a screeching halt, since proper rest and recovery are necessary for steady adaptive responses, especially as the weights and complexity go up.
Limit your training frequency and ramp up your intensity instead. Don’t play around while you work out. Train with a purpose. Go after the results you want. Training hard should become natural to you. Everything else is a waste of precious time.
For more detail on how often you should train, check out my article on optimal training frequency.
6. Ditch the dogma
If you know me, you know I despise narrow-minded and cultish fitness propaganda. The “you got to train X times a week”, “you must bench press for big pecs”, “squat ’till you puke”, “training with machines is bad for you” etc. bullshit.
Never allow yourself to be trapped in dogma. Be open-minded. There’s more to this fitness thing than meets the eye. Accept the fact that there are several ways to go about this. Do what works for you, but keep learning and don’t be afraid to try new things.
7. Embrace this new lifestyle
Don’t throw moderation out the window just because you’re on a new program. Fitness should enrich every aspect of your life, not take away from it. No need to skip family dinners or going out for the occasional drink because you’re working on your sixpack now.
If you can’t make it to the gym one day, get an intense bodyweight session in or make your way to the gym the following day. If you have to pick up your mom from the dentist, don’t chop her head off because you’re missing meal #2.
Don’t get caught up in details. Always look at the big picture. What are your goals and what steps can you take today to move closer to them?
Given time, you’ll reach a state of flow, where you know instinctively what your body needs and what you should do in order to reach your goals. Patience, young Padawan. It will come to you.
No matter what routine you choose to follow, you need to be consistent with it if you’re ever going to be successful.
Consistency doesn’t mean you have to be in the gym every day or that you bring your Tupperware chicken breast to the movies (so you don’t miss meal #5). It means you develop a rhythm and you build momentum, moving towards your goals. As small as your steps may be, you keep progressing.
Training is part of your lifestyle now. Don’t look for shortcuts, or try and leap ahead. You’ll only end up back at square one. Put in the work consistently, be patient, and you’ll reap the rewards.
9. Become independent
I’ve given you the blueprint for fitness success. Don’t go wandering around looking for advice or guidance. This is especially important in times of social media. The fitness world is infested with lies and deceit. People aren’t interested in your success. They want your money and they will tell you anything in order to get it.
Don’t look left or right to see what others are doing. It has absolutely no meaning to you. Focus on the process, listen to your body, and make educated decisions.
10. Educate yourself
Congratulations, you’ve stumbled upon the Ultimate Human Performance Resource. Read the articles on how to build muscle, lose fat and maximize your performance. If you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole, I advise you to read books (these ones in particular). Magazines and most online publications are junk.
Take some time to educate yourself and never hesitate to ask me directly for advice. I am here to make sure you crush your fitness goals. Let’s go.
Thank you for reading