How the hell do you become one of those people that regularly goes to the gym? How do those people always know what to do? Should I hire a trainer to teach me all of these things? These are some of the questions many of us asked ourselves when we first started some sort of strength training. No matter what approach you take to getting started, it seems that everyone always has to go through the awkward “beginner” phases.
This article is written for those of you who have less than 4 months of strength training experience and are wondering the same questions I listed above.
Consistency and Experimentation
Programs for true beginners are tricky; when you’re new you’re going to progress at everything rapidly due to neuromotor learning and adaptation, you need to figure out what kind of exercises you genuinely enjoy doing, and you need to establish the habit of exercising regularly. With regards to these factors you should prioritize going to the gym consistently, and experimenting with different types of exercises.
First, be realistic about how often you can train every week. Training 2x per week is perfectly fine and better than committing yourself to 4x per week and feeling like a failure because you only went 3 times. Plan out the day and time you are going to train, don’t just say “I’ll do it when I have time,” that almost always leads to failure. Try to make the times consistent, for example if you’re going to train on Tuesday and Thursday don’t do Tuesday at 9:00 am and Thursday at 9:00 pm.
Second, don’t limit yourself to a standardized protocol. Set a general theme to your workout days, Upper/Lower Body days for example, and do any workout you feel like trying within those themes. If you see someone else doing an exercise that looks interesting, do it! You can even ask them for advice! Look around on Instagram and if you see someone doing an exercise you think you can safely do, try it! Experimenting like this in your first few months of resistance training will help you discover what exercises you really like, and which ones you absolutely loathe.
Play around in a safe weight and rep range
When you’re within the few months of your strength training you don’t want to push your limits to find out how strong you are. Instead I recommend you expand your limits. The difference between these two phrases may seem trite but let me explain:
- “Push Your Limits” – Consistently performing at the edge of your capabilities in order to push your absolute maximum effort up.
- “Expand your limits” – Consistently performing near the mid-range of your capabilities in order improve the quality of your efforts.
There is absolutely a time to “push your limits” but it is not when you’re a complete newbie. Instead, aim for completing 1 – 4 sets of any exercise for 8 – 12 reps. This range of volume will work to stimulate growth and neuromotor adaptation quite well while simultaneously limiting the risk of injury.
Don’t be nervous: (Almost) Nobody else has any idea what they are doing either
It’s easy to go into a gym when you’re new and feel like everyone is judging you because you’re new. This insecurity is completely normal and honestly you have nothing to worry about.
You can prove this to yourself by paying attention to how much everyone is looking at themselves in the mirrors next time you’re in the gym. Also notice how hard it is for you to pay attention to other people and not just look at yourself in the mirror. That’s how everyone feels. Everyone is looking at themselves, they are there for themselves, and they don’t care what you’re doing. Step into the gym knowing that most people there won’t even notice you at all.
There are the occasional assholes in the gym. These are the folks that record someone overweight on the elliptical and post it to their Instagram with some snarky comments. These are the 1% that make people feel like everyone in the gym will make fun of them and, while some of them are in decent shape, these idiots aren’t the people to emulate or care about what they think. Disregard these people, pretend they don’t exist, and do your own thing.
Lastly, when you’re insecure about your form or choice of exercises remember:
2/3 of the people in any regular gym have little to no idea what they are doing!
The more comfortable you become in your gym, the more you’ll realize this to be true. There are guys doing curls in the squat rack, calisthenics wannabes doing back levers while hanging on the connective tissue of their shoulders, deadlifts being done with crescent shaped spines, etc… It’s normal. Everyone has to start at this level. You can get better by recording yourself, asking friends for feedback, reading/watching exercise tutorials online, or hiring a trainer/coach to teach you how to do it.
Should you hire a trainer to show you the ropes?
I do quite a few consultations with people that have either zero training experience or have not consistently trained in years. I usually tell these people it’s a waste of their money to hire me on so early; not because they’re inexperienced and I don’t want to work with them but because hiring a trainer that early on won’t make as big of a difference as they think. For the biggest bang for your buck simply follow the pointers we listed out in this article:
- Make a realistic training schedule and stick to it.
- Do something simple like a upper/lower body split.
- Continually try different exercises to discover what kind of training is best for you.
- Don’t push the weights super heavy and stay in the 8 – 12 rep range for most exercises.
- Try not to stress yourself out about what other people are thinking, they’re usually focused on themselves.
There are a few exceptions in which hiring a trainer or a coach early on isn’t a bad idea:
- The only way you’re going to establish a consistent schedule is to pay someone to hold you accountable.
- You have enough disposable income to spend on a trainer/coach when they are likely to not be as effective.
- You have special training needs and need a professional to tailor your training approach.
Overall, if you can make yourself get to a gym at least twice a week consistently follow the tips outlined in this article before hiring a trainer. Once you start to feel comfortable in the gym and with your style of training you can start shopping around for a trainer. Trainers and coaches are amazing resources that can help you reach a higher level of performance than you might have reached on your own. Much of this success is due to the fact that you will get to benefit from the past mistakes your coach made, you get to skip a lot of the trial and error phases. However, coaches can’t help you skip every sub-optimal phase of your training; primarily the beginning awkward phases.