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The fitness industry is a jungle of information overload, especially for beginners. A lot of myths (also known as “bro science“) are being told. I started to workout about 3 years ago but I still consider myself a beginner because I didn’t invest in knowledge in the first 2 years.
Building muscle does the following:
+ increases energy in the workplace
+ boosts creativity
+ sky rockets productivity
+ ignites motivation
Lets raise the bar guys.
— Transformation Coach (@JamesClewlow_) June 22, 2019
After wasting a year of working out without any plan I found Julian.com’s guide to building muscle to be very useful. I hired Menno Henselmans and later Rob of Nothing Barred Fitness as online fitness coaches.
The combination of those information sources and my empirical experience made me come up with this abstract for fitness beginners like myself.
In this article I want to share the basic principles of beginner’s fitness that I learned to save you wasted time and energy. I don’t pretend to be an expert. If you follow the theory it’s quite simple. It’s physics.
Having bad genetics is not a thing. Your basic physique is genetic and you can become naturally bigger because of genetics, but everyone can gain muscle.
Consistency is key here. You don’t see differences overnight. You do so in months, if you do the right things. Fitness is a long term game.
To grow muscle as a beginner you should do three things:
Compound exercises are the ones that use multiple joints and multiple muscle groups in conjunction to perform a movement. They work with bodyweight, barbells or dumbells. Good examples are the squat, bench press and deadlift.
Compounds don’t use machines because they emphasize unnatural movements that will probably get you injured. I had several injuries.
Progressive overload means you are lifting heavier weights over time. You can manage to do this by doing more reps or more sets than your last exercise or by adding weight in small increments.
You shouldn’t focus on lifting as much weight as possible in as short time as possible. That’s not a sustainable approach. Take it slowly.
Focus your work around compound movements.
Drop the abs, biceps, triceps, traps etc. direct work
Do squats, deadlifts, rows, presses, pullups and pulldowns.
This will get you as much muscle as possible in the shortest amount of time.
— Rob W. James (@Rob_NBF) May 21, 2019
Three one hour workouts per week is enough, if you alternate between those two workouts:
- Place your hands shoulder width apart with palms facing you.
- Pinch your shoulder blades together during the movement.
- Keep your feet crossed to avoid cheating.
- Bring your chin to above the bar and get down slowly.
- Start with goblet squats to learn proper form first.
- Place your feet shoulder width apart, pointed about 90 degrees outwards.
- Keep your spine in neutral position.
- Sit down between your legs, as low as possible.
- Don’t let you knees flare inside or go before your feet.
- Place your knee on a flat bench an one arm on the end of the bench.
- Take a dumbbell in the other hand and place your leg outside.
- Keep your spine in a neutral position.
- Pinch your shoulder blades together.
- Keep your back parallel to the bench.
- Hold the arm with the dumbbell vertical to the ground to start.
- Raise this arm like if you were putting the dumbbell in your pocket.
- Start with dumbbell chest presses to learn proper form first.
- Start with romanian deadlifts to learn proper form first.
- But your feet at hip width apart.
- Put you hands just outside of the hips.
- Pinch your shoulder blades together.
- Keep a neutral spine during the whole movement.
- Rise your hips and shoulders at the same time.
- Move the bar up and down above the middle of your feet.
Beware that proper form is way more important than lifting heavy weights and doing more reps. Be sure you have proper form by watching YouTube videos or hire a personal trainer. For me this was the biggest pitfall of all.
Then, before each exercise, do a short warming up set with half of the weight and half of the reps you are going to do.
To grow muscle your body needs water, protein and energy.
You should be in an energy surplus to provide your body with the energy it needs to build muscle. But you can’t add unlimited amounts of muscle at a time. So it doesn’t work like the more you eat, the more you grow.
Eating 100 calories above maintenance should be enough. But since calories aren’t really exact it’s better to make it 300 calories above maintenance to make sure you are in a surplus. That’s every day, not only on training days.
Your best bet is to eat unprocessed food, but for the purpose of muscle growth that’s not necessary. Try to eat 80% unprocessed.
Contrary to popular believe, you don’t need an excessive amount of protein. 2 times your body weight (in kilograms) is enough. The protein macro should be around 25% of your total intake, 25% percent should come from fat and the remaining 50% from carbs.
For example, in my case that’s:
- Maintenance calories: 2400
- In surplus calories: 2700
- Protein: 170 grams (680 calories)
- Fat: 75 grams (675 calories)
- Carbs: 340 grams (1345 calories)
Again, this is just a ballpark. Try to hit your macros on average on long term. And don’t forget to calculate your calories again each month because your body composition might be changing.
To track macros I’m using MyFitnessPal. But always go by the numbers on the packaging, as their database is user generated. So it has a lot of errors.
Resting is as important, or even more important, as working out and eating in a surplus. You should sleep at least 8 hours, every night. 9 hours is even better. While you rest the magic happens, not in the gym.
Your best bet is to get into a rhythm. Go to bed and get out of it at roughly the same time every day. This includes weekends! Your body gets used to a it and releases hormones just at the right time, if you don’t trick it.
Also, rest days are important. Keep out of the gym in those four remaining days and give your body the rest to recover. Plan at least one rest day between workout days. For example, hit the gym on monday, wednesday and friday and take the other days off.
When exercising, rest about two minutes between sets.
Logging everything is very important. Without logging, you don’t know what you are doing on the long term. Don’t even think you’ll remember your lifts and intake the next think.
To track macros I’m using MyFitnessPal. I’m using a Google Spreadsheet to track my training, body composition and macros. I made an empty version of it available for those who want to use it. Please make a copy of it first before starting to use it.