We’ve all been there. No clue what to do. Who to listen to… How to start… Maybe you’ve heard the saying, you’re so new that you “don’t know what you don’t know…”? This is the anthem of the “new lifter”.
Sure, you’ve perused the internet enough to know you need to lift weights. You know you need to add muscle and lose fat (or one to a more significant level than the other). You know what you want. You just don’t have the how figured out.
No worries, my eager barbell apprentice.
I’ve got ya covered…
The Three C’s for Beginner Lifters
For the advanced lifter, there are details aplenty that can affect your results. Once you’ve built your first 20-25 lbs of muscle, gains slow down. Small details begin to play a bigger role in adding new size and strength. Until then, however, you’re going to get the most “bang for your buck” by focusing on a few key components of diet and training.
Can timing your meals be important? Sure, to a certain extent. Can supplements benefit your muscle building or fat burning efforts? To a degree, yes…eventually.
Initially, however, a heavy dose (see what I did there?) of a few key principles will get you off to a great start on your lifting journey.
- Compound Movements
So, we’ve got one “C” each for training, diet, and general progress on both fronts. Let’s break them down…
The allure of the machine section of any gym is strong. Fancy apparatus with cables, pulleys, and handles often draw the beginner lifter in. Unfortunately, focusing on only machine work isn’t going to be nearly as effective as moving heavy weight with a loaded barbell (or other similar implement) and progressing that weight upwards over time. Compound movements (i.e. movements that utilize multiple muscle groups to effectively perform) are going to give you the most return on your lifting investment.
Here, you can think of the powerlifts and their variants: Squats, deadlifts, the bench press, and overhead barbell press would be your “standard” compound movements. Again, there are variants of these as well: Front squats, Romanian or stiff legged deadlifts, the incline bench press, and seated versions of the overhead press, are all within the “compound” movement family.
These movements are superior for new lifters in several ways. They can be incrementally loaded to allow for longer, more consistent progress. They can be loaded heavier than single joint, isolation movements (i.e. a barbell bench press is able to be loaded much heavier than a dumbbell chest flye). Finally, as stated earlier, they require more than one muscle group to perform (i.e. A standard bench press involves the pecs as well as the front deltoid (shoulder) and triceps). You get multiple muscle groups involved in a single set as opposed to trying to target individual muscle groups with smaller, isolation movements.
Compound movements should form the foundation of ANY strength training program, even as you push past the beginner lifter phase.
We’ve covered a lifting “C”, now let’s move on to a dietary “C”… Calories. Energy balance is an absolutely critical component of any diet looking to add muscle, lose fat, or recomp your bodies ratio of both. This concept is a simple one to grasp, but is somehow hotly debated on internet forums and gym locker rooms alike.
If you eat more food than you burn during daily activity and bodily processes, you will GAIN weight. Period. If you eat less food than you burn during daily activity and bodily processes, you will LOSE weight. Again, no questions asked.
Many diets claim that you can get around this “calories in versus calories out” rule but upon closer inspection, diets that ignore the energy expenditure equation actually abide by it, but hide it in certain restrictions within the diet.
For example, a low carb diet is often touted as the “best way to lose fat”. Why? Well, many people do, in fact, lose fat on a low carbohydrate diet. That doesn’t mean, however, that it was the low-carb portion of the eating plan that caused the fat loss. Many higher calorie foods contain large amounts of carbohydrate (cookies, ice cream, pizza, candy, etc.). When someone goes on a low carb plan, they immediately cut a great deal of high calorie foods (that happen to be high carb foods as well) and VOILA, they lose weight.
Plain and simple, calories are going to dictate weight loss or weight gain, regardless of how a certain diet tries to hide that fact. Now, we could go into what those calories are made up of in the form of macronutrients (protein/carbohydrate/fat), but for the sake of this article, just remember that calories are going to dictate whether your weight goes up or down. For the new lifter, this is a concept that absolutely needs to be understood.
Finally, we move on to the last “C” for the beginner lifter, consistency. As with most things worth having, making incredible changes to your physique and strength doesn’t happen overnight. It’s going to take weeks, months, and years of consistent effort to achieve the body that you are likely after. The more incredible the transformation you’re hoping to make, the more important the consistency component becomes.
Many amazing training programs are set up to build over time. Each month lays the foundation for the next month, and that month for the month after. The same can be said for a sound dieting protocol. Each day builds upon the last. Each week builds upon the week prior. The previous month sets the stage for months to come.
Consistently executing a training program and diet over the long term is going to equate to measurable, repeatable progress, in both arenas. Many new trainees get “shiny object syndrome” and often jump from program to program, diet to diet, in search for the next “big” thing. What most don’t realize is that there isn’t a next “big” thing.
Big things come from consistent execution of sound training and diet principles over fairly lengthy periods of time.
Find a diet and nutrition program based on scientific principles, including a heavy dose of compound lifting, a calorie tracking component (or something that works to control calories based on your goal), and consistently execute those principles over time.
Do that, and you’ll shed that “beginner” lifter title in no time.