After our last article, we got lots of requests to do another piece on the most important things to note for newbies at the gym. At first, we said to ourselves “Nah. we can’t do this. It’s impossible to list every important thing to note before you hit the gym”. But then we later realized that there are some common basics everyone must know. So, we compiled a short piece on the things you’d need to know about your diet or exercise program as a beginner.
Bear in mind though, that the advice we give on diets isn’t intended as medical advice. It is for informational and educational purposes only.
Ready? Let’s get right up to it.
1. You’re going to work hard, and it’s going to take time
Muscle growth or fat burn don’t happen overnight—this the first thing you need to learn before hitting the gym. Whatever your goal is, it will take TIME before you achieve it. And you will need to put in a LOT of hard work along the way.
When building muscle, you need to hit the gym nothing less than five times a week. Anything less than this would prolong the waiting period before you see results. Remember, you aren’t pumping yourself full of steroids (we hope you aren’t). So, you’ll need every natural advantage you can get, which means hitting the gym frequently is the biggest advantage you can give yourself. The same goes if you want to burn fat instead. You need to hit the gym with religious consistency.
Then at the gym itself, you need to give it 110% effort every day you’re in. Working out for only 20 minutes and calling it a day won’t cut it. If you’re going to reap the benefits of your sessions, you’d need to spend nothing at least an hour each time you’re in. Anything less will be insufficient for muscle growth.
It goes without saying that you’d need to put aside your phones and avoid all distractions once you’re in. The live football scores and your favourite gossip blogs can wait. Your body can’t.
2. “Form” before anything else.
For the love of God, if you’re going to take only one thing from this article, it should be this. Form comes before everything else. What is “form” you ask? Form is the cornerstone of every exercise you do at the gym. It is the way you should perform a workout. It is the way you lift the weights and position your body in each rep. If you don’t work out with the proper form required, you’re NEVER going to get any results. Why? It is only when you lift the weights with the proper form that you target the appropriate muscle group.
Each body part must thus work in unison with the others to bring perfection to the whole. For example, when benching the placement of your feet can make or mar your form. You can learn proper forms for exercises on YouTube. There are countless videos on proper form there alone. Then at the gym itself, work with light weights at each training session till you get the hang of things. You must do this because you could get seriously injured if you lift heavy weights with bad form. And even if you don’t get injured, nothing is embarrassing about starting with light weights. You aren’t there to impress anyone after all.
3. After form, comes reps
After mastering the form for the exercise, you need to perform them with the proper rep ranges. Reps are the number of times you perform a movement in each routine from start to finish. Let’s take the bench press as an example. Each time you get under the bench is a set. Then the number of times you lift and lower the barbell in each set are what you call reps. So, if you get under the barbell and lift it once before standing up, you’ve performed 1 set of 1 rep. If you lift it ten times, you’ve performed ten reps.
Always structure your training programs to have the optimal rep ranges for muscle building. From our experience, the best rep range for muscle growth is between 8 – 12 reps. Thus, you should forget about 1-rep maxes or 5 x 5 strength programs for now. As a newbie, those routines ARE NOT for you. You’d never grow by lifting five miserly reps of heavyweights. Remember once again; you aren’t there to impress anyone with how heavy you lift.
4. Master the compound exercises first
As a beginner, you should spend your first few months on what we call the compound exercises. These are foundational exercises that can work multiple muscle groups at the same time. They are the bench press, squats, deadlifts, and the overhead shoulder press. Also among this group are barbell/dumbbell rows and pull-ups/chin-ups. These exercises can take you from skinny, to reasonably fit with 4 – 5 months of consistent work. And they do the same for weight loss as well.
You have no business doing endless isolation movements like leg extensions or “dangerous” upper body exercises like skull-crushers as a beginner. The only isolation exercises you should do for the first two months are bicep/triceps workouts, and lateral shoulder raises. Anything else can wait till you build some respectable muscle mass.
5. Your diet is half the journey
We said this in our last article, and we’re going to say it again. If you want to build muscle, you have to eat more than you currently do. We can’t provide detailed meal plans as those are subject to many factors. Things like personal preferences, allergies, cost, and availability always influence individual diet plans.
Your bodybuilding diet, however, should consist of 40% – 50% proteins. Eggs, fish, meat, and chicken are all great sources of protein. No. beans is not a protein. It’s actually more of a carbohydrate. For muscle growth, try to take 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. Whey protein is an excellent additional protein source if you can’t get enough protein from your diet. Your diet should also make room for healthy fats and carbs.
If you want to build muscle, you need to eat at least 300 extra calories daily on your training days. If you’re trying to lose weight, you should go on a calorie deficit of at least 300 too. It is important to note that you can still eat carbs and healthy fats when losing weight. All you need to do is calculate the caloric content and factor its place in your daily caloric intake.
There are many more things to know about the gym. But those are things you can only learn when you are at the gym itself. Bodybuilding/weight loss is both a science and an art. There are a great many things that work differently for different people. And as such, the only to find out is to start. Do remember once again that our advice on your diet is for educational purposes only. So, if for some reason, you met with a qualified healthcare professional prior to reading this article, call in again. You need to find out if your bodybuilding diet would interfere with their recommendations.