Strength Training 101: Where do I start?

 This is a post from NF Team Member Staci.

If you’ve been reading Nerd Fitness for a while, you know that we are huge proponents of strength training.  

If you know me, then you know I also love cats.  Which is why we’re starting this post with a picture of a cat and dumbbells.

You’re welcome.

Anyways!  You’ve read Strength Training 101, you know the equipment, and you know how to find the right gym.  If you’re a woman, you know that you won’t get bulky.  You know that strength training will help you meet your goals, no matter what they are.

You know that strength training can be the most efficient path to weight loss.

You know that a strong body is a healthy body.

You know you SHOULD be getting stronger, but let’s be honest: starting a whole new way of working out can be daunting. It’s the reason so many people stick to the same old habits (that don’t work).

Today we’re going to go over exactly howto get started with strength. No more hours of mindless cardio, no more aimless wandering in the gym – we are going to get healthy in a fraction of the time and teach you exactly what to do.

Let’s A GOO!

How will you be training?

Assorted Weights

The first thing we need to figure out is what kind of strength training you want to be doing. This will primarily depend on what equipment you have available and what your goals are.  Let’s go over the options before providing you with some programs to follow:

Bodyweight

The first option is bodyweight training. With bodyweight training you need minimal equipment (or none at all), and you can train from anywhere.  It doesn’t matter if you’re at home, in a hotel, at a playground, in your office at work,  or traveling around the world, as long as you have enough space to move around, you can get your workout done (and fit it into a busy schedule).

If you’re bodyweight training, grab a pull-up bar or a set of gymnastics rings (these can help you make exercises both easier and harder depending on your level).  If you’re just starting out, an exercise band to help assist you with movements such as pull ups or dips.

However – none of these are necessary, you can easily do bodyweight training without any equipment at all. The downside to bodyweight exercises is that you will need to consistently modify the exercise’s difficulty in order to ensure you are leveling up and progressing.

Dumbbells

Dumbbells are a great way to start out with weighted strength training for a few reasons. First, most gyms will have a good set dumbbells, even if it’s a basic gym in your apartment complex. If you want to train at home, you can get a set of adjustable dumbbells that don’t take up a ton of space.

Second, dumbbells make it easy to add a small amount of weight to a movement, and dumbbell exercises can seem less intimidating than barbell training.  On top of that, starting with a 45 lb barbell might be too much weight at first.  Dumbbells  also have an added stabilization challenge, and point out muscle imbalances pretty easily.

If you can’t finish a rep, it’s much easier to drop a dumbbell than it is to drop a barbell. As a newbie learning the movements, this might be helpful.

The biggest downside about dumbbells?  You may outgrow whatever set you purchase fairly quickly, and heavy dumbbells can get costly. A gym membership with dumbbells that go up to (or over) 100 lbs should help solve this problem.

Barbells

The barbell workout is my personal favorite. If your goal is strength above all else, this is the option that we recommend. Barbells allow you to progress clearly and quickly, allowing you to add small increments of weight each week.

Because a barbell is incredibly stable (using two hands instead of just one with a dumbbell), it’s also much easier to go heavy – especially for lower body movements like the squat and the deadlift. For exercises like the squat or the press, you can use racks to safely load and deload heavy weights.

The biggest downside to barbell training is that in order to do it at home, you need to have a squat rack, a barbell, a bench, and enough weight in your house or garage (which is not an inexpensive investment when you’re starting out).

If not, you definitely will be needing a gym membership.

So what is the best form of strength training? Realistically, it’s the one that you will actually do. Barbell training may be optimal in terms of strength, but if you don’t see yourself actually driving to the gym three days a week, choose a different plan. Likewise, bodyweight training might seem convenient, but if you don’t actually motivate yourself to workout at home, you might have been better off with a different option.

Many times, I will pick the right workout to match my situation. When I’m travelling, I’ll do a ton of bodyweight workouts since I don’t have a gym and a barbell available. When I’m at home with my gym, you better believe every morning the first thing I do is get under a barbell and go heavy.

This is because nothing can replace a heavy barbell squat and deadlift; at the same time, there’s no barbell movement that can match the classic pull-up.

That’s why the barbell and dumbbell routines in The Nerd Fitness Academy contain bodyweight movements as well – a mix of all three options builds a well-balanced, functional body.

There are, of course, many other ways to get in strength training, such as rock climbing, yoga, and parkour.

For our purposes here, we’ll stick to the basics, as they provide the perfect building blocks for adding anything after.

Pick a program to follow

stormtrooper pushups

Never walk into the gym without a game plan.  

We want to avoid that wandering “sheep without a shepherd” strategy that doesn’t produce results.

You may know you want to work with a barbell, but you don’t want to be the guy/girl that doesn’t have a plan.  When you don’t have a plan and just aimlessly walk from machine to machine, you will not see very much progress.

So, let’s get you a program!

When looking for a program, most beginners will be best served by choosing a full body routine done three times a week, (with a day rest in between each workout). Make sure the program you do choose serves your goals: A powerlifter will have a very different routine than a bodybuilder or endurance athlete.

As we know from Strength Training 101, the number of sets and reps you do changes the outcome of the exercise.

Here’s a quick overview:

  • Reps in the 1-5 range build super dense muscle and strength.
  • Reps in the 6-12 range build a somewhat equal amounts of muscular strength and muscular endurance.
  • Reps in the 12+ range build muscular endurance and size

Many beginner strength programs end up doing 5 sets of 5 reps each, in an effort to optimize progress as a beginner interested in strength gains.

With a circuit, you’re completing one set of each exercise in order and then repeat the process again.  

For example, if you look at our Beginner Bodyweight Workout, you complete one set of each exercise and then moving directly onto the next exercise.

  • 20 body weight squats
  • 10 push ups
  • 20 walking lunges
  • 10 dumbbell rows (using a gallon milk jug)
  • 15 second plank
  • 30 jumping Jacks
  • Repeat for 3 rounds

In the more traditional strength style workout, you complete one set of an exercise and then rest, and then another set of the same exercise, and so on.

3 x 10 Squats would look like this:

  • 10 Squats
  • Rest
  • 10 Squats
  • Rest
  • 10 Squats
  • Rest
  • Next Exercise

So, which one is better? If your main goal is general fitness and fat loss and you don’t care as much about strength, a circuit style workout will likely be slightly more beneficial.

It gets you in and out of the gym a lot quicker, and keeps your heart rate up longer.

If your main goal is to get stronger and put on muscle, hop into a more traditional strength style routine.

Honestly though?  How you eat will account for 80-90% of your success or failure. So, with a quality diet you will lose fat and build strength in EITHER style.

Finally, when you’re choosing a strength routine, make sure the difficulty increases over time. Getting stronger should be written into the plan. This could be by doing one more squat, lifting five more pounds, or completing your circuit 10 seconds faster.

The main goal should be to always do better than you did last time; this will ensure you are continuously getting stronger and faster.

Now, you can always write your own workout plan, but luckily, there are lots of beginner programs out there that are great, so you don’t need to be programming your own. Let’s take a look at some of your options.

Beginner Programs

lego workout

We are obviously partial to the 16+ workout plans laid out in The Nerd Fitness Academy, as we feel they give you the best chance for newbie success, but they are not your only options!

The Nerd Fitness Beginner Bodyweight workout is a great (free) place to start if you’re looking for a super basic, easy to follow bodyweight routine. This workout from my buddy/fellow Nerd Roman takes you through some very basic movements. Beast Skills and Gymnastics WOD also both offer great tutorials and progressions on how to master bodyweight movements, both basic and advanced.

For a quality beginner dumbbell routine, check out this “stop gap” dumbbell program on Reddit.  This routine, from 1913, may be a bit complex for beginners, but is cool to look at!

For barbell training, “Starting Strength” is considered the gold standard beginner program by many, and we highly recommend you pick up the actual book if you are serious about barbell training – it’s one of the most important training books you can ever read.  Strong Lifts is great because it starts you out very slow, with just the barbell, and helps you master form before you get too heavy.  Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 for beginners allows you a little more freedom to do exercises that you enjoy, or work on personal weaknesses, because you choose some of the assistance work. Although, that might get confusing if you’re just starting out.

You can also modify any of the barbell training programs to be done with dumbbells, if that’s what you have at home!

Learn the moves!

Fronts quat

If you’re new to all this “strength training” stuff, hopping into a program and going from zero to sixty might be a recipe for failure. Don’t hop into a routine without learning the basic movements first. Otherwise, your workout plan may be working against you.

Never done ANY of the movements in the plan you’re doing before?

Always start out with just your bodyweight. If it’s a barbell movement, use a broom stick (or PVC Pipe). If it’s a dumbbell movement, use two sections of PVC or something else that is light and small to simulate a dumbbell.

When it comes to movements like squats, deadlifts, pull ups, bench press, etc. – your form is crucial.  Develop good habits with light weight and you will save yourself months of frustration later and protect you from injury.

When I started, I really liked practicing all of the movements at home because I could watch a video online at the same time as I was watching myself do it in a mirror.

Video tape yourself and compare it to videos, or post it to the form check section of the Nerd Fitness Forums.

Still uncomfortable with the movements after that? Look around at local strength and conditioning gyms and see if you could hire a coach for one or two sessions just to go over the basic movements. You’re not hiring a personal trainer, but instead finding a temporary Yoda to teach you what you need to know, so you can work out safely and independently.

At first, you may not be able to get in the exact perfect position for every movement. Most of the time videos explaining perfect form are done by people who have the correct mobility to do the movement.

If you’re struggling with certain elements of a movement, don’t get frustrated! Just understand that you’ll have areas in which you can improve.

What do I need to bring?

dumbbells

First, wear whatever you are most comfortable in!

Don’t worry about what everyone else is wearing around you – this isn’t a fashion show. For shoes, look for a minimalist shoe with a hard, non-compressable sole.  Chuck Taylors are my personal favorite, but Steve wears Vibrams or Merrills. While there are some great shoe options specifically for weight lifting, as a beginner, the above multipurpose shoe will serve you just fine!

What else should you be bringing?

  • A NERD FITNESS water bottle (shameless plugs FTW!) and a notebook (to track your workouts, though you can also do this on your phone with something like Evernote if you want).
  • If you are planning on going to the gym after work, bring your workout clothes. If you’re planning on going to work after the gym, bring some basic showering supplies. Keep extras in your car in case you forget them, and don’t let these small details serve as an excuse to skip your workout!
  • An mp3 player and a great playlist can be crucial to “get in the zone” and make you feel like a superhero in a big, noisy, commercial gym. I have a small mp3 player that clips to my shirt that stays out of the way pretty well.

Now that you have a plan and know exactly what you’re doing, it’s time to do it!

Get out of the tutorial zone

stormtrooper bear

If you are a new gym-goer you may feel a bit uneasy about stepping into this new territory. While every gym has its own set of rules, there are a few common courtesy rules that you can follow to act like a rebel, even if you’re trapped in the Empire:

  • Always put the weights back when you’re done. Make sure the weights get back to their proper racks. Don’t be that guy.
  • If someone is using the equipment you’re using, it’s okay to ask how many sets they have left, but don’t pressure them to finish quicker.
  • If someone else wants to use the equipment too, you can offer to let them “work in with you” – which means they do their sets while you rest, and vice versa. If you’re not comfortable with this (and chances are for your first few workouts you won’t be), it’s okay to say no or not offer. If you say no, be nice about it. Say something like “I’m almost done, just one more set and it’s all yours!” If you are comfortable with it, usually you and the other person will work together to change the weights in between each set.
  • If someone is offering to spot you on an exercise (like the bench press), don’t assume they think you are a newb. Probably the opposite – they just want to help. If someone asks you to spot them and you’ve never spotted someone before, tell them that you would love to help but haven’t done it before so you could use some pointers. They will tell you what they want you to do.
  • If you get the equipment sweaty, wipe it down. Gyms offer stations that have all of the stuff you need to wipe down everything.
  • Make sure there’s plenty of room between you and others – give people their personal space.
  • Let people do their own thing – you don’t want them coming over and telling you what you’re doing is wrong, and they don’t want the same.
  • Don’t talk on your cell phone while on the weight floor.  You’re there to exercise, not bother everybody else.
  • Get in and out – don’t sit on the equipment forever. Do your sets, with the proper rest periods, but don’t sit there for 2 hours and not let anyone else use it.

The most important thing when starting strength training is that you start.  Don’t overthink, don’t collect underpants, just go out there and give it a shot!

Don’t be afraid of doing everything wrong – truth be told, the majority of the people on the weight floor don’t have any idea what they are doing, and are just as nervous as you are!

Muster up your 20 seconds of courage and get after it.

So, what’s the biggest thing holding you back from starting strength training?

What questions do you have about getting started?

-Staci

PS – Be sure to check out the rest of Strength Training 101 series:

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PS: Almost 40,000 rebels have joined us in the Nerd Fitness Academy! If you’re interested in strength training and want more specific workouts to follow, nutritional advice and meal plans to pick from, a boss battle system, character leveling system, and a supportive community, check it out.

We’d love to help you level up with us.  See you inside!

photo source: Gregor Winter: Dimitry Klokov, Ken: Cat Dumbbells, William Marlow: Assorted Weights, Kaleb Fulgham: Dumbbells, W_Minshull: Stormtroopers in Gym, Kristina Alexanderson: Teddy Love, Jason Ternus: Stormtrooper Pushups

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  • http://www.khaledallen.com/ Khaled Allen

    But so many people ARE doing it wrong!…it’s very hard for me to keep my mouth shut and leave people to their partial depth squats and legs-on-the-bench presses.

    Awesome article and excellent info for people just starting out, especially since strength training is more intimidating than just going for a jog, but much more important.

    Only question is that I’ve found Wender’s 1 week intervals too long for beginners to make progress; they return to baseline before the next workout. Just my experience, but I’d be interested to hear how you recommend applying it.

  • FunkyM0nk

    Great introduction to strength training for beginners. I wish I had read this article when I started going to the gym 5 years ago.
    My so-called “trainer” at the local gym provided me with a bullshit-machine workout plan.
    The only good thing about going to the gym was starting the workout habit, because I paid a lot of money (for me as a 19-year-old at the time) for the gym membership, which motivated to go there and not waste the money. As of today, I’m looking forward to every workout and can’t wait to do the next. Good luck to everybody just starting out.

  • staciardison

    There are so many times when I have to force myself to keep my mouth shut as well 🙂

    For Wendler – I mean the specific beginner program we linked to (http://www.jimwendler.com/2011/09/531-for-a-beginner/), not to his regular 5/3/1 – I would definitely consider that more of an intermediate program! 🙂

  • http://www.khaledallen.com/ Khaled Allen

    Ah, that makes sense. Sorry I just saw the 5/3/1 and thought it was the regular program.

  • Daniel Jcs

    I read about strength training as a (if not the best) measure to lose
    weight all the time on NF – but don’t building muscle and a caloric
    deficit conflict with eachother? Is that mostly based on bodybuilders
    and their experience whereas overweight people can actually build muscle
    and lose fat at the same time while keeping up a caloric deficit?

    I’m down 40lbs now via much improved nutrition + DDPYOGA, which
    incorporates a lot of bodyweight exercises, and I certainly feel like
    I’ve built muscles, but it would be nice to get an explanation as to how
    it is possible to do so without ingesting a surplus of calories.

  • alienjenn

    but… just because they are doing it “wrong” in your eyes… doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit their programming… when I first started doing bench press I couldn’t get my legs on the floor… I wasn’ tflexible enough (and I am insaneo short so I needed the flexibility to reach!!) it’s taken my almost a year of mobility and stretching to be able to get my feet on the floor… so should I have not done bench until then?

    maybe they are doing partial ROM or partial depth because they are recovering from injury… maybe they have a reason… maybe they don’t know better

    you never know why someone trains the way they do…

    alienjenn

  • ninjbyte

    Steve, sorry to interrupt. Usually I think you’re spot-on, just let me weigh in with one thing: the rep range. Today people have many opinions, which is usually just a sign of how different we all are. However, in my experience as a lifter and an amateur instructor to around 20 guys in my gym, I’ve found that beginners to strength training respond much better to high intensity, low reps. In the 3-5 range.

    And I’m talking both hypertrophy as well as strength gains. Usually guys I instruct gain more mass in their first months than people pumping dumbbells for 15 reps per set.

    Again, bodies are different. But I’ve found this to hold true to most guys.

    EDIT: Oops, sorry Staci. I just assumed it was Steve 😛

  • staciardison

    Very true 🙂 I have seen instances where people have just gone up to the bar and started deadlifting 315 with NO warm up, and it’s usually something like that that really gets me – because then it’s an actual safety issue. But I keep my mouth shut anyways!

  • paul

    Hi I’ve been strength training for the last 18 months and gone from a 38″ waist to a 32″ I’ve been reading nerd fitness for about 4 months I’ve found it a good help especially from doing squats but have found they are hurting my abdomen and making my male parts ache is there any other exercises I can do to get the same results

  • staciardison

    A lot of people do see great results with the 3-5 rep range as a beginner. That’s why we say that most beginner programs start out with 5 sets of 5 reps, as it optimizes beginner gains 🙂

    Some people also see better gains doing more reps, for many different reasons including that they’re not used to lifting heavy enough for 3-5 reps to be effective. 🙂

  • http://www.khaledallen.com/ Khaled Allen

    You are completely right, and reminding myself of that helps keep my mouth shut. Actually, I’ll go over and compliment their form or something, and that usually leads to a conversation in which I can learn more (why they’re doing it that way) or they ask me to correct them.

    I’ve done some weird movements in my time, but they all had a reason, so I keep that in mind, too.

  • ninjbyte

    Yeah, sorry… I see what you mean. You’re right. People that never squatted before should learn the proper form on lighter weights, and that should take some time. It’s the most logical first step 😀

  • Jennifer Nelson

    The biggest problem I had starting strength training, and the big problem I’m having again as I’m coming back from a broken tailbone, is that I can’t lift the bar. Serioulsy. 45lbs. is not happening in my world, my baseline is weak. So, now that I’m finally in a place where I can do more than just swim (yesss!), I’l be starting over with the Beginner Bodyweight Circuit (minus the lunges, because ow, I’ll just do more squats). From there, dumbbells. And hopefully, within a few weeks, I’ll be able to lift the bar and do barbell workouts. Starting Strength might just be my recovery present.

  • alienjenn

    yeah… I get that…

    but MOUTH SHUT!! LOL it’s hard sometimes… especially the nurse in me wants to be all “holy cow do you know what you are doing to your musculature?!?!?! you are going to have injuries!! WARM UP”

    LOL

  • staciardison

    When I started, I struggled with 5lb dumbbells (seriously, I even remember debating on buying 8lb dumbbells vs. 10lb dumbbells for my “next step up” because the 10s seemed SO HEAVY). And for a very long time, the bar weighed entirely too much for me. There was a point in time when, in order to properly warm up for my barbell work, I had to use dumbbells, because my work sets were just the bar and it was HEAVY!

    You can totally get there, it just takes time and patience, but you’re out there and doing something, and especially coming back from an injury that’s huge! Keep it up and let us know how it goes!

  • Mike

    I’ve always had problems choosing what weight to start with. I either go to light and don’t get enough burn or to heavy and hurt myself. What is a good way to pick your starting weights and how often/mow much weight do you progress from there?

  • Marko

    Hello Staci! I really do hope you reply… so here’s my story. I’ve been working out for about a year and a half. But that wasn’t working out. I really started to work out in november and i’ve been following a paleo diet and already lost 10kg and around 7% body fat untill now. I’m doing full body dumbbell exercises 3 times a week. I will do the same stuff untill i hit 6-9% body fat. I’m doing 6 exercises (squats, deadlifts,lunges,rows, push ups and leg raises). All with dumbbells (currently max 18kg). I’ve been thinking about switching to a more muscle gaining workout routine. What i want to know is what you think about this routine http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/4-dynamite-dumbbell-workouts-for-strength-and-size.html ?
    So to make it short. Should i follow this routine to gain some muscles after i get the body fat i want or should i choose a different workout? Thanks for the reply in advance!

  • Carrie Doucette

    love how straight forward and to the point this article is no BS just straight to the goods. I am looking to start strength training as I have no desire to be a marathon runner or have to spend 5 hours a week on the elliptical. This is giving me the foundation to build on. Thanks Nerd Fitness!

  • QoB

    My gym has a sign for the people who don’t put their weights back:

    EVERY TIME YOU DON’T RACK YOUR WEIGHTS
    JUSTIN BIEBER WRITES A NEW SONG

  • Dean

    One tip for those kinds of bodybuilder workouts that split by body part is that you really need to work out every day to get the most benefit. A 4 day split like the one you linked to is fine, but needs to be done on consecutive days and not stretched out over a week.

  • KingLeeroy

    Hey Staci, thanks for this awesome article! I just started lifting recently and I feel the one thing holding me back is that I can’t get back to the gym as quickly as I’d like. I am fine of the workout day and then the next day DOMS creeps in and last for days and days. I think I am practising good form and eating plenty of protein and drinking plenty of water.

    Do you think there is something else I could be doing or is it just the case of keeping going and eventually I will recover quicker?

    Thanks Leeroy xx

  • Amanda Benda Paris

    I weigh 210 pounds now. I’ve already lost 20, and I need to lose about 70 more to enlist in the army, which is my dream. Today I read Staci’s inspiration and instead of sitting on my ass and trying to get motivated, I decided to get up at 9:30 pm and do the bodyweight strength training circuit, though I could only go through the circuit once. I’ve tried running and it got me nowhere so maybe using my own bodyweight against myself will help me reach my dreams. There is so much work that I still need to do to reach my goals by I’m hoping that this post will now make me accountable for myself. Thank you nerd fitness and Staci is my hero!

  • Frankie Knuckles

    O.M.G!!!!!!!!!! I SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO wish that my gym would do something like this. I think I’m a bit OCD about this, but seriously – you’ve picked the thing up off the rack a) you’re strong enough to put it back, b) put it back where you found it – unless you picked it from the wrong place initially in which case put it back where it should be. I spend most mornings rearranging our racks. Why do the 25kg dumbbells get put back in the 10kg spots? You’re just being lazy and frankly a bit of an ar5e! Oh – and number 2 pet peeve – use a towel. You’re gonna sweat. Make it pleasant for your fellow gym members please. Rant over!

  • Obitim

    Ah, so if I want ot lose a bit of weight and also get stronger I should move to a circuit instead of doing lighter weights for high reps? Can I use the same routine as I would for strength just with lower weights, and isntead of resting between each set move to the next exercise?

  • Marko

    Thanks for the reply man! What do you mean with consecutive days? I though doing a monday – wednesday – friday – sunday split would be okay. Should i do it like this instead
    monday – tuesday and thursday-friday?

  • Annie

    Hi, I really struggle with knowing what weight I should start with. I don’t want to waste my time doing basically cardio, but I am terrified of injuring myself (I dance ballet and an injury can take you out forever ’cause you fall behind). How can I know that I am not lifting to much or to little?

  • http://fittek.com/ fitTek

    Hi everyone, and thanks for a great article Staci. This is my first time at NerdFitness, and wow, I was blown away by the thoroughness of this article. And more importantly it was super fun to read to. And I really like how the comments are superfriendly, and not flames back and forth. I guess that’s solid evidence of a great community.

    Anyhoo, I wanted to give my 2 cents about beginner workouts. I’m certainly not a pro or a trainer. I just like going to the gym and the feeling it provides. But I was once a beginner and I remember what motivated me and what didn’t.

    I recall when I first started, I did do the whole body routine each workout, but I was soon unmotivated because the results were so slow in coming. Yeah, I guess in that sense I was shallow…still am kind of. But my original desire to work out was to look good. I don’t mean in a Pick Up Artist creepy type of way. Instead I wanted the self-confidence that comes with a nice looking body.

    So after a couple of weeks of full body routines, I just did what I wanted to do. It was sort of intuitive.

    I blasted the hell out of my arms. Just straight bicep curls. I can visualize them now. No form. No range of motion. And most of the time I used momentum to help me (a severe no no I know). But I was 17 at the time, and well, I was 17 at the time.

    And within 2 days, I could see the difference in my arms. I couldn’t stop looking at them in the mirror. Which made me WANT to wail on them more. And then when my biceps got big, I thought to myself “Loser! You got no triceps! You look stupid!” So I hit the cables with pressdowns. I’d do sets of 40 reps with really low weight. Like 10 pounds. But to the point. of. failure.

    And soon my arms looked half decent. From the biceps, to the triceps, then the forearms, because it was summer and we were all wearing tee shirts. Seated forearm curls. Of all the exercises in the world, I think I had forearms the worst. The lactic acid build up there is the worst feeling. I don’t know why or if it’s like that for everyone. But I put the time in, front forearms and back of the forearms. I was after that super-veiny look.

    (Please please don’t hate me for being so looks driven. Just being honest. These days I could care less. I hit the gym with a ratty tee shirt and headphones and just go in and get the job done.)

    Then I started on my chest. But this time I felt like I was building a transformer robot, piece by metallic piece. When I first benched, the bar and a dime on each side was about it. But soon, a plate, then two, and well you know how it goes. At that point I should have hit my back hardcore, but being the shallow me I was, since it was in the back and I couldn’t see it, I didn’t give it much thought. I was 17 at the time.

    Nowadays whatever I do to my chest, I do the back as much if not more, since the back is more complicated with a bigger surface area. So instead of the back, I went crazy with my traps. Or as the fellas called them, “upside down pyramids”. It was only after 6-7 months that I started doing legs and even then reluctantly. Now I’m big on legs as a foundation, but back then it wasn’t a priority because long pants covered up scrawny legs.

    Ah to be young and foolish.

    After writing all this, it almost seems like a what NOT to do, but I stand by my suggestion for beginners. Isolate to see immediate results which will keep you coming back. If the progress is slow, you’ll be tempted to skip the gym and watch TV instead.

    Thanks for allowing me to relive my stupid but oh so happy youth, Kayan

  • Onni

    Hi Marco, I’m not an expert but In my opinion the 5×5 stronglifts mentionned above are an awesome programm as it starts you with an empty barbell and gradually increases the weight week after week. Many people on the internet and friends of mine report incredible strength gains using the 5×5 stronglifts. I can’t wait to start the programm. Good luck mate!

  • ShotgunSally

    Great article! This is exactly why I usually just go to a class because as much as I want to strength train I’m kinda like “durr… there’s machines there and I… uhhhhh, OH BOY A CLASS WHERE THEY TELL ME EXACTLY WHAT TO DO!”

  • Obitim

    Have you read the other Strength 101 articles? They’re fantastic to help you build your own routine!

  • ShotgunSally

    I have read some of them but I always seem to be trying to do ten things when I’m reading NF articles 🙂 I have a bit of a mental block when it comes to ST, it all seems a little overwhelming and I’m afraid to do it on my own that I will do it wrong or something. Just gotta bit the bullet and get to it I guess….

  • Dean

    For a workout like the one you had linked, you’d want to go Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday. Lots of bodybuilding workouts have splits where it’s one body part per day. The problem with that is that after about 48 hours the recovery process levels off and growth stops, so you end up with 5 days of excess rest. That’s not a bad thing in absolute terms, but it’s not very efficient.

    If doing consecutively doesn’t fit into your schedule you can combine the 4 parts into 2 days (i.e. chest/shoulders Monday and Thursday, back/legs Tuesday and Friday). You’ll see much greater gains working out a muscle twice a week than you will working it once.

  • Mexican Food Junkie

    Perfect article as I’ve been inspired by Staci and started doing more weights. I’ve had a sorta-plan, just mostly trying to get to know the equipment, what to do, how much weight to use, and even just feeling comfortable with using the bar, etc with all those other guys around who seem to know what they are doing. (I’m a girl) I’ve kinda felt like a bumbling bee – do I want to do this, oh wait, maybe that one. I’ll use this weight – no, that’s too light, oh wait, that’s too heavy. Lol, I’ll get it eventually.
    I’ve been doing the lighter to heavier weights with 12-10-8-6 reps (Body for Life teaches this and my hubby recommended it). They say you should be maxing out your weights so that you pretty much can’t do another rep (muscle exhaustion?). My question is: I’m such a lightweight, that sometimes I can’t do the next step with the next heavier weight. I’m not sure if I’m explaining this right, so I’ll be more specific:
    If I’m doing dead lifts, the max I can lift is 60 lbs. I prefer using their bars with the weights already attached because the regular bar is too heavy for me and they are 10 lbs apart. So that means I should do 12 reps of 30 lbs, 10 reps of 40 lbs, 8 reps of 50 lbs and 6 reps of 60 lbs. But 30-40 lbs weights are too light for my reps. I would prefer to do 12 reps with 50 lbs, but then I can’t go over 60 lbs. So should I do 2 sets of 50 and then 2 of 60? Any recommendations? (Sorry if this is confusing!)

  • ErinLaurel

    I’m a female that really doesn’t like working out in the free weight section of the gym. It’s always crowded with “Bros” as I like to call them and there’s mirrors everywhere and it’s just uncomfortable to me. I use the squat rack and I do walking lunges with dumbbells but other than that I like the machines. I’d love to hear what you would recommend for a full body workout using mostly machines for those of us that feel a little intimidated or uncomfortable in the free weight area.

  • Darin

    Better to go too light and just do a few more reps than to go too heavy and hurt yourself. In barbell training increase your work weight by 5 pounds every workout until you can’t complete all reps in the sets, then stay at that weight either until you lift all the reps, or fail 3 times at it. If you fail 3 times, go down in weight by 10% and then work your way back up by 5 pounds a workout and you’ll most likely break your previous barrier. If not, then decrease the reps in a set (if were doing 5 reps, go down to 3, if 3 then 1).

  • Darin

    You should go heavy. Once you have the form and technique down, increase the weight gradually and consistently. Lifting light will not help you progress or grow more muscle (which burns more fat). It’s more work, and it doesn’t get easier, but it’s worth it. Your rest in between may even need to increase in order to get all the reps completed.

  • Mexican Food Junkie

    Since no one else has replied, I am just moving from the machines to the weights and I can share what I used. I followed Matt Roberts. His book is amazing, it teaches a lot about how the body works and how food works with the body. It’s a little long to type here because there are so many options, but he spells out which exercise, how to do it, how much to do, etc. It’s a very good beginner book that will help out knowing which machines to use.

    The one that worked best for me was the 6 week beach body (although I stretched it out longer). He uses interval training with a combination of the treadmill etc and weights. He has beginner, interval and advanced options with each workout.
    2 Days a week I did: (this is “advanced”, you can do less if you don’t consider yourself advanced)
    Aerobic exercise 6 mins @ 85%
    Chest Press 14 x 2
    Lunge 14 ea leg
    Lat pull down 14 x 2
    Aerobic exercise 6 mins @85
    Push up 20 x 2
    Ball squat 16
    Single arm row 14
    Power lunge 14
    Aerobic exercise 7 mins @ 85%
    Dips 25, rest then 20
    Leg curl 16
    Reverse fly 14
    Aerobic exercise 6 mins @ 85

    Then 1 day a week I did:
    Aerobic exercise 2 mins @ 85, 2 mins @ 75, x 6
    Push-up 14
    Chest press 14
    Leg curl 16
    Single arm row 14
    Power lunge 16 ea leg
    Lat pull down 14
    Lateral raise 16
    Ball squat 16
    Tricep extension 14
    Dips 20
    Repeat last 10 exercises

    This workout is really hard! But it kicks butt if you’re looking to build a solid muscle base and loose weight (I’m not sure what your goal is).

    Okay, after I wrote all that, I’m not really sure if it answers your question, but if you are still looking for something I would recommend checking out his book.
    Here is a link on amazon to the book, I think I might have bought it from B&N, although it’s been a while.

    http://www.amazon.com/Fitness-Life-Matt-Roberts/dp/0789484234

  • Mexican Food Junkie

    I agree, NF articles are so comprehensive that sometimes I feel like I’m trying to read a bunch of stuff all at once because everything sounds so interesting!

  • Katie Cordova

    You blog is hilarious! Well, the pictures in your blog. It was really fun to read! Shows you put a lot of effort into it. I’m working on re-vammping my own blog, and I just love your style.

    It’s definitely nice to read some great advice about getting started in a really laid out way. Despite someone’s good intentions things can be really intimidating when your just starting out. I’ll definitely be reading your stuff a lot more!!

    Feel free to read my running blog as well, I hope you enjoy it!

    http://choicesracing.com/

  • ShotgunSally

    I think that’s such a great idea I just texted my army friend to see if she’ll take some guest free guest passes and crash my gym for a bit and teach me the ways 🙂 Thanks!!

  • ErinLaurel

    What do you do for the aerobic exercise part of your workout?

  • ChickenLittlesCousin

    Not a damn thing wrong with using machines. Barbells are not the end-all and be-all of strength training. They have their uses, and so do machines. People who treat machines like the plague are no better than people who refuse to touch a barbell. Both mindsets are narrow and flawed.

  • Ehmenem

    Try a standard size bar instead of an olympic bar if you have access to one. They usually weight 24# or less. You might be able to use one to work your way up to an olympic bar.

  • Mexican Food Junkie

    I use the elliptical machine, but that’s my personal preference. Matt Roberts recommends switching things up so you don’t get bored between the treadmill, cycling and elliptical. It also depends on what your gym has.

    I realized after I typed the workout that that was the 2nd half of the workout. Do you want me to type what the first half was? It was progressive so the first part is easier. If you want it, let me know if you want me to type for beginner, intermediate or advanced.

  • Mexican Food Junkie

    Yay! Hopefully she can go to your gym. Keep me updated. 😀

  • ErinLaurel

    I’d love it if you typed it out for intermediate. I’ve been lifting off and on for several years but I like to keep things simple, I think that’s part of why I like the machines. My gym gets too busy at the time that I go to get off and on cardio machines, if there’s an open one you want to jump on it and keep it until your cardio is done so the back and forth wont work for me. I usually do all of my lifting and then finish with cardio.

  • Mexican Food Junkie

    Okay, basically the on and off with the cardio are a way to do interval training, so maybe 6 mins at 85% and then 6 mins at 75% instead of going on and off the cardio machines.
    Can I email this to you? Because it’s pretty long… 😀

  • ErinLaurel

    Yeah it’s elaurelg@gmail.com

  • http://www.lemonadezebra.com/ courtleigh

    HELLO! I’m so happy for this article, but I still feel a bit lost.
    A bit about me: I’m 31 female, fairly active. I ride my bike to school NEARLY everyday, 5.6 round trip. I can easily bike 40, 50, 60 miles if I wanted to, but I don’t have time for that during school. I can hike 12 miles in a day with a full backpack. But I get tired/bored running more than 20 minutes and have barely run more than 2 miles in the last year at one time. I go to the gym 3-5 times per week for at least an hour. Sometimes I play soccer, and when I’m not living in the midwest, I ski.

    I am however “overweight”. I’m happy with my abilities but not at all happy with my weight.

    My fitness goals include being stronger, losing weight, completing a triathlon by the end of this year, and getting better at climbing. I’m not sure what kind of fitness plan I should follow, because I have a lot of physical interests that include endurance, strength, and speed. I REALLY would love more muscle/tone and strength and low fat.