So you’ve decided to start hitting the gym? Congratulations, you’re already ahead of where you used to be. Before you go headlong into the gym trying to dethrone Atlas, I want to give you some advice. This advice is for the sake of longevity and actual enjoyment, so listen up, it’s for your benefit.
More often than not I meet people who are going to the gym to make up for lost time. They realize that they are not where they wished they would be and so feel the need to get to that point in the next month. Without getting too wordy, I’ll just say the body doesn’t work that way, and you likely won’t respond well to it mentally. Physical change (adaptation) is a result of the body responding to a certain stress (stimulus). Thus if you lift heavy weights, your body will respond to that stress by adapting the muscles in such a way as to accommodate that stress. If you lift a large volume of weights, it will adapt to accommodate that large volume. If you lift weights while not consuming enough calories, your body will adapt to that stress as well (which is how weight loss works). But, your body can only adapt so quickly. There’s a fine balance between producing a stimulus that you can recover from and a stimulus that will need to be healed from without producing any benefit. It’s why lifting weights can strengthen muscles, but why getting hit by a train will probably have negative effects.
Your body will respond to lots of stimuli with extreme soreness with little to no benefit. It’s better to ramp up your activity slowly, starting with working out 2 to 3 days per week. And for the first four weeks, I would ramp up the amount of work you do instead of hitting the program full force. If you have someone to coach you, this is much easier to deal with.
Pick a Program that does the thinking for you
As a beginning you need to focus on making working out a habit while also working out in a meaningful way. The issue is that this causes a lot of stress if you’ve never done anything in the gym before and are unfamiliar with what “meaningful” entails. In order to not get overwhelmed, I would simply follow a program that introduces you to barbell movements. In my opinion, the absolute best starting point would be Starting Strength. It’s basic, it takes maybe 25-40 minutes depending on how busy the gym is, and is perfect for generic gym time. If you get the app (Android PRO) (Apple PRO), it’ll guide you through literally everything for $10. For a free, and less informational, version, check out this StrongLifts app (Android) (Apple) which is essentially the same thing. These will do all the thinking for the first 6 months or so.
You don’t need special gear, supplements, or the perfect gym
As someone just stepping foot in the gym, salesmen are going to flock to you like powerlifters to a buffet. Let’s keep things short: barring steroids, there is nothing over on that supplement rack that is going to help you get jacked. There are three things total that I would suggest to a beginning lifter: coffee, flat shoes (think Converse style), and creatine because it has been studied into the ground and back. Protein powder can be helpful if you find eating enough protein difficult. Aside from those things, there is nothing you need as a beginner to start getting in shape and making progress. You don’t need wraps, a belt, straps, a special shirt, or the newest incantation to the lifting gods. Just get to the gym and work hard. That will be enough.
Focus on making a habit
Progress is built off of repetition, and repetition is a habit. Make a habit out of going to the gym. Have a set time that nothing interferes with barring a cataclysmic event. Go when you feel sad, tired, ecstatic, turned on, turned off, empty inside, etc. and you will build a habit. Make a habit out of performing every rep of every exercise correctly, and you will have virtually no chance of injury. Make a habit out of eating right and you will have no problems doing whatever you want with your weight. Make habits.
You will fight yourself
If anyone tells you they’ve never wanted to miss a day, week, or month of the gym, they’re lying to you. It’s complete nonsense to think you will always want to go to the gym. But goals are not built off of doing things when we “feel” like it. They’re built off of pushing through things you don’t want to do. Don’t lose to laziness or immediate gratification. Lace up your shoes and do what you committed to.
Eat in accordance with your goal
It’s simpler than you think.
Do you want to get big and strong? Eat lots of protein and eat lots of other food, you’re likely going to put on some weight and that’s fine.
Do you want to lose weight, get stronger, and maybe put on a little muscle? Eat lots of protein, and monitor the rest of your food intake appropriately. As a beginner, it’s very likely you will lose weight, gain muscle, and get stronger for a while. Milk this as long as you can.
Carbs are not evil, fats are not evil, and no diet will save you in itself. Check out my nutrition series for more information regarding all of this.