Starting basic strength training


So you decided to join a gym. Good for you. But now what? What should you do? What kind of program should you implement? What are your goals? Your probably have more questions than answers. The purpose of this article is to help you sort through this and give you a suggestion as to what I think is the best way to get started at the gym.

If you are like me, when I first started back It had been a few years. (ahem) My first body composition test revealed I was overweight and worse still,  I had no idea what to do. There are a bewildering array of cardio machines, free weights, and resistance machines. SO where to start? . Fortunately for you, I am going to give you the best advice I can for free. And it really works. You need to start off thinking about 3 things: Strength Training, Mobility and Cardio. If you can only think about one thing at at a time then focus on Strength training. Let’s break down how to go about getting this done!

1. Start off with scheduling your gym sessions

There is no bigger truth in exercise than "consistency counts." If you want to see results you need to commit to going to the gym and then work the rest of your life around it. Good intentions do not build muscle or help you lose weight. You should aim for at least 3 times per week. I accomplish this (in my rather hectic life) by working out my weekly schedule in advance. I put my workout sessions in my calendar and plan everything else around them. You need to fully commit. And get it done.

2. Focus on compound movements

When you start at the gym you should only do 5 exercises. That's right 5. They are all barbell exercises and the entire workout can easily be accomplished in about an hour. The 5 are:

  1. back squat

  2. bench press

  3. bent over row

  4. overhead press

  5. deadlift

Now it is beyond the scope of this article to train you in proper technique, but these 5 exercises will cover every major muscle group in your body. And you only do 3 at any given workout. It would look like:

Workout A                     Workout B

back squat                     back squat

bench press                   overhead press

bent over row                deadlift

You simply alternate workouts every time you go to the gym. So one week will be A, B, A and the next will be B, A B. Sounds simple right? It is. Notice you will squat on every workout, and that's because squatting uses your entire body, builds mobility in your hips and legs and makes you strong. If this seems boring, don’t worry we will add more variations later. What you want to do first is build your foundation.

3. Start with light weight

The biggest mistake I ever made was to start out with weight that is too heavy. The first thing my macho mind said to me when I went to the gym is "how much can you lift?" Big mistake. I could barely get out of bed the next morning. Stairs were the scariest thing in the world. My body was sore for like 5 days (called DOMS), making it difficult to walk, eat, go to the toilet, much less go to the gym.

Don't do this.

Start with an empty bar with no weight on it. (yes you read that right but it still weighs 20kg) You will have to swallow your ego a bit but don't worry, we will get to adding weight soon enough. The idea here is that you use light weight to help your body get used to the movements (called proprioception). In effect you are training your body to train. This is where you learn proper technique so you don't injure yourself. Take your time here. After you are comfortable with the movements, then you begin adding weight.

4. Focus on Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is key to progress. What it means is every workout you try to add more weight to the bar or increase your reps. This is called progressive loading. It increases the demands on your body so it begins to adapt, aka show results. You can aim for 2.5 to 5 kg increments. For big exercises like the deadlift and maybe the squat you can start with 10kg. This will get heavy fast, so slow down as needed. Remember to maintain proper form and push hard! Aim for a repetition range of 4-6 reps per set. Once you hit 6 reps on one set, increase the weight.

5. Don't forget to add a warmup and cool down

The second biggest mistake I made when going back to the gym was to not warm up and cool down properly. At the beginning you can do a general warm up of say a 10 minute jog on a treadmill, just to get your heart rate up, increase blood flow to your muscles and prepare for exercise. You should also do specific warm ups on any weighted exercise (same movement with an empty bar) just to get ready for the stress of weight. For a cool down, have a 5 minute walk on the treadmill, followed by 10-15 minutes of stretching and foam rolling. Both warming up and cooling down help to alleviate muscle soreness.

 This is the training program I followed for the first 2 months and along with eating well, I lost 8 kg or about 1kg per week. That’s not an uncommon result. Now there is a lot more to a proper training program than just this, but it is a good start!

If you need help building out a workout program, whatever your goals are, I can help. Hit the button below for a free consultation. I am your coach.


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Jamey MerkelComment