OK, Lets Get Going!
Just a minute there. Sit back, relax and read on. There are a few things you need to know before you go charging in to your local gym and start throwing around the iron. If you are using this program, I am going to make the assumption that you are starting from the beginning. First off, congratulations! It’s great that you have made the decision to get stronger. You body is going to thank you, and you will be full of pride with each milestone you make.
All that said, lets talk about the program, equipment, and the exercises you are going to be doing.
I am not a doctor. I probably have never met you before. I have never done any type of assessment of you, or your body’s movement. I have no real way of knowing if this is going to harm you. I strongly recommend that you see your doctor and have a check up before you begin this or any other training regimen. There might be some underlying problem that even you are unaware of. Strength training is great, and can cure many ills, but it can also exacerbate other medical issues. The idea is that you get better, not worse. So please make sure you are in reasonably good health before you begin.
Also, if you are unfamiliar with any of the exercises or lifts mentioned here, seek out the advice of a certified personal trainer, or someone you know that is serious about their training. While the lifts are not overly technical, they do require some instruction and practice to be done efficiently and safely. Teaching you the lifts is out of the scope of this article.
This is probably the easiest part. You are just going to need some very fundamental equipment. The added bonus is that what you are going to use in this program will be the same equipment that will make up the core of your needs for all your strength training form here on out. Most comercial gyms have what you need, but there are those that don’t. If your gym doesn’t have these rudimentary items, find a new gym. This is not Zumba, P90X or Body Pump. This is strength training. You may have to weed your way through a plethora of machines to get to the free weight section, but that is a good thing. Find a good efficient path past these contraptions – they aren’t menat for strength training, and with only some very few exceptions, you wont be using them.
Squat Rack & Barbell:
Welcome to your new best friend – the squat rack. As you progress in your training, you are going to be spending more and more time in here. The exercises that can be performed in it are nearly endless. In fact, you could do just about everything you would ever need to do in here. It truly is that versatile. If you plan on putting together a home gym, this is the first piece of equipment to by after a barbell and weights.
A good rack has lots of holes to adjust the safety pins, and j-hooks (the j-hooks hold the bar as seen in the picture). It should be sturdy, well constructed, and in a good state of repair. Having it bolted to the ground is not completely necessary, but a good safety feature. Some gyms have a weight racking system on the back of the rack for your convenience. You should be able to stand in the rack with your feet wider than shoulder width and not be touching the base.
Take careful note of the safety pins. They are there to save you should there be a mishap. A good rule of thumb is that they should be adjusted to just above your mid thigh. You may need to raise or lower them when you begin squatting so that they do’t interfere with you getting deep enough when you squat, but still allow you to set the bar on them and crawl out from underneath should you have to.
As you can see in the image, there is also a barbell and some weights. All of the work you are going to be doing is going to be done with a barbell. The barbell and the squat rack are symbiotic. One cannot work without the other. The bar should be straight and have 2″ diameter end on if for the weights. Some bars have knurling on the left and right side where you would put your hands, while others have a third, narrower band, in the middle where the bar rides on your back. Either will work just fine, but if you can get the bar with the middle knurling. It is assumed that all bars of either type weigh 45 lbs. Keep that number in your head so that you can accurately calculate the weights you will be lifting.
If you are going to train by yourself, this is also the best place for your to bench press. All you need to do is move a bench into the rack, lower the j-hooks and safety pins and you are all set to go. I would go so far as to say that this is in fact the ideal set up for all your training over the next 8 weeks. Your gym may have dedicated stations for the bench press, but as a beginner, I highly recommend that you bench in the squat rack for safety reasons. Should you lose control of the bar, the safety pins will save you. Just make sure that they are set so that the bar can touch your chest unimpeded, but the bar cannot touch your throat.
On to the Program:
So you have found the free weight section of your gym, and picked out a squat rack that you like. There are just a few more items we need to clean up before we begin.
What this program is not:
- This is not for “firming and toning”. There is no such thing.
- This is not going to give you a Jersey Shore body. Do you really want to look top heavy and if the wind blows too hard you are going to fall over?
- This is not Muscle and Fiction’s template to huge bulging arms.
- This program is not easy. You are not going to be able to read your favorite magazine while doing it, and you are going to sweat.
What this program is:
- This program will allow you to learn the core lifts – squat, bench press and deadlift – that will be key to all your future training.
- It will start your body on the road to more advanced training.
- It will bring you very recognizable strength gains.
- It will give you a taste of what you can accomplish over an extended training program.
This introductory strength training program is broken down into two 4 week cycles. You are going to be training 3 times a week for 8 total weeks. Once you have some experience with it, you should be able to accomplish each workout in less than an hour. Before you can start there is just a little work that you need to do first. You are going to have to determine what your “1 rep max” is for each of the three lifts. I strongly suggest you enlist the help of a training partner or a personal trainer to help you with this. Since you are new, your form for the lifts is not going to be the best, and you probably don’t know where to start.
The process to determine your maxes is relatively straight forward. Let’s use the bench press as an example since it is a lift that many people already know at least at a rudimentary level. Begin with just the bar and do 10-12 reps concentrating on controlling the bar and getting your body warmed up. Do not just see how fast you can get your 12 reps done, but actually concentrate on what you are doing. After that first set of 10-12 add a little weight to the bar. How much will depend on how heavy the empty bar felt to you. Don’t try and go for any records yet – you are still warming up. This time do 8- 10 reps. Now rest for at least a minute or two. From here on out you will only be doing sets of three reps each. At the end of each set, you will rest for at least a full minute (preferably two) and add more weight to the bar. Add weight in small increments of no more than 10-15%. When you get to the point where your training parter has to just barely help you get that third rep record that weight. Follow the same pattern for the squat and the deadlift also. If you are going to do this testing in the same day, I suggest that you do squat first, then bench, then deadlift. The squat and deadlift are a bit taxing and work many of the same muscle groups, so it is best to get rest in between for more accurate results.
Now you are going to have to calculate your 1 rep max for each of these lifts. Don’t worry, this part is completely painless. It is possible to get a pretty accurate determination of your 1 rep max with some math. Fortunately there are many websites that will do the work for you. In fact, here is a link to one that will not only calculate your 1 rep max, but will help you fill in the tables below the comprise your workouts. On the left side of the page, enter the max weight you lifted and the number of reps, and magically the rest of the page will fill in for you, showing not only your calculated 1 rep max, but what the weights are as a percentage of your 1 rep max (we call a 1 rep max a 1RM for short). Some of the weights that will be listed may be odd numbers. Round them all down to the next 5 lb increment. For example, if 60% of your 1RM is shown as 143 lbs, round down to 140 lbs. You may even want to print that page for reference in filling out the following table.
First 4 week cycle workout plan
The table above represents your workout for the first 4 week cycle. In the weight column, replace the percentages with appropriate weight that you calculated earlier. Give yourself at least a minute rest between sets, and 3-5 minutes between exercises. For best results, do this workout Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week. When loading the bar, remember to take into consideration that the bar will weigh 45 lbs. If the weight percentages in the right most column are less 45 lbs or less, just use the empty bar.
I will warn you that if you are new to strength training you are going to be sore. This is your body’s way of thanking you for putting work into it. Don’t worry, it does get better over time, but the first few weeks are going to be taxing on your body and its systems. Make sure you drink lots of water during the day, and don’t miss any meals. It is in this first 4 weeks that you need to start thinking about fueling your body rather than feeding it. Plenty of water, high protein, and complex carbs are going to be very beneficial to your workouts, and to your recovery.
The next 4 week cycle
Save the table above. You are still going to be using it for the next 4 weeks, but slightly differently. By now you may already be noticing that the workouts are getting a bit easier, the soreness is significantly reduced, and you are generally feeling better. Most of all, you have had 4 weeks to concentrate and work on your form for the exercises. Form can not be stressed enough. If you have sloppy form, at the least you will be cheating yourself, at worst you risk an injury that will delay all your training plans.
As I just mentioned, we are going to change things up a bit for the next 4 weeks. In this cycle, you are still going to do the workout above with no changes to the table. This time, however, you are going to do the workout from the past cycle on weeks 2 and 4 of this cycle. For the sake of this program we are going to call these recovery weeks. On weeks 1 and 3 you are going to spend one of each of your three days doing only one exercise; Monday squats, Wednesday bench press, and Friday deadlift. On these days you are going to be lifting slightly heavier weights than you did before so it is imperative that you rest at least 2 minutes between sets. You will also note that the number of reps has declined slightly for each exercise. It is important that you have a good warmup leading into these lifts. Spend some time stretching and walking on the treadmill – get up a bit of a sweat before you start.
Note that the workouts for Monday and Wednesday follow a similar reps, sets, weight pattern. But look closely at Friday’s workout. Here you are going to be deadlifting with a similar reps and sets scheme, but the weight percentages change the last 4 sets – they are slightly higher. This if for two reasons. 1) You will have the whole weekend to recover and 2) it can be argued that the deadlift is the most all encompassing and most beneficial exercise. Think about it for a moment. You were built to pick up heavy things. Of the three exercises you are doing, the deadlift is the most functional in the real word. Additionally, it uses nearly all of the muscle groups in your body. If I had only one exercise I could use for the rest of my life it would be the deadlift. Because of all this, we are going to work it a bit harder. Your body will thank you for it.
Remember that during these last 4 weeks that you are going to be alternating weeks between the full body version, and the one lift per day version.
Some final thoughts
After reading all this and making the decision to peruse some strength training, you are probably like me and much of the population – you are ready to jump right in and go for it! That’s great! But be careful to remember that this is a process. Training like this is not at all like what you see on late night infomercials of between the pages of some magazine. This is real life, not fiction. You are going to hurt at times. You are going to be tired. Don’t worry about that, it all gets better the longer you stick with it. Don’t be tempted to run to your local supplement store and drop a ton of money on heavily marketed supplements that promise insane results – they don’t deliver. For these 8 weeks all you are going to need is plenty of rest, quality food, and lots of water. The rest will come with time.
One last thing – and this is the really cool part – make sure to keep a record of your starting weights. Then at the end of these 8 weeks, take a week off and retest your 1RM to see how you compare to when you started. My bet is that you are going to be really surprised. I would love to predict what kinds of gains you are going to make, but that varies from individual to individual, how hard you trained, how well you stuck with the program, and if you fueled and rested your body properly. Strength training gives back all that you put into it. Give it your best, and your results will be great. Phone in your workouts and eat like a broke teenager, and you are in for a long painful haul. The choice is really yours. You are in total control. Good luck!