The time has come to wage war on another destructive convention in the world of lifting: the beginner program. I understand the confusion in this declaration, given that I’ve written my own approach to a beginner program in the past, and additionally my most popular rant video is my own advising trainees to get on a beginner program, but the winds have shifted and, like Machiavelli advised, we must adapt to fortune. Survey the training world today, witness the stagnation of the beginner trainee, and understand the problem for what it is.
Genesis: in the beginning there was darkness. Trainees had no clue what to do or how to do it, and they demanded a path. And lo, the light was shone upon them, and it was good. Or so we thought. The devil is a deceiver, and it is no coincidence that Lucifer is “the light bringer”.
Okay, I’m going a little crazy here, let me reel things back and speak somewhat normally.
Occasionally I have a flare for the dramatic
When we first decide to make the choice to start improving ourselves, there tends to be very little guidance available. These days, information is readily available, but this has the problem of being too much to sift through. We have social media, peers, tradition, role models, formal education, etc. When faced with this overwhelming amount of information, we seek, if not DEMAND, some manner of guidance that “lays it all out” for us. Enter: the beginner program.
A beginner program is built to provide guidance to beginner trainees in the form of a rigid and structured approach to training. Sets, reps, movements, and rest periods are all laid out, and no thinking is required. This elicits a sigh of relief from the wary beginner trainee, for now, the thinking has been done for them, and all they have to do is follow the Ikea instructions and soon, they’ll have built themselves a body.
I mean, what could go wrong?
This is what is causing so many beginner trainees to REMAIN beginners. Learning is NOT occurring, only memorizing and regurgitation. These beginner programs do not provide the tools necessary for a beginner to continue to advance in their training career, but instead cripple them by placating their demand for an immediate solution to a complex problem. There is no understand of WHY things are done, simply that they are done.
Beginners need principles, not programs. Beginners need to understand what creates the foundation of solid training, such that they can adapt and mold their training to suit themselves as needed. Though this may cause a minor amount of anxiety at the start of training, it greatly diminishes the anxiety encountered by an uneducated beginner as they progress in their training. No more wondering about what to do when a stall is encountered, or pain, or technique tweaks, or a hiccup in the schedule, or the variety of incredibly insignificant things that beginners tend to invest the majority of their energy into. Instead, one understands that, as long as they adhere to sound principles, they will continue to progress.
This is what occurred PRIOR to the availability of so much information: successful trainees shared successful principles, even if the routines varied wildly. Watch “Pumping Iron”, witness how tons of top level bodybuilders all trained with different programs, then notice how they all stood on the same stage. The program was for the individual, but the principle was for success of the whole. When a beginner trainee set out to get bigger and stronger, they learned from those who had come before them, and these veterans taught them to push themselves hard, eat big and well, recover, and grow. The concern wasn’t about optimization, it was about progress in general.
These days, someone would get upset about all the curling and go post a passive aggressive comment about it on Reddit
I realize I would be remiss to tout the values of principles without providing a few of my own to at least lend some guidance to the beginner trainee. These principles are not all inclusive, nor are they mandatory, but they are effective as a means for getting bigger and stronger.
-Dan John laid out a stellar blueprint for the motions a human can produce that are worth training:
If your training is covering all of these movements, it’s a solid program. If it’s covering all of these movements AND is balanced between them all (ie: Not doing 17 bench press variations and 1 deadlift), it’s most likely a great program.
-If you want a certain bodypart to get bigger/stronger, you will have to train it: most likely directly.
Go write your own clumsy masturbation joke
-Train a variety of rep ranges. Staying in one range for too long will cause you to stagnate.
-If you are progressing, don’t change anything. If you aren’t progressing, change SOMETHING.
-If you feel like you didn’t work hard, you most likely didn’t.
No one who is training hard enough to make progress can smile like that
-Soreness should never be a concern: don’t chase it, and don’t skip training because of it.
-Rest as long as you need to recover. If the rest times are getting obscene, improve your conditioning.
-“Cardio” is NOT conditioning. Actually do some conditioning.
-Strive for progress in some way every training session. Either more weight on the bar, more reps, more sets, shorter rest times, better control over the bar, just SOMETHING.
-Results are what matters, not approach. If it works and no one else does it, keep doing it. If everyone else does it and it doesn’t work for you, quit doing it.
Except for this...just quit doing this
-Train as many days a week as you are able to recover from and can afford to (cost being financial, social, time, etc). However, if the only thing holding you back from training is an unwillingness to train more versus an inability, you most likely won’t get results.
-Use a variety of tools to achieve your goals. Don’t be married to barbells, dumbbells, machines, etc. Use compound movements AND isolation movements.
There could always be more, but these are enough to get started. Experimentation is key, and the learning process will always involve some tweaking. Once you find the principles that work for you though, you’ll find your ability to continue to progress to a changing environment significantly improved versus those that only know how to follow a cookie-cutter program.
Declare war on the beginner routines and start training with some sound principles.