Josh Asks: Do you have any guidance to give to someone who wants to start lifting?

I am wondering if you have any guidance to give to someone who wants to start lifting? You have a great body, and I’d like to look as good!
— Josh

Hey Josh,

First of all thank you.  I do have lots of guidance I can offer people.  The tough part is how I can offer it in just one post.  There’s a reason people write entire books, have entire websites, or devote entire blogs to this stuff.  So, here I can give some quick insights to give you an idea of what to expect and keep in mind in order to start this journey.

  1. Figure out a goal. A common mistake is that people simply approach it with “I wanna be fit.”  It doesn’t quite work like that.  Typically, the human body cannot simultaneously build muscle and burn fat at the same time.  These two aspects require different approaches.  So, pick one to start.  I always suggest building muscle first because fat burns more in the presence of muscle.

  2. Research the hell out of it.  When I started getting into fitness, I spent hours upon hours reading stuff online about it (exercises, routines, nutrition, theories, etc).  Nowadays, there’s SO MUCH info out there that googling it can be like taking a sip of water from a fire hose.  But the more you research, the more well-rounded view you will get of proper weight lifting.  Also, by doing this research yourself, you are further investing yourself on this journey.  That’s where something like personal training can hinder you - the trainer is doing the guess work for you.  The more you learn on your own, the more committed you will be.

  3. Figure out a game plan.  Based on what you have researched, figure out a lifting schedule (ie. how many days a week you will be lifting and which body parts and exercises you will be doing on each day).  One of the top reasons people fail in the gym is because they don’t have any plan when they walk in the door.  If you have done the research and still haven’t figured out some kind of routine, then there are many websites that offer routines that you can follow (mostly for sale).  Back when I started, I read two books called “From Scrawny To Brawny” and “Gaining Mass.”  These helped me a lot.  Since books are a thing of the past, I think these have become website subscription programs. I have also heard good things about Jim Stoppani programs. He has one for beginners but you have to pay. Also, be cautious that a big part of his marketing is supplements. We will get to that in a sec.

  4. Lift to failure. Once you’re in the door and doing your game plan or program, be sure to “lift to failure.”  This means that, in each set of each exercise, you should lift the weight until you absolutely cannot lift it a single time more.  Lots of people just lift until they tire out - mistaking it for failure.  But this does not properly fatigue the muscle.  So make sure you truly struggle on that last rep.  If you are able to get more than 12 reps in a set, the time has come to increase the weight (I generally lift heavy enough to fail by the 8th rep - give or take 2 reps).

  5. Nutrition nutrition nutrition. Enough can’t be said for nutrition. Again, it takes a lot of research. Here is what I find to be the most important part. Unlike dieting to lose weight, you need to eat MORE calories in order to gain muscle. For instance, I eat about 3,000 calories a day just to maintain my current mass. Each person is different though. So I say start here and tweak it based on the results you see after a few months. Also, this has to be calories from healthy food. You can’t just start eating cake all the time. ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT: you need to aim to eat 1-2g protein per lb of body weight per day. I weigh about 165lbs and aim to get at least 300g of protein a day. In addition to this, eat lots of fruits and veggies for the micro nutrients. 

  6. Eating schedule. Eating that much protein sounds tough but it’s easy when you break these meals down to six meals per day eating approx every 2-3 hours. Great protein sources include chicken breast, tuna, eggs, non-fat Greek yoghurt, etc. Start reading labels and you’ll figure out your staples. If you are the kind of person who gets sick of eating the same thing every day, this will be tough for you. With the exception of one meal (the awesome dinner my partner cooks), I eat the same things each day because I know it works for me. Put these meals on a schedule. For me, I do a breakfast, a lunch (then go workout 1-2 hours after), a post workout shake, a post workout meal (one hour after the shake), dinner, and a bedtime meal. This is just my version. There are lots of ways to do this.

  7. Supplements. When eager to get in shape, it’s easy to go crazy with supplements and load up on pre-workouts and creatine and all sorts of stuff. These can be useful, but aren’t necessarily necessary. Lots of online sites will try to market weightlifting supplements that promise wild results. They usually come with hefty price tag. For instance, that Jim Stoppani guy sells a line called Jym Supplement Science. If what he says about his protein product is true, it could be wonderful. Or it could be crap. The FDA doesn’t have any regulation on these so there isn’t always a lot of transparency on these products. The marketing is so good that it’s easy to get excited and throw down money on it. I did this a lot when I first started but found that they never made much of a difference in my workout.

    All I use is a quality whey protein product (I like the brand Gold Standard) and DIM (DIM is an estrogen suppressor and is only necessary for men over the age of 30). That’s it. I don’t mess with pre-workouts or creatine or any of that. I’m a hippie and opt for whole body wellness. So, I avoid artificial flavors, colors, and sugars which tends to come with those kinds of supplements. If I need a little more energy for a workout, I might drink some coffee beforehand. If you don’t care about such things and don’t mind dropping the money, then you can experiment with those other kinds of supplements.

    IMPORTANT: when it comes to whey protein, it is okay to get up to 50% of your daily protein intake from whey. I use it in my smoothie in the morning, in my post workout, and in bed time snack (though casein protein would be better for this as it digests slower). If you start using whey more than that, it can upset your tummy.  

  8. Post workout. After your workout your body is fatigued and is in a catabolic state. You have a 20 minute window to nourish it. Use 40-50g of whey protein for this (don’t premix it before the gym as once you add water, it’s only good for about 10 minutes). If you want to go the extra mile, you can also drink a post workout sugar before the protein. This will spike your insulin which will aid in absorbing the protein better. Again, I am a hippie so for my post workout sugar, I prepare a drink with one lemon, one lime, 1-2tbsp of agave nectar and water and ice. I also add dulse flakes (a form of seaweed) for bonus nutrients. It actually tastes really delicious. If someone wants to lose weight, I would avoid this step. Otherwise it works for me.

  9. Get lots of rest. Your muscles don’t grow in the gym, they grows while you are resting. Getting lots of good sleep really helps your muscle utilize the energy it needs to rebuild itself and come back stronger. Going out and partying a lot will put additional stress on the body that will prevent the muscle from getting the energy it needs for regrowth. Try your best to get nine hours of sleep each night and don’t have more than 2 - 3 alcoholic drinks a week. 

  10. Monitoring and Patience. Before you begin, take your measurements (waist, chest, shoulders, arms). There are youtube videos on how to do this. Also take lots of photos. In three months, do it all again. BE PATIENT! This kind of thing takes time. So if you aren’t ripped in those three months, don’t freak out. In fact, in those first three months you shouldn’t make too much progress because it will mostly be about getting your bearings and getting into the groove. So it might take even up to six months. If you aren’t seeing any results by then, then something is wrong and you’ll need to go back to the drawing board (which is why doing all that research is so helpful).

Whew! See why this is tough to explain in such little time? But this info should give you an idea of what to expect and where to go from here. Best of luck on your fitness journey.

Cheers,

Scott
Bare InkSlinger