It’s easy to get overwhelmed with workout routines when you are just starting out. I remember seeing a hundred different workout plans and not understanding why everyone just didn’t all follow the same routine. Today I’d like to help simplify the process for you so that by the end of the article you know what you need to do next.
Having A Solid Workout Plan
Obviously to kick things off you want a workout plan that makes sense for your goals. I will touch on it a little bit here, but definitely click on my name up top and check out my previous articles for more specifics on how to progress and follow a workout plan to maximize muscle gain.
Following one of the MAPS programs (MAPS Anabolic or MAPS Aesthetic) is going to be your best bet if you need a workout plan right now. They both cater to beginners and intermediates, and not only explain how the workouts break down, but allow flexibility so you learn how to adjust according to your needs.
Now that you have a program that’s well designed for growth, the next step is making sure you follow that program in a way that allows for progression week to week. The biggest mistake lifters don’t even realize they make is not continually trying to progress over the course of a year. Life gets in the way without them realizing. Maybe they got injured, or went on vacation. Something gets in the way that has a lifter stay at a given weight or barely move the weight up. Then after a year they can’t figure out why they haven’t gotten bigger when the reality is they only added 5-10lbs on any given lift.
The easy way to fix this is to start tracking down each workout. It can be on a spreadsheet, on your notes, a weightlifting app, whatever you feel most comfortable with. It doesn’t need to be fancy. You just need to be able to see week to week, are you making progression in some form:
- 5lbs more than week before
- More reps than the week before
- More sets than the week before
Muscle is built through adaptation against stress. If you want your muscle to be BIGGER than the week before, than you need to be DOING more than the week before. The weight or volume NEEDS to go up. Start tracking. It doesn’t always have to be the weight going up. Even adding a rep means progress. Don’t worry about how small the change is week to week. The bigger picture is being able to see over a year how much you’ve gotten stronger.
Eating For Your Goals
Similar to not tracking their workouts, a lot of lifters aren’t eating for their goals.
Fat Loss - You should be eating in a deficit of calories that allows you to lose .5-1lb a week. It should be 300-500 below maintenance (which you’d need to track your food for a couple of days to see what that is). As you plateau as the weeks go on you may need to lower calories more or increase cardio.
Gaining Muscle - You should be in a surplus of calories that allows you to gain .5-1lb a week on the scale. As a beginner I wouldn’t worry too much about this because you are new to lifting so if you are doing the above steps properly, you will be in this nice zone of losing fat and building muscle. Keep in mind however, that’s unique to beginners. After the first year or two, that may go away.
You don’t HAVE to track your food, but depending how big or lean you want to get it may be necessary the more advanced you get. As a beginner, you're better off focusing on eating whole foods and minimally processed foods.
Protein - eating 1g/lb of bodyweight. This will help ensure you are recovering and growing from your workouts.
As far as carbs and fats goes I wouldn’t worry too much on specific numbers. Focus on hitting the protein intake, and then just getting a mix of carbs and fats in your meals. If you want a general guideline shoot for
Carbs - 1-2 cupped hand sizes each meal
Fats - 1-2 thumb or tablespoon size portions in each meal
Focusing On Your Main Lifts
While you are more than welcome to include exercises for biceps, triceps, shoulders etc. don’t let that be your focus. You want exercises that stimulate the most muscles at once, and allow for lots of weight to be added (think squats, deadlifts, bench). You’re only in the gym for around 60 minutes. Do you want to spend that time only doing exercises that hit your biceps, or exercises that hit your biceps as well as your back, hamstrings, and more? Be efficient with your time.
Focus on the squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, rows, and pull-ups before starting to include smaller muscles like shoulders, biceps and triceps. Don’t worry, those all still hit the smaller muscles and will get them to grow.
Mind Muscle Connection
Alright so you got the compound lifts in your program. Do you know how to properly lift? When you do the bench, your chest should actually feel a burn (not your shoulders), otherwise you are wasting time. If you mess up a deadlift with heavy weight, you’ll be out of the gym for a couple weeks, further removing you from achieving your goals. It’s about experimentation and finding what works for your body. A lift is only as good as your ability to feel it in the muscle it’s supposed to be working. If I only feel it in my shoulders on the bench (when it should be mostly chest), but I switch to an incline bench, and my chest gets destroyed, then I’d be better off focusing on the incline bench.
Give It Time
Patience is the final take away from all of this. Following the above steps is great, but if you don’t follow the plan as written, or stop and go every other month, you can’t expect to see great results. If you want uncommon results, you need to do uncommon things. I’d rather see you only go to the gym 3 times every week instead of 5 times but you end up barely going. Choose a frequency that you can adhere to. If you don’t have a lot of time in the gym, that’s all the more reason to make sure you are hitting the best bang for your buck exercises.