I am not a powerlifter. I just happened to be a track-and-field athlete who happened to achieve a physique impressive enough to get requests for advice. So here’s what I usually say.
Advice for beginners
mistakes they make in the gym
Beginners gains are real. You can do more than you think in your first three months, don’t waste them on bicep curls. Compound movements will have outsized returns when you start out, you don’t really need to isolate any muscles yet.
DOMS is not injury. You know the pain that starts off 12 hours after you lift really hard, and peaks at around 24? That’s Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. It happens often and is very different from tearing a muscle or bruising. Learn to tell the difference.
Use the compound lifts. Start of with something like 1x20 for a couple weeks. You can do other stuff alongside that, but you need to get reps under your belt.
The “perfect” program is the one that fits your personality.
You need to be going harder. Heavier and more, better and smoother. There is no point at which you need to pick a weight and stick to it. If it’s too light, pick up a heavier weight or do more reps than you planned. (I lean towards heavier weight instead of more reps). Ego-lifting isn’t real, only strength is.
Full range-of-motion is underrated. It will keep you as close to injury-free as possible. First, because full ROM has been shown to benefit strength more than partial ROM. But also because it will keep you humble and prevent you going to weights you’re not ready for, while getting as much as you can out of the current ones. Note: Full ROM doesn’t always mean you have to work thorugh the entire range, you can actually get most of the benefits from working at the most extreme end (bottom of a squat, lower half of a press, etc).
You need to switch things up. Growth requires novel stimulus; the lamest kind of workout is churning out 3 sets of 12. Try different programmes, sometimes two at the same time. See if you enjoy Starting Strength, or hypertrophy clusters, German volume, or sets of 100 reps. And if you don’t, then do them anyway. It builds character.
Food is more important than sleep. You spend most of your day sitting around, your body is perfectly capable of repairing itself while you do that. However, it is never going to be able to metabolise protien that it doesn’t have; if you aren’t getting enough food, you cannot grow. This is what thermodynamics is about.
The gym is literally the safest kind of activity. Provided, of course, that you don’t do something stupid like squat in a Smith machine or toss weights around when you’re tired.
You’re allowed to do what you want. You can hit shoulders 4 days a week if that’s what you care about. If you worry about the specific definition of your upper chest, you’re allowed to spam incline dumbbell bench. Eventually, you’ll come around to caring about all the muscles anyway. Yes, including back. You’re going to love rows.
Movement is usually the best kind of recovery. If you’re tweaked your back, deadlifting will probably make it feel better. If you’ve hurt you quad, walking will help it heal. If DOMS has left you aching all over, some form of cardio might help you recover a few hours sooner.
Carbs: If you’re skinny, you can eat anything you like (ands you should, too). That being said, rice, potatoes, and pasta are better (at least aesthetically) than anything made with flour and/or suspicious amounts of salt/sugar. All of it turns to glucose in the end but at least the former don’t leave you feeling like shit.
Protien: You will need to get slightly obsessive about this one. Fish, chicken, beef and eggs if you want to make things easy for yourself. Tofu, beans, broccoli and protien shakes if you’re vegan.
Vegetables: Learn to love them (or don’t, idc). There’s better and worse to prepare them (you need to lightly stir-fry your brocolli, not boil it), and it’s worth learning some of the former methods.
Sugar/fat: Stuff like Snickers bars, cookies or other dessert make for great pre-workout snacks. Sugar is the closest you can get to pure glucose.
I happen to have found the movements that work best for me, maybe you’ll find different ones for yourself eventually. But until then, pretend like these are the best (they are), and prioritise them over all the other things you could be doing.
- Incline dumbbell bench press
- Decline push-ups (place a plate on your back to add load)
- Dips (both bar and Olympi rings)
- Neutral grip lat pull-downs
- Barbell rows
- T-bar rows (close-grip)
- High-bar back squats
- Bulgarain split-squats
- Romanian deadlifts
- Close-grip barbell bench press
- Cable extensions
- Barbell military press
- Reverse flies
- Arnold press