The hardest part about getting in shape is actually getting into the gym. For a lot of people, getting over the mental hurdles — including fear and anxiety around lifting — is quite seriously a giant challenge to get over. And that comes with the territory, particularly for a beginner.
If you feel lost at the gym, and can’t tell a barbell from a lat pull-down machine, then it’s completely understandable. But it also doesn’t mean you’re hopeless. Before you even hit the gym, there is plenty of research and reading you can do. Learn about anatomy and physiology, different lifts, and proper form — and then head to a gym and talk to a trainer. They’ll be happy to get you going.
Once you’re comfortable with the basics, building a workout routine and establishing goals is the next step. Luckily, many lifting specialists are a step ahead and have made programs ideal for novice lifters. This is what we’re covering over the next few pages. Though there are dozens and dozens of ideas out there, there are a few programs that have become a permanent part of the lifter’s lexicon. These programs focus on the basics — form, linear progression, and building serious strength and muscle.
Whether your goals are to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, or simply be able to give your kids a piggy-back ride, it’s never too late to get started with weight lifting.
Read on to read about five programs that novice lifters should definitely look into.
1. Starting Strength
When searching for a lifting working, you’ll see Starting Strength mentioned a lot. It’s a program put together by Mark Rippetoe. Rippetoe’s book has become a fitness classic, and his methods — which focus on barbell exercises using the body’s natural movements — have become legend. There is a very strong focus on form and getting your lifts perfect with Rippetoe’s book, and that makes it great for beginners. From there, an alternating A/B regimen is introduced, focusing on a handful of simple yet important lifts. Starting Strength may be the perfect program for novice lifters.
StrongLifts, along with Starting Strength, may be one of the most popular weight lifting routines on the planet. Its real strength is in its simplicity; it focuses on just five exercises, and recommends doing five sets of five reps. The squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and barbell row are used in alternation, three workouts a week, three lifts per workout. You’ll squat every workout, and limit deadlifts to one set of five reps. It’s a great routine for beginners because it focuses on building core muscles and really gives you an opportunity to perfect your form. There are also nutrition rules to help nail down a solid diet.
3. Ice Cream Fitness 5×5
This is a program built by Jason Blaha, whose videos you can find on Youtube. His channel is a treasure trove of information, but the Ice Cream Fitness regimen is its centerpiece — especially for beginners. ICF is a three-day per week routine, with alternating A/B workouts. In addition to the staples like squats and presses, Blaha introduces curls, crunches, shrugs, and rows into the mix. There is some room for customization and added exercises, but for true beginners, sticking to the core program is recommended.
4. Greyskull LP
Greyskull LP may sound more like an album by a Norwegian black metal band, but it’s actually a weight lifting program put together by John Schaeffer — who also goes by the name Johnny Pain. The plan is laid out in a book, which is now in its second edition, and is a three-day per week, 3×5 lifting regimen. It’s garnered some significant praise as well, especially from those who were underwhelmed or grew out of the Starting Strength program. You’ll get your fill of bench presses, squats, and deadlifts in the Greyskull program, with other exercises sprinkled in, like curls.
5. Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1
The 5/3/1, devised by Jim Wendler, is an excellent program for beginners. It’s designed to be a simple, straightforward way to build immense strength and muscle, and for many, it has done just that. You will be doing a full-body weight lifting routine, lifting three days per week. Basically, there are four main tentpole lifts — bench press, squat, deadlift, and press — starting at 90% of your maximum and working up. Each workout focuses on one main lift, and you’ll lift in four weeklong cycles.
The 5/3/1 system will see progress come slowly, but surely. It’s fairly rigid in that Wendler doesn’t recommend you change or customize the workout, but at its core, it’s still relatively simple and efficient. For a beginner, this may be the ideal program.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger