The single most important thing to do when going into a gym is to have a plan. That goes double for beginning lifters. Unfortunately, the internet’s widespread use and mainstream appeal means there’s a ton of information out there to sort through until you can find a program that actually suits a beginners needs: building a base of strength.
There are a few options optimized for beginners, and they’re the perfect place to start the building of your physique. These programs are marked for beginners for a few reasons. First, they’re designed to build a base of strength. Secondly, they offer a method of progressive overload to constantly increase strength. And finally, they show progress — and fast.
“Starting Strength,” a weightlifting program developed by Mark Rippetoe, is the go-to program for beginners. Rippetoe has been coaching and developing routines since 1984, and has quite a repertoire of clients and partner coaches under his umbrella. The routine is painfully simple on paper: Three sets of five repetitions of a set of exercises. Every time you are able to successfully complete the prescribed repetition scheme, you add on weight (5 lbs. for upper body lifts, 10 lbs. for lower body lifts). The movements included in the program are the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Overhead Press, and finally the Power Clean. These exercises have the ability to hit every single muscle in your body several times a week. That’s the key to growth when you’re just starting out.
“Stronglifts 5×5” is cast from the same mold as “Starting Strength,” with some key differences. The name of the program describes your repetition and set scheme — five sets of five reps, as opposed to “Starting Strength’s” three by five. There are pros and cons to having those extra two sets of work. For one thing, they’ll increase the muscle stimulation, and hypertrophy. On the other hand, you’ll either have to move less weight, or rest for significantly longer periods to move the same weight an extra 10 repetitions. Another key difference is the absence of the Power Clean in favor of Barbell Rows. It’s a trade-off. The Power Clean is an exceptionally difficult movement to learn without a coach correcting the bar path, where to explode through the movement, and small mechanical issues that are easy to develop. The benefits of the Power Clean, however, is its ability to hit the entire upper back in a single movement. The Barbell Rows, on the other hand, do a fantastic job of hitting the mid-back, just not as efficiently.
The similarities between the two programs for beginners are a good indication of where to lauch your fitness and lifting journey. Lift hard, heavy, and often. And don’t be afraid to start.