Beginner routines – which should you pick?

Photo: Drew Stephens

When you’re just starting out with weight lifting or body building, it can be really quite confusing, and quite frankly daunting as to what you should do. The latest article in your favourite men’s magazine might be telling you to do high reps, high volume work, with low weights. A google search tells you to do moderate weights and a moderate number of reps, and your best mate tells you that you shouldn’t be doing this or that exercise at all, because you’ll do your back in.

When someone first starts training, their body will grow and get stronger doing just about anything. Your routine could have minimal structure, and you could still get stronger. This is why so many people you see down at your local gym have been lifting the same weight for years on end. They’re doing just what they did when they started. The same old thing that gave them their original gains in strength and size, leaving them stuck in weight lifting purgatory, seemingly making little to no progress. Whilst their unstructured and poor routines were ample enough in the very beginning to cause strength and muscle increases, it just doesn’t cut it any more.

The backbone of any great beginner lifting programme should be linear progression. To take full advantage of “noob” gains, when you first start out – you want to be on a routine which focusses on adding weight to the bar every single session. You also want to take advantage of linear progress for as long as you can. There’s no use in changing to an intermediate programme because “you’ve been training x months/years” – if you’re still making linear progress on a beginner routine, stick to it! People shouldn’t change routines when they have been working out for a certain period of time, or lift a certain amount of weight – rather they should change when they just can’t progress any further. The key difference between beginner, intermediate and advanced routines is the speed in which you make progress. Whilst a beginner can add weight every session, an advanced lifter might only make progress on their lifts once a month, if not even less often. So don’t get ahead of yourself and slow down your gains before it’s necessary!

Personally – when I speak to any beginner lifter, I recommend one of two routines to them, no matter what their goals are. Quite frankly when you are just beginning, your goals are irrelevant, because you’re very (likely pitifully) weak (don’t worry though. After only 6-12 months on the routines I’m going to suggest here, you could well be one of the stronger guys in your gym). Whether in the long term you want to be a bodybuilder, powerlifter, olympic lifter or something else, you need a strength base before beginning to specialise. You wouldn’t take an engineering degree without a good foundation in maths, and the same applies to lifting – you shouldn’t start to specialise until you have a good foundation of strength.

The two routines I’m going to recommend to you, are Stronglifts 5×5 and Starting Strength. Both routines are built around the big compound exercises (bench press, squats, power cleans, bent-over rows, overhead presses and deadlifts), and are very simple to get started with. You add weight to the bar every session, and can make phenomenal progress on all your lifts in just a few months.

Stronglifts 5×5 involves going to the gym 3 days a week, focussing on the Bench Press, Squat, Overhead Press, Deadlift and Bent-over Row. More information on the routine can be found here.

Starting Strength also involves going to the gym 3 days a week, focussing on the Bench Press, Squat, Deadlift, Overhead Press and Power Clean. More information on the routine can be found here.

You can pick either routine to get started with – just follow the links above to find out more, and pick your preference. The key difference between the routines is that Starting Strength involves power cleans, which are a more technical lift to get started with – whilst Stronglift 5×5 replaces cleans with bent-over rows, an easier exercise to get to grips with. If you’re worried about learning how to clean – get started with Stronglifts 5×5. They’re both great routines and will result in astoundingly quick progress.

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