Hi there! Maybe that is your first time on a fitness website and you’re looking for some very basic, yet, important information… You’re asking yourself questions as a complete beginner:
What do I do? Where do I start?
How many times a week do I workout and for how many hours?
Should I start at home with a pair of dumbbells – will that be enough?
Should I join my local gym or should I join a big gym? Will it be an intimidating place?
What goals should I set up for myself? Do I change my eating habits?
Should I get a personal trainer?
Wait, am I even sure to read trustful information right now?
All these are some questions/thoughts I once had when I started my gym journey. If there is one thing which you don’t want – it’s coming across information which turns out to be wrong. Back in the days, I was happy I found some trustful resources. That’s the most frustrating issue everyone faces nowadays. Since beginners don’t have experience, they don’t know if what they’re reading is true.
There were many websites which were providing silly information, and when looking back, I’m thinking that thousands of people have been wasting their time trying things which don’t work from these websites. With social media getting popular, we can’t say it has got any better. This is exactly what I want you to avoid by reading this article where I guide you through what to do if you are the ultimate beginner :).
As questioned above, in this article, I will cover many beginner matters:
- Getting to know why the gym is important for you and where does your will to start comes from
- How to set your goals and achieve them
- Knowing how fast you can get results
- How to feel comfortable in the gym
- Whether you have to do anything about your current food habits
- Whether you should get a personal trainer or not
- How to always know that you’re learning from reliable sources…
This article is not about getting in depth about training and dieting, it’s the step before – where I explain in the most simplistic way what you can truly expect as a beginner and what best practices are.
1- The very first steps to take, know what you want!
Know where you come from and what motivates you
That’s the very beginning. You want to go to the gym, you want to change your body shape, but why? I personally like to think long-term and consider how I am going to achieve great results. This requires reflection on a whole lot of things – which can be a daunting and exhausting task, but we will go through it together. It is an important (almost indispensable) step to take and looking back at my own experience, it is about knowing why you are getting started with the gym/fitness and where you are starting from. Being honest with yourself, about your intentions, is a great approach.
This has not always been the case for me. Like a lot of people, this bodybuilding journey started from a place of insecurity, thinking that changing my physical appearance would bring me total confidence. It can help, but this should probably not be used as your main source of confidence. You could end up disappointed if you put all your eggs in one basket and it does not fulfil you the way you wanted. For me, I was always intrigued by bodybuilding and was hooked straight away by the sport…I just had a gut feeling that I wanted to get started after watching movie stars like Arnold Schwarzenneger.
But I also wanted to be stronger because I was a skinny kid and had insecurities about it. In the long term, I think it can’t just be a way to heal or mask insecurities, it has to be something you also feel you will enjoy. This is why if I had to restart everything, I would ask myself the following questions – which I would advise you to ask yourself too:
- Why do I want to get started with the gym?
- What do I want to get out of it?
- Will this help me the way I think it will?
From the get-go, you are aligning your true motivation and your past to your actions with a clear mind. Definitely something I wish I understood better back then.
2- Setting your goals and achieving them
a) Know what you want to achieve
Now that you know a bit more about why you want to get started – do you want to have a model physique? get shredded, not be too muscular? Do you want to be massive? Or do you simply want to lose weight without worrying about building muscle mass?
Do you want to bench press 100kg? Do you want bigger arms? A better booty? Do you want to lose 5kg of fat? Etc…
Whatever it is, write down what your main goals are!
b) When do you see yourself achieving these goals?
If you’ve clarified what your main goals are, it’d be great if you also took a minute to write down when you’ll see yourself achieving them. You might not know much about training and how long it will take you to achieve your goals, but estimating grossly will motivate you and help you seeing the big picture. You’re putting your thoughts into action.
See, getting shredded or generally fitter is something pretty easily achievable within a couple of years of training! And I am talking about a model’s physique! You just really need to follow the right principles and work towards these goals.
Although, if your goal is to be massive and genuinely putting on some mass, it will take more time. That’s why knowing what you want to achieve will help you better figuring out which steps to take, and grossly, the expected amount of work to put in. The more ambitious your goals are, the more you might want to consider a routine where you leave enough room for your training routine in your life.
Different work ethics for different goals.
If your goals are just to be a bit healthier, you will just need to train moderately without having to make much changes to your lifestyle. Try to test the water by understanding what your goals are for the big picture.
Estimating what you want with good common sense, without having to know exactly how training works will still help you see where you are going. You don’t have to know exactly when you will reach those goals but try to set a realistic estimate. Don’t be super unrealistic thinking you will lose 10kg of fat in 2 weeks!
As you read a bit more about nutrition and training on this website, you will figure out these things better, and you will be able to make your goals more precise.
Let me give you an example of what’s achievable naturally.
- On the left side, this type of physique is achievable by training smartly 3-4 times a week for a year.
- In the middle, within a couple of years.
- On the right side, you would need to work out 3-4 times a week for most likely 4 years to reach this type of physique with the right methods
If you have a busy schedule and you can only take time to workout once or twice a week, it will take you more time to achieve the results displayed above. If you have a lot of free time, train smart, recover well, you could even achieve those physiques quicker than expected.
c) How to give an estimate on how much time you actually need to spend to achieve these goals
The more ambitious your goals are, the more time you have to dedicate to the practice. But that will also highly depends on your priorities and responsibilities. It really comes down to considering how much room you want to give to this new fitness practice in your life.
Do you have a part-time or full-time job?
Do you want to spend a lot of time with your family?
Basically, how much time does your lifestyle set you free for training and is this going to be enough to sustain the training and diet plan you want follow to achieve your goals? Are you going to put fitness/bodybuilding as a priority in your life?
As seen on the examples above, you know that by working out 3-4 times a week, you can expect those type of results over a certain number of years. It’s also good to know going to the gym 3 times a week as a beginner won’t require you to change your whole schedule that much and you’re still going to make great progress.
But in the long term if you’re progressing well, gymming will take more out of your time. Not only your sessions take time but going to the gym regularly can be tiring at times. Fitness and bodybuilding are practices which will ask you to recover. So being aware of it is important, you can now find out what balance will work well for you.
d) Is there a way to get big fast?
Isn’t it what everyone wants to know? That’s the first thing that came to my mind when I started the gym. How big can I get and how fast! And honestly, that’s probably something you wish to know before starting, it’s normal.
I believe you can get big fast or get a great physique pretty quickly. Now when saying quickly, we’re still talking about at least a couple of years to get a nice aesthetically pleasing shape.
If you’re a lean person, you might see decent result right off the bat as muscle will show easier. But if your goal is to look pretty massive, this will take you a few years. Anyway, the fastest you want to improve, the smarter and harder you have to train.
If you want to reach an advanced level like the one displayed down below, it will take you at least 6-7 years.
I know it’s not pleasant to hear this, but it’s honest. Once you have reached this type of physique though, you will always have a good physique if you decide to maintain, and this, for the rest of your life.
So that’s simply your best shot here, doing the best you can. If you do that, you might in 3-4 years get results that most people get in 6-7 years. It still means that you have to train for long enough and that there is no magic, if you’re getting into fitness/bodybuilding, it’s to be part of a new lifestyle!
If you can’t picture yourself training for that long or don’t feel motivated at the moment. I would not worry, making this step into the gym is already awesome. What you only need is understanding how lifting works, as soon as you get results, you will be hooked to the practice!
You’ve seen above comparisons in what you can achieve naturally. For the average dedicated and serious person, it represents well what’s achievable, but if you’re super serious and prioritise the gym more, those results can be attained quicker.
e) How long should a session be?
How many times a week and for how long?
You’ll read left and right that 45 minutes are better than 2 hours, that you need to rest at least 3 days a week etc… All these things are both right and wrong. Truth is, you have to workout enough according to your current level of fitness/bodybuilding.
If you are a total beginner, the average person as a beginner usually work-outs 2 to 3 times a week for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Not because those numbers sound better, but your body as a beginner is not used to working out enough yet to handle much more time than 45 minutes to an hour sessions. So, most beginners fall into these categories of time ranges. But everyone is different and some people might get away with less than that and others handle it very well and will go for more.
If you are someone who’s been into sports before, it might feel easier to workout and 3-4 times a week sessions are nothing scary and your body handles it very well. We can see this happening frequently for people who’ve practiced sports like Kayak involving a lot of muscles.
Here is what you should do regardless or not you have a sportive past: start slowly. Go to the gym 2 times a week for 45 minutes to an hour and see how you feel the first two weeks. Learn the movements and basics, eat well, that’s it. Then scale things up a little if you are confident with 3 sessions a week.
Your goal as a beginner is to get used to the movements right and to get used to working out. As soon as your body is ready and “activated”, you will slowly be able to increase the amount of time you spend in the gym as well as increasing the intensity of your workouts. In my recent years of training I would spend 3-4 hours every day in the gym, but when I started I was only going there 3 to 4 times a week for an hour and that was enough, I was roasted.
This was totally enough for my current level at the time as a beginner, and tiring enough. You just get resistant to training overtime and as you want to progress you usually also need to spend more time in the gym as you need to add load to your movements, add volume in your sessions… It’s funny because training 3 hours daily might sound insane as you are starting because you simply are not at this amount of experience yet, but in a few years time you will realise it is possible and doesn’t feel harder than the two sessions a week you used to do back then: you’ve just become advanced.
When I was a beginner and hearing some people were training everyday, I found it stupid. I thought to myself “these guys need to recover more…how are they advanced yet they don’t even understand that recovery is important…” Truth is, that’s what all books tell you, rest enough, and it’s good information, the issue in the natural bodybuilding world is that very few people are willing to go to a very advanced level where you have to train a lot to keep improving and rest is not “as important” as it was at the start. No books will tell you otherwise, because there would not be any buyers.
f) When are you getting started?
It’s time to get started! Some quick tips that I can give you before if you are doubting yourself about getting started… You can either start straight away and go to the local gym or you can schedule a date for when you want to start. For sure you don’t want to fall into the trap of scheduling and then reporting it again and fall into procrastination mode. But what you can do is genuinely give yourself 15 days where you’re not rushing it and giving you some time to learn about the movements, the right positions to have before the exercises you will perform. You can also start exercising at home before going to the gym.
You learn to activate your body with simple movements like abs or push-ups and get into the momentum of starting your fitness/bodybuilding journey. In the meantime you can also join communities on Facebook where beginners hang out and start their fitness journey. That is something which didn’t exist 10 years ago but you can now connect with other like-minded people and see how they’re doing on their side as beginners.
The gym can get quite intimidating when you are starting. Although you know it’s not something you should care about, it’s not always easy to adapt to this new environment. Those few tips might help you get in the zone before actually putting a foot in the gym. If you can and want to, you can also get in touch with a physiotherapist and be aware of any disabilities.
3- Where should you start lifting?
a) Where do you want to start applying your routine?
What tools do you have to get started? Are you going to get a membership at the gym or do you think you can achieve your goals training at home? How much will it cost?
I encourage you to read the “Home-Workout guide”. This will help you knowing whether you find it more interesting to train at home or sign-up to a gym. Both have their advantages and cons. It will really depends on what you personally think will fit you better. Nonetheless, for 700$, you can build a little home gym which will allow you to progress up to an advanced level.
Quickest and most important thing to summarise, the home-gym option is a great investment if that’s what you feel you’d like to go for.
If you have no money and you are a complete beginner, body-weight workouts can help you for the first few months. You just have again to look at your current life situation and whether working out at home or at the gym suits you better. The only thing that I can say is that unless you’re ready to invest a minimum of money into a decent home-gym, you will stagnate at some point.
The point of weights and gyms is that you always have extra load if you want to. You can improve indefinitely. It is the same at home only if you also have equipment allowing you to progress overtime. For 700 to 1500 dollars, you can have equipment which allow you to progress indefinitely at home.
b) Local small gym or big gym?
Nowadays, even the local small gyms have great equipment where you can go heavy and progress indefinitely. Now and from experience, small gyms somehow tend to be friendlier than the big gyms where people barely know each other. Of course, you’re not going to the gym to talk to other people the whole time, but it is very nice to have like minded people ready to help you out and whom you can laugh with once in a while. And to be honest, when you’re a complete beginner it’s awesome. I started gymming in a small and very friendly gym, I loved the people there, they were great friends.
The vibe in big gyms is a bit off and if you’re a beginner and feeling uncomfortable, I’m just saying that the small local gym to start with is always a good option.
I also talk in another article about starting fitness at the university gym. if you’re a student or live close the uni gym, this is a great option, these places are usually quite big since they’re a complex centre, and they also have that friendly vibe because it’s a place full of friendly students.
4 – Getting comfortable with the practice
a) Feeling comfortable in the gym
It might be hard to be comfortable the first days you are at the gym. As I mentioned, you can start working out at your house prior to going to the gym, you will get used to working out and feel more at ease once you step in the gym. Another thing you can do is simply check online what type of equipment you will find in your gym. You can look the equipment online and get familiar with how machines, accessories look like and what they’re used for. As soon as you step in the gym, you are already familiar with the place and don’t feel lost. You should also ask for the PTs to walk on a gym tour to show you the gym, you will start befriending someone who works there and he will put you at ease by showing you the place.
b) Hiring a personal trainer?
As a beginner, you might be wondering whether you should hire a personal trainer. Indeed, you’re new to the gym and don’t know much about training. Now, that is my personal advice. I do think you can learn online and do very well without a personal trainer. Considering how expensive they are nowadays, I do think you should instead find some great information (like here) and stick to the advice. I have written an article on personal trainers and how today they’re not very reliable.
c) Starting with friends
Going to the gym with friends who already go there can be a good solution if you’re feeling overwhelmed and want some sort of motivation. I just think that if you’re thinking long term, you can’t always rely on your friends to go to the gym, otherwise as soon as they skip a session you will be tempted to do the same. I have seen this happening many times before. Learning how to train alone is also better, you drive much better results by yourself and being focused in your session than hanging out with friends. Friends might also just go there for fun, if at some point you’re looking to improve seriously, you might not want to follow your friends advice about the practice.
5- Changing your eating habits?
Getting into bodybuilding and fitness does not mean changing your diet drastically. Here again, this will depend on your goals. If you have to lose 20kg, it’s not the same as 5kg. You have to look at your lifestyle, how busy you are, what time frame do you have to take care of yourself. What I want to remind you of in this article are the very basics. The things which as beginners must reassure you. Yes, it takes some time and effort to lose fat, shred down, but it’s not as hard as it seems. Too many marketers are still showing you the chicken and broccoli boring diet when the truth is that you can easily lose weight and still eat things you like.
It’s called flexible dieting! Why?
Because it’s all a matter of calories, these are simple maths. There is a whole article on it. But let me remind you of this here. What you really need to understand is that losing weight or adding weight comes from a calorie surplus or a calorie deficit.Your body for its current composition needs to eat a certain amount of calories to maintain its composition. This is called your maintenance calorie level. If you don’t want to add or lose weight, you just need to eat at your maintenance level. Now, if you eat more than your maintenance level, you will overtime add some weight on. If you start eating less than your maintenance level, you will start losing weight.
These steps whether it is adding weight, losing weight or staying at maintenance should be done pretty healthily. It does not mean just eating vegetables everyday. That means a good repartition of the macronutrients you are eating. Be moderate and have a good repartition of your macronutrients in your diet. Some protein, some carbs and fats. If you understand the calorie levels (maintenance, surplus, deficit) and that you should have a decent repartition of macronutrients, you are on a very good path. 90% of what matters is written there. That’s what you need.
6- Finding the right information online
I really believe you are reading the right information here, so each time you are looking for something, feel free to stick to our blog. Although, I want to give you some tips to find the right information. We’re not the only ones to do a good job in terms of providing the right advice ;)! But some out there give terrible advice.
First, more than often, looking for the people who write the articles is a good thing to do. You can then find these people and see what their experience is, what they have done to actually give advice. Are they legitimate? Last but not least, does it look pushy – marketing pushy? Do these people look more enhanced than knowledgeable?
Be careful about what everyone says online and even in real life. Even if someone has a great shape, it does not reflect the person as knowledgeable. A lot of people around the gyms like to give tips and tricks, but you just have to remember that gymming is mostly about the basics and to work harder and harder on those basics. People will always love to say they like a certain exercise or that it gives them a good pump and good feeling, or that this intensification technique is awesome resulting in a great pump.
These tips usually are tricky and if you listen to everyone with those tips, you will end up being lost by trying too many things at the same time. Find 2-3 sources that you have found time to trust and stick to these sources and the basics. Go slow and scale things up afterwards if you can do more.
I have pretty much summed up what you should expect from your first months at the gym and how to prepare yourself getting into fitness and bodybuilding. Try and fix yourself small goals and see how you feel once you reach them. If you feel like bodybuilding/fitness is something you love after reaching your first few goals, then you can genuinely give more space to bodybuilding in your life. If not, it’s still great since you can build a very pleasant aesthetic shape in less than 2 years of training. You won’t have a massive look but you can have this aesthetic shape which won’t go unnoticed on the beach!