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You’re asking yourself questions as a complete beginner:
- What do I do?
- Where do I start?
- How do I start working out?
- Should I start at home with a pair of dumbbells – or should I go to the gym?
- What goals should I aim for? Should I get a personal trainer?
These are questions we’ve all had – at some point – when starting our exercise
The last thing you want is misinformation! Back in the days, I was happy I found some trustworthy resources and they changed my whole approach. I was lucky – and it can be frustrating now since it’s hard to figure out who you can trust. There’s more information than ever – and more of it is about selling you a product than ever!
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 :).
I wrote this article to provide a clear, simple outline for what beginners should focus on. We’re not going to get caught up in the super-niche details – like the exact amount of fiber you need or exactly how many reps you should do. We’re going to talk about the most important bits so you can get started in natural bodybuilding with confidence!
As questioned above, in this article, I will cover the top priorities for a complete beginner:
1- The very first steps to take: what do you
Know where you come from and what motivates you
That’s the very beginning. If you don’t get that right, it will be hard to succeed – because you’ll never know what success is to you!
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 – but what results are those?
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, especially about your intentions, is essential.
Like a lot of people, my 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 be left unfulfilled. For me, I was always intrigued by bodybuilding and was hooked straight away – I just had a gut feeling that I wanted to get started after watching movie stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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. It’s not just about being less skinny, it’s about finding something enjotyable and fulfilling in the positive change – of becoming stronger, overcoming obstacles, and building character.
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?
What is the least I could achieve and be happy?
From the get-go, you are aligning your true motivation to your actions with a clear mind. Definitely something I wish I understood better back then, because it would have saved me time and the confusion of chasing different goals at the same time.
You know what they say: you can’t ride 2 horses with 1 ass. Clear motivation will make it obvious how to set your goals…
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? Do you want to be massive? Or do you simply want to lose weight without worrying about building muscle mass?
There are countless goals you could have for yourself, and I can’t know what you want from it. You could want a specific lift (e.g. a 100kg bench press), bigger arms, a better booty. I don’t need to know what you want because the advice is always the same: whatever it is, write down your main goals!
Keep your goal in mind and keep yourself accountable. It’s important to keep in mind exactly what you’re aiming at so that you make those small, everyday efforts to achieve it.
b) When do you see yourself achieving these goals?
Why do most people fail their fitness goals? In my experience, it’s actually simple: they set the wrong timeline and disappoint themselves.
If you know your goal, it’s important to understand what kind of time and effort it takes to achieve it. Changes to the body can take some time and you should be committing to goals of at least 3 months – and likely more of a “year from now” type of goal.
It’s easy to say you want to bench press 200kg, but do you know how long that takes? That’s a lifetime goal for a lot of people!
You might not know much about training and how long it will take you to achieve your goals but estimating where you want to be in a year can really help you see the big picture. It puts your thoughts into action and makes it concrete – and hopefully reminds you that fitness is a process that rewards commitment and consistency!
Getting shredded or really fit are easily achievable within a year. You can make serious change and – probably – build the body of your dreams within a relatively short space of time, unless you’re looking to get large. Muscle-building takes a long time, but most people’s fitness goals are actually relatively achievable in a year’s time from today.
Knowing what you want to achieve will help you put together the steps that are required to take you from where you are to where you want to be. They also tell you how much work you are going to need 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 goals demand different levels of commitment. You can achieve your fitness goals, but sometimes they ask too much from you – like how being a bodybuilder requires more life from you to achieve than just getting into better shape. It’s all about what you can give to it.
If your goals are just to be a bit healthier, you will just need to train moderately without having to make significant changes to your lifestyle. It will just be increasing your activity levels and tidying up your diet to make better choices.
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 a more accurate picture of the journey, and you will be able to make your goals more precise.
Let me give you an example of what’s achievable naturally. Let’s presume you’re
starting out as a skinny guy – because that’s where I started.
o On the left side, this type of physique is achievable with regular training for a year.
o In the middle, within a couple of years.
o On the right, more like 4+ years to reach this type of physique
If you have a busy schedule and you can only take time to exercise 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 keep 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 with 3-6 hours a week.
But in the long term, if you’re progressing well, training 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? If there was a short-cut, everyone would be jacked. 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. But it can also trip you up if you’re not careful.
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’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 big, this will take you a few years. Anyway, the fastest you want to improve, the smarter and harder you have to train.
The amount of time you commit to diet and sleep, for example, will determine how quickly you progress. If you want to reach an advanced level like the one displayed down below, it will take you 4+ years and depends on how you train, your recovery, and your genetics (proportions).
I know it’s not pleasant to hear this, but it’s honest. Fitness is a lifelong commitment, and you should focus on longer goals and make the best of each workout. 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.
There is no magic, the people who succeed and make amazing change in fitness
and bodybuilding are those who treat it as a lifestyle.
If you can’t picture yourself training for that long or don’t feel motivated at the moment, don’t worry. What matters is the time you put in, not how good each session is – imagine what you could look like in 10 years if you just kept going.
All you need is to understand how training works and put some time in – the results are a powerful motivating factor. Commit 3-6 months to trying smart training and recovery, and you’ll find that you look and feel completely different – and that alone will capture you and you’ll be hooked!
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. It’s never quite that simple – you need to train based on your experience level and what you’re prepared for. More time and training mean you can do more – and often that you have to do more.
As a total beginner, it’s best to start with 3 sessions a week around an hour. You’ll be able to make significant change, since your body is completely untrained and you’ll need to get used to the effort and all the stimulus will prompt serious muscle and strength gains.
Most beginners fall into this range and the first month, at least, should be dedicated to moving properly and getting familiar with the key movements. A beginner is going to make progress no matter what, so use the early days to build good training, diet, and sleep habits!
Everyone is different, obviously, 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 familiar. We can see this happening frequently for people who’ve practiced sports that are heavy on the muscles and build work capacity.
Here is what you should do regardless or not you have an athletic past: start slowly!
When I was a beginner and hearing some people were training every day, I thought it must be 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, but it doesn’t work the same for everyone. The fitness industry gets it confused because the people putting out information and books are advanced athletes and everybody wants to be like them. 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.
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.
You don’t need to train like Arnold Schwarzenegger as a beginner. You need to do the basics and get them right. The problem is that “do your big lifts, eat lots, and sleep well” isn’t an exciting prospect and it won’t sell any books!
f) When are you getting started?
It’s time to get started!
My main tip to start with is to take the pressure off. Give yourself time to get used to it – don’t worry about results right away, just go and get familiar with the gym, the movements, and find some joy in it. If you enjoy the process, you’ll stick with it – and that’s how results happen.
Go to the gym, do some mobility work, practice some movements, and see how you take to it. Then you can turn the heat up over time and start taking it seriously.
In the meantime you can also join communities on Facebook where beginners hang out and start their fitness journey. That didn’t exist when I started out, but you can now connect with other like-minded people and see how they’re doing on their side as beginners. Though, beware of the tips people give in Facebook groups, they’re often poor.
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. You should also consider consulting your physician and physiotherapist before taking up an exercise program – they’re on your side and they know your personal health far better than I do!
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 for most any fitness goal.
Quickest and most important thing to summarise, the home-gym option is a great investment. If you have the money, space, and inclination then a home gym can give you convenience and privacy, though it does involve a more expensive start-up.
If you have no money and you are a complete beginner, body-weight workouts can help you for the first few months. They allow you to improve your physique but also your body-control and awareness.
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 basic home-gym, you will stagnate at some point.
The point of weights and gyms is that you always have extra load and variety if you want it. You can improve indefinitely. It is the same at home but 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.
In my 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. When you’re a complete beginner it’s awesome to start at a small, intimate gym where you get to know people.
I started ‘gymming’ in a small and very friendly gym, I loved the people there, they were great friends. It was a welcoming and supportive environment that doesn’t rely on making the right friends – everyone was nice.
The vibe in big gyms is a bit off and if you’re a beginner and feeling uncomfortable, it might be counter-productive. Big, commercial gyms feel impersonal and there’s not as much culture to a franchise as a small, independent gym. If it’s what you’ve got and it suits you, there’s no problem with it, but it may take a little while to find the right friends!
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 and they still 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.
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. Personally, I don’t think everyone needs a Personal Trainer.
Often, PTs are there for people who are too busy to put the time in to learn the basics of fitness.
If you’re a 40-something professional with a family and job to balance, a personal trainer is probably a good choice – especially if you’re wealthy enough to see it as an investment.
As a younger guy, however, a personal trainer might not be necessary. If you’re willing to be patient and learn how training and nutrition work, you can manage your own training really effectively.
I’ve written a whole article about personal training today and – honestly – I’m pretty critical about the standards and certifications in the industry!
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. We don’t all need PTs – but a great training partner can completely change the experience for a beginner!
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. It’s nice to have them there but you will make better results than your friends if you go without them, when they cancel.
It’s about your fitness journey and you’ll be able to make faster progress than them. Consistency pays off and learning to train alone is key to keeping the habit alive. Focus on your session and enjoy training partners and friends when you can.
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.
It depends on your goals and your lifestyle before training. If you have to lose 20kg, it’s not the same as 5kg. You can lose 5kg in a few months by starting exercise, while 20kg requires a bit of fore-thought or a lot more time.
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. It’s not all chicken breast and brown rice and broccoli.
It’s called flexible dieting! Why?
Because it’s all a matter of calories, these are simple maths.
If you eat more than you use, you’ll gain weight. If you use more than you eat, you’ll lose weight. I’ve written a whole article about this, but those are the simple maths of weight change. You can find an estimate of your daily maintenance calories online.
Obviously, you want to focus on eating better foods. You should be trying to make better choices, one at a time, to eat more protein and more whole plant foods. But you already knew that – you know what healthy looks like, you just don’t choose it every time.
Work on the choice and start building out better food habits, but don’t obsess at the beginning. It’s better to get calories right and be consistent, then you can move onto the next thing – macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbs) – and then onto the next.
Get it right and then move on. Don’t try to fix everything all at once, it’s unrealistic and your goals demand that you get your calories right first. 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 balance of your macronutrients in your diet. Enough protein, decent amount of carbs and fats. If you understand the calorie levels (maintenance, surplus, deficit) you’re on the right path.
6- Finding the right information online
You’re obviously in the right place!
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! More importantly, there are some places spreading low-quality information and you need to learn to vet information!
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? Do they have something to sell you? Do their revolutionary ideas only happen once you pay them?
Those probably aren’t good signs.
Be careful about what everyone says online and even in real life.
Even if someone is in 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 success in fitness 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 ina great pump. That doesn’t mean it’s actually going to help you – try it, but don’t puttoo much stock into it and think progression first.
Everyone’s got an opinion, and often they’re going to confuse you. Stick with what
you know to work and don’t let random gym-goers decide how you’re going to train.
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, and make sure that you’re always getting the basics right before trying out the most recent exercise you saw on Instagram that looks cool.
Give it a try, but make sure you’re not compromising good habits for that new, exciting fad.
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.
Set yourself smaller goals and adjust them up once you achieve them. Commit to months and years, not just rushing through fitness and hoping to fix your long-time habits in 6 weeks.
If you feel like fitness is something you love after reaching your first few goals, then you can genuinely give more space to bodybuilding in your life. This allows you to achieve more – and it lets you improve your results with more commitment.
Things don’t change quickly – but you can make serious change within a year, and even more each year after. The time is going to pass – your fitness journey starts whenever you commit to it and you put in those first few weeks of getting to know the ropes!