Effective Training

The Beginner's Guide to Strength Training

Written By: Kripa Jalan

The Beginner's Guide to Strength Training

Quick question, do any of these phrases sound familiar?

When I lose 5 kgs….

When I find the right gym…

When I quit my job….

That could be tomorrow. The day after or next week.

We’re in search of that perfect time, that magic moment in our fitness journey where the universe aligns, we have the right gear, have a fridge full of whole foods, are wearing comfortable shoes, our favourite song is playing and we’re ready to smash our workout or begin that diet.

Sounds magical.

But, when we break away from the wizarding-world-fantasies and look at things objectively, we realize that that magical moment we’ve been waiting for will probably makes for one in a billion of less magical moments.

Sure, celebrate when it comes. Please stop waiting for it!

If you’re wondering when the perfect time to start is, it’s now.

But probably not in the way you think.

You see, every marathon runner starts out by simply putting on his shoes. His first move is not running a sub 25-minute 5 km or overthinking his pre-workout snack and post-workout protein shake.

Starting means putting your shoes on (metaphorically, of course). Doing the tiniest little thing that will build up and lead you to where you want to be eventually.

Starting means initiating action. Starting means committing to a choice of some kind or another. Starting is when you lift up one foot and put it in front of the other, not when you stand wondering if you should have worn different shoes. Starting might be just lifting the foot. As long as something is moving, that’s a start. 

Sometimes you may need some support. Even rockets require an extra boost during the initial part of their journey.

So how do you become the strongest version of yourself?

  • Develop bigger muscles, obviously.
  • Master your form.
  • Strengthen your connective tissue.
  • Improve your joint health.

First and foremost, go in with an open mind. 

  • You’re never too old to train.
  • You don’t need to be an athlete to exercise.
  • You won’t get injured…if you train mindfully.
  • You don’t need to lose weight to start.
  • You won’t get bulky, unless you’re intentionally trying to!

So you’re convinced you to need to be building strength, let’s get onto the “how to get started” part. 

How do I pick a gym?

It’s a big decision. You will be spending a significant amount of your week there (hopefully), so make sure the environment is one that suits you and one you feel you will thrive in.

  • Equipment: You don’t need the latest or the most expensive machines – you only need the stuff your training program requires. Whether it’s barbells, kettlebells, calisthenics or plyometric support or the likes.
  • Coaches: Most gyms have great coaches who will help develop and assist you with an individualized training plan. Remember you need to master form and technique before everything else, that’s where expertise comes handy and saves you from a possible injury.
  • Location and hours: Most of us have ridiculous work schedules. If you’re planning to go early in the morning, at lunch hour or late at night make sure it’s open and convenient to get to. It’s better to pay a little extra and pick a gym that you’ll actually use instead of letting the membership go unused.
  • Budget: Remember, more expensive doesn’t always mean better. If a gym has most of what you need to go for it, you needn’t pay double the amount for another gym with added amenities you won’t end up using.
  • Classes: If you prefer to workout in groups, look for a CrossFit gym, or one with classes. There’s a great feeling of camaraderie and you won’t be the only one working hard.

What kind of strength training is available?

  • Bodyweight training
  • Dumbbells
  • Barbells
  • Kettlebells

Which is the best?

Realistically, the one that you will enjoy and commit to long term. Depending on whether you’re working out at home or a gym, you’ve got your options laid out for you.

Then there’s rep range. So the number of sets and reps you do changes the outcome of the routine.

Here’s a quick look at rep ranges:

  • 1-5 range: Builds dense muscle and strength.
  • 6-12 range: Builds endurance and strength.
  • >12 range: Builds muscular endurance and size.

As you can see the rep range will differ based on your goals. 

But what happens when you lift?

Muscles are broken down. When you leave the gym, your body begins rebuilding that muscle and recruits more calories in the process. You come back stronger and refreshed.

With an increase in the number of repetitions you increase glycogen storage in the muscles, i.e. they begin to grow. This is nothing but a kind of hypertrophy.

How much should I lift?

First, learn how to perform the movement flawlessly, then worry about the weights. Start with a broomstick or bodyweight movements and master them. It’s just as simple as if you can’t perform a movement without weight, how will you do it with it?

Once you feel like you’ve got the hang of it, progress to just the bar.

Then when you’re comfortable, the next progression would be to start adding weight. Focus on getting each rep correct. Your strong foundation will help with heavy lifts later. The best thing you can do is, slowly add weight and progress steadily rather than advance quickly hit a plateau.

How often should you lift?

Generally, training each lift 2-4 times per week will do the trick. Why?  

You need practice.

You need a lot of it.

There’s nothing set in stone as per your training frequency.

Will I be sore?

What you do outside the gym is just as if not more important than what you do inside. That’s where the muscle rebuilding magic happens. So it’s important to take adequate rest days as a part of your strength program. Generally, it’s best to wait 48 hours before working for the same muscle group again. Then again most lifts affect multiple muscle groups. For example while training chest, you are also recruiting your shoulders and triceps in the process. Recovery is different for different people.

You will get sore, you are treading down a new path. DOMS i.e. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  It’s soreness that you feel in your muscles that doesn’t show up until a day or two after you work out. It’s a normal part of the process of repairing your muscles from the damage to the fibers you created while exercising. With time your muscles will get used to the movements and consequently, you will be less sore.

One way to make the soreness go away, at least temporarily, is to continue to exercise.  This increases blood flow to the muscles and helps them heal. But don’t over train.

General rules:

  • Always re-stack your weights
  • Remember everyone, started somewhere.
  • You can share a machine with someone who’s using it.
  • It’s okay to ask for a spotter.
  • Leave your ego aside.
  • Wipe your sweat.
  • Don’t monopolize the equipment.
  • Do your own thing.
  • You need to enjoy your training.  This is a key ingredient to improvement.
  • Don’t overthink this, JUST START.

Also know that it’s not always going to be pretty. There will be resistance. 

“Real life” comes with all its demands and inconveniences andc an quickly derail even the best-laid plans.

That’s only natural.

Focus on doing what you can, with what you have, when you can. It’s okay to not be a 100% okay.