Over my past decade of training, I’ve learned a ton and followed a lot of strength coaches to get stronger. In my pursuit of strength, I’ve trained over 100 athletes in the art of strength training.
Most of these tips are basic in nature, but every single one of them can help you gain strength for the rest of your life. If it’s on this list I promise you it’s important.
The next time you need some tips to break through your plateau, this is the resource you’re going to want to get to the other side.
Table Of Contents
- 1 #1 Barbell Is KING!
- 2 #2 Progressive Overload Is Key
- 3 #3 Eat!
- 4 #4 Master Your Technique
- 5 #5 Strength-Building Supplements & Electrolytes
- 6 #6 Proper Warmup
- 7 #7 Train Weak Points
- 8 #8 Incorporate Strongman Training
- 9 #9 Train Like A Bodybuilder
- 10 #10 Specificity Is Important
- 11 #11 Use Lower Reps For Faster Strength Gains
- 12 #12 Don’t Forget Sub-Maximal Training
- 13 #13 Get A Training Partner
- 14 #14 Improve Your Grip Strength
- 15 #15 Abdominal Pressure For Maximal Strength & Stability
- 16 #16 Use Dynamic Jumps & Throws Before Training
- 17 #17 Use Leg Drive When Benching
- 18 #18 Wear A Belt On Heavy Sets
- 19 #19 Rest Longer In Between Sets
- 20 #20 Wear Correct Footwear
- 21 #21 Use Chalk On Heavier Sets
- 22 #22 When Pressing, Keep Your Wrists & Forearms Straight
- 23 #23 Incorporate Over-Warmups
- 24 #24 Ditch Pyramid Training
- 25 #25 Try Out Unilateral Exercises
- 26 Bonus Section – THE BEST BEGINNER STRENGTH TRAINING PROGRAM
- 27 Starting Out
- 28 Barbell Compound Movements Are King
- 29 Bodyweight And Dumbbell Assistance Movements Are Queen
- 30 Basic Cardio To Build Your Work Capacity
- 31 Putting The Beginner Training Program Together
- 32 3 Months and Beyond!
- 33 Conclusion
#1 Barbell Is KING!
I’ve gone over this many times on my website, to get stronger forever, focusing on barbell movements is the #1 thing you can possibly do. When your goal is building muscle and getting stronger, the best movements are those that allow you to lift the most weight.
If you aren’t getting stronger at the big 4 (Squat, Bench, Deadlift, Overhead Press) and their close variations are you really getting stronger? It’s hard to say I think!
When in doubt, focus the majority of your training on these basic movements. I guarantee you’ll build more strength than those that do a bunch of isolation exercises. The Barbell IS KING!
#2 Progressive Overload Is Key
If you’re in the gym every week, using the same weights without increasing them, you will not get stronger. This is the main law of gaining strength, you need to add more weight over time.
The best way I’ve found to incorporate proper progressive overload in training is to only increase the weight by 5-10 pounds at a time. If you increase the weight too quickly, expect to stall just as quickly. The more time you give yourself to get stronger the better off you are.
When in doubt, start too light and progress slowly!
This is such a basic thing that so many people have wrong. When training to get stronger, what do you think gives you the energy and building blocks to do so?
It’s not supplements or fit teas, it’s FOOD!
If you’re constantly under-eating, you’re never going to build any substantial muscle or strength. You don’t need to overeat, however! Eating at your maintenance calories or an extra 200-500 calories is all you need.
If you want to get stronger but aren’t willing to eat, it will never happen I promise. I had a client that weighed 135 lbs when we first started, over the course of two years he didn’t get any stronger, and he weighed 140 lbs at the end.
I threw every single training trick I had at him, but he just refused to eat to make the magic happen. Mind you, he was 14-16 when I was training him. Getting a teenager that is naturally skinny to eat enough is pretty much impossible.
You have to want it enough, if you do, you’ll find a way to eat and get stronger!
#4 Master Your Technique
When building strength, you need to master your technique. Many people don’t know this, but strength is actually a skill! The better your skill, the stronger you’ll be!
Mastering your technique is easier said than done, it takes many years and thousands of reps to become technically efficient. If you want to master your form and become the strongest version of yourself I recommend Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe.
Not only is Mark one of the greatest coaches on Earth, but he also has the best book on strength and technique I’ve ever seen. He goes over every little detail you could possibly need.
If your form needs to be tweaked, Starting Strength is what I recommend. I promise it’s worth every penny!
#5 Strength-Building Supplements & Electrolytes
I rarely ever recommend supplements because I believe food is the #1 thing you can consume to improve strength.
However, there are a couple of supplements I would recommend for anybody regardless of your goal.
- Whey Protein. Everybody has heard about the benefits of whey protein, so I won’t go over them here. Using it before, during, and after workouts is a great idea I definitely recommend. 25-50 grams twice a day is usually enough for most people to hit their protein intake easily. The #1 brand I recommend is Optimum Nutrition, Amazon has an amazing stock of flavors. I personally like Chocolate and Vanilla Ice Cream the best!
- Creatine. This is one of the most researched supplements of all time! The benefits are endless; it raises anabolic hormones, reduces protein breakdown, and most famously, boosts the workload you’re able to accomplish! Put simply, it allows you to do more work and build more muscle. Plus Creatine is incredibly cheap for the effects it gives! Try it out and see how it helps your performance in the gym!
- Vitamin D. This vitamin, which is actually a hormone produced by the kidneys, has been found to potentially improve muscle function. Those with higher lean body mess were found to have higher levels of vitamin D in the body. Make sure you don’t just start taking supplements for it though, go get a blood test to see what your vitamin D levels are. This will help you determine how much you need to start, the highest I’ve used for myself is 10,000 IU. The exact brand I used to optimize my vitamin D levels can be found here on Amazon. It’s relatively inexpensive, and I could feel a remarkable difference!
- Electrolytes. Seriously, I can’t talk about the benefits of electrolytes enough. Most people think they just need to pound a bunch of water to stay hydrated when in reality, it’s going to dehydrate you doing that. The reason for that is simple, you drink a ton of water without replenishing electrolytes, and they whoosh out of your body just like that! So make sure you’re consuming enough sodium in the form of sea salt as well as magnesium and potassium through different food sources. This will make a huge improvement to how your entire body functions trust me on this. You can also invest in some electrolyte replacement supplements as they’re easy to consume in water.
- Testosterone. No, I don’t recommend taking steroids to get stronger. I’m recommending you go out, get a blood test, and see if you have low testosterone. It’s one of those things you won’t know until you get it tested. If you have low T, your doctor can get you on Testosterone Replacement Therapy to optimize your hormone levels. If you go to this website called PrivateMDLabs, you can order blood tests to take to your doctor. Order the test called “Hormone Panel for Females”, Men and Women can get this test done so ignore the name they put on it. Having low T has a ton of negative health effects other than just being weak so take it seriously!
Also, if you’re curious if you need something like protein powder to build muscle, this article covers that.
#6 Proper Warmup
When it comes to warming up properly, make sure to keep it general at first and make it more specific as you go. The main thing I have my clients do is basic movement patterns that warm up the entire body!
- Shoulders, Upper Back, And Chest Dynamic Warm-up
- Band Pull Aparts 10-20 Reps
- Band Dislocates 10-20 Reps
- Explosive Movements To Jump Start Your Central Nervous System
- Medicine Ball Toss 10-20 Throws
- Box or Broad Jumps 10-20 Jumps
- General Upper And Lower Body Movements
- Pushups/Dips 10-20 Reps
- Pullups/Inverted Rows 10-20 Reps
- Bodyweight Squat/Lunges 10-20 Reps
- Main Barbell Movement (% of Working Sets)
- 50%x10, 60%x5, 70%x5, 80%x3
As you can see, we start with a general warm-up for the shoulders, upper back, and chest. Then we move on to explosive movements to prime the central nervous system to work. From here, we use basic bodyweight movements to warm up the entire body.
Finally, we start with 50% of our work set on the bar and increase the weight by 10% jumps until we get to our working sets. This is a basic warm-up anybody can do but find one that works for you!
#7 Train Weak Points
Everybody has weak points in their body that need to be addressed. Locating these areas can be difficult, but I’ve found an easy way to determine this.
First, you have to find where you’re having a hard time with your main barbell movements. Imagine every time you bench heavy, the weight always feels difficult just at lockout. This might tell you that your triceps are weak and need to be strengthened accordingly.
Another example couple is on your Deadlift. If you feel like your entire body is strong, but you have a hard time keeping your grip, grip strength might be your weak point.
Bottom line: find your weak points and turn them into strengths. Otherwise, those weak points will be a glaring issue that always holds you back.
#8 Incorporate Strongman Training
Strongman training is one of the #1 ways to build overall body strength and conditioning. Look at World Strongest Man competitors like Brian Shaw and Hafþór Björnsson, they’re massive and have superhuman feats of strength.
Regardless of how you train, incorporating strongman training into your program will push your strength and conditioning to new heights! The main implements I recommend that anybody can do are Weighted Sleds, and Farmer Carries.
Sure you need a special sled such as this one, but most gyms these days are starting to get a clue and investing in better cardio equipment. Pushing a weighted sled will help you get in shape and build strength if you use it correctly.
As for Farmer Carries, I recommend using a Trap Bar over Dumbbells. You can use a special implement as they do in Strongman competitions, but they aren’t very beginner-friendly. Investing in a solid Trap Bar also allows you to do Trap Bar Deadlifts which is one of my favorite Deadlift variations by far!
#9 Train Like A Bodybuilder
When I say train like a Bodybuilder, I don’t mean 6 times a week using a million exercises per body part. I mean having muscular symmetry over your entire body.
If you train your chest, train your back. Biceps, triceps. Quads, hamstrings. You get the picture!
Training like a bodybuilder means staying balanced from head to toe. Maintain this balance and you will get stronger. Having weak points in a chain is not a good thing whatsoever!
#10 Specificity Is Important
When the goal is getting stronger at the basic barbell lifts, doing a bunch of isolation movements isn’t the best plan of attack. If you want to get stronger at those movements, you have to do those movements.
There was an article I read a long time ago that basically stated you can get stronger at the Squat and Deadlift by not Squatting and Deadlifting. And while this may be true, losing the technical aspect of a major barbell movement will not help you get stronger at it.
That’s why I recommend to always keep at a minimum, one variation for each of the big 4. You don’t have to do Conventional Deadlifts all the time, but doing a Deadlift variation every week will help you “grease the groove” so to speak.
Don’t just do a bunch of isolation exercises for a couple of months and wonder why you’re weaker at what really matters – Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Presses, and Overhead Presses!
#11 Use Lower Reps For Faster Strength Gains
If you want to get stronger and faster, train your barbell lifts in the 3-6 rep range. Lifting heavy in this rep range allows you to activate more motor units and increase your neuromuscular strength faster.
This is why you see some people that don’t have huge muscles lifting massive weights for their size! They have high levels of neuromuscular strength from training heavy in the 3-6 and even 1-3 rep range for periods of time.
Here’s an example, this is Stefi Cohen below, she’s shown here Squatting 440 lbs at less than 170 lbs. She’s one of the strongest female lifters on the planet and squatting almost 3x her body weight.
By focusing on lower reps you can peak your strength to new heights. Just remember that you can only hold a peak for so long before you have to back the weight down. That’s why they call it a peak after all, if you don’t back off the mountain you’re going to fall off.
The only issue with lower reps is you’re more prone to injury and fatigue. If your form is off even a little you’re going to notice just how easy it is to get injured!
#12 Don’t Forget Sub-Maximal Training
As great as training heavier is for overall strength, you can’t train super intensely for an extended period of time. This is where Sub-Maximal training comes into play!
Sub-maximal training essentially means you’re training below your maximal threshold. What this allows you to do is work on getting stronger and building a stronger strength base over time!
An example of sub-max training would be doing sets of 3-6 focusing on bar speed over heavy weights. As soon as the bar slows down, the set is over. This allows you to build your fast-twitch muscle fibers and get stronger without training super heavy all the time.
Your goal on every rep with sub-max training is to accelerate the bar as fast as possible. On your warm-ups and your work sets, you want the bar to be moving quickly! I’ve used sub-max training with all of my clients and the #1 best part about it is they’ve never been injured.
Think about that the next time you think you need to lift super heavy to get stronger. There are other ways I promise!
#13 Get A Training Partner
Working out by yourself is definitely a great way to test your willpower and resolve. I trained by myself in my garage gym for years. In that time I made great progress, but I would have made more if I had a training partner with me!
Think about it, when you go to the gym with a partner, you’re more likely to push yourself harder. When you’re alone, it’s much easier to give up and call it quits early. In reality, having somebody there keeps you motivated and forces you to try harder.
I’ve only ever trained one group of two girls before, but the benefits were obvious. They both continue to get stronger than any other women I’ve ever trained before. Get a training partner and see how much better your training results become!
#14 Improve Your Grip Strength
Just like they say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, humans are only as strong as their grip strength allows them to be. The stronger your grip, the stronger your body will be.
A lot of times, on exercises like the Deadlift, your weak point isn’t your body it’s your grip! That’s why, when you’re trying to deadlift the most weight, using a mixed grip allows you to lift more weight instantly.
Try this the next time you Deadlift, work up to your heavy working set with a Double Overhand Grip. Perform 1 set 1 rep away from failure. Then, rest for 3-5 minutes, take a mixed grip on the barbell, and do it again.
Did you get more reps? I thought so!
The stronger your grip is the stronger your body will be. It’s almost as if your body isn’t using the maximum amount of strength it can due to your weak link, your grip.
The best way I’ve found to increase grip strength is to perform all of your Deadlifts, Rows, and other back work without using straps. Only use them for really hard sets when your grip is an issue. As long as you do this, you should build up your grip strength automatically.
I’ve been using a Double Overhand grip on Deadlift for years, and I’ve never missed a single lift because of grip strength!
#15 Abdominal Pressure For Maximal Strength & Stability
In this article, I went over how to use abdominal pressure for building strength in the Squat. The main thing this does is increase stability in your torso. The stronger you are through your abs and low back, the stronger you’ll be as a unit.
Most of the strength gains you’ll attain are from having a rigid core to transfer as much strength into the Barbell as possible. To do this, take a deep belly breath down into your stomach. Your goal is to fill up with as much air as possible and expand it out into your obliques and low back.
This rigidity will help you in Squat, Deadlift, Overhead Press, and even your Bench Press. It will also keep you from getting injured and build much more strength over the long haul.
The next time you train, implement proper abdominal bracing and see just how powerful you feel!
#16 Use Dynamic Jumps & Throws Before Training
Before each workout, you want to make sure you’re warming up properly! One of the main things I always recommend is incorporating jumps and throws. This is a great way to get the entire body ready for a heavy strength training session.
The main things you want to make sure you do are:
- Don’t turn it into cardio. There’s a trend I’ve noticed recently that people seem to be buying into. Using jumps for cardio work. There are much better ways to condition your body without the increased risk of injury from landing a jump incorrectly. On top of that, the people doing this for cardio are in a fatigued state which further increases the risks involved. Don’t do this!
- Try to make every jump and throw as explosive as possible. Your goal with every jump and throw is to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible. You can’t half-ass a box jump, you have to squat down, use your arms, and explode every time! This preps your Central Nervous System for the workload you’re going to throw at it.
- Stick to small sets of 3-5 jumps or throws. Just like I said above, you don’t want to turn this into cardio. Smaller, more explosive sets of 3-5 jumps or throws are all you need. Be explosive and see just how much stronger you feel in your strength training workouts.
#17 Use Leg Drive When Benching
Bench Press is not just an upper-body movement, it’s a full-body one! You need to keep your intra-abdominal pressure throughout the lift, AND you need to push through your feet using leg drive!
For those that aren’t aware, leg drive involves pushing through your feet while bench pressing. This creates stability through the lower body on the bench and also assists in transferring the maximum amount of force to your upper body.
Think about getting set up on the bench, instead of just flopping down, try pushing your feet through the ground and “squatting the weight up”. If you do this, all of your Bench Press sets will be stronger and more stable!
Check out my guide on how much you should be able to bench press to see how you stack up!
#18 Wear A Belt On Heavy Sets
I’m sure a lot of you have seen others using lifting belts in the gym before. For some, it’s a fashion accessory, but for real lifters, it’s a necessary tool to get stronger.
The main issue I see is people wearing one for every set they do. You need to get rid of this mentality and only use it when you really need it, like on your work sets. For your warm-ups and assistance movements, it’s not necessary and will eventually become a crutch you can’t lift without.
To use a belt is very simple, put it on just tight enough to allow yourself to get a deep breath in push your abs, and low back out against it. This ensures you’re using the belt for what it’s really useful for, generating intra-abdominal pressure for maximum stability.
The absolute best belts in the world are made by Pioneer Fit. Some of the strongest lifters ever have all used Pioneer Fit belts and smashed world records. Definitely check them out, you won’t be disappointed.
Also for reference, here is some of the work that they do. They have a ton of custom designs that absolutely show just how great their craftsmanship is.
#19 Rest Longer In Between Sets
A lot of times I see people trying to get stronger and yet, they’re training with no rest. This doesn’t make much sense to me, if your goal is to get as strong as possible, the best way to do that is to rest appropriately.
For building strength, this means 3-5 minutes of rest at least. This gives your body enough time to replenish ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), and creatine phosphate. These two molecules are necessary for building strength through the Phosphocreatine and Anaerobic energy systems.
The next time you’re focused on building strength exclusively, give yourself at least 3 minutes between sets. You should notice your rep quality and power output are much higher than normal by doing this!
#20 Wear Correct Footwear
In this article on how to build the squat, I went over just what types of shoes you should be wearing for strength training.
As explained in that article, you don’t want to be squatting or deadlifting in squishy running shoes. This prevents you from having a solid base of support and transferring the maximum amount of force into the ground.
So what should you be wearing?
Just like before I recommend two main things, either something simple such as Chuck Taylors/Converse or something more geared for squatting, Olympic lifting shoes such as Adidas Powerlift 4.
Using either of these types of shoes ensures your feet are flat on the ground, have a solid grippy sole, and give you the best stability.
Your other option is to go barefoot/wear socks, but it’s possible to slide on certain gym floors. When in doubt, use a flat sole, and you’re set.
#21 Use Chalk On Heavier Sets
As I mentioned before in the section on grip strength, the stronger your grip is the more muscle fibers you can use and the stronger you’ll be. By using chalk, you evaporate all the moisture and oils on your hands, giving you an even firmer grip on the barbell.
I recommend only using this on heavier sets. I’ve never used chalk on a warm-up before, and I don’t think it’s really necessary.
The one thing to watch out for is the mess you make with it. Some gyms won’t even allow you to use chalk, which in that case, find a better gym. They don’t care about you being safe and getting stronger so find a gym that does.
The best part about lifting chalk is how cheap it is, as shown here on Amazon, you can get over a year’s supply for next to nothing. Make sure to start using chalk if you haven’t before. It’s super easy to use and gives you a safer grip to get stronger.
You can also use it on your upper back/traps for squatting to keep the bar locked onto your back!
#22 When Pressing, Keep Your Wrists & Forearms Straight
This one should be obvious but, when pressing, keeping your wrists and forearms straight allows you to apply much more force into the barbell. I’ve seen people that press with their wrists bent backward and all of that pressure is applied directly to the joint.
By keeping your joints stacked, you minimize shearing forces and decrease your risk of injury. As long as you squeeze the barbell at all times, your wrists should automatically lock into place.
No limp wristing the Barbell!
#23 Incorporate Over-Warmups
For those that have never heard of them, over-warmups are where you lift a weight that is higher than your work sets for the day. You don’t want to do an all-out set however, 1-3 reps is all you need to get the desired effect.
The way this works is simple, by lifting a heavier weight than what you’re planning on using, it “primes” your Central Nervous System to fire much harder than normal.
Then, when you back the weight off, it feels much easier and allows you to lift more reps at heavier weights.
Here’s how this might look, our work sets are going to be 3 sets of 3-6 reps @300 lbs.
- 3×[email protected]
We start at 50% of our work set and slowly increase by 10% jumps. Once we get to our work set of 300 lbs, we do a single, increase the weight another 10% to 330 and do our 1 rep over-warm up.
Once this is done, we back the weight off to 300 again and do our work sets for the day.
This primes your central nervous system and allows you to do more reps at a heavier weight. Try this out the next time you train! You should notice an immediate improvement!
#24 Ditch Pyramid Training
I’ve seen this style of training performed by many people and recommended on various forums, magazines, and in person.
Pyramid Training is an easy-to-follow setup for programming your exercises.
That doesn’t mean it’s very effective for strength training, however!
Pyramid training looks something like this:
This looks super simple and that’s probably the one positive thing I can say about it. The major problem with pyramid training is the number of reps you’re doing before you get to your heavy sets. Doing excessive reps for warm ups can and will compromise your heavier sets.
When building muscle or strength, the higher the intensity you can use the better growth and strength response you’ll achieve! If you waste a bunch of energy on your warm-up sets, your overall intensity will go down in the gym.
Instead, try something like I displayed above!
- 3×[email protected]
This is all you need for a proper warm-up! If you require more than this to get warmed up, do some higher rep sets with just the barbell.
Completing your warm-ups in this fashion allows you to push the warm-up sets with more force, save energy, and use more weight on your work sets.
I’ve attempted pyramid training before, and it always felt lacking. I felt like I could have done more weight if I didn’t waste as much energy on the warm-ups that aren’t intense enough to build much muscle or strength anyway.
Try out the warm-up I’ve shown above and see if you get better results saving your energy for what really matters, your work sets!
#25 Try Out Unilateral Exercises
When training the body to be as strong as possible, having weaker muscle groups that are imbalanced is never a good thing. If one arm or leg is stronger than the other, you’re never going to reach your full potential!
How can we correct these imbalances to make sure we’re stronger overall?
Incorporating unilateral exercises of course!
Unilateral exercises are those that only use one limb at a time. Examples are Dumbbell Rows, Lunges, Pistol Squats, Dumbbells Presses, and many more!
By using these exercises, you can work on each limb separately to balance out your strength and stay injury-free!
The best way to complete these exercises correctly is by training the weaker side first and then moving on to the other side. Say you’re doing Dumbbell Rows, I have my clients start with their weaker arm first, and do the required reps. From here, I make them do the other arm for the SAME number of reps.
If they do more on the stronger side, it just further complicates the problem. Muscle and strength imbalances in the limbs affect every movement you do which can lead to injuries down the line.
Make sure to use some unilateral exercises in your training to get stronger and lift safely!
Bonus Section – THE BEST BEGINNER STRENGTH TRAINING PROGRAM
When it comes to building strength for beginners, I have a lot of experience. I’ve trained over 100 beginner athletes in the last five years. In that time, I’ve seen a ton of “strength training advice” from supposed “experts”.
A lot of times, it flies straight in the face of what I and many others have found to work in practice.
Just because it looks good on paper, doesn’t mean it’s going to work in real life.
When I start training new clients with no real experience, I have a couple of main goals I want them to achieve to get them started off correctly.
The first goal is getting them strong and structurally sound at a couple of basic movement patterns.
These movement patterns are as follows:
- Squat/Single Leg Movement Ex: Bodyweight Squats, Lunges
- Lower Back/Hamstring Movement Ex: Back Extensions, Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Upper Body Push (Horizontal) Ex: Pushups, Dumbbell Bench
- Upper Body Push (Vertical) Ex: Dumbbell Press, Plate Raises
- Upper Body Pull (Horizontal) Ex: Dumbbell Rows, Inverted Rows
- Upper Body Pull (Vertical) Ex: Pullups, Pulldowns
- Abdominal Strength & Stability Ex: Ab Wheel, Hanging Leg Raises
These are simple movements that everybody should be training in general. But the purposes for Beginners is even more apparent.
Once you spend time training them, you notice how weak their legs, back and overall core strength is. This is the basic framework I use when training beginners that work amazingly.
There is a balance between the anterior and posterior sections of the body as well as the upper and lower body.
The best part is that you can plug in any basic movements for these 7 movement patterns, and you’ll still get similar results.
The coolest thing about starting out as a beginner with this template is how easy it is to set up. As explained above, you can plug in basic movements to improve these major movement patterns in the body.
Here is how I do this for new clients, and you can do it for yourself as a beginner strength athlete.
|Workout A||Workout B|
Bodyweight/Goblet Squat 3 Sets
Lunges 3 Sets Per Leg
|Pushups/Dips 3 Sets||Dumbbell Press 3 Sets|
Inverted Rows 3 Sets
Pullups/Pulldowns 3 Sets
|Hanging Leg Raises 3 Sets||Back Extensions 3 Sets|
This is a very basic training program that trains all the major muscle groups over the entire body with 8 movements.
These exercises promote muscle, strength, flexibility, and stability. This is the main setup I use with clients to build strength until they are strong and stable enough to do basic barbell movements.
Here are a couple of guidelines to consider:
- Once you master the bodyweight squat, we move on to the Goblet Squat and try to push the reps. In general, we want to push the lower body exercises in the 6-12 rep range. I find going any higher and beginners start to lose their tightness without much benefit.
- For the upper body, we can push for sets of 6-20 reps. Things like Dumbbell Press, Pushups, Dips, Dumbbell Bench Press, Inverted Rows, Pullups, Pulldowns, etc.
- We want to push for 3 sets per exercise. Starting out, we want to stay as far away from failure as possible. As a beginner without a coach, you don’t want your form to break down and get injured. Take your time and do it right.
- For the bodyweight movements, push the sets hard and try to get over sets of 20 for all of your sets.
- For the dumbbell movements and pulldowns, push the reps until you’re hitting sets of 20, then increase the weight slowly. This will allow you to keep your form tight and improve your muscular strength and endurance all at once.
- For the Goblet Squat, keep it to sets of 12 before you add weight.
Luckily, training as a beginner without heavy weights, there’s no reason to incorporate deload weeks, yet.
After beginners build up to doing 45 lb Goblet Squats for over 12 reps, we’re ready to move on to the Barbell Squat. This is where the training changes and things progress at a faster rate.
Barbell Compound Movements Are King
Before starting the major barbell movements, I recommend watching the following videos to learn how to perform them correctly before loading them up. These are some of the strongest, and most technical lifters in the world so definitely take some notes.
- Squat: How to Skwaat, with Ed Coan
- Bench: How to Bench Press, with Eric Spoto (722 lb ALL-TIME Raw World Record Holder)
- Deadlift: How to Conventional Deadlift, with Ed Coan
- Overhead Press: Overhead Pressing with World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw
As I stated before, we want to transition from basic bodyweight and dumbbell movements to Barbell movements.
The basic Barbell movements I’ve found that work best for beginners are:
- SSB Squats
- Trap Bar Deadlifts
- Bench Press
- Overhead Press
The main reason we pick the Trap Bar and SSB Squat over a standard barbell are simply due to technique limitations. Most times I start new trainees out on a Conventional Deadlift, their form breaks down quickly.
It’s almost as if they completely forgot how to lift at all.
Enter the Trap Bar Deadlift, you’re still picking a heavy weight off of the ground, but you’re able to be much more upright and technically sound sooner.
Ever since switching to Trap Bar Deadlifts, I’ve never had an issue with form. This allows beginner lifters to just focus on gaining strength without learning form forever.
Along with the Trap Bar Deadlift, utilizing the Safety Squat Bar allows you to go in and squat properly without worrying about where beginner trainees place the bar. They always say “it hurts” or they can’t squat to depth due to the increased tightness in the upper back. Once again, allowing them to focus on getting stronger without the form being a huge concern starting out is great.
The Bench Press and Overhead Press are amazing upper body strength and muscle builders for anybody trying to get better in the weight room.
Their inclusion should be obvious but for beginners, you might think excluding the Overhead Press is a good idea. This is definitely not the case and absolutely necessary for balance in the entire body.
Sets Of 5
Using these main movements with beginners, we want to keep all of our sets to 5 reps.
The reasons for this are as follows:
- Sets of 5 are a perfect blend to build muscle and strength. Sets of 3 are too low and sets of 8 are too fatiguing.
- Doing high reps with barbell movements as a beginner can force you to build bad habits. When learning heavy compound basics, learning the form and lifting safe is paramount. If you ingrain bad movement patterns early on, they’re tough to break. Focus on form and only increase weight when your form dictates it.
- It’s really easy to count. Another main reason we stick with sets of 5 is because of how easy it is to count. The number of times I’ve trained new clients that didn’t count their reps properly is exceedingly high. Setting all their heavy, compound movements to 5 fixes this issue, allowing them to focus on working hard and not on counting.
The great thing about being a beginner lifter is that you don’t need any fancy training programs to make progress. Getting as strong as possible is as easy as increasing the weight and keeping everything else consistent.
For your first 3 months of training, increasing that one variable will give you a massive amount of strength and muscle mass without any fancy tricks. Simply adding 5 pounds to the main barbell movements is all you need once you get to this stage of training.
At some point, we’ll be changing up how we progress, but for those first 3 months, focus on sets of 5 and build some strength.
For the absolute best book on beginner strength training, I recommend Starting Strength. After you’re able to do the main lifts, using Starting Strength for your first 3 months of training is one of the best things you can possibly do to get stronger as fast as possible.
Starting Strength has been called the best and most useful of fitness books. The second edition, Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, sold over 80,000 copies in a competitive global market for fitness education. Along with Practical Programming for Strength Training 2nd Edition, they form a simple, logical, and practical approach to strength training.
Bodyweight And Dumbbell Assistance Movements Are Queen
As great as the Big 4 Barbell Movements are, we need other movements to “fill in the gaps”. The main movements used above will also be used in the next phase of training which involves barbells, bodyweight, and dumbbell assistance movements.
The major movements we need to address to train the body optimally for strength and muscle gain are:
- Inverted Rows/Pullups
- Hanging Leg Raises/Back Extensions
When training as a beginner, one of the basic things you need to develop is relative body strength. If you can deadlift 400 lbs but can’t do 20 push-ups, 10 pullups, or run at least a 10-minute mile, how strong are you really?
All the clients I’ve trained from the ground up are stronger, have more muscle mass, and get in better shape faster than any other method I’ve found. Using Supersets along with basic bodyweight and dumbbell movements builds strength, muscle, and work capacity very effectively.
Our goal with these movements is to keep the body in balance and build strength throughout the entire body. Your legs, arms, back, chest, shoulders, and core will all get stronger from this style of training.
Making sure to stay in great athletic shape is something you absolutely need to pay attention to as well. As soon as you lose your athletic abilities, it’s very hard to get them back.
Work on building muscle and strength, but stay in shape and don’t gain a ton of body fat in the process.
That’s what this training program will build for you if you follow it correctly. Moving on!
Basic Cardio To Build Your Work Capacity
We have the main exercises we’re going to be using for our beginner program squared away. Now what we need to plan out is our basic cardio to build your work capacity and maintain a healthy body fat percentage.
If you do the entire program and skip this part I can’t guarantee the results.
The cardio we want to be doing is standard steady-state work. We don’t need to throw in sleds, sprints, or High-Intensity Interval Training.
The 3 main things I would recommend are:
- Airdyne. This piece of equipment is my #1 recommendation for steady-state cardio. It’s easy on the joints, does an amazing job of conditioning your entire body, and helps you recover between workouts. For the price, nothing has worked better for my cardio work.
- Walking. If you need something less strenuous that you can perform anywhere, even at work, try walking. 3, 10-minute walks are what I recommend doing on top of all my training programs. This is for those that aren’t in the best shape and want to work on it slowly before hopping on harder cardio exercises. Getting up and going for a 10-minute walk multiple times a day after each meal is very easy and has a ton of benefits.
- Running. Running is one of the best ways to get in and stay in shape quickly. Just like with walking, you can do this anywhere. Start slowly with the running, or you will get shin splints and mess your knees/ankles up as well. I recommend Fartlek Running starting out. It’s very simple and anybody can do it.
When incorporating cardio into a strength training program, make sure not to overdo it. As I’ve stated before, you don’t need more than 30 minutes of cardio at any one time. 3-5 days max is the sweet spot as well.
Start with 10 minutes 3 days a week, as you get in better shape, and it starts getting easier, move it up to 15, 20, 25, and 30 minutes respectively. Your goal is to maintain at 3 days a week at 30 minutes per session.
Once you’re able to do this, there’s no need to add anymore because the goal of this training program is getting stronger. Maintaining a basic level of conditioning allows you to perform better in the gym, build more muscle, and eat more calories for performance.
You can do the cardio after your workouts or on off days. It really is up to your personal preference and what you can commit to.
Remember, the best weight training and cardio plan you can do is the one you can stick to and be consistent with.
Putting The Beginner Training Program Together
Now that we have the 3 main parts of the Beginner Training Program all laid out, we can put it all together and see what the full thing looks like.
- As I stated above, the Barbell movements we’re going to be using are Bench Press, Overhead Press, Trap Bar Deadlift, and SSB Squats. For the first 3 months of training, we will be doing no more than sets of 5 and adding 5 pounds per session to these movements.
- Also, a disclaimer, you can use any similar variations for similar results. Don’t do tricep pushdowns instead of Bench Press and wonder why your strength is plateauing though.
- Close-Grip Bench instead of Bench, Barbell Squat instead of SSB Squat, and Barbell Deadlift instead of Trap Bar Deadlift. Any of these variations are fine! However, I think that for vertical pressing, nothing comes close to a strict Overhead Press so leave that in.
- For the assistance movements, we’ll be using Pushups, Dips, Dumbbell Rows, Pullups/Pulldowns, Hanging Leg Raises, and Back Extensions.
First 3 Months Of Barbell Training
|Workout A||Workout B|
Trap Bar Deadlift
| Straight Sets:|
Hanging Leg Raises
As you can see from the training program, we’re using a 2-day rotating schedule. This allows you to train a minimum of 2 days a week up to 4 days a week.
In general, I never recommend doing more than 4 days a week.
So this training program is perfect for those that don’t have all day to work out in the gym and still make progress.
By using a rotating schedule like this, beginner athletes can train all the major movements in the body more frequently. In my experience, training more often as a beginner is incredibly important.
- The clients that could only train 1 time per week rarely made progress.
- As soon as we moved up to 2 days a week, their results skyrocketed!
- Moving to 3 days a week, which I think is the best for overall strength and conditioning progress, improved their results even more.
The great thing about this training program is how easy it is to incorporate new movements. If you find your push-ups are plateauing after a month, switch to Dumbbell Bench Press.
If you can’t do pullups, do pulldowns. Find what works for you and incorporate it into the training program I laid out.
The main thing to pay attention to is the main barbell movements. If you’re making progress, adding weight every time and your form is solid, you’re on the right path!
If you’re adding weight when your form is still breaking down, everything feels super heavy, and you feel like injuries are bound to happen, you’re doing it wrong.
Back off the weight at least 10-20% and work back up.
If you do everything right, start too light at the beginning, and recover properly, your first 3 months of training will be fine without having to back your weight off.
3 Months and Beyond!
Now that you have your first 3 months of Barbell training under your belt, it’s time to move on to a more aggressive form of strength training progression.
When you’re just starting out, keeping the reps low (sets of 5), and learning the form is important for developing good habits.
From here, we want to push the sets a little harder every week without killing ourselves. This is when we’ll start incorporating Deload weeks and working off of an RPE (Rate Of Perceived Exertion) scale.
- Every 4-7 weeks, we’ll incorporate a deload based on how we’re feeling at the time. At 4 weeks in, if you feel like you’re not recovering well, doing a deload where you back the sets and reps off will help you with progress over the long term.
- Regardless of how you’re feeling, every 7th week, use the deload to back off fatigue and allow you to train safely and efficiently.
- RPE, or Rate of Perceived Exertion, is a scale used to determine how difficult a set is. When starting off as a beginner, you need to stay away from failure to ensure your form is safe at all times. As you progress as a lifter, we can start using RPE to push our sets a little closer to failure.
- In general, using an RPE of between 8-9 is where the majority of our sets will be done in. What this means is that you push the set until you’re 1 or 2 reps away from failure. An RPE 10 means you pushed to failure, which is what we DON’T want for building strength.
To learn more about the RPE Scale, check out this awesome video Alan Thrall put together explaining it in great detail.
Now that we have RPE and Deload Weeks out of the way, how does the progression change from the first 3 months?
PR Sets For Maximal Strength
For building maximal strength, I’ve found using PR (Personal Record) sets works better than anything else. The way this works is simple, you work up to a certain weight and push for a personal record. Pretty simple right?
The important thing when doing this is using an RPE scale as I stated above. For strength gains, I’ve found sitting in the RPE 8-9 range to be the most effective.
Here’s how this looks in practice using the Bench Press as an example.
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3|
Each week, you push 1 rep away from failure. After this workout is complete, you add 5 lbs to it and do the same thing the following week.
Over time, you might notice the weights get very heavy, and you get down to 235×5 for instance.
When this happens, we want to back the weight off by 10-15%. This would drop our working set down from 235 to 210. The only difference is that now we’re stronger than we were before. So instead of doing 11 reps at 210, we do 15.
Obviously, we got stronger!
This is normally how you feel when you hit a new PR in the gym. The excitement and a huge pump to keep training hard!
From here, we can add 5 lbs every week and push for PRs. This allows us to go back, see what our previous records were, and try to beat them week after week.
Doing a strength training program where you can see your strength progress consistently makes this style of training incredibly rewarding and motivating.
What About The Assistance Exercises?
However, you can’t use the same exercises forever and expect to make progress. I’m sure you’ve noticed some of your assistance movements haven’t been getting stronger as fast as you would expect.
You’ve been training for a couple of months now and your barbell lifts are getting stronger. At this point in time, your other assistance movements such as Pushups, DB Rows, Hanging Leg Raises, and Pullups should be getting stronger as well.
This is where switching your assistance movements up to other movements comes in handy!
The easiest way I’ve found to do this is by setting up categories for your assistance to make it easy to pick and keeps your training balanced.
These assistance categories are:
- Push – push-ups, dips, dumbbell press, dumbbell bench press, dumbbell incline bench, tricep pushdowns, extensions, etc.
- Pull – pullups, pulldowns, band pull-aparts, dumbbell rows, barbell rows, t-bar rows, barbell curls, hammer curls, etc.
- Single Leg/Core – Ab Wheel, sit-ups, decline sit-ups, hanging leg raises, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, etc.
Breaking the assistance movements up like this makes it very easy for a beginner lifter to pick some movements and build some muscle.
Also, because you break the body up into movement patterns like this, you maintain balance in your physique and strength levels.
Nothing is being overshadowed or overworked. Your back, arms, legs, chest, shoulders, abs, and low back are all being worked on weekly.
Plateauing On Assistance Exercises
As long as your main barbell movements are progressing, you’re on the right path. However, sometimes you notice you’re plateauing on your assistance exercises and not getting stronger in general.
Eventually, push-ups aren’t going to get you any stronger, so you’re going to have to switch it up.
In general, transitioning from bodyweight movements to dumbbell or barbell movements is the way to go.
I recommend switching your assistance movement up every 8 weeks. If you’re switching it up more than that, it rarely gives you enough time to progress in sets and reps. You want to stick with something long enough to progress in strength and muscle mass.
Not much needs to be said about the cardio portion of the training program. If you’ve been keeping up with 3 days at 30 minutes per session you’re probably in great cardiovascular shape without having to change anything.
Just pick something with low intensity and do it 3 times a week for 30 minutes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Now I turn it over to you!
What tips from this list did you find the most helpful for your own training?
Let me know in the comment section below, right now!
Until next time,