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Starter's Guide: 2015

Posted on: Apr 1, 2015 2:34 PM

Featured story April 1, 2015


Master the basics to get stronger and build heaps of new, lean muscle with this comprehensive plan for beginners.


If you ask a lot of experienced lifters about how they've been able to sustain their results over the long-term, you'll get a lot of different -- and often conflicting -- responses. Add weight, reduce weight, change your macros, keep your macros consistent, and the list goes on. If it sounds confusing, that's because it is. We're here to clear the air and guide you down a proven path to results with simplicity, accuracy, and a challenge you'll look forward to every day.


The short answer: everything.

When you're new to the iron, your body is quick to show you just how adaptable it can be. Sizes comes fast, strength gains come faster, almost regardless of what program you choose.

"Being a beginner at the gym is awesome," says Dan Trink, C.S.C.S., director of personal training operations at Peak Performance in New York City and author of the High-Intensity 300 workout manual. "Everything is new and exciting. You'll make great progress in a short amount of time. As long as you're not exceeding your experience or skill level, you will get the results you are looking for."

Put simply: Training, of nearly any kind, is going to help beginners add muscle and burn fat. With that knowledge in tow, where is the ideal place to begin? Some will swear allegiance to cardio-first routines, claiming that this helps you shed a few pounds and acclimates you to the rigors of training.

Those people are wrong. Others will tell you that all roads to physique glory begin at the squat rack. Judges? This is not incorrect, but the barbell squat—and other such lifts that are considered foundational—require technical proficiency that can escape most new lifters, unnecessarily increasing the risk of injury.

"Just because anything will work does not mean you should just be doing any program," Trink says. "In fact, choosing a solid program that focuses on perfecting foundational movement patterns will help you long after you are out of the beginner stage." Smarter training now, better results tomorrow. We enlisted Trink to deliver just that, giving you a program that has everything you need to learn the basics of training, nutrition, and supplementation so you can start building the body you want.

Many routines — including those for beginners — are built around the bench press, deadlift, and squat. Collectively known as the big three, these lifts are revered for their ability to recruit multiple muscle groups while allowing the lifter to move heavier loads. The myriad benefits of these lifts are not in dispute. But the complex nature of these movements can also be challenging for beginners who have not yet built the proper neural connections to perform them well.

Anyone who has been around the weight room for a while has seen their fair share of stomach-churning squats. Knees first, rounded backs, improper breathing, awkward bar placement, heels raising up off the floor — these are a few of our least favorite things. Likewise, new deadlifters and benchers are prone to a host of form deviations that might help them lift more weight today but are doing serious damage to their joints that could prove debilitating in their later years.

A better bet, Trink says, is to hardwire your brain and body for certain movement patterns that yield far greater results with the big three — and pretty much everything else — later on.

"While there is nothing magical about the particular exercises I've chosen, they do have you working in key planes of motion that will serve as the foundation of your program for years to come," he says. "Horizontal pushing and pulling, vertical pushing and pulling, squatting and hip hinging — all of which appear in this program —represent a large number of the movement patterns that you will continue to work on every time you set foot in a gym."

In other words, early exposure to these movements translates to mastery of nearly every other movement you will tackle as you broaden your training horizons.


These cardinal sins can stall gains, cause injury, or both.

1. Going Too Heavy

Men have a tendency to train for the mirror; more plates definitely look more alpha than fewer plates. But going too heavy is far more likely to break down form and get you hurt than it is to get you swole. Stay the course and follow exactly what the program calls for.

2. Going Too Often

Three workouts per week are good, so four must be better, right? In our best Arnold voice, "Wrong." Your zeal, while admirable, can impair your body's ability to recover from workouts and prevent you from giving your best effort during your next training session.

3. Not Sleeping

Growth hormone peaks at night during sleep, and if you're not catching seven to nine hours of it, you're probably low on GH. Late-night video games, TV, and Web surfing stimulate the brain and make it harder to get to sleep. So put down the gadgets and turn off the lights.

4. Using Straps

Until you're pulling twice your body weight on deadlifts, save your money and forget straps. As a beginner, you need to build grip strength that keeps pace with your lifts. Strapping up because you want to lift heavier now will ultimately hold back progress.

5. Not Drinking Enough Water

You cannot survive on Red Bull. You need water. Dehydration of as little as two percent can have considerably negative effects on strength, stamina, and even cognition. We recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces every day.

starters guide nutrition

What you put in your body has a drastic impact on the way you look, feel, and lift. With all the talk about how fast your body is likely to respond to your new training program, it may be easy to downplay the importance of proper nutrition.

But whether you’re a beginner or an advanced lifter, your food intake will be the greatest determining factor in the degree of change you are able to achieve. 

You may be recoiling already at the idea of complex meal plans, nutrient measurements, and detailed journaling. We won’t discourage any of that, but since you’re a beginner, it’s more important to focus on the basics of eating for lean muscle. The M&F Food Pyramid turns the old USDA pyramid on its head and offers a much more effective overview on eating for maximum muscle. Rather than some vague, arbitrary prescription, we provide guidelines that you can use to establish good, foundational eating habits before eventually customizing them for your changing goals.


While calories are certainly an important part of the M&F Food Pyramid, it is the quality of those calories that can make or break a physique. (If 500 calories from steak and 500 calories from ice cream were the same, we’d be a nation of Bo Jacksons, not Peter Jacksons.) By eating your macronutrients—protein, carbs, and fat— in the right amounts, you can train harder, recover faster, and avoid unwanted fat gain.


Protein is heavy in the M&F Pyramid. That’s because this macronutrient provides the amino acids needed to repair and grow muscle tissue. It also has the benefit of keeping you fuller for longer, which means you’re less likely to rummage through that box of candy left over from the holidays. A beginner can really benefit from increasing protein intake to at least one gram per pound of body weight per day.


Carbs aren’t the devil. In fact, they are your body’s preferred source of fuel. So when, in a misguided panic, you decide to cut carbs in an effort to quickly shed weight, you are sacrificing the quality of your workouts and, through much more complicated channels, compromising your body’s ability to create and hold on to muscle. Eaten to excess, carbs can create an unfavorable hormonal environment that makes you more prone to weight gain and other weight-related diseases. A healthier relationship with carbs entails eating (primarily) unprocessed sources from potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, fruits, and vegetables. 


You’ve got to eat it to lose it. Seriously. Multiple studies have shown that consumption of healthy fats can actually lead to greater fat loss and improve protein synthesis (read: muscle building) while also protecting your heart and brain. Taking in 0.4 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day from healthy sources such as fish, olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds is essential for overall health and athletic performance. You should manipulate your consumption of these macronutrients to meet particular caloric targets based on your overall goals. Those looking to gain muscle, for example, will need more calories and almost double the amount of carbs. Lower (not low) carb and calorie counts are standard for those more concerned with dropping weight or leaning out. Use the table to the right as a starting point for your daily macronutrient breakdown and caloric requirements, then adjust up or down incrementally until you find what works best for you.


Timing your food intake around your training will ensure the best use of that fuel.


Before workouts your body is in need of fast digesting protein, such as whey, to get a jump on muscle repair and to limit the chance of muscle being used for fuel during exercise. Faster digesting sources of carbs are OK at this time as well; glucose will be put to use fairly quickly. And don’t go too heavy on the fat. One hour before training, shoot for 20 to 40 grams of protein and 40 to 60 grams of fastand slow digesting carbs in solid or liquid form.


This optional window of eating during workouts (usually in liquid form) is a good idea for perennially skinny guys, “hardgainers” in gym parlance. If you’re not a hardgainer, though, you can probably skip the intraworkout fueling window. Going without food for the 60 to 90 minutes you’re at the gym won’t sink your goals. Besides, consuming a lot of easy-todown liquid calories can quickly take you past your daily requirements.


Your greatest opportunity for growth takes place in the postworkout window. A mix of fast (whey) and slow (casein) digesting protein provides immediate and sustained amino acids for muscle repair. Fast digesting carbs help by replacing glycogen (stored carbs within muscle tissue) and spiking insulin, which drives growth. Drink 40 to 60 grams of protein and 30 to 80 grams of fast carbs within 30 minutes of your last rep.






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