If you’re just starting out with bodybuilding, whether it’s at home, or you have taken the plunge to hit the gym, then there are some basic things you need to do (and have in mind) to make sure you avoid the common pitfalls many fall into which impede their progress for the long term. It also instils bad habits which can last a lifetime.
It doesn’t matter whether your goal is to strengthen, build muscle, develop your tone, just get a better level of fitness, or all-round level up, the same grounding needs to happen.
Getting excited and going too quickly is a massive problem that can set you back years. I’d always advise that you talk to a coach/instructor at the gym if they are available. Many gyms where you pay a subscription fee especially will offer free consultations initially.
In fact, I would go one further if you have nobody to help you or you really are confused, and that’s to pay for a few sessions with a specialist who will build up a couple of routines and give you plenty of good advice.
If you haven’t got that, and especially if you are going to start working out at home, then there are some golden rules that you need to follow, and I’ve laid out exactly for you right here.
1. Focus On Compound Movements And Lifts
It’s far too easy in the beginning to get tempted into doing a huge range of exercises. Not only can this be bad for your muscles and progress, but it ignores the key point around focusing on learning compound movements and lifts.
If you stick to the basics, you will make more progress. You will build your core strength, you will learn good form, and you will underpin everything you do from this point onwards.
We are talking about deadlifts, squats, barbell bench presses, and a couple of other compound exercises you should be focusing on heavily in the first few months.
2. Focus On The Basic Weights Rather Than The Cool Kit
If you join a gym, it can be overwhelming to see the different machines and options you have. It’s far too tempting to just jump in and try as much as possible, and end up doing stuff which you find easy, or know how to do, rather than what you should be doing. It also means you could ignore the basics.
Even if you are working out from home, it’s tempting if you’ve got the money, time, space, to buy all the kit, and ignore the basics as well.
All you need to focus on our dumbbell and barbell exercises. In fact, if you’re just starting out, you should also be doing bodyweight exercises to build your core and discipline.
By doing this, you will train yourself to not only have good form, but to understand how your body works with the basic core exercises. It will also build up your form, give you full range and motion, and training far more quickly than if you just start on machines.
3. Build A Program And Stick To It With Minor Tweaks (Not Indefinitely)
The other bit of advice I will give you right at the beginning is to build a program and stick to it. The only has to be half a dozen different exercises in the beginning, and after a few weeks you can swap one out for another similar one so that you work the muscle slightly differently, and get a different experience to master.
By sticking to a strict routine, you can work all the core muscle groups well. It will help you to make far better progress, because you are building up your core strength and stamina across the body.
Also, too many people go into the gym, or look at the weights at home in front of them and then make it up as they go along. That means they are less committed, and they often end up being distracted or wasting time.
Then you know exactly what you’re going to do, in which order, and how many reps/sets, you are motivated and good to go without giving it another thought beyond powering through every single exercise properly.
4. Make Sure You Take Breaks Between Training Days
Another horrible beginner’s mistake is to not take enough break days between working out.
It’s very tempting, especially if you are shelling out a lot of money for a gym membership, to go every day, often after work.
Not only will you be tired if you do every day, but this is made worse if you are doing after work later in the day as well.
Your muscles need time to recover. If you don’t allow breaks then you can get muscle strains, and exhaustion can lead to poor form an even more serious injuries which can affect your progress for the long term.
Think of it this way, when you workout, you are putting stress on all of the muscles, ligaments, and bones in your body. You are literally micro tearing the muscles in order to make them grow bigger. This takes time to do.
My advice is to start working out three times per week. Try and make at least one of those workout on a day where you haven’t already worked or are already tired (so preferably a day off in the morning).
5. Work Each Muscle Group At Least Once Per Week (Twice Is Better)
Another problem that beginners have is they often focus on certain muscle groups at the expense of ignoring others. This creates an unbalanced development that leaves you struggling in the longer term.
It is therefore crucial that you work each muscle group at least once per week. It’s the opposite of working out too much, just once per week or less isn’t really going to be enough to really push things.
You need to put together a workout which over the course of seven days works every muscle group at least once, and preferably twice.
In addition, you should also be increasing the amount you work out with every 2-3 three weeks as well, to keep the muscles under pressure and get constant development. Even if it’s as little as half a kilo on each end of each weight, that will incrementally over a few months add up significantly.
6. Focus On Correct Form In The Beginning To Train Yourself
Most people focus too much on the different exercise they can do and how much they can lift. What should really be focusing on is correct form, especially in the first few weeks.
That means light weights, it means educate yourself, and it means taking things slowly and correctly.
Watch other people, watch YouTube videos, get some help. For every single exercise understand the correct form and why you have to do it, and make sure you have learnt it before you move onto another exercise. That means in the first week or so you will be going very slowly, but it will protect you for the long term both in terms of minimizing injuries and maximizing your returns.
Once you’ve learned the correct form and can do it naturally, your body will strengthen more quickly, you will be able to lift heavier weights, and do more complex exercises far more quickly than you could if you didn’t bother to learn the correct form 100%.
7. Start With Light Weights (Lighter Than You Think You Should)
This is possibly the most crucial beginner mistake. It’s lifting too heavy too early.
In the beginning you should be working your muscles generally, and working on doing it with good form.
It’s also a misconception that heavier weights lead to faster gains, in fact, especially early, the opposite is true. Full range and motion is crucial to working the muscle groups out fully, and lighter weights allow you to do this far more easily in the beginning.
In the beginning, the first couple of months, you shouldn’t be straining to do an exercise. You should be able to do around 10 reps not easily, but definitely effectively. Don’t increase the weight until it is becoming too easy, and then start incrementally lifting the weight every couple of weeks.
So although it may sound counterintuitive, you will make faster progress if you start with lighter weights. This in combination with learning the correct form and fixing an exercise routine that works every muscle group twice per week can really help you to make significant progress for the long term.
You see, if you’re going to make the most out of bodybuilding then you have to progress your body at a linear rate across the board. I starting in this way in learning the basics, giving your body a chance to grow, strengthen, recover fully, and develop at an even pace, stand the best chance of not only enjoying yourself, but seeing the maximum returns after about 12 months.