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Training for beginners part 2

Training für Anfänger Teil 2

Training for beginners

Part 2

In the first part of this article series, I covered topics such as basic program design and progression in conjunction with a small dictionary of strength training jargon. Today I will cover more advanced elements of program design in combination with basic load parameters.

Don't neglect anything

It's rare for a beginner to start with a balanced training program that includes sufficient lower body and back training. Most beginners start by focusing on the "mirror muscles". These are the muscle groups you see when you look in a mirror (chest, shoulders, abs, biceps and triceps).

If you only train the mirror muscles, you are begging for problems. First of all, such an unbalanced training program can lead to postural problems and muscle imbalances, which can increase the risk of injury. In addition to this - and this is just as serious - you will look like a fool. You may only see yourself from the front, but others will also see you from the side and from behind. Do you really want a David Copperfield body that magically disappears when you turn around?

And don't forget a serious lower body workout. Not only because a massive upper body balanced on stork legs looks stupid, but also because intense lower body training will help stimulate body-wide growth through increased production of anabolic hormones.

When developing a training program, make sure it includes at least one exercise from each of the following categories:

1) Horizontal upper body pressing exercises

  • Bench press, dumbbell bench press, incline bench press, dumbbell incline bench press, reverse incline bench press, reverse dumbbell incline bench press.

2) Horizontal upper body pulling exercises

  • Seated rowing, one-arm dumbbell rowing, rowing with supported chest, T-bar rowing, bent-over rowing, seated rowing on a machine

3) Vertical upper body pressing exercises

  • Standing barbell shoulder press, seated dumbbell shoulder press, seated barbell shoulder press, standing dumbbell shoulder press

4) Vertical upper body pulling exercises

  • Pull-ups with lower grip, pull-ups with upper grip, lat pull-ups with lower grip, lat pull-ups with a parallel grip

5) Bilateral quadriceps-dominant lower body exercises

  • Squats with close foot spacing, front squats, leg presses, Hackenschmidt squats

6) Unilateral quadriceps-dominant lower body exercises

  • Lunges, step-ups, Bulgarian split squats

7) Hip-dominant lower body exercises

  • Romanian deadlift, Romanian deadlift with dumbbells, deadlift with straight legs, reverse hypers, good mornings, pull-through

8) Knee flexion dominant lower body exercises

  • Lying leg curls, standing leg curls, glute-ham raise

Obviously you don't have to (and shouldn't) perform all of these exercises during the same training session, but you should perform one exercise from each group during each training week. You may not add additional exercises until you perform at least one exercise from each group. Once you have reached this point, you can select exercises from the following list.

1) Direct biceps exercises

  • Barbell Scott curls, seated dumbbell curls, seated incline bench curls, hammer curls, reverse Scott curls

2) Direct tricep exercises

  • Barbell tricep presses on the reverse incline bench, dumbbell tricep presses on the reverse incline bench, barbell tricep presses lying down, dumbbell tricep presses lying down, different variations of tricep presses on the cable pulley

3) Direct shoulder exercises

  • Dumbbell side raises, one-arm side raises on the cable with lateral inclination of the body, side raises on the cable

4) Chest isolation exercises

  • Cross cable pulldowns, flying movements with dumbbells on reverse incline bench, flying movements with dumbbells on flat bench, flying movements with dumbbells on incline bench, butterflies

5) Exercises for the rear shoulder muscles

  • Lateral raises bent forward, seated rope rows to the neck

6) Trapezius exercises

  • Shoulder raises with dumbbells, shoulder raises with barbells, overhead shoulder raises

7) Calf exercises

  • Standing calf raises, seated calf raises on the calf machine

Enthusiasm is great, but overtraining is your enemy

You should realize that most of your gains come while you're recovering from your workouts. If you train hard in the gym, you'll stimulate your muscles to get bigger and stronger, but the real growth takes place while you're resting. If you train too much or too often, this can limit your gains. You should plan 2 to 3 days of rest per week to allow for maximum growth and limit your training volume to 9 to 16 sets per muscle group during a training session, with 9 to 12 sets being best in most cases.

Training is a highly emotional topic. We want that lean, strong and muscular body so much that we often ignore reason! We fear that we are not doing enough and end up doing more than is good for us. You should always focus on quality and not quantity. And never forget that rest and recovery are just as important for your growth as the training itself.

Change is good - within reason

Few people know that I was quite a dedicated golfer when I was younger. I come from a family of golfers: my father was president of the local country club, my younger brother played on his college team, and Sundays were usually spent playing a family game of golf. I even competed in tournaments until I turned eighteen and even won two junior tournaments.

I've always loved learning new things and experimenting. When training with weights became my passion, I read everything I could find on the subject and tried every training program and method possible. When I was still playing golf, I was the same way. For example, I read Golf Digest magazine every month. This magazine presented a monthly shot analysis in which the shot of a professional golfer was analyzed picture by picture. Without exception, I dedicated the month to trying to learn the shot of the pro of the month. One month I would try Fred Couple's shot and then move on to Davis Love's shot the next month, before trying Ernie Els' shot the next month, and so on. The funny thing was that my own swing never improved, even though I copied the swing of all the top pros. Why?

  1. Because I didn't devote enough time to any one shot style to get really good at it and reap the benefits.
  2. Because the shot of the month wasn't necessarily good for my body mechanics. Ernie Els is over 190 cm tall and has long arms and good flexibility, whereas I am 172 cm tall, have short arms and am quite stiff.

What am I getting at? Well, I see the same standing when training with weights. Some guys (usually teenagers or beginners) will read about a new workout program and immediately stop what they're doing (regardless of whether it's working or not) to try that new program.

Many people switch from program to program every 1 to 2 weeks! They don't give any program a fair chance to prove its worth. It takes time to build muscle. You can't judge the effectiveness of a training philosophy if you start something new before the program has had time to make a difference. Yes, changes to your training are important for long-term progress. But changes that come too soon or that are too drastic will certainly stall your progress.

I'll say it again. A body transformation is a highly emotional subject. We want to firmly believe that there is a program somewhere that will instantly transform our bodies into what we've always dreamed of and give us gains beyond our wildest expectations.

I'm sorry to disappoint you, but no such program exists. Some programs are better than others, but nothing is so drastically superior that it will help you build muscle at a phenomenal rate. The secret formula to getting the body you want is the amount of effort you put into each training session multiplied by your long-term dedication.

In addition, a program may seem super cool and effective, but that doesn't mean it has to fit your body type, needs, goals and mental attitude. For example, a Westside inspired program may look cool and this type of program has been shown to be super effective for building strength. However, if your main goal is to build muscle mass and develop an aesthetic and balanced body, then the Westside template may not be the best option, even though it can help you build muscle.

The same could be said about the Olympic weightlifting exercises. I love them, they're fun to do and they make you feel like you've really accomplished something and give you a ton of strength and power. However, if you are training for a bodybuilding competition, then a Bulgarian weightlifting program is not going to be the best choice for you. On the other hand, a bodybuilding program, although it can build muscle, is not what you need if your goal is to perform at your best in a powerlifting competition.

If you are a person with long limbs, then you will need more direct training for arms and legs for maximum muscle growth, whereas stockier people can often become muscular (including arms and legs) by performing the big basic exercises alone. People with longer limbs also generally require more unilateral training (training with one arm or leg or for one side of the body). So while a "back to basics" program consisting only of squats, bench presses, deadlifts and rowing may be good for stockier people, it won't necessarily be optimal for people with longer and arms and legs.

Lastly, it should be mentioned that exercisers with a strong dominance of certain muscle groups may need more direct training/isolation training to bring their weak points up to the level of development of the rest of the body. For example, if you are shoulder dominant, performing bench presses and its variations will not be enough to train your chest optimally as your shoulder muscles will do a lot of the work, leaving your chest under-stimulated.

So you can see why you shouldn't switch from program to program just because one program is the program of the month or because your favorite author just wrote something about it. Never let yourself be seduced, only convinced!

Only choose a program...:

  • If it fits your goals
  • If it suits your body type
  • If it suits your strength ratios/muscle dominance
  • If you have given your previous program a fair chance to work
  • If you are willing to work hard and give the program enough time to work its magic. If you start a program with thoughts like "I'll try this for a few weeks just to see what it's like", then forget about it quickly as it won't lead anywhere.

To stimulate continuous progress, you need to change your training program regularly. Changing your program in this context means changing the exercises, changing the number of sets and repetitions you perform, or even changing the training methods you use. If you always use the same program, your progress will eventually stall.

However, you should understand that you will have to stick with one program for a while. The more advanced you become, the more often you will need to change your program. A beginner may stay with a program for 6 to 8 weeks, while a more advanced exerciser may need to change their program every 3 to 4 weeks. Some very advanced exercisers even need to change their program every 2 weeks to maximize their progress. But for a beginner, I recommend sticking with a program for 6 weeks before making any changes.

Train heavy - within your limits

Getting stronger on the basic exercises should be one of a beginner's primary training goals. If your bench press weight goes from 50 to 100 kilos, the chances are that your arms, shoulders and chest will have increased significantly in size. Striving to get stronger also involves following the rule of progression, which, as we have already seen, is the key to muscle growth.

However, training with the goal of getting stronger doesn't mean you should be obsessed with numbers. Testing your strength with sets of less than 5 reps is begging for trouble when you've only just started training. You don't have the neural efficiency to get maximum benefit from low repetition sets and, more importantly, you don't yet have good enough technique or inter-muscular coordination to safely perform such a heavy workout.

Beginners should aim to get as strong as they can - but in the medium repetition range. The functional hypertrophy zone (6 to 8 repetitions) and the hypertrophy zone (9 to 12 repetitions) are ideal for maximizing growth in beginners. Get as strong as you can in these zones and you will become significantly more muscular.

The Cazeault Principle

My friend Steph Cazeault (who trains the likes of Steven Jackson, Drew Bennett and Richie Incognito) has a training principle that I think is really good - especially for beginners: perform an exercise you hate during every training session!

Why on earth would you want to do this? Simple - most of the time these exercises are the exercises that will help you grow the most. Ask yourself which exercises you avoid - either because they are strenuous or because you are not particularly good at them. These are the exercises you need to do.

Yes, I know it's not fun. But do it anyway: the exercises you hate will improve your body the most. You are much better off doing exercises that train your weak points than exercises that train your strengths. And you will make more gains with an unfamiliar, grueling exercise than with an exercise you are so familiar with that you could do it in your sleep.

Bottom line: do exercises you hate - during every single training session.

Train in three dimensions

One of your top priorities as a beginner is to improve the efficiency of your nervous system. With a more efficient nervous system, you will be able to do the following:

  • Recruit more muscle fibers during training, which particularly affects the motor units with a high stimulus threshold that are more receptive to muscle growth. More muscle fibers recruited means more muscle growth.
  • Move more weight because you have improved your intra- and inter-muscular coordination.
  • Having a better mind-muscle connection, which allows you to better target the desired muscle groups during a training session.
  • Have better training technique, which will reduce the risk of injury.

To maximize the involvement of the nervous system, you should focus on exercises that require you to move resistance in three-dimensional space. This means using exercises where the source of resistance is "free" and not fixed. A machine represented a fixed, two-dimensional source of resistance: the movement pattern is determined and controlled by the apparatus, requiring less neural involvement than when moving free weights.

However, machines are not completely useless: some are excellent extensions of a program. However, a beginner should focus on free weights to maximize the development of their nervous system and muscle development. A beginner should not only build muscle, but also learn how to use their body optimally - and you need free weight exercises to achieve this.

By the way, you should not lump cable pulls together with machines. Cable exercises are free weight exercises like dumbbell and barbell exercises and are therefore more comparable to barbell exercises. While dumbbells and barbells should be the foundation of your program, you can add cable exercises if needed.

Load parameters for beginners

The following load parameters are appropriate for beginners.

Intensity zones

  • Functional hypertrophy: 6-8 repetitions
  • Total hypertrophy: 9-12 repetitions
  • Strength endurance: 13-15 repetitions

Number of exercises per muscle group:

  • Back 3-4
  • Chest 3
  • Quadriceps 3
  • Leg flexors 2-3
  • Shoulders 2-3
  • Biceps 1-2
  • Triceps 1-2
  • Calves 1-2

Sets per exercise

  • If you perform 6-8 repetitions: 4-5 sets
  • If you perform 9-12 repetitions: 3-4 sets
  • If you perform 13-15 repetitions: 2-3 sets

Rest between sets

  • 6-8 repetitions: 90-120 seconds
  • 9-12 repetitions: 60-75 seconds
  • 13-15 repetitions: 30-45 seconds


Being a beginner can be frustrating. You're inundated with tons of information, most of which is confusing, many of which is contradictory, and some of which is completely wrong.

Looking back on my years of training, I wish that as a beginner I could have found a source of information as good as this website. If I had known half of what I know today, it probably could have saved me years of wasted time and frustration.

My sincere wish is that by applying the information in this article and the two that follow, you will be able to save yourself a year or two of frustration and start your journey on the right foot.

Good luck and bon voyage!

By Christian Thibaudeau


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