“What is the best exercise for (insert body part here)?”
The resolution has been made. The gym membership has been paid. You even bought new gear for your grueling workouts. Now what do you do? Do you have an exercise plan or have access to safe workout plans?
Many of us have limited experience with resistance training and we simply do not know how to get started. There are a lot of different training methods out there to lead you extreme fitness. There is periodized block training, West side training, Shieko, Smolov squat training, Bulgarian and Russian systems. The list goes on and on. And while there is certainly a science to training an elite level athlete, someone is starting out only needs to remember a few key things to maximize muscle and fitness.
1 Start light and move up slowly!
We've all seen it. Someone in the gym for the first time getting under a ridiculous amount of weight because he's making decisions with his ego instead of his brain. The bottom line is that you are new to the gym. You need to slowly educate yourself so that you do not do some permanent damage. If you can manage that for a few weeks, you will actually get a chance to make some gains. The problem is that every fiber of your ego will be pushing you to put some more weight on the bar and do just one more repetition. Do not !!!
There is no benefit to increasing the intensity or volume of your training routine faster than your body can adapt. When you first start resistance training your body is new to the experience and will respond quickly. Over time the body becomes used to the training; the law of diminishing returns comes into play. This means you will grow stronger at a quicker pace when you start training, but your gains will come more slowly the longer you train. If you increase the intensity of your training too fast you will only risk injury.
Everyone starts out weak and slow. Some of the weakest become some of the strongest if they are disciplined and driven. Use your will power to control what and how much you do in the gym. Go regularly and do not follow the ignorant, unwashed herd of gym rats that will temp you into their traps.
2 If you do not have a trainer; start with machines.
Most gyms have machines set up everywhere. I'm not a fan of machines but without a trainer you will have to start somewhere. They have pictures of the body parts that they work. There are usually some written instructions as well. It would do you some good to pick up some basic anatomy in order to learn the major muscle groups. You only have to know the few that get the most training, but a wise man once told me that I should never do an exercise if I did not know which muscle was the prime mover.
As you look at all of the machines there is usually a logical order. If not, you will want to create your own logical order.
3 Train every other day.
A full body workout routine every other day is a good place to start if you've never done resistance training before. This means that you will do one exercise for each body part and not do it again until after a rest day. This allows you to get your body used to the novel experience of resistance training and lets you to heal up enough to prevent injury. You may be wondering why waiting a day is so important.
Lifting weights tears muscles down. It is our body's ability to heal and over compensate that allows us to build muscles beyond their original state. That is called super compensation.
A Callus is a good example of the body super compensating. If you go out to do yard work after weeks of not doing that sort of thing, you might end up with a few blisters. The blisters are the damage caused by the stress of the work on your hands. If you are wise, you stop doing whatever it was that wave you the blisters for a while. Your body seizes this chance to heal and goes a little overboard to make sure it is not so easy for you to do damage again. The next time you go out to do yard work, you are equipped with a callus to prevent the same blister from forming. This is a simple example but it illustrates how our bodies build muscle.
4 Change your training after your gains slow.
At this point you may wonder why you would do the same workout each day if you get diminishing returns from your efforts as your body super compensates. Just like riding a bike, the body needs to learn how to be efficient at lifting weights. It is more appropriate to think about someone performing a really heavy bench press as someone who LEARNED to do it over time. Again, the body becomes more and more efficient at the movements while reacting to the law of diminishing returns until it reaches its limit. Though there is always something we can tweak in order to get just a little stronger.
Try to increase your weight and / or volume a little each session and change your exercises every few weeks. You want to strike a balance between letting your body learn how to efficiently move the weight while keeping novel experiences at appropriate points of the training cycle. This way you grow without injuries.
5 Stick to your workout plans
Here is a sample training plan for someone with zero experience in the gym.
You need the following body parts trained every other day:
Arms – Biceps and triceps
Legs – Hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves
Start out very light and do 3 sets of 10 repetitions per exercise. If you can do it easily, increase the weight or repetitions next session. If you can not, either decrease it or leave it the same. Slowly increase the weight on all exercises until you can do 3 sets of 10 on all of them with moderately heavy weight. The only exceptions are abs and calves. These we work 3 to 5 sets of 20 repetitions. With the exercises for abs & calves, you should use little or no weight and adjust the volume (sets and reps) while keeping the weight steady.
This will get you through the first few weeks.
After completing the initial 4 – 6 week period of your first training routine, you will need to start grouping muscles. This is because at some point you will need to focus on just a few muscle groups per session in order to increase volume / intensity without the fear of over training.
Typically, the following are the most common groupings:
Day 1 – Chest, shoulders, and triceps
Day 3 – Back and biceps
Day 5 – Legs
Day 1 – Back and shoulders
Day 3 – Legs
Day 5 – Chest, triceps, and biceps
Day 1 – Chest and triceps
Day 2 – Hamstrings, back, and biceps
Day 3 – Quads and shoulders
Abs and calves can be done on multiple sessions throughout the week. Forearms also fall into this category. These are muscles with a high ratio of slow twitch muscle fibers. This means that they generally react favorably to more frequency and volume than other muscles.
6 Keep an eye out for an experienced trainer
There are many other combinations and constant change will become more necessary as your body becomes accustomed to the training. After a few months you will need a seasoned trainer; preferably one who has mastered compound free weight movements.
You need to learn how to use free weights because it is simply the largest bang for the time spent.
The differences between results gained through the use of machines vs. the use of free weights has been a controversial topic for ages. There still has not been a machine invented that can produce the increases in size and / or strength as efficiently as free weights do. Machines can not completely replicate the range of movement without being actual free weight and you should not set for less.
While it may be difficult to find a trainer fully versed in the big three lifts (squat, bench, dead lift), it should be possible to find a trainer that can help you with at least one. It is in your best interest to make sure the trainer is capable of doing that by asking direct questions and requesting proof when necessary. For example, if I want to learn a proper squat, I might ask a trainer to teach me only after watching him train others and comparing what I've seen to a text book squat video online.
In the world of resistance training, the big three are the foundation of all other lifts. They are the most difficult composite movements to master and they do you the most good if you learn to do them correctly early in your athletic endeavors.
Once you've mastered the basics under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable trainer, you are ready to take your training to new heights independently. So remember to start light, start with machines, work your whole body every other day, increase when results slow, stick to your plans, find a trainer to teach you free weight movements, and master the basic movements (squat, bench press, and dead lift). Once you've done this, you will be pretty independent in the gym. And one day someone may ask you what you think is the best exercise.