Once upon a gym... in a world where sweat was currency, there was a newcomer. This brave soul, armed with nothing but a pair of trainers and a dream, dared to venture into the land of iron to conquer the ancient art of strength training. Dear reader, that newcomer is none other than you, and this blog is your ultimate guide to navigating labyrinth. Welcome to the Herculean realm of strength training for beginners, where we'll take you from zero to hero in no time (and with minimal soreness)!
So grab your dumbbells, squat racks, and kettlebells (but not all at once, let's not get too ambitious just yet).
What Is It?
Let’s break it down. Strength can be defined as the quality or state of being physically strong & the capacity to withstand a great force or pressure. Strength training will utilise various training systems to develop specific muscles and movements with an opposing force to reach a desired goal or outcome. To make it really simple, moving / lifting an object from point A to point B for multiple reps and sets over a period of time will start to lead to adaptations. Obviously there are a several factors that goes into this as to what the best route and decision is but we get into that shortly.
It’s massively important for the older population and i’d also argue equally important for kids as well as middle aged. As you age your body will start to deteriorate, it’s only natural. But by strength training you are increasing bone density, improving muscle recruitment, improving muscle mass, reducing visceral & body fat which in turn reduces any chronic heart diseases, your balance and co-ordination will greatly improve, improved memory, increased dopamine (the happy hormone). All these things to make the day too day a lot easier for you. I mean these are only a few of the physical benefits but in reality you are also improving mental resilience and discipline too. So for the older population it’s great as if they do take a knock or tumble they will be robust and resilient enough to just get back up and not of popped the hip out. Kids and the younger population it develops great motor patterns for later life whilst improving stability and co-ordination. Whilst the middle aged population can use it to help unwind and reduce stress. But honestly ALL these reasons are perfect for all age groups, just some will sit more in others and goal dependent.
Social media and the internet is filled with what not to do and what to do in regards to how to properly strength train. But more often than not there lots of fads, lies and fear mongering going on. Like a common one I hear a lot is knees not travelling past your toes whilst squatting. My response to this is, go for a run or walk up the stairs. These 2 things will be performed at some point in the day and your knees will always travel past the toes. This ISN’T a bad thing. What causes knee issues, is if the knee starts tracking in the wrong direction (outside or inside). You always want to keep the knees in line with the foot (ideally the 2nd & 3rd toe). You also need to consider how your body is made up. For example Jordans squat will look much different to mine. His ankles will travel much further past the toes in comparison to mine and i’ve never known him to have any knee issues.
Before selecting an exercise we need to consider first, the different types of strength training, current fitness level, previous & present injuries and goals. This is going to ensure you are starting off with what is best for you.
So lets start, we’ve got.
1) Weightlifting. Powerlifters, Bodybuilding, Strongman and Olympic Lifting. It’s predominately free weights utilising and focusing on barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. Each of those strength sports have their own aims, goals, sets and reps but they will all share the fact they all utilise free weights and will develop good motor patterns and control as this is a skill and takes time too perfect.
2) Bodyweight training. A great style to familiarise yourself with compound exercises without the stress of having additional load. A nice stepping stone and a gentle introduction into the world of strength training. Good to start with young kids and the elderly whilst also being able to manipulate the the amount of volume you can get done within a set without feeling wiped out.
3) Resistance bands, use them to really focus on the eccentric stage of lifting to get maximum muscle recruitment or utilise them post injury to get back into your normal training. Obviously the more tension you get on the band, the harder it becomes but it’s wonderful for really increasing blood flow and really easy to set up and use.
4) Resistance machines, I like these for really ramping up the volume on muscles as they are generally easy to set up and use. Most come with pictures and instruction on also so if you are a beginner or a little shy in the gym these can be a great ice breaker and stepping stone into strength training and using the gym facilities.
Now it goes without saying that if you are a beginner and want to start your strength training journey you can’t just jump into 6x sessions a week with a crazy volume load. You need to scale it back slightly and gradually build in total volume and tonnage. As this will stop you from picking up any overuse or tendonitis injuries and niggles and also stop you from feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus with all this new stress you’ve just put your body through. So it’s worth thinking about how active you actually are and how ready you are for something new.
Any old or present injuries should be addressed. As this can cause problems and issues further down the line. I always say you want to train and lift to feel better and make your life easier. If however you are just grinding through the pain due to an old injury then you're not getting the most out of your training and potentially making yourself worse off.
Lastly, you need to decide on goals. Your own goals. Personal goals to you. Whether it’s weigh loss, weight gain, hit a specific squat or snatch number. It can literally be anything! But just make sure you are working towards what you want as this will give you motivation, focus and direction.
Injury Prevention & Recovery?
Sometimes when we train we pick up little niggles, aches, pains and actual injuries. It’s unfortunate but the reality is it does happen and more often than not you can still do some form of training, you just have to adapt to the situation and circumstances you are in. Going cold turkey and stopping completely is very counter-productive, more often than not it’ll slow recovery down. I’ve said it before and i’ll say it again, movement is medicine. You just gotta know what to do.
For preventing injuries you can look at things like:
Proper lifting technique and correct form. Having a coach to analyse and make adjustments where necessary is a great way! Or video your lifts and analyse them yourself.
A real warm up. Prime and prep the body for exercise. It’ll increase blood flow to working muscles, increase core temp, your joints will be properly lubricated, your muscles will be firing, you’d practise the motor pattern you are going through.
Scale the weights. Have sensible load management. This means don’t just max out every session. You need to build a base and a solid foundation and this comes with reps at a lighter load to help develop the tendons, ligaments as well as the muscles.
Scale the volume. Have sensible volume management. Similar to the load style. You can’t jump in from doing 30 total reps to 100 reps of squats for example, you will develop tendon issues and over-use issues. Build that slowly like you would with the intensity.
Follow a proper structured program that is built around your needs and goals. There’s not 1 perfect program that suits everyone. Keep it personal.
Recovering from injuries and from just general training is probably more talked about, but if you’re not doing the basics first then I wouldn’t worry about taking the latest BCAAS for optimal recovery. Consider things like:
Sleep - ideally 7-9 hours would be great.
Nutrition - eat your veggies and fruits, make it colourful. Get enough protein to build and repair damaged tissues. Hit your calorie goals whether you are aiming for weight loss or weight gain, it’s a must.
Stress management. Probably the hardest thing to navigate but if you can find ways to help or improve the stress of work and day to day life, you will 100% notice a difference. Maybe even just thinking and being a bit more positive will give you what you need.
Hydration. Drink your water, just get it in. I always aim for a minimum 2l a day. Easy in the hotter days and on training days but aim for everyday. If you can smash 8 pints on the weekend you can do 2l a day!
Stretching and mobility work. Sometimes you just need to lengthen all those shortened muscles you have. Common ones like hip flexors as they generally shortened in day to day life (sitting at desk, car, at home). 1x a day or split it up into more manageable chunks throughout the day. You will notice a difference.
Foam rolling, SMR, Deep tissue massage. Things like this to help relieve tension and push out any swelling or lactic acid from training. Plus it’ll increase blood flow which will bring nutrients to the muscles aiding in the recovery process.
Advanced Strength Training Techniques?
You’ve been hitting the gym for a while now and you want to take it to the next level. You can handle some good load and a good amount of volume. It’s time to take on some new lifting techniques and start a more advanced level of periodisation.
Dropsets - Will look like 3x10x10x10 for example. Meaning 3 sets of 10 reps then dropping the weight down, perform another 10reps, drop down again and then perform another 10. Really good for increasing volume into training and increasing the intensity of an exercise without adding extra load.
Supersets - 2 exercises together. Bicep curls paired with tricep extensions. Often done with an antagonist and agonist pairing. Again with the aim of increasing training intensity and reducing time in the gym as you can get 2 exercises done within the same time frame.
Eccentrics/Negatives - A really slow lengthening of the muscle portion of the lift. You can handle more load but you will notice yourself significantly more sore after eccentrics. 5-10s is what you’d want to aim for.
Obviously with training techniques like these you can really make a session more intense and if you cut for time then great (i’ve mentioned just a few but there are lots). But what you don’t want to do is use them so much you end up doing too much volume, burning out and developing any injuries or niggles like tendonitis. I like to utilise them at the end of a session with accessory exercises that aren’t too demanding and that don’t require a lot of motor skill to perform. Then you can really use these to your advantage.
You may even need to change how you structure your training now to a more advanced style of periodisation. To make it simple, it’s a process of dividing up a training plan into a series of phases whilst manipulating the load, sets and reps in order to maximise adaptations and desired outcome. To name a few:
Linear Periodisation - a gradual progression style that slowly increases volume and intensity over a period of time throughout a mesocycle.
Block Periodisation - planning a system that focuses on long term development instead of maximising short term gains. Utilising Macro, meso and micro cycles to prepare for optimal performance.
Concurrent Periodisation - training to achieve multiple outcomes at the same time. E.g. Strength & hypertrophy or strength & endurance.
Mindset & Motivation
Sometimes overlooked or forgotten about but have the proper mindset and attitude towards training (and anything you do in life really) will have a dramatic effect on how you perform and go about it. Unfortunately it’s a little different with motivation, as you will never be motivated 24/7, it just doesn’t work like that. Hence why have a strong and disciplined mined will be much more effective to achieving your goals than relying on the days you are motivated.
There’s small things you can change like if you are saying this is going to be heavy or I can’t do this even before you’ve done the weight/exercise you are setting yourself up to fail! and It surprises me that how many people do this! We have a little saying here at Devanney Strength and that is “back your self!” So stop with the premature negativity and believe in your own ability! Another thing you can do is 1 uncomfortable thing a day. It can literally be anything. For example, ice baths & showers, a run, meditate, read, a plank - literally anything that you find challenging and just get it done. This will just start toughening you and the mind up, building up some mental resilience and discipline. Keep that consistent you’ll find you will literally just do whatever you need to do to get your goal. Motivation? who needs it. But saying that it is a great tool to get the cogs turning and to put yourself on the right path. You just can’t expect it all day everyday.