When thinking back to when I first started my journey training as a beginner wanting to build muscle the first thing that pops to my mind is “oh what I wish I could tell my 18 year old self”. Because I would love to turn the clock back, start again and avoid a lot of the mistakes I made in my earlier training years.

This article is for anyone thinking of embarking on some resistance training, or who is currently in their first 12 months of resistance training with the goal of building muscle mass, as I explain my top 5 tips that I apply with any beginner that begins personal training with me at our Sydney CBD gym.


1) Master all the big lifts & slowly increase strength linearly: By ‘big lifts’ here I refer to Barbell Squats, Barbell Deadlifts, Barbell Bench Press, Barbell Overhead Press and Pull-Ups. For the first 12 months of training I would devote at least 80% of time and attention to building strength in all of these movements. The reason for this is that these exercises and their variations form the basis of practically all training programs in existence worth their salt. They are compound movements, meaning they are exercises that work across several joints at one time and they engage large amounts of muscle mass.

I wish I had spent more time prioritizing these lifts rather than trying to build big arms by beating up my elbows with tons of curls! Anyone in their first 12 months of training has no need for any advanced periodization protocols, by periodization I mean referring to the way training programs are structured. Rather the focus should be on progressing in a linear fashion, slowly increasing the weight by the smallest increment possible week to week.

I would advise against training to failure rather leaving 1-2 reps in reserve (RIR) and focus on training muscle groups more frequently, which I will explain in depth below. Building strength in these lifts doesn’t necessarily mean using low repetitions because for a beginner strength gains can be made on 12-15 repetitions. Over time reps can be lowered but there is no rush. Master the exercises with good form, full range of movement and moderately slow tempos using phases having a 3-4 second eccentric.

2) Train with a greater frequency, with less volume per session: This general principle is great for beginner and novice trainees because training with increased frequency, being more sessions per week, gives the trainee a repeated exposure to the training stimulus allowing mastery of the big lifts to occur at a faster rate. For example performing Squats, Bench Presses, Pull-Ups and Deadlifts 3 times per week will allow a much faster rate of progression than doing each exercise only once. Higher Frequency across the week also allows for less volume per session, meaning shorter sessions.

This allows the trainee to recovery better between sessions & will allow for better quality work to be performed during each session. Ensuring good quality workouts is vital early on, as fatigue will impact on a trainee’s form, which could lead to injury or sub-optimal results.

3) Ignore the training programs & supplements peddled in Magazines and online: I cannot tell you how many insane bodybuilding routines I copied out of magazines that were going to get me ‘jacked in 4 weeks’. These routines got me nowhere because quite frankly only an advanced bodybuilder with years of experience could have benefitted from them. I was utilizing drop-sets, partial reps, insane amounts of volume, lots of isolation exercises and all they did was make me really sore, to the point I couldn’t move anything the next day.

So instead of getting advice from a magazine, or a bodybuilding website, I wish now I had sought out a qualified, experienced Personal Trainer. It would have saved me years of chasing my tail and making next to no progress.

4) Supplements are there to supplement a nutritious diet; they are notmagic: I used to buy tubs of whey protein, glutamine, creatine and a raft of other supplements with the expectation that merely taking them would somehow transform my physique. However paying closer attention to the food I was eating would have been more prudent investment of time and money. Here are some very broad nutritional guidelines I would give to a novice lifter:

  1. Protein: Eat 1.8g-2.0g per kg of body weight, spread evenly across 3-5 meals per day.
  2. Consume carbohydrates around your training, and focus on obtaining them from non-processed sources. Options I like to use are sweet potato, rice, white potato, quinoa and fruits.
  3. Consume a mixture of green vegetables with every meal, wherever possible.
  4. Ensure you eat good quality fats, including a good mixture of saturated fat (animal fat, coconut oil), mono-unsaturated fat (nuts, olives, avocado) and poly-unsaturated fat (oily fish, such as salmon and sardines).
  5. Do not worry about post-workout nutrition per se, just ensure that workouts are sandwiched between meals that are no more than 6 hours apart. Try to get the majority of your nutrition from whole, unprocessed foods and use supplements to fill in the missing gaps. Supplements I generally recommend to the beginner looking to build muscle are a good quality whey protein, creatine, magnesium, zinc and fish oil.

5) Hire a Personal Trainer: This is something I truly wish I had done straight away. I would have saved so much time and effort and is the reason I have had a trainer over the past 5-6 years. Not only can they provide you with an individualized training program to follow, they can provide dietary recommendations, analyze lifestyle factors and provide you with motivation and accountability to ensure progress is continually made.

Here at the Clean Health Fitness Institute we have the trainers of the highest quality who constantly produce phenomenal results with their clients. One of the reasons our trainers are the best is that we were all beginners at one point, and we all made lots of mistakes. Rather than make those same mistakes yourself, CONTACT US today and make progress faster and more consistent than you ever thought was possible, cause we know what it feels like to go around in circles as a beginner.

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