From Beginner to Intermediate
Bill StarrHow to Move to the Next Level
Currently, there’s a large supply of information to help you get started on a strength program: books, videos and numerous articles in a wide range of fitness magazines. Some of them provide very detailed outlines on how to put together a functional routine, even recommending starting poundage, sets and reps to be used for the various exercises. Most, although not all, also have instructions on how to use proper technique, along with sequence photos.
Then of course there’s the army of personal trainers with more initials behind their names than professors at Harvard who know absolutely everything about training a beginner, not to mention having expertise on diet, aerobics, stretching, mental preparations and who will win the next presidential election.
While resources like those are beneficial, many embark on their quest to get bigger and stronger on their own. They pick up ideas from others at the gym and from what they read, winging it and altering their programs fairly regularly until they find one that works for them. It often turns out that those who put together their own programs fare as well as or even better than those following a system laid out in a book or magazine or by a personal trainer.
The reason that happens is quite simple. If trainees use at least decent form, are consistent with their training and put their full effort into the exercises, they’ll make progress at the beginning. Perhaps the most important variable is consistency. I’ve noted in this space before that a poorly designed program done consistently will produce greater results than a perfect routine done sporadically. The key to success early on—or at any level for that matter—is never missing X number of sessions in a given week. If one is missed, for whatever reason, it must be made up during that week. Anyone following that basic rule will make gains.
Beginners make progress rather rapidly when they train regularly and with enthusiasm. That encourages them to continue with the discipline. The work done in the weight room, especially on the larger muscle groups, strengthens the muscles and, most important, the attachments. When the tendons and ligaments are exercised in a steady, progressive manner, they respond favorably and provide a solid base of strength for future work.
At the same time, invigorating workouts stimulate appetite, and beginners find that they’re able to gain muscular bodyweight easily. As they put on weight, they get stronger, and the stronger they get, the more muscle they gain. Once that happens, they’re hooked because few things in life can equal the heady feeling of being able to get stronger and alter how you look—all through your own volition and sweat. That can’t be bought or obtained through any other means, and that makes it very special.
I can state unequivocally that strength training changed my life. When I came across my first set of weights at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, I weighed 135. Two years later I’d gained 50 pounds and was loving it. Like my contemporaries, I put together my own beginning program. I had yet to see a fitness magazine or meet anyone with any experience in the field, so I proceeded by using logic as best I could. I’d read the manual on Charles Atlas’ Dynamic Tension when I was 15 and used that as a sort of guide. I never did any of the free-weight exercises he recommended, however, because there was no way I could afford the set of weights he offered. I did try using some parts from my father’s Caterpillar bulldozer, but all I got out of that were bruises and busted hands. I did learn that a bar holding weights needed collars.
Although I had plenty of setbacks, usually from trying to do way too much too soon, I made steady gains as long as I was consistent. While I was stationed in Iceland, I asked a friend who was going stateside on leave to bring me back some fitness magazines. He brought me three Strength & Healths, and I started building my routine around the three Olympic lifts. I liked the idea of being able to use the strength I’d gained in an athletic way. I’d study the photos of a lifter snatching. pressing, and clean and jerking and do my best to copy him.