Some thoughts about training beginners.

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Regarding training beginners, I think that almost every program out there overcomplicates things.  That includes SS or SL.  Something I did with Lyndsey and Rachel this summer that worked fantastically was simply to work up to a “rep max” once per week with each lift (in reality until form broke town or until it looked like an 8-9 RPE), and go up 5-10 pounds per lift per week (if you know a max, 65-70% is a good starting point).  This was after a couple weeks of singles and doubles to ensure perfect form.  The results:  Lyndsey increased her squat by about 35% in 10 weeks, and Rachel (who started with a couple shaky reps with 115) recently hit 190 for 12 and pulls in the 300s  That’s right.  Cry your soul out.  A 16 year old chick probably out squats and out pulls you after less than 4 months in the gym.

They smile when they think about all of the weights they’ve crushed and the souls they’ve destroyed.

Starting this week, my training partners are all on the plan.  They’ve got solid bases and awesome form, so now it’s just time for smooth sailing for at least 4-6 months.

Unlike SS or SL, you don’t have to consume massive amounts of calories to use this plan.  Rachel and Lyndsey actually both lost weight while on this plan, and it did not impact their strength gains at all.  As much as I love squats, 45-75 reps with 80+ percent of your max per week is a little much, especially for beginners.  Only one day per lift per week is less physically and psychologically demanding, and in my experience, it still delivers great results.  The drawback is having someone who knows when to tell you to stop a set.  I watch bar speed and cut people off when I think they only have 2-3 left.  I may write out a long post about my experiences training beginners and training with beginners, but that’s all for now.  Just something to think about.
Also, congrats to everyone at Mash Elite who medaled in the Olympic Lifting meet his past weekend!

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7 thoughts on “Some thoughts about training beginners.”

  1. Stephen Curtin

    Hi Greg. I don’t know if you will see this, or if you will care to respond as this blog post is now 6 years old, but I would much appreciate some additional information on this subject.

    Myself. I’m 32, about 67kg, and started lifting about 6 months ago. I train full body Monday Wednesday Friday, with squats, bench and chinups on Mondays and Fridays, and deadlift press and db rows on Wednesdays. I do 3 AMRAP sets on each of these lifts (except deadlift which is only 1 set), going until I hit what I think is RPE 9. I add 2.5kg when I can do hit 8 – 10 reps on my last set. Also when I have the time and motivation (roughly 50% of the time) I do some additional isolation work for rear biceps and triceps, not a lot, at most maybe 6 or 7 sets total.

    My progress has not been great, probably because I was in calorie deficit (losing about 1 lbs per week) for the first 4 months which got me down to about 12% bf. I’m now in a calorie surplus and progress is coming a little easier, though I’m still pathetically weak.

    Recently I’ve done
    Squat 55kg for 3 x 6
    Bench 52.5kg for 3 x 6
    Chinups BW for 3 x 6
    Deadlift 85kg for 8
    Press 32.5kg for 3 x 8
    DB Rows 20kg for 3 x 8

    My understanding of this blog post is that you recommend doing 1 AMRAP set per week for each lift, adding weight each time. Is this correct, and if so do you think I would see better progress doing something like this?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Oh wow. Yeah, this is an old post. I honestly didn’t realize it was still public. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the approach I laid out in this article. I think it would be okay for someone who’s really tight on time, but that’s about it. What you’re currently doing sounds good to me

        1. Greg,
          Sorry for bumping this article yet again, but how much more volume do you recommend for beginner and beginning intermediate lifters?
          I am starting my girl on a program and I was looking for ways to minimize the amount of work necessary due to her lack of desire to be in the gym for long. Do you recommend following your lifting journey template (dif article) or sticking in the 15-40 reps a week per lift (this article)? She is a beginning and is making some serious adaptations off of our jogs that we do now, but she also wants to get stronger and would like a little more shapely muscles if possible. I kind of like the idea of doing each lift once a week, but should we throw in one assistance exercise too? How much is too much that it is not optimal (thinking in Dr. Israetel’s MAV terms) and how much is too little to be stimulating a decent adaptation (cause just jogging doesn’t seem super optimal).

          1. It’s really a discussion of adequate vs. optimal. If someone’s a new lifter, they’ll probably be able to make progress (definitely strength, and generally hypertrophy as well) with really low volumes. Like, 1 set per week. And even more “normal” low volumes (3-5 sets per muscle per week) can get most people a pretty long way. It’s not going to maximize your rate of adaptations or maximize long-term adaptations, but it is still quite effective, especially for new lifters. As for accessory work, you can toss some in if you want. If she’s trying to get more “shapely” muscles, one or two exercises targeting the muscles she’s the most interested in training will probably increase her enjoyment as well.

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