I will be breaking this guide into several points, follow these and you will soon be putting on muscle mass / getting stronger. Before I start here are a few terms I will be using and there meanings.
Reps: A repetition, the number of reps is the number of times you lifted the weight for the specified exercise.
Sets: Each set consists of reps, if you did 10 reps then stopped then that is 1 set complete, typically when starting out you will probably be aiming for around 3 or 4 sets per exercise
Rest intervals: The time taken to rest between each set.
Intensity: The amount of effort you have had to use when performing a rep or set.
1. Focus on form when starting out
When starting off you should be focusing on your form for the first few weeks, your muscles need to adapt to the new movements you are putting them through. Don't be tempted to pile on the weight just to impress, we all had to start somewhere! Exrx offers great information on each exercise with an animated image on how to perform them properly. The worst mistake is to try and start lifting too heavy to begin with and causing an injury. Keep rep ranges between 10 -15 to begin with.
2. Don't overtrain
More is not always better when it comes to weight training, the important thing to remember is that your muscles do not grow in the gym, they grow when your resting, so you must ensure you are taking enough time of from your training, to begin with 3 days a week is a good programme to begin with.
3. Pick a routine and stick to it
A big problem for many lifters is that they don't stick to a programme for long enough to see if it's working for them, this will cause a big cycle of failure and very little in the way of gains! Pick a program and stay with it for around 8 weeks before moving onto something else. When your starting out I would advise a full body routine, 3 times a week.
4. Pick the right exercises
Whether you are a beginner or an experienced lifter, you should be focusing on compound movements, compound movements are exercises that use several body parts at once, this is almost self explanatory, why waste time with isolation exercises that only work 1 muscle, when you could be doing a compound exercise that works several body parts. I could talk about this topic for hours but I'll keep this one simple, when your starting out I advise you use the following exercises:
- Bench Press
- Military Press
- Pull ups
- Barbell Rows
I base all my routines around these movements, there are an endless amount of exercises you can use, the best resource for this is exrx (again!) where exercises are split into body parts. Don't spend hours doing several variations of curls! this is the biggest mistake I see so many people doing, you will not get enormous arms from doing countless sets of curls! You will be much better off with compound movements.
5. Work with adequate volume
Let me explain, you have to ensure you are working out enough, but at the same time making sure you are not over training. I would estimate 80% of people over train as oppose to not using enough volume. Volume is measured from sets, reps and intensity (see descriptions at the top) Personally when starting off I would recommend a 3 day a week full body workout with between 12 - 15 sets per workout. Pick 4 or 5 exercises and perform 3 sets for each, remember when starting off to use high reps and to ensure your form is spot on.
6. Vary your routine
Don't worry, I'm not contradicting myself on point three here, once you have a framework for a routine stick with it, however changing variables from week to week is always a good idea to prevent your body from adapting. These variables include:
- Rest time
Don't go over the top, simple changes are effective, some examples: add an extra set per exercise but then drop an exercise from the routine maybe, drop 30 seconds from each rest between set, alternate exercisers from week to week.
I can't begin to explain how important this is! You can follow the 6 steps above perfectly but unless you eating enough and the right things you will NOT gain. I have written a post on bulking up (check my archive) for those who are looking at putting on mass. Remember you body needs fuel, in the form of carbs, it needs protein to grow, and don't neglect healthy fats as well.
That's about it for now, follow these seven steps and you will be fine, just remember to work hard and don't over complicate things.