Whenever you start something new (whether that be a workout program, training program, a sport, or a hobby outside the gym), there is always going to be a learning curve in the beginning. Diving into something new can be a little overwhelming and uncomfortable. And more than likely, it will take some time to learn how to be successful.
When approaching a new workout program, it can be especially daunting if it’s completely different than anything you’ve done before. To help you feel a little more in control of your new program or cycle, we’ve put together a few tips to help you get into the groove and smoothly navigate through the learning process.
Tip 1: Choose Weights Conservatively
If you’re following an evidence-based program in which the workouts are backed by the latest research and science, you will likely see an emphasis on Progressive Overload. Progressive Overload = programs that increase in difficulty over time, so we can gain muscle, get stronger, see certain adaptations, and etc. Basically, this gets us the most bang for our buck by repeating movements weekly to track measurable results.
If you are just doing random training, you’re going to get random results. However, if you’re squatting every Monday and increasing your squat weight every week, you are seeing clear, measurable progress. That’s the golden ticket! Remember, it’s hard to get better at something if you’re not consistently and regularly practicing it.
The easiest way to practice progressive overload is like we just mentioned, increasing weight in any repeating lifts each week. For example: if during week 1 we back squat 150 lbs, maybe in week 2 we increase that to 155 lbs, then in week 3 we increase to 160 lbs, and so on.
We can also focus on our reps in reserve or RIR. To put it simply, we want to begin our program by lifting to 4-5 reps from failure the first week, then gradually increasing that stimulus to 2-3 reps from failure going forward. Think about it like this: RIR = what you have left in the tank after you finish lifting that set. If you were building to a set of 10-12 reps with 2-3 reps RIR, you would want to choose a weight that you could actually lift for 13-15 reps if needed.
Choose weights conservatively at the beginning of your training cycle so that you have room to build and lift heavier each week over the course of the entire program.
It’s always better to start small & potentially make bigger weight jumps in later weeks rather than come out too hot and heavy, then stall out and not be able to increase weight or difficulty later during the cycle.
Tip 2: Check Your Ego
Good form and moving well should always be prioritized over the amount of weight being lifted. Say it again for the people in the back!
Look, we don’t care how much you can lift; we care how you lift it. The only person who actually cares what weight is on the bar or in your hands is you. Sorry, not sorry. At the end of the day, our muscles are dumb, emotionless tissue. Your body and muscles don’t know or care how much weight is on the bar! They just know the stimulus they receive.
If we’re folding like a taco or buckling under the weight on the bar, we’re probably not targeting the intended muscle groups as much as we could if the weight was lighter and we were moving it properly.
On that same note, we’re also aiming for uniformity between reps as much as possible. There will certainly be some drop-off at the tail-end of your sets as fatigue accumulates, but we’re looking for that happy balance between the amount of weight lifted and proper form. Choosing a super heavy weight at the end of your set will likely result in less optimal movement patterns than if you chose a more manageable weight with uniform reps across every set.
By leaving our ego at the door, we are more likely to be able to maximize time under tension and mind-muscle connection, ultimately getting the results we’re actually looking for. The best part is, if you put the work in now to improve your form, the payoff of heavier weight later will come. You just have to be patient and put in the effort (:
Tip 3: Slow it Down, Like Way Down
You’re probably wondering about that last comment we made about time under tension and mind-muscle connection. Believe it or not, time under tension is the real secret to seeing results in most lifting programs. Now, look, we get it. Especially if coming from CrossFit or other high-intensity workout backgrounds, it can be hard to shake the habit of moving quickly and lifting fast.
But think about the difference in stimulus if we complete 10 Back Squats as fast as humanly possible versus 10 Back Squats with that exact same weight, except with a 3-second descent and 1-second pause at the bottom. Let’s just say, IYKYK. For most workout programs, we suggest most movements be completed with a 2-3 second tempo as much as possible, wherever possible. Controlled, smooth movements will help you get stronger and avoid the risk of injury.
To effectively lift on a tempo, consider lifting in front of a timer or clock on the wall or use the clock app on your phone and start a stopwatch. You can also count quietly out loud or in your head. It might take some time to get used to this structure but once you do, you won’t turn back.
Tip 4: Recovery = The Secret Sauce
Listen. We know it’s fun to do all the things; working out in the gym, being active, and living our best life in general. But our body has to have downtime regularly to rest & recover if we want to continue living that life long-term. Doing “more” is not necessarily better. In fact, good programming should provide an effective return on investment on your time spent working out.
Think about if your boss asked you to start coming to work 7 days a week. It might be alright at first, but you’d quickly be waving a white flag and begging for a break. Your body isn’t’ much different; you probably just aren’t listening to it in the same way!
Recovery is truly the secret sauce to improving body composition, losing body fat, gaining muscle and strength, and ultimately being the best you. We like to see people getting at least 2 rest days per week, if possible. A good program will ensure you are prioritizing recovery by setting rest days throughout the cycle.
Chronic under-recovery when compounded over time is when we often see nasty downstream side effects like thyroid issues, hormone or menstrual cycle issues, gut and digestive issues, cortisol problems, compromised immune function, changes to mood, and more.
Train hard, but rest harder!
Tip 5: Be Realistic!
This is arguably the most important advice we can offer. Be realistic about the workout program you plan to follow. The best workouts in the world won’t mean much if we can’t consistently do them. We are what we do, consistently.
If life is busy, there’s no reason to take on a workout program that’s going to require time that you don’t have! You’re going to be much more successful if you choose a program that’s only 3-5 sessions per week for 30-minutes, rather than sporadically getting in 1-2 days per week of a 60 or 90-minute program.
Remember, different seasons of life call for different priorities. That’s okay! We’re all going to have phases where we might not be able to spend as much time working out as we might like. Let it be easy & let yourself be successful rather than trying to do too much at once.
Having said that, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to grab a few pairs of dumbbells to keep as backup for those crazy days when you can’t make it to the gym for the full session.
Starting a new workout program is always going to require some learning and mistakes at the beginning and it’s important to manage your expectations. Remember, the journey never stops and the results that come fast are often the results that we can’t sustain. The successful results are the ones that we build consistently over time. That means buckle up for the long haul.
Getting strong and moving well takes time. Building muscle takes time. Losing weight takes time. Enjoy the journey and grow.