5 Basics Beginners Get Wrong
Endless availability of fitness information makes it’s easy and normal to be a little confused about certain aspects of training, particularly for beginners who are just starting their training journey.
Over the years I’ve seen the same mistakes, been asked the same questions and seen the same puzzled looks on the faces of beginners when they realise what they thought was X is actually Y. And when I tell them why X is Y they wonder why they thought Y was X. My, oh my.
Anyway, once we’ve finished discussing why Y is Y, other topics that beginners are similarly confused about come up… So, here are five topics in which beginners often need re-directing…
The Abdominal Muscles (Abs) Don’t Need Their Own Session
One of the most common — and literally painful — mistakes I see beginners make is a dedication to training the abdominal muscles. Too often I witness (and I say witness deliberately) people crunch and twist their way through twenty minute ab routines at the beginning and end of every session.
I’ve never been a fan of traditional high-rep flexion-based abs exercises (e.g. ab crunches) for various reasons, mostly because of the positions they put your body in and the effect they have on your posture.
Movements such as squats, deadlifts, rows and overhead presses should form the majority of a beginners training. These exercises all require the abdominal muscles to work hard and for beginners this will be plenty of ab stimulation.
If beginners really want to do some abdominal work I recommend starting with loaded carries and anti-motion core exercises.
Weight Training Doesn’t Make Females Bulky
So often I’ve encountered females who don’t lift weights because they are convinced it will make them bulky and masculine.
Usually when writing about this sort of topic the physiology of why it’s difficult for females to become musclebound is detailed. On this occasion I’ll skip the physiology and simply provide a few notes about my experiences of using weight training with female clients:
The women I train lift light weights, moderate weights and heavy weights.
Weight training has made none of the women I’ve trained ‘bulky’; quite the opposite, weight training has helped them either maintain or reduce their scale weight whilst positively changing the shape of their body (less fat, more ‘tone’)
Most of the females who have begun weight training at the studio have developed a strong liking for the feeling of strength and power that weight training brings, and have continued training with weights either in addition to or after they’ve stopped personal training.
Many have been amazed at the ‘post-training feel god factor’ weight training provides compared to when they do the cardio-only sessions they’ve previously done themselves.
Many of the females who I’ve trained have insisted (once they become familiar with the techniques) that they lift heavier and heavier weights, are motivated by lifting a little more each time and get immense satisfaction from achieving personal bests.
No woman I’ve trained has ever complained about weight training making them bulky. (Several have expressed concern at my choice of trainers, but at least they don’t make anyone bulky.)
Hundreds of Biceps Curls is Not the Quickest Way to Get Stronger Arms
The body works as one unit; there aren’t many tasks that require repeated flexion of the elbow, one arm at a time.
Strong arms are developed through exercises such as chin ups, dips, bent over rows, one arm rows, loaded carries and both vertical and horizontal presses. It’s rare to have really strong arms without also having a strong upper back, shoulders and mid-section.
Most of the time I prefer compound movements, but I do also, occasionally, use isolation exercises as part of clients and my own training. Biceps curls are a good add-on if you really want to focus on your arms, but focus first on vertical and horizontal pulls and presses to strengthen the arms and entire upper body.
Read compound vs. isolation exercises for more info on what the difference between the two are.
The Walk from the Locker Room to the Gym Floor Isn’t a Warm Up
Neither is the first three steps of a 5 mile run. Whatever type of training you’re about to do, warming up is important. It heats up the body, gets your mind tuned in to the task and will enable you to get the most out of your session.
Note that warming up doesn’t mean thirty minutes of foam rolling, balancing exercises and static stretching. It means actively RAMPing up your system.
RAMP stands for raising, activating, mobilising and potentiating…. Basically, move around and do lots of calisthenic exercises for ten minutes or so to get your whole body prepared for your session.
The Calories Burned During Exercise are Insignificant Compared to Calories in Cheesecake
Many beginners underestimate how important nutrition is for achieving fitness goals (and for general health). People often think that because they’ve started training they’ll quickly burn off whatever they eat: “I just trained, pass me the cheesecake.”
The calories burned during a training session are a fraction of the total calories consumed on a daily basis. The food consumed on a daily basis will have a bigger impact on body composition than any training session and will also play a huge role in how well you recover and fuel your energy stores for your next session.
Sure, training and daily activity helps expend energy and the benefits of exercise extend further than simply helping to lose weight, but if you’re trying to burn fat then more focus should be placed on the calories that are coming in to the body, rather than the ones going out.
Warm up properly
Choose compound exercises
Eat protein, vegetables and fruit.