I used to be overweight (6'0" / 220lbs chubby). 5 years ago, I decided to start working out and I lost 50+ lbs by doing cardio. As you might imagine, this did very little to improve my body composition, as the weight loss included a lot of lbm. I felt a lot better, but I still wasn't in good shape. In 2006, I got a real weight bench that doubles as a mini-squat rack, and began to lift weights in a real manner for the first time in my life.
In 2008, I came across Stronglift's 5x5 for Beginners Routine and Sensei's Squat RX videos, and they pretty much changed my life. By squatting 3 times a week with proper form, I went from 170 to 190 lbs, my body looked "solid" for the first time, my clothes fit better, and I felt a lot stronger than I did just doing cardio.
After a year, progress came to a halt. My bench press was stuck at 190-200lbs, my squat stayed at 270-300, and my physique stopped improving in appearance. I made the mistake of training for body composition, instead of training for strength first. I've read a million times that it's better to put on muscle first, because it's easier to burn fat later on. But as a former fatty, I was paranoid about ballooning up. My goal was to "slow bulk" and gain as much strength as possible on a maintenance diet.
A few months ago, I just said "**** it" and got lazy with my training and diet. By lazy, I mean I cut out all of my lifts except the big three, and weighted chin-ups, and I ate with no regard to my maintenance diet (no fast food or junk though). My thinking was, why bust my ass so hard every day if I'm making no progress whatsoever? I can relax and get the same lack of results. Eventually I ballooned up without realizing it. My squat went up to 335 lbs, my bench press went up 5 lbs a week and is currently 235 (I was so happy when I benched 225 for the first time in my life-- not a lot of weight I know, but a goal that alluded me for years). I currently weigh around 210 lbs, and even though I put on some fat, my body composition doesn't look all that different than it did at 190. I'm just "bigger." For the first time in my life people are asking me if I lift weights. It took 5 years, but I'm here.
By reducing my goals, it was easier to reach them.
Tips for Beginners
- Train for strength first. You've read it plenty of times, but you have to believe it. Set specific strength goals, not just body composition goals. That will follow.
- Squat deep and often.
- Plateaus can be broken in the kitchen, not just the gym.
Transition from Beginner to Intermediate
After a certain point, you can't progress in your lifts every week, and have to start training to progress over time. I've read this, but even with plateaus, I never felt like my 6 day routine was too much to recover from. A few weeks ago, I tried to squat heavy two days after working my core (dragon flags), and my midsection gave out on me. My body folded up, 335lbs came crashing down, and the barbell slammed against the back of my head before landing in front of me. I'm okay, but lesson learned. The following week, I was able to squat the 335 for a few reps, and then the week after that, I was too weak to. Yesterday I made it. Apparently I've reached a point where I need longer than a week to recover from the heavy squat.
I'd like to introduce a day for front squats, so I can use a lighter weight to help recovery. Plus, I would like to practice my front squat technique. I'm thinking that maybe I need to try an 8 or 9 day routine, and mix things up a bit.
Back Squat 5 x 5
Deadlift 1 x 2
Bench Press 5 x 3
Weighted Dips 3 x failure
Push-Ups 3 x failure
Weighted Chin-Ups 5 x 5
Bent Over Rows 3 x 8
Day 5 and 6:
- How should I stretch this routine out to add a day for front squats with lighter weight?
- I haven't done an overhead press in months. I miss them, my shoulders miss them. What's a good day to re-introduce those? I used to do them on Day 1, between squat and deadlift, but my squats leave me far too exhausted.
- How can I add dragon flags to my routine without affecting my squat? The last time I tried them was on Day 4, and my abs were sore for almost week.
Thanks for the help, and thanks to this forum for the years of great advice and motivation. I probably wouldn't have made it this far without it.
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