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Friday, February 24, 2012

Want a good beginner strength training program? Ask "The Steroid Guy".

Yelling = motivation

Why did I post this video? Well, for one...it's funny. But if you can see past the 'roid raging, the Steroid Guy actually has some really good advice. The world of strength training has become ridiculously complicated. There's P90X, Crossfit, Crossfit Endurance, Insanity, bootcamp, kettlebells, and so on. And that's just the stuff I could think of before I got bored. Even if you're experienced in weight training, it's hard to know your head from your ass. I can't imagine what a beginner must feel like.

I tried to distill some of the essential parts of a good weight training plan in my posts in my series on crosstraining. Based on the number of emails I received afterwards, I can tell that even I made it too complicated. And it's really not. That is...after you wade through all the bullshit.

I saw this video and...after I stopped quoting "The Jersey Shore", I realized that 'Roid Guy did a good job explaining (or yelling) what good strength training is really about. Especially when he screams this line:


Best advice ever. No really....let me explain.

Folks, if you're a newbie to the strength training game, you are pretty lucky. Your body is so unadapted to lifting heavy things that pretty much anything will improve your strength. You could sneeze hard and grow muscle. That's why folks proclaim so many exercise programs to be "the best thing ever" after doing them for a few months. Every strength program can be the best thing ever because if you've never weight trained before, your body is so weak that any muscle contraction will cause growth.

When I first started weight lifting, I just went out and started lifting things without much direction as to what I was doing. I pretty much just did whatever weight machine that I could find that was next to a pretty girl in some kind of spandex getup. And I gained a ton of strength (and a few phone numbers). Then after a while my gains became hard to come by, and then stopped entirely. Looking back, I wish I would have used that prime period in my training to do something more focused and effective. I likely would not only gained more strength, but set myself up for greater success down the line.

And you certainly could do the same thing too and gain strength. Or do any of the programs I mentioned above and do the same. Here's the thing. If given the choice, would you rather do some random program, or the one that is considered the most effective for developing newbie strength?

If your answer is the former, I would urge you to also start pounding sand. Folks like you make my head hurt.

If your answer is the later, then the program I would recommend is the Starting Strength Workout by world-reknown weight coach Mark Rippetoe.

And it's ridiculously simple. It's built around things that I've been harping on over and over for the past couple of months. Compound exercises, low reps, high weight....repeat. The stuff that involves the maximum muscle recruitment and provides the maximum neroendocrine response for maximum gains. That's it. No fancy stuff here.

Here are the workouts:

Workout A:
3x5 back squat
3x5 overhead press
3 sets strict pull-ups to failure

Workout B:
3x5 back squat
3x5 bench press
5x3 power clean OR 1x5 deadlifts

Alternate between Workout A and Workout B on non-consecutive days (i.e. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and so on). Start with a weight that you can use for all proscribed sets, but find challenging on the last set. Increase your weights by 5lb each workout. If you can't lift a particular weight for all of the reps, drop it down 10-20lbs and start the progression again. Repeat for 6-9 months, or until you are no longer able to regularly increase your weights.

If you don't put 30-50lbs on each of your max lifts, I'd be surprised.

This advice applies regardless of what sport you are into, or what your goals are. This is literally the best beginner workout I know of, regardless of goal. Even if you only want things like muscular endurance, speed, or explosive power, you really can't have much of any of those things without crazy, freaky absolute strength.

But MGBG! Shouldn't I do bicep isolation exercises? Or do some situps for my core? Or stand with one foot on a bosu ball while juggling kettlebells? Well, if you don't have any biceps, then what the hell are you going to isolate? You'll get plenty of bicep strength from your pullups. And why are you so concerned with strengthing your stability muscles when your big muscles are weak as hell? You'll get a decent amount of midline stability from doing all these exercises with proper form.

Doing more than the basics as a beginner is what I like to refer to as "Fuckarounditis". That is, when beginners utilize a bunch of tips and tricks that you read about online or in fitness magazines to acheive better results. Those tips exist because once your body begins adapting to strength training, you need to be more creative to continue your gains. In the beginning, it's just not necessary. The basics will work fine for you...better in fact.

Also, don't worry about the monotony of the exercises used. Your body will be adapting so fast that it can handle the constant full-body workouts. Unless you're worried about getting bored. Though...if you find gaining a ton of strength to be a snoozer, I guess I can't help you..

As for the gallon of milk a day thing, it's not as outlandish as you think. Google "gomad" to see what I mean.

Cheers folks


  1. That was way to simple and direct could you please elaborate abit more??? :-)

  2. Dude, this is pretty much exactly where I am right now. I go to the gym and screw around on the machines until I feel I've gotten enough of a workout - just hitting all the major muscle groups with a few exercises apiece. I knew enough to integrate squats and deadlifts, but # of reps and whatnot is not intuitive. Guidance has been needed for a while. Thanks, brother.

    I am going to go Rippetoe's plan full-"bore" (lol, pun intended). Hopefully I don't injure myself since I'll be in minimalist shoes... ya know, like "rip a toe?" (lulz, did it again).

  3. Chad, just remember an important (and boring) part of the program is the weights used. You are not going for your max weight every week. You are only increasing 5lbs per workout, even if you feel like you can do more. That's important so that your muscles have enough time to recover and grow. Using weights that are too heavy is too neurologically taxing for a noob.

    Good luck!

  4. Good post MGBG! Starting Strength is huge in the Parkour and Freerunning communities where I first discovered it, and it does seem to be the most simplified and most effective program out there, at least for novice lifters. I'm sure it'll help you rock that Spartan uniform a bit better too. It seems to me, however, that this would not be the ideal program for an ultrarunner, especially when combined with GOMAD. Coming off of Jason Robillard's recent article on strength training for ultrarunners, it seems like it would add too much mass to be the efficient, lean machine that most ultrarunners aim to be. Your thoughts?

  5. It's important to remember that strength doesn't just come from muscle size. It also
    comes from neurological development. You will gain some mass from SS, especially in the beginning, but because you are lifting in the 1-5 rep range you aren't going to put on a ton of size.

    I think for ultramarathoners, being too big is a problem at some point. But most runners are such beanpoles I don't think it is an immediate problem. In the meantime, low reps and high weight is the best way to improve your running with weights. There are a ton of studies showing that. Here's a good article summarizing them:


  6. Oh, by the way. I only recommend GOMAD to 80lb weakling 14 year old boys. For anyone else, you'll just get fat.

  7. While strength is primarily built from resistance training, the single most important limiting factor for limiting muscle mass is your diet. If you don't eat enough volume or the correct macronutrients you will gain very little if any muscle mass. This is important for ultra runners who may want to limit that, though having a bit more for just shock absorption in your legs may help. (It's also important for Olympic weightlifters who need to stay within a certain weight class.)

    Like MGBG says, strength also comes from neurological development, I think primarily better recruitment of motor units. It's your body's way of improving its efficiency in doing whatever movement you're training at. Gains in motor unit recruitment come quickly early on in untrained individuals but eventually slow down. That's why newbies gain strength so darn fast -- it isn't primarily adding muscle mass.

  8. Agree completely Brian. Excellent point about nutrition. I was going to write about that next week and you beat me to the punch!

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