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Lessons I Learned From the Mistakes I Made as a Novice Lifter

When I first joined a gym in 2001 I had no clue what I was doing. I was using my membership to take classes and use the rowing machines (and enjoy the great view).

Fast forward to a few years later, in 2006 I decided I wanted to get stronger and build muscle. With the guidance of my then-boyfriend, I jumped straight into a typical high-volume* bodybuilding program. In the course of my first few years of training I made a number of mistakes:

Not starting with a beginner routine

Like any rookie trainee, I felt the results from my training could not come fast enough. At the time it seemed logical to me that the more I put into my workouts, the more gains I would attain. Right off the bat I would do nine sets per muscle group, three muscle groups per workout. I did not discriminate between larger and smaller muscle groups. My workouts were about two hours long and many times I was exhausted by the time I was done.

Lessons learned:

- Start with a workout program suited for a novice, move on to more advanced programs as you progress

- Focus on large muscle groups such as quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, chest, and back; less focus on small muscle groups such as biceps and triceps

- Keep workouts to no more than 60 minutes in the beginning.

Training too frequently

My motivation was high, and I was going to the gym six days a week. The combination of high volume and high frequency led to avoidable overuse injuries.

Lessons learned:

- Regardless of how motivated you are to do the work - give your body time to rest and recuperate between workouts

- A novice should not be lifting heavy for more than three to four times per week.

No training log

Because I was training so frequently, I remembered the weight I used for each exercise. But because I was not keeping a log I did not review my strength and muscular development over time.

Lessons learned:

Beginners make considerable strength and muscle gains during the first years of training and a workout log gives you an opportunity to keep a record and compare workouts so you can discover and correct any imbalances in strength and muscular development between muscle groups.

Other tips for novice lifters:

Warm up:

Performing a generalized warm-up before your workout and a specific warm-up before an exercise can reduce the chances of sustaining injuries during training.


If you choose to stretch before your workout, perform active stretching relevant to the movements you are about to perform. Static stretching is best performed after a workout.

Don't forget cardio:

If your goal is to lose weight and get buff this is a no-brainer, but even hard gainers benefit from cardio for cardiovascular health.

Don't trust just anyone's advice:

Seek assistance from someone who is qualified to give advice to someone with your starting point, your goals, your limitations.

Not every exercise is suitable for everyone:

Consult with a qualified trainer if you are having trouble performing certain exercises. If your form is correct but you still have problems there are alternative exercises you can do to work the same muscle groups.

I understand the feeling of being anxious to get maximal results as fast as possible. In my own experience, as I progressed from a novice to a more advanced lifter I did see results, but not without some unpleasant side-effects such as overuse injuries. I learned the hard way that it is very important to let the body recover from each workout.

We all have our own strengths and weaknesses forming our individual starting points. Start with a training program that suits you at your individual starting point. Keep in mind that more is not always better. Finding the right balance is the alpha and omega of success.


Need assistance with your training? Visit Online Coaching, or Book Now if you live in Los Angeles.


* Training volume refers to the number of sets and repetitions per muscle group.

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