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Strength for Newbies

Dave, 100 years ago

Strength is a wonderful thing. Before images of red-faced powerlifters, enraged strongmen, and screaming bodybuilders fill your head just think about a few areas of your everyday life that’d be improved by being a little stronger. Carrying shopping? Lugging kids around? Moving a sofa? All this stuff and more relies on your absolute ability to handle extra weight. But where the hell do you start?

Training for strength is one of those areas that’s saturated with millions of different methods and protocols, and for a beginner it’s pretty damned confusing sorting your Westsides from your Smolovs. If this sounds like you, you’ll be pleased to hear there’s not a percentage in sight.

The program i’m going to talk about in this article is a stripped back variation on the 5×5 program designed for absolute beginners. I would say this is perfect even for complete gym virgins, but if you have between 6-12 months experience doing non-strength training this will still work really well for you. If you have more experience but haven’t been on a progressive linear program before, still give it a go.

Another important thing to note: both men and women can see the benefits of this type of program without any modifications. Hoorah!

You’ll need to be at least somewhat familiar with the main exercises, or have a trainer or knowledgable person available who can instruct you on proper form. A major plus for this program is that it’s perfect for learning correct form and building on that as your technique improves, but you still need to be mindful of injuries all the same.

The only equipment you’ll need for this are a squat rack, a barbell, some dumbells, and a pullup bar or assisted pullup machine or lat pulldown machine. Some sort of cardio machine or other means to do cardio is also a good idea.

With that out of the way, lets get to it.

You’ll be alternating two separate workouts but training three days a week. As you’ve no doubt realised, this means you’ll be repeating one of your workouts twice a week. Don’t worry about this – the more you do something (within reason) the better you’ll get at it. Theres no reason to have variety for varietys sake.

Workout A – Squats, Bench Press, Pullups

Workout B – Deadlifts, Military Press, Dumbell Rows

Only three exercises every workout. This pretty much covers everything, but if you can’t do pullups with your bodyweight and an assist machine isn’t available feel free to do Lat Pulldowns, and if you have trouble doing Deadlifts off the floor do them as low as you can off a rack or platform. The caveat in those modifications is that you MUST train to rectify those two problems and eventually do Pullups and proper Deadlifts. No excuses!

Finish all sets on each exercise before moving onto the next. Now for each of those exercises you’ll be doing five sets of five (5×5), but in a pyramid style. What this means is you’ll start incredibly light for the first set, probably a weight you can comfortably do for ten to twelve reps. After the first set increase the weight a little more (the smallest amount you can) for the second set, but still just do five reps. Repeat this process for the next two sets.

The last, final, ultimate, and fifth set of each exercise is where the fun happens. This set is your work set, and it’s this set that guages your progress throughout the program. Increase the weight again after the fourth set, and take a little more rest this time. For this last set instead of stopping at five reps you’ll do as many as you can upto a maximum of ten. It might not happen in the first session but try adding more reps every session untill you reach ten.

When you eventually do reach ten reps, next session add a little weight to each set (again, as little as possible) so your new first set will be the same weight as your old second set and so on. This is the most important point in any strength program because its this gradual series of small progressions that will make you stronger.

Done and Done
Thats pretty much it! You should be able to get this workout done with a warmup, some cardio, and a cooldown in an hour or less. Work hard on those final sets and really try to push forward every session. You might be surprised how quickely the weights increase from week to week. If your progress ever stalls on a particular exercise for three consecutive sessions just reduce the weight on all the sets for that exercise and in the final set build up to fifteen reps instead of ten before increasing the weight.

Good luck!


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