Beginner Strength Training Advice: Do your Homework outside the Gym

Posted on 12 Jul 2015 12:10

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The gym is no place to sit around scratching your head wondering why you’re unable to put theory to practice.

I want to preface this training tip by saying that it largely applies to beginners who are interested in getting stronger. One of the most important aspects of learning to weight train is learning form and technique. Now mastering technique is a never ending process and as you get stronger you will make various modifications to get the most out of any movement. However, in the beginning you must understand what form you should be using and you’ll be exposed to new exercises and in all this what happens is that beginners sometimes come to the gym and start “learning” the movement.

But the gym is not a place to learn things – not in the sense of beginners picking up new movements. You must do your “homework” outside the gym. This involves reading information on exercises, visualizing movements and actually learning the theory of weight training.

I’m going to give you a practical example. Assume a beginner is going to deadlift tomorrow. A common mistake among beginners is that they’ll show up to the gym and start deadlifting and make mistakes as a result of which their form will be off. Then they’ll go home and read up on deadlifting and come back next week and there may or may not be marginal improvement. You rinse and repeat this process and you will notice progress happening on snail speed. Here’s the mistake: there’s too long a break between theory and practice and there’s not enough homework being done. This is what the beginner should do: the day before the deadlift workout he or she should watch instructional videos on YouTube, read up on articles and spend a few minutes just closing his eyes and visualizing the entire workout for the next day. Then when the beginner gets to the gym there is no room to “think”. It is the time to “do”. All thinking has already been done the previous night including deep visualization and going over the entire workout.

As a side note I want to mention that this technique of visualization is not directed only towards beginners. It starts out with beginners but it becomes an integral part of training attitude the more advanced you become. Additionally, as both a beginner and as a more experienced trainee, you must devote some time the day prior to your training day examining your last few workouts so that you are better prepared and it becomes easy for you to visualize success. For example, the night before your back training day study your journal entries (assuming you keep a journal and if you don't then you should begin keeping one immediately) for the last few back workouts and you will notice tiny notes you have made about certain exercises and what you took away from each workout. This will help you visualize what your workout is supposed to be like and you will be better prepared to lift big.

Putting all this together is why I am a big proponent of starting small. Pick just a FEW exercises for a beginner and have him train as possible and after a while introduce more lifts. Variety is key but it is difficult to teach (or learn) many movements at the same time. It is a smarter and more efficient process if you expose the beginner to just a handful of exercises initially for the first few months then once the trainee is showing signs of coping with these movements you can gradually introduce more movements and it will be digestible by the trainee and not cause an information overload. It is crucial for any trainee to spend time outside the gym doing “homework” by going over his training and adding to the theory he is practicing with visual aids, positive mental cues and imagery.

Check out Eric Troy’s articles on the power of visualization and his training tips for a successful workout:

What is Imagery and How is it Used in Sports, Athletics (and Strength Training)

Five Tips for a Better Strength Training Workout

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