Avoid Newbie Pitfalls

TAGS: training advice, making progress, LTT, newbie, david allen, 5/3/1, supplements

I’m not the oldest powerlifter by any means, but I do have fifteen years of training experience starting in my teens. I’ve played college athletics and competed in powerlifting, bodybuilding, Strongman, Olympic lifting, and endurance races. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn from some of the top coaches in the country. However, the first eight or so years of my lifting career, I can say without a doubt that most of what I did was stupid.

I first got into training because I was tired of being told how skinny I was (in seventh grade, I was about six feet tall and 135 pounds). My dad gave me a workout book from the 1960s that he had as a teenager and bought me a home gym. It was a bench with an attached pull-down and leg extension with some adjustable dumbbells and concrete plates thrown in. Eventually, I graduated from the 1960s book and started reading muscle magazines. I broke the home gym, so my dad bought a slightly nicer version that was basically the same thing. From there, I bought Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding and started training in my high school weight room.

When I got to college, I did our football workouts plus whatever extra meathead training I thought I needed to do to stay “swole.” From there, I began my strength and conditioning internship. By this point, I finally had had quality knowledge poured into me, had learned how to lift correctly, and most importantly, had learned where and who to learn from to set myself up for continued progress. Over that time, I’ve taken every supplement imaginable (I convinced my mom to buy me ephedra when I was sixteen—thanks, mom), I've tried every program under the sun (I passed out in the gym after doing German volume 10 X 10 work for squats with 315 pounds), I've talked to some of the dumbest and smartest people on the planet, and I've learned a whole lot throughout the process.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened or where I would be had I not spent half my training career doing completely stupid stuff. Part of me thinks I would’ve probably done the stupid stuff anyways because, as a teenager, I knew everything and didn’t really think that I needed to listen to anybody else. However, I hope that I would have at least given some of my short attention span to whoever might have decided to set me straight.

So now, at NBS Fitness, that is what I try to do. We get a lot of training newbies coming in the door and we try our best to teach them how to do stuff correctly from the get go and avoid the dumb mistakes. Not everyone listens, but those who do always make much greater strides in progress than those too stubborn and arrogant to listen. So if you’re a newbie and your ego isn’t in the way, listen up and don’t do the following:

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1. Spend all your money on supplements.

Look man, I get it. You bought the magazine, saw the ad, and Mr. Olympia takes it. You want to be Mr. Olympia, so you gotta take it, too! I’ve run into lots of really skinny, weak people who take hundreds of dollars in supplements a month and lots of really big, strong guys who barely take anything. You do the math. Supplements play a role in your progress, but they are never going to make up the difference that quality nutrition and training will. If you have that extra money to spend, hire a good coach to train you, write and manage your program, or develop a nutrition program for you.

I do a cost to benefit analysis for any supplement that I'm going to take. If there isn’t both scientific and anecdotal evidence to back up its claims and a price tag that is reasonable, I’m not going to take it.

I break my supplements up into three categories: health, food, and performance. Health supplements always seem to have the cheapest price tag along with quality results to back them up. Things like vitamin D, fish oil, a multivitamin, probiotics, digestive enzymes, fiber, ZMA, and melatonin are all supplements that can help fill in the gaps or assist your health. The healthier you are, the better you function and the harder you can train, recover, and enjoy life.

Food supplements are things like protein powder, carb powder (Cyclic Dextrin, dextrose), and greens food (fruit and vegetable extract or supplement). These make consuming the necessary nutrition much easier at certain times. Personally, eating six big, solid food meals a day can be tough, but using protein powder to assist in making a liquid meal makes life a heck of a lot easier. Also, they can be necessary to maximize intra-workout nutrition because eating a chicken breast and sweet potato during a tough leg workout isn't in your best interest. Again, these supplements are usually fairly priced and worth the investment.

Performance supplements are what empty skinny teenagers' wallets. The promise of “insanely extreme gainz” from a “controversial new steroid-like product” gives newbies muscle boners faster than watching 300-pound muscle freaks bounce their oiled up pecs a foot from their faces. There are plenty of performance supplements that do work, but you don’t have to pay out the ass for them. I take creatine monohydrate, citrulline malate, and beta alanine. Check out some of the other articles on this site for more potential quality supplements.

All that being said, supplements aren’t the missing link to a quality physique or impressive performance. Treat them for what they are—an addition to intelligent training and nutrition.

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2. Listen to other skinny, weak dummies.

Starting out, you're either skinny and weak or fat and weak, but you’re definitely a dummy when it comes to everything training and nutrition. That’s OK. We all pretty much start out at that same place in our lifting careers. Like most skinny/fat and weak dummies, you probably hang out with a bunch of other skinny/fat and weak dummies. Again, this is totally OK. Birds of a feather flock together.

The problem arises when skinny/fat and weak dummies start giving and taking advice from other skinny/fat and weak dummies. Why this happens is beyond me, but it happens. I don’t see it so much now, but when I worked in commercial gyms, I saw it often. If you’re new to lifting, don’t let your buddy who’s been lifting for six months start teaching you what to do. If you wanna be lean, don’t listen to the 40-year-old “ex-bodybuilder” with 30 percent body fat and a beer gut tell you how to diet. If you wanna be strong, don’t listen to the guy with 225-pound quarter squats tell you how to train. And if you wanna be big, don’t listen to someone under 200 pounds (unless they’re five feet, five inches tall) tell you how to get there.

The Internet has afforded newbies easy access to some of the most knowledgeable and most respected people in every field of training, nutrition, and sports performance. Yet people would rather listen to some knucklehead on an Internet forum whose avatar is a GIF of Ronnie Coleman saying “Yeah buddy!” or a giant dummy list of friends on Facebook.

Instead, use this simple protocol—is the person bigger, stronger, leaner, more experienced, or more knowledgeable than me? If they have at least two of those characteristics, you’re probably OK listening to them. If they have three or more, you'd better listen up.

Buy some books, listen to some podcasts, read some articles, and get around people who you want to be like and have put in the time and effort to know how to help you.

dave tate david allen training newbie 073114

3. Think you’re more advanced than you really are.

When I was about sixteen or seventeen, I remember telling someone that I was going to be a professional bodybuilder by the time I was 21 or 22. If I could only travel back in time and throat punch myself, I would.

Training is awesome for someone’s self-esteem, but sometimes it can get a little out of hand. On two levels, thinking that you’re more advanced than you really are can make you a bit of a pretentious snob (a skinny/fat, weak pretentious snob) and/or hinder your development by training in a way that isn't optimal. Looking back, I wish I had stuck to the basics for much longer than I did instead of thinking that I could or needed to train like a professional bodybuilder. With education out their like Starting Strength and 5/3/1, the opportunity to train in a way optimal for your development is much greater than it was ten or more years ago.

If you’re just now getting into training, here's a checklist to go through first before venturing off into some experimental super program:

  • Learn to train with proper form and proper muscular activation on the big exercises (squat, bench, deadlift, push press, pull-up, and bent row).
  • Use a basic program like Starting Strength or 5/3/1 to get strong at all of these. You should shoot for a double body weight squat and deadlift and at least a body weight bench.
  • Learn basic nutrition principles and habits and implement them.
  • Follow this until you're no longer weak and actually look like you work out. Congrats! You aren't a newbie anymore!

Once you’ve knocked off the checklist, you can pursue some more specific goals like continuing to develop your strength, leaning out, doing more athletic type movements, or putting on more muscle.

Here are some other quick tips for newbies:

  • Find a quality gym or at least a quality training crew to train with. Many cities around the country have more serious gyms now. Find a way to get there. If you have to drive a little bit further or pay a little bit more money, do it. The investment will pay off far greater than buying all your dumb ass supplements or spending time around other skinny/fat, weak people at the commercial gym.
  • Get with someone who can help you reach your goals. There are tons of people out there who are qualified individuals and are really good at getting people where they want to go. Whether it be online or in person, working with someone is the quickest way to learn and make progress.
  • Don’t get caught up in the Internet BS. Posting on Facebook, Instagram, or whatever else doesn’t make you any bigger, leaner, stronger, or cooler. It's a great way to connect and share, but don’t get sucked into feeling like you have to post everything you do or eat and then see how many likes you get. Also, stay off the message boards.
  • Go to events like the Learn to Train and the Powerlifting Experience. Getting one-on-one coaching from the best in the world will help you make strides faster than anything else out there.

If you’re a newbie, you’re doing the right thing by coming to this site and soaking up the information available to you. Hopefully, you’ll listen to me, an ex newbie, and resist the urge to do some of the stupid stuff that I did. If you aren't a newbie, share this with someone you know who is. The world will be a better place even if just one more person stops telling people they went beast mode on leg day because they did four sets of ten on the leg extension.

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