Weight Training 0-12 Months Stepping Stones

By Micky McKay Dip PT, MuscleTalk Moderator and Personal Trainer www.healthyaction.co.uk & www.fitness121.co.uk

You have decided you would like to take up some form of weight training; where do you start? There is so much information on the internet it can be a minefield! Best exercises are squats, deadlifts, bent-over rows, heavy barbell curls, etc they say … best for mass, yes; best for you? A resounding NO!

For weight training, first of all we have to go back to the basics of training.


Adaptation is allowing the body to progressively adapt to the task that it is being given. In our case, it's the capacity of a muscle contraction. Before the muscle can contract, however, it's the pull of the tendon that makes the muscle contract. So, the first force is not the muscle, it's the tendons that initially take the strain.

Now, here lies the problem with people new to training: The muscles are generally stronger than the tendons and ligaments that are also taking the strain. So, if a new trainee starts doing too heavy a movement, yes, it feels ok on the muscle which can take the strain but, the tendons and ligaments suffer with this increased intensity too soon and very soon start to wilt under the constant straining. This eventually leads to injury and if this starts early in their career it tends to get worse and worse until eventually training is almost unbearable due to do so much pain, eventually their training career comes to a premature end.

How do we proceed so this doesn't happen to us, the smarter trainee?

First of all remember weight bearing exercises build up the muscles, tendons, ligaments and help with bone density. This all happens over a period of time so like a baby learning to crawl, stand up, walk, run it adapts to all of these but then increases its capacity over time making it stronger, faster and more resilient to the outside world.

Likewise we need to slowly adapt all of these tendons, ligaments and muscles to resistance, so a basic beginner should follow an all-over weight training programme for between 8-12 weeks. This programme will have one exercise per body part, apart from quadriceps where, as a much bigger body part, they can have two exercises such as leg extensions and leg press.

The length of the programme is such because of muscle fibre recruitment (MFR), and this is what makes us stronger, faster, etc. The more we do a given task the more fibres we recruit but, after around 8 weeks these fibres tail off making gains much harder and we hit plateaus. So, to recruit more fibres we must make some changes to our programme such as adding another exercise, decreasing the rest time, changing to a more compound movement, changing the days we train, adding another day, etc. These are all tricks we can employ and when these are fully exhausted we can then go on to split routines.

A basic male beginner's programme could look like this:

Flat bench press2 sets x 12-15 reps
Lat pulldowns (front)2 sets x 12-15 reps
Tricep pushdowns2 sets x 12-15 reps
Leg extensions2 sets x 12-15 reps
Seated leg press2 sets x 12-15 reps
Seated leg curls2 sets x 12-15 reps
Cable curls (bicep)2 sets x 12-15 reps
Lateral raises2 sets x 12-15 reps
Standing calve raise2 sets x 12-15 reps
Sit-ups/hip flexion2 sets reasonable failure

This routine should be followed in the correct order working at 50% of your one rep max. This means a work-load of half what you could lift for one repetition. Still try to increase the weights when you can, keeping correct form, but not at the sacrifice of your reps; these must still be completed. Rest time should be between 90 and 120 seconds.

This is a basic plan for a beginner 8-12 weeks to then upgrade to an intermediate routine, which would consist of adding another day of training and increasing the workload with more compound movements. This would be worked at a one rep max of 60%, again an upgrade on the first routine completed. Once this routine is completed the muscles, tendons and ligaments are strengthened enough to hopefully embark on a basic split routine if so desired.

Also one thing to bear in mind is a lot of trainees new to weight training are deconditioned. This means a lot of compound movements will put too much stain on the heart which could prove fatal! People with high blood pressure should follow a peripheral heart action (PHA) programme, as this protects the heart by reducing the stresses placed on it by slowly increasing the demands of the training, and it rotates the workload so as to limit the build up of lactic acid and prevent DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). The main workload of the workout is always in the middle once the body has fully warmed up. PHA programmes are also known as the anaerobic curve.

There are no pressing movements above the head in PHA programmes as too much pressure is put on the heart as it has to pump blood against gravity putting too much pressure on a deconditioned heart.

This is a step by step guide to hopefully guide people to build up their body in a safe and controlled manner. There are always conflicting ways of peoples' thoughts to training; after 25 years of training myself and clients I have found this the safest way to go about helping people progress. It takes patience, but, if it's longevity you want and, after all most of us do, this is the way to safely progress.

Bodybuilding for Beginners - Stepping Stones: Part 2