That Was Dumb – Three Pitfalls To Avoid When New To Training


Since it’s the time of year where lots of people are starting their fitness programs, I thought that I’d do what I do best: Observe the flaws in what most people do, point them out in a vaguely insulting manner, and try to prove that I’m only a little bit of a dick by providing solutions.

As most of my clients will agree, I’m sweet like that.

So here’s the deal. You have joined your local sweat factory and started working out. You want to be strong, fit, healthy, and all that good stuff. We get it. That’s what you tell people.

But what you really mean is:

Good look.

1. That you want to see hunger in the eyes of the opposite sex, not in the eyes of vultures, wolves, and grizzly bears.

2. You’re tired of getting your ass kicked and want to try out some Brown Shoe Therapy on life yourself.

3. You’re in prison and strength training is now both a recreational activity and a body thickener.

Congratulations. Now that we’ve clarified your motivation, you’re on your way to fitness… and you’re going to screw it up.

The road to being jacked, stacked, and fit as hell isn’t going to be a smoothly-paved trail with water stops every 500 yards. It’ll have some ups, downs, and rough patches.

Bad look.

But here’s some quick pitfalls that many fall into. If you can dodge these, you’ll find the path much easier to follow.

1. Jumping into bodybuilding exercises and training. What’s the first things that most people gravitate toward when they join a gym? Machine anythings, bench presses, and curls.

While those exercises all have their places and are generally pretty simple to learn, they’re not for newbies. There’s a couple of reasons for that. First of all, most new trainees have very little strength and muscle mass. The average person who joins a gym is looking to lose fat and build muscle, right? The truth is that they are simply not strong enough to utilize enough of a load on those isolation exercises (with decent form) to elicit much of a training effect. For example, if you’re an adult male and you’re dumbbell pressing 30 pound ‘bells then you’re performing the caloric expenditure equivalent of pissing holes in a snowbank. Yeah, you can eventually get the driveway clear but it’s going to be a long and emotionally-distressing process.

The answer is… Go heavier! Oh wait, you’re not strong enough to. Insert the “sad trombone” sound here. So what do you do instead? Learn how to do push-ups. Because many more muscles are involved in a push-up over a dumbbell press you’ll be able to progress more quickly, burn more fat, build more muscle (at this stage), and improve your overall athleticism. When you do progress to where it’s time to hit the dumbbells, you can be throwing around enough weight to accomplish something.

Which brings me to the second reason why bodybuilding sucks for newbies. Bodybuilding, by the nature of its training, turns you into a loose collection of parts. That’s fine if one is a) a competitive bodybuilder, and b) already fairly strong and athletic. Most newbies to the gym aren’t either of those things. They’re big, floppy… puppies.

The early focus should be on big, multi-joint, and gymnastics movements such as Goblet Squats, Deadlifts, Crawls, Push-up and Pull-up Variations, Carries, and Lateral/Rotational movements.

These are the exercises that will force your body to change and develop the skills you need to apply to more advanced training.

Commonality with you? 1%

2. Finding the biggest freak in the gym and asking him for advice. So you walk into your new gym with eyes bright and shiny enough to match your brand new keychain card. You find yourself in a world of brightly-colored, shiny, hard metal, loud music, and weird fashion. There’s grunting, sweating people all over the place. The big difference between them and you? They look like they know what they’re doing.

Since you now find yourself in uncomfortably over your head the next logical step would be to find the person who most looks like they know the score and ask them for advice. Soon your eyes settle on the King of the Gym. This behemoth is easy enough to find because he’s usually holding court around a bench press, leg press, or squat rack with every plate in the joint on the bars and the floor nearby. He’s usually surrounded by his supporting cast of lesser meatheads and talking emphatically about lifting.

I understand why it would seem logical to seek his advice. He obviously knows his way around the gym. However, usually this guy is just about the last person you need to be getting guidance from. You know why? Because other than that you both think that Samuel L. Jackson is a bad motha-shut-yo’mouth, you have nothing in common. It’s very rare to find a King of the Gym who has any ability to give useful advice to a greenhorn. You’re simply not going to be helped by drop-sets, forced negatives, or kickbacks or 47 different applications of the word “brah”.

Find a good trainer or a good program sequentially designed for beginning athletes. This will help build the foundation you need for the more advanced stuff.

3. Being slow. New gym-goers have a tendency to perform reps with astonishing deliberateness. This is because they’re trying to “get the form right” and avoid injury. Both of those goals I applaud. However, this snail pace rep speed tends to become a habit and then a crutch. The human body was designed to move fast and with power. If you’re not performing some activities with speed, you’re avoiding use of the bulk of your fast-twitch muscle fibers (see… “fast”). These fibers have the greatest potential within your muscles to gain size, strength, and expend energy. This means they are the muscle fibers that will change your body into what you’re looking for. Think Olympic Sprinter versus Marathon Runner. One is sexy, the other looks like they should be holding my coat but probably aren’t strong enough to.

I will also say this, from the experienced trainer: If you get someone who has conditioned themselves, mentally and physically, to train super-slowly for any length of time it is an enormous pain in the ass to reverse it. So learn your form and body control with some care. I support that. However, right from the very first session my clients always perform at least one movement that is fast, simple, and pretty hard to injure themselves on or do incorrectly. This could be something as simple as Jumping Jacks, Push-up Walkouts, or even Airdyne Sprints. It doesn’t matter as long as it’s simple and you keep thinking “fast“.

If you manage to avoid these three stumbling points of new trainees, your progress will be much faster and smoother than most. It won’t be long before you really start to learn your body and will be ready for more advanced programs and exercises. Welcome to your new life.

Sign up on the right for more secrets to gaining strength, speed, fitness and being awesome! Also remember what I said: Hot chicks/dudes dig fit people. Wolves dig weak fatties!

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Comments on That Was Dumb – Three Pitfalls To Avoid When New To Training Leave a Comment

January 16, 2013

Alice @ 4:22 pm #

Should I not be doing any or some of those things that my Physical Therapist has me doing where I’m a “newbie?” I’m guessing the body building world is different from the physical therapy world but I’m doing some of the same stuff you described that a “newbie” shouldn’t be doing. What should I be doing?…. Completely lost and clueless with this stuff!

January 17, 2013

Isaac @ 12:15 pm #

Hi Alice!

That’s a fantastic question to write in, actually.

There’s a difference between someone under a Physical Therapist’s care and someone who’s joined a gym to get in shape, lose weight, gain muscle, etc. The therapist has very specific goals for you in the exercises they choose. Rather than simply getting you in shape they’re using those exercises to correct imbalances, activate certain muscles, and so on. The issue people run into is when they use physical therapy exercises as fitness exercises (and vice-versa in certain applications).


March 12, 2013

Zack @ 3:16 pm #

Hey Isaac,

Thanks for the Advice in this post! I actually agree with you in this post about finding somebody to give you advice. Because I use to go to LAfiitness which was around the corner of my house. I use to have this friend of mine in school that I didn’t really talk to much and he gave me advice on running an how it gives you endurance. My favorite exercising machine was the treadmill. I went from running a mile in 10 minutes to 7 minutes. My original goal was to get to under 7 minutes.

March 18, 2013

Isaac @ 1:58 pm #

Good work!

March 25, 2013

Krupp @ 9:27 am #

Thank you for all these tips! I actually believe that if you really want to have a good body fit, you have to be determined, and have the right mentality. Having someone who’ll motivate you and who’ll give you an advice would be really helpful. It actually worked for me, my trainer and my friend helped me to become fully dedicated to my goal which is to be fit at all times. I started first by jogging around, doing Cardio workouts, and then, using the jumping rope until I decided to enter a gym which my friend recommended to, this is where I met my trainer. 🙂

March 28, 2013

Krupp @ 4:14 am #

Such a great post! Thank you for inspiring a lot of people to not give up on their goal which is to lose weight. It feels so good to have someone who will support you, and make you believe in yourself. I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself because if you’ll do this you’re just going to be hard at yourself and end up being strained/ sprained. Just relax and enjoy what you’re doing.

April 10, 2013

Morey @ 12:24 pm #

Thanks for the post! Really good advice for someone just starting out.

May 9, 2013

Alex@fat camp @ 8:48 am #

Hey Issac,

Good post, there are a few things to consider for the average newbie, i work at a boot camp/ fat camp and have to introduce many people into the gym, a lot of it has to do with the psychological element in relation to how they will approach there workouts. the hardest thing is making them do something there not comfortable with for there own benefit, like all of those guys who don’t legs (shaking my head) and use the excuse that cardio covers it!
I couldn’t agree more with your point about body-weight and compound movements before jumping into those generic exercises. good post

May 13, 2013

Isaac @ 2:29 pm #


Right on! Setting the right psychological stage is the most important thing for people getting started in fitness!


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