Where to Start When You're Weak

by Robert Maxwell

There's no shame in being weak if you're working hard to get stronger. Everyone must start somewhere. If you're consistently motivated, weakness won't hold you back. Proper training and nutrition will eventually turn your weakness into strength, if you stick with it. You might be wondering what sort of program you should use if you're weak. This post will answer that question. I'll lay out my preferred approach to building strength for beginners. This post won't get into much detail about how to do the listed exercises. You'll need to figure that out elsewhere. In this post, I'll simple touch on which exercises you should do as a beginner.



Beginner Barbell Training

There are strength training styles other than barbell training, but in my opinion picking up a bar is the best option. Nothing works as well for building strength and muscle as properly programmed barbell training. Trouble is, barbell training means lots of effort. Not only is the training itself tougher than other options – it also requires the most adjustment to your routine. You'll either need to get yourself to a good gym several times every week, or invest in the equipment needed to build a home gym. Either way, you'll have to make some serious adjustments to your schedule. If you're serious about getting strong, you can't expect it to happen without sacrifice. Every successful trainee knows this. So what sort of barbell training program should you start with to beat back weakness? Here's the best one I know of for beginners. I'm including notes in blue along with the exercises.




Squats x 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps 

Your ability to squat will probably be exceptionally poor the first time you try. That's ok. The barbell back squat is a fairly complex movement. The main thing is to stretch and warm up properly, and to make sure you're doing the movement correctly and safely. Choose a weight that you can comfortably lift 8 - 10 times, while still being a challenge, especially towards the end of the final set. If you can only squat the empty barbell at first, that's ok. In a week or two you'll probably add 5 pounds. Filming yourself on your phone is a good way to inspect and adjust your squat technique. This goes for all the other lifts on this list.


Romanian Deadlift x 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps

This is another complex movement that's easy to do wrong. Some lifters maintain that it shouldn't be part of a beginner program. I feel that the sooner a trainee starts learning challenging movements, the better off they are. Like squats, proper form in Romanian deadlift is vital for success and safety. Choose a weight that feels heavy, but not so heavy that your form breaks down. Burning proper form into your mind is crucial as a beginner.


Barbell Curls x 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps

Barbell beginners often focus way too much on their biceps, doing tons of curls and very few less popular exercises like squats or overhead press. This is a mistake. Guys who train only the muscles they feel like training are not destined for strength. They're destined for imbalance and lack of consistency. Don't give in to the urge to train your biceps more than other muscle groups. You'll regret it in the long run. 


Tricep Rope Pushdowns x 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps

These are simple to do, but you need to use a full range of motion. I've trained lots of guys who don't lock out their arms at the bottom of the movement, and don't keep their elbows pinned to their sides on the way back up for the next rep. This makes the exercise much easier, and way less effective for building strong triceps.





Bench Press x 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps

As a beginner, your bench press ability will probably be very weak. That's fine. Like all the other exercises in this program, you can start off as light as you need to, even if that means using the empty barbell. If you're eating properly and lifting with good form, it won't be long before you'll be able to lift more weight.


Pulldowns/ Assisted Pullups x 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps

If you're completely untrained, chances are you won't be able to do many strict form bodyweight pullups. Maybe not even one. Don't worry - this won't always be the case. If you start with lat pulldowns using a weight you can manage, it won't be long before your pulling ability is vastly improved. Then, if you so choose, you can upgrade to pullups, which are more challenging than using a pulldown machine. If you're a member of a fancy commercial gym, you may have the option of assisted pullups on a special machine that supports part of your bodyweight, making the exercise easier if your strength is lacking.


Overhead Press x 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps

Once again, if you're very weak, you might need to start by lifting only the empty bar. Try to complete 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps, concentrating on keeping your form consistently good. Don't do seated overhead press – learn to perform this movement from a standing position.


Crunches x 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps

At first, you'll probably need to find something heavy you can slide your feet under, holding your legs down while you sit up using your core muscles. More advanced trainees have strong enough cores that they don't need this. With enough strength, doing crunches without something holding your feet is easy. Don't expect to have this ability right away, though. Like every other muscle group, your abdominal area needs time and training to develop.




Recovery is just as important as training. Without it, you won't get stronger. Recovery days are when the growth you want actually happens. If you're highly motivated, you might feel rest days are a waste of time, and could be used for more training. Don't give in to this. Overtraining is most definitely real and possible, and it's not something you want to experience. It's not as common in novice trainees, since their weakness tends to hold them back before they're in danger of overtraining, but it is possible nonetheless.









For most trainees, these two rest days fall on Saturday and Sunday. Don't think of this as time off, even though you won't be hitting the gym. Instead, think of these days as an active recovery period. Do some cardio – whatever form you enjoy most. Go for a run or brisk walk. Do some jumping rope, or attack a punching bag. As long as your heart rate gets good and high, and your breathing heavy, you don't need to be too picky.



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