Start your muscle-building journey on the right foot by avoiding these miscues at all costs.
Eric Broser for Muscle & Fitness 1 / 9
In the Beginning
While bodybuilding is not as complex as rocket science or brain surgery, the process of building muscle, gaining strength, and losing fat still takes a tremendous amount of knowledge and hard work. Beginners need the right information from the start so they can get maximum results—without injury, distress, or too much wasted time.
And sure, your program will evolve as time passes. But much of what you learn, and put to use from the start, will create a solid foundation that will serve you throughout all of your years in the gym. Make sure you avoid these rookie mistakes so you start off strong and learn good habits that will serve you throughout your career.
While there's nothing wrong with picking up your favorite bodybuilding magazine or visiting your favorite IFBB pro’s website to learn how your hero trains, don't try to copy what they do at first. Most pros have been training anywhere from 5-25 years to achieve their development and level of exercise tolerance. Most of their routines reflect their current workloads, not their starting workloads. Finally, most (if not all) pros are genetic freaks, which makes much of what they do inapplicable to 99% of trainees out there.
Start at a training level that makes sense for you, and you'll be much more likely to keep it up.
Most young gym jocks feel like Superman the moment they walk into the gym—there's no muscle strains or joint pain holding them back from attacking the iron. But while it's tempting to just jump right into your heavy working sets without a good warm up (5 minutes on the treadmill, calisthenics, high-repetition break-in sets), starting cold can come back to haunt you in later years.
Make it a habit to prepare your body for intense exercise, and it will help minimize damage to muscles, tendons and ligaments, allowing you to train “balls to the wall” for as long as you want.
Most commercial gyms carry a vast array of fancy machines that hit every muscle group from a variety of angles. There's nothing necessarily “wrong” with these devices, but beginners tend to rely on them for almost their entire programs.
Certainly, machines and cables have their place. But when you're starting out, no exercise is more effective than basic free weight exercises like squats, deadlifts, rows, military presses, bench presses, incline presses, dips, pullups and barbell curls.
Master these exercises first before raging against the machines.
When gym beginners see big dudes pushing and pulling giant dumbbells and bars stacked with 45-lb plates, they can often be intimidated into trying to “fit in” by using similarly heavy weights—weights that are typically far too heavy for these rookies to lift properly.
Going too heavy, too fast, is not only a complete waste of time but can also lead to injury. And if you're still feeling intimidated, consider this: Experienced lifters will be more impressed when a beginner trains with perfect technique and light weights than the other way around. Be smart and use proper exercise technique from the outset, and one day you too will be loading 45’s onto the bar with muscle size that matches your power.
Some guys will say there's “no such thing as overtraining,” but that's simply incorrect. Overtraining is a real phenomenon and can definitely hold you back from attaining optimal progress from your efforts.
Many beginners train with unbridled enthusiasm and impatience, so they tend to train far too much when they start out. They think that the more time they spend in the gym, the more muscle they'll gain. But remember: We don't build muscle while we train, we do so while we rest and recover. Most novice lifters will get surprisingly fast results from just 3–4 days in the gym per week at most, and they should never weight train more than two days in a row.
Even top bodybuilders will admit that when they started out, they'd train chest and arms just about every day, while neglecting muscle groups like their thighs and back. (Hey, squats, deadlifts, and bent rows are rough!)
Of course this is understandable, since the muscles that really stick out of a tight t-shirt or tank top are the pecs, bis and tris.
But don't fall into this trap. Train all body parts with equal effort and intensity so you build a proportionate physique that is balanced in strength from head to toe, front and back.
As mentioned earlier, entering the gym as a complete novice can often be quite intimidating. This is why many beginners choose to work out with a friend so that each can support the other. And while there's absolutely nothing wrong with this, make sure you pick a partner who's equally serious about hitting the weights.
If you make the mistake of choosing someone who is only there to goof off, constantly no-shows, or mysteriously vanishes when you need a spotter, you're better off sucking it up and training on your own.
The first time I lifted a weight, I wanted to be as big as The Incredible Hulk. I was a skinny kid, and I was tired of being picked on and made fun of when my shirt was off. I was hoping that if I ate enough food, got enough sleep, and hoisted enough weights I could quickly go from my scrawny 125-lb frame to a monstrous 275-pounder in no time at all.
Of course, I was wrong. This kind of impatience is typical of beginners, but unfortunately it can lead many to quit before they achieve any meaningful development. If you decide to go to the gym because you want to transform your physique, make sure you understand that for most of us the process is a marathon and not a sprint. Work smart, be patient, and have faith—you'll see those results soon enough.