As you can read in this article entitled “How to Gain Muscle“, the two main categories which most weightlifters fall into are bodybuilders or powerlifters. Check out the article linked above for the key differences between these two, but basically bodybuilders are concerned with the size and look of their muscles while powerlifters are primarily concerned with how much weight they can actually lift, in other words how strong they are. No matter where your goals lie it would be a good idea to work on a core foundation of strength initially, and the routine outlined here will help you to do just that.
The routine is called “Starting Strength” and was designed by a weightlifting coach named Mark Rippetoe. The main focus of this routine is compound movements (exercises which incorporate many different muscle groups) with an emphasis on improving strength, musculature, bone density, and overall well being as quickly as possible.
Whether you want to be a powerlifter or a bodybuilder you will eventually need to transition into other routines, but for a complete novice “Starting Strength” is a great place to start for your first few months as it provides an excellent foundation on which you can build. You will see yourself rapidly gaining muscle and gaining strength if you stick to this routine.
Starting Strength: The Routine
There is comprehensive literature related to this routine which can be seen here. This article will provide the bare essentials of what you need to know to get started.
This routine requires you to lift on 3 non-consecutive days per week. There are two workouts (A and B) between which you will alternate on each day that you train. The notation I will use for each exercise is sets x reps e.g 3×5 would indicate 3 sets of 5 reps. Note that only “working” sets are listed here – you should do some warm up sets before your working sets for each exercise. 2 to 3 warm up sets with a weight significantly lighter than your working sets should be sufficient. Take 2-3 minute breaks between sets.
- Back Squats. 3×5
- Bench Press. 3×5
- Deadlifts. 1×5
- Back Squats. 3×5
- Shoulder Press. 3×5
- Power Cleans. 5×3
Where You Should Start
It would be helpful to check out this article about the basic principles of gaining muscle before reading further. Briefly, the idea is to put your body under strain in order to force it to adapt, improve, and get stronger. This routine is considered optimal for gaining strength and follows what is known as linear progression – you progress constantly at the same rate of improvement. Whatever weight you choose to start with (more on this below), you should increase that weight by 2.5kg (5lb) every time you do an exercise.
In terms of what weight you should start with, this will be different for everybody and it may take you a session or two to make an accurate judgement of your capabilities. For your starting weight you should be comfortably able to perform the required number of sets and reps listed for each exercise above. Don’t do more reps than required – the idea is not to work your muscles to exhaustion, because they will only have one rest day to recover before being trained again. At the end of each exercise you should feel like you have another few reps in the tank – you should be able to do another handful of reps. But again, don’t. Using this logic you will quickly be able to judge the right starting weight for you. Once you have, then it’s just a matter of increasing the weight as listed above. If you stick to this routine you will see tremendous strength gains in a very short period of time.
When To Leave This Routine
This routine can only take you so far, the rate of progression is so quick that it can’t be sustained forever. Eventually you will reach a point where you can no longer meet the rep and set requirements for an exercise, but even then you are not finished with this routine. When you reach this point you should “de-load” (reduce) the weight by 10% and then continue the routine as normal. You will be able to do this twice or maybe even three times. After that, you can move on to a routine more suited to your specific needs. If your main interest is powerlifitng then I suggest that you see this routine out to the very end, however you may choose to make a change sooner if bodybuilding is where your interest and goals lie. Either way, as mentioned above, this is an excellent routine for any beginner who wants to gain muscle.
The Importance of Diet and Correct Exercise Form
Eating correctly and maintaining the correct form for an exercise are just as important as sticking to your routine. Check out this article to learn why. You should also check out the official starting strength wiki for detailed information about the correct form for each exercise listed here. Finally here is an article outlining diets for you to follow.
If you are completely new to weightlifting I would also suggest that you check out this article entitled “How to Gain Muscle“.