Lifting weights might seem intimidating, but if you’re new to strength training, you can put on muscle and gain strength faster than athletes with decades of experience.
That’s the magic of “newbie gains,” which refers to the extremely fast progress beginners can make in the first six months to a year of weightlifting or similar workouts. That’s because your body isn’t used to the new stimulus of working out and is primed to adapt quickly as a result, according to Chris Duffin, a world-record-holding powerlifter and co-founder of Kabuki Strength.
With the right planning, you can make the most of “newbie gains” while they last, and set yourself up for long-term success. To optimize your training, Duffin recommends that you prioritize recovery, don’t skimp on nutrition, stick to a specific workout routine, and avoid overtraining.
Don’t sacrifice sleep
A morning gym session is fine, but not if you’re getting less than adequate sleep as a result. One of the biggest mistakes you can make when starting a new workout routine is waking up too early to work out, according to Duffin.
Losing sleep to exercise is a common problem with gym newbies, he said and can lead to more soreness and risk of injury. It can also defeat the purpose of strength training in the first place, since lack of sleep means you aren’t giving your muscles time to grow and adapt, stalling your gains.
“It’s like bending over to pick up a dime and missing the $10 bill in front of you. It doesn’t make sense,” Duffin said.
Most research recommends at least seven hours of sleep for the average adult and up to nine or even ten hours for some elite athletes.
Another common mistake gym newbies make is what Duffin calls “shiny object syndrome” — trying out many different workout programs in a short time, without spending much time on any of them.
“People are trying to find the secret sauce. They’ll try an approach for a month and then hop to the next thing, but the only way you can learn what works for you is to stick with something,” he said.
He recommends being consistent with a program for at least six months for best results.
Fuel your body
Duffin said people often start a new fitness routine and a new diet at the same time, trying to change their body composition in the shortest amount of time.
But to build muscle effectively, you need to be in a calorie surplus, which means eating more food than you burn off in the form of exercise and daily activities. Cutting calories too much can slow muscle growth, worsen fatigue, and impair your progress on a new workout program.
To avoid missing out on gains, Duffin recommends changing one major variable in your routine at a time. For instance, if you’re adding workout days or training more intensely, give your body time to adjust before making big tweaks to your diet.
Work smarter, not harder
Finally, while it can be tempting to go all-out on your fitness goals, Duffin said overtraining is a major barrier to progress.
“More is not better. You want to do the least amount to get the result you want,” he said.
For fitness newbies, 45-minute workouts, three times a week is a good start.
Duffin said this slow, steady approach may take patience, but it’s the best way to ensure the longevity of your gains.
“The beauty of strength training is that it continues to be progressive over time,” he said.