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If I Were Starting Now
Beginner Bodybuilding Guide

By Wesley James

As much as 25% of my E-Mail is from people who, whether they admit it or not, are beginners. I appreciate that these folks choose to trust us by asking our advice. I try, therefore, to answer each reader with the kind of answer I think will be most helpful. Frankly, I'm weary of writing so many similar answers. Driven by the desire to reduce my work load and recognizing that we were all beginners once, I'm writing this article. It will be posted on our Web site. Thereafter, I'll be able to instruct interested readers to read it to find answers to their questions.

If you're not a beginner don't stop reading just yet. One of the things that makes questions from beginners interesting is that they force us to re-examine the fundamentals. We all have gaps in some basic areas. Moreover, science has changed some of what we once thought to be gospel. Sometimes we miss a figurative update bulletin. For you more experienced trainees, this will be light reading but you're very likely to find a piece of information, or three, that will shake you up, one of those missed bulletins. Besides, you may enjoy the walk down memory lane.

Let me get the most frequently asked questions on the table first. They typically come down to these: "How often should I train?" "What exercises should I do?" "How much weight should I use?" "What about aerobics?" "How much of, or what supplements do I need?" Finally, "How do I know when I'm no longer a beginner?"

I'll answer all these questions plus a few that would be asked if only the questioners knew they should. You'll even get a little anatomy primer along the way.

How often should I train?

The answer to the question, "How often should I train?" is six times a week. Only three of those days, however, should be weight training. The other three, alternated with the weight training, should be aerobics and flexibility. There are three major reasons for this schedule. First, your body needs recovery time between weight training sessions as much as it needs the training itself. The single most common cause of failure to progress is inadequate recuperation. Its hard to over train when you're a true beginner but its easy to develop bad habits.

This leads me to the second reason. If you perform some form of exercise nearly every day, you'll develop the habit of doing so far more readily. Training will, as it should, become as much a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth. If at all possible, you should have enough equipment in your home to allow you to perform either a weight training or aerobic and flexibility workout. If you belong to a gym, great. Go as often as you can. There is much to be gained by having the facilities and environment of a gym. There are also some serious stumbling blocks in gym training. The deciding factor, however, is that the statistical evidence makes it overwhelmingly clear that you are more likely to stay with your program if you can do it at home. I'll mention the equipment you'll need as we go along.

The third reason for training six days a week is that by performing all three types of techniques, you'll optimize your results in all three. The benefit is not merely additive but synergistic. The combined benefit is far greater than the sum of the individual benefits. Moreover, strength without cardiovascular fitness and flexibility is of little use. A bit of exaggeration will help clarify the point. A strong individual who wants to build a house can slide a bag of cement off a truck and throw it up on one shoulder. No matter how strong our builder, it will require aerobic/cardiovascular fitness to carry that bag from the truck to the mixing area. Having both the strength and the endurance to move the bag will get you much closer to building the house, unless the bag falls to the ground. At that point, neither ability, by itself, will get it back up on your shoulder. You'll need flexibility in your knees and hips to squat down and lift the bag back up to where you can carry it. Only when you have all three capabilities are you prepared to complete the job. In sum, life and a healthy, attractive body are like our house building project, you can't complete the job unless you have all the capabilities it requires. Fortunately, you already have the capacity. All you need to do is develop it.

What exercises should I do?

The easy answer to this question is, basic ones. This advice, however, is of little use when you don't know the basics. This article is not intended to teach you how to do the basics or any other exercises for that matter. For that you should obtain a good book on the subject. The best book I've found to serve as such a general reference is Arnold Schwarzenegger's Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. No book on the subject is perfect and this one is no exception. There are some serious errors and omissions. Nevertheless, as a source for checking how a specific exercises should be performed it is invaluable. Now you know where to go for answers, what are the questions? For the beginner the questions are, "Which exercises?. How many times? How much rest in between? How much weight?" The answers will take a little explanation but here goes.

I'll get to the exercises in a moment. First, you'll need to learn a little jargon. I'll use one basic exercise as an example. Let's say you're going to perform a Bicep Curl with a barbell. You start each movement with your biceps, the muscles on the front side of your arms, in extended position. The bar should be held in your hands which should be palm forward. (This position is properly described as supinated.) Now you bend both arms at the elbow, raising the weight. You'll reach a point where the arms can bend no further due to the natural limit in their range of movement as opposed to the weight being too heavy. This first half of the movement is called the positive or, more correctly, concentric phase. To complete the movement, you lower the weight under the control of the muscles being exercised, in this case the biceps. You should resist the pull of gravity which would naturally pull the weight down. If you don't resist the lowering you're only performing half the movement. This controlled lowering is referred to as "the negative" but more correctly, the eccentric phase. When you have performed both phases of the movement you have done one "rep" which is short for repetition. Let's say you complete the movement eight times. You've performed eight reps. At this point, you might put the weight down. You've ended that sequence of reps. The group of reps are called a "set". Normally, the set ends when you have performed the required number of reps. Thus, when you read an instruction that says, "Perform three sets of eight reps." or sometimes just "3 X 8" it means the following:

Do eight reps then put the weight down and rest.
Pick up the weight again and do eight more reps then put the weight down and rest.
Pick up the weight again and do eight more reps then put the weight down.

That is the end of the exercise for your biceps so it is called a bicep "routine". Had you done a second, different exercise for the same muscle or group of muscles, it would still be part of the same routine even though you'd count the sets and reps separately.

The unanswered question in this scenario is, "How long do I rest between sets? The answer is, "As short a period as you can without compromising performance." That makes it a judgement call. Different individuals rest for different periods. In practice, since most trainees train, as they should, with a partner, they rest about as long as it takes their partner to do his/her set. The guiding principle, however, should be quite different. Weight training is a form of anaerobic exercise. (Anaerobic means "occurring in the absence of oxygen.") It is intended that the limiting performance factor be the strength of the muscles not the need for oxygen. You should, therefore, rest sufficiently for your breathing to regularize though not necessarily return fully to normal resting rate. The duration of this period may vary from person to person, from exercise to exercise and even from day to day. You will, with experience, learn to judge when you've rested sufficiently. I can give you a few tips. If you find yourself stopping during your sets to take a couple of extra breaths, you may not be resting long enough. Alternately, if you're resting for one minute or more and still stopping for air during your sets, you should continue resting for the period you've been resting and try to learn to complete your sets without stopping for air. The idea behind this practice is to train your system to increase its aerobic efficiency. If you're performing aerobic exercise on the days when you're not weight training, your aerobic fitness should improve over time. These two practices, aerobic exercise and eliminating breathing rests during sets, should result in increased cardiovascular fitness. So, returning to our original question, a more complete answer would be, "Rest for as short a period as you can without compromising performance but no more than about one minute between sets."

Finally, we get to the initial question, "Which exercises should I perform?" The short answer is, "One or less for each major body part." That may be a bit confusing so I'll clarify. There are 206 muscles in the body and sooner or later every one of them should receive training. You can not and should not train all of them every workout, every week or even in any one, three or five month period. Not all muscles require the same type, frequency or amount of work. The idea is to create maximum results from the effort you expend. For the beginner, this is accomplished by working the areas with the greatest muscle mass which, as a result, have the greatest potential for growth. The largest area in terms of muscle mass are the legs, followed by the back, shoulders, chest and finally arms. That's five areas and doesn't begin to be exhaustive. For a rank beginner, that's already too much work for one workout. We either have to eliminate training some body parts or find exercises that train more than one body part at a time. It would be hard to train legs and arms in one movement. Actually, legs and most other body parts are difficult to combine. Thus we must include an exercise for the legs. The back, more specifically the wing like muscles that extend to the sides on the back, are properly called the latissimus dorsi. In bodybuilding parlance, the "lats". They are hard to exercise without involving the biceps. Thus, if we include an exercise for the lats, we can work the front of the arms at the same time. We will, however, still need an exercise that involves the muscles on the back of the arms, the triceps, and another body part. Fortunately, that's easy to do. Any pushing movement, usually referred to as "pressing" will involve the triceps. We can use a movement that involves the shoulders and the triceps. The shoulders are formed by a three part muscle, the deltoid, or colloquially, "delts". Each deltoid has an anterior or front head, a lateral or side head and posterior or rear head. Each can be targeted by different movements. We're going to try to keep them in balance through our choice of exercises. Finally, we have the chest. The chest muscles, pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, usually just called "pecs", are such visible and attractive muscles that we don't want to ignore them. We can, however, improve them fairly easily at this point so we will include an exercise that involves the pecs and to a degree the anterior deltoid. So your starting work out will look like this:

Body Part Exercise S X R Notes
Legs Squats 3 X 8 n/a
Lats and Biceps Bent Row 3 X 8 Underhand grip
Posterior & Lateral Deltoid + Triceps Press Behind Neck 3 X 8 Seated
Chest and Anterior Deltoid Flat Bench Flyes 3 X 8 n/a

This is not the traditional group of exercises prescribed for beginners. It isn't too different but the differences are significant. The standard beginner's work out is Squats, Standing Barbell Presses (often incorrectly called "Military Presses"), Bench Press and Bicep Curls. There are, based on current information, a number of problems with this program. The Standing Press is a good movement but as a beginner one runs a significant risk of injury to the back from performing the movement incorrectly. I consider this an unwarranted risk. The Bench Press is a fine movement but its pressing action is redundant if you're already performing another pressing movement. The Bicep Curl is also a fine movement but the return in muscle growth for the energy invested is too low for a starting work out program. Both the traditional starting work out and our recommendation include some risky elements. They are unavoidable as are injuries during training but the risks should be minimized. The Squat is always a risk because it can be tough of the knees and back even when performed properly. You should try them but only with a training partner to spot you. Continue squatting unless you experience knee or back pain. Unfortunately, not everyone can perform squats without hurting their knees, back, ankles or arches. Articles have been written that argue that it's all a matter of proper execution. According to these authors, anyone can squat. I'm not persuaded. Not everyone can squat safely. Nevertheless, everyone can work their legs effectively. Those who can't squat can use the Leg Press or the Lunge. Each of these movements can be used as mass builders as well. Leg Extensions are effective for shaping. The Bent Row can also be tough on the back if it isn't performed correctly. You must not round your back. If you keep your back flat and the movement very strict, meaning only those parts of the body that must move actually do so, it can be completely safe and very effective. The Press Behind the Neck can be difficult for some individuals who lack sufficient flexibility in their shoulder joints. Unless you're over forty, I believe that if you start performing the movement with a light weight and execute it slowly you will increase your flexibility enough over time so that by the time you're ready for heavier weights you'll have the flexibility to use this movement. The major advantage of using the Press Behind the Neck is that it focuses the effort on the posterior deltoid which is harder to target than other parts of the shoulder. The auxiliary muscled worked by the movement are those of the upper back. These include the trapezius, rhomboidials and the infraspinatus. All of these are important to improved posture. The trapezius are also very showy, filling the space between the neck, the clavicles (the bones that run across the top of the chest) and the shoulders. The traps, as they are usually called, also extend into the upper back helping to create a strong foundation for other movements that will become important in the early stages of training. There is some risk of back injury but if one performs them seated on a strong, straight- backed chair or bench they're reasonably safe. A lifting belt is also a useful protection. It is not a good idea to perform this movement without a training partner close at hand.

Lastly, the Flat Bench Fly for the chest is traditionally eschewed in favor of the Bench Press as the movement of choice for chest. My previous observation about using two pressing movements apply here but the more significant issue is that flyes create more uniform development of the lower, outer and inner regions of the pectorals. If you were preparing for powerlifting, Olympic style lifting or even football the bench press would have a more persuasive argument. We are training as bodybuilders, aesthetic predominates over power considerations. This aesthetic consideration reflects itself in another way. One reason for choosing the fly over the bench press is that flyes provide a controlled stretch to the skin that covers the area where the pecs meet the delts (commonly referred to as the Pec-Delt tie-in). This is significant because of the tendency for this area to develop stretch marks. If the skin is stretched regularly, under control, using flyes, the skin becomes more elastic and is less likely to develop these unattractive marks which can not be removed, even surgically, once they appear. These marks are not particularly harmful but they are not visually appealing and should be avoided. (Some "gym rats" consider them a badge of honor but that is machismo talking. Besides what else can one say once one has them.)

How much weight should I use?

I've left this, the toughest question for last. Most writers don't even attempt to answer this question or answer it with another question. I'll give you a concrete answer, "At this beginning stage in your training, very little." Other authors will suggest percentages of your body weight, percentages of the maximum you can lift for one rep (known as one rep max) or other largely meaningless schemes. These schemes ignore the realities of the beginners situation. Body weight is not a good indicator of strength level in beginners and one does not know their one rep max if they've never lifted before. Attempting to perform a one rep maximum effort at this early stage in ones training is meaningless and, worse yet, dangerous. The limiting factor in beginners is more likely to be the muscle coordination necessary to perform a given movement than actual strength. The essential goal of very early training is to learn to perform each movement with absolute correctness. Heavy poundages will come quickly enough once the movements are properly learned. The early goal, therefore, can be stated as, "Use as little weight as you can use and still feel the movement properly." You need actual poundages, however, so we'll hone in on an exact answer.

No matter what weight would be ideal, the equipment available for your use will dictate the weight you use as much as your strength. In gyms dumbbells are usually available in five pound increments. Home trainees are usually limited to adding two three-pound plates or two five-pound plates to their bars. That means that the smallest increment will be four, five, six or ten pounds. The minimum weight one can use is generally about five pounds, either the smallest dumbbell, the dumbbell bar without plates or an empty barbell which usually weighs either about fifteen lbs. or forty-five pounds (standard or Olympic bar). The way to determine the weight you should use is to start with the lightest weight available and work up, one set at a time, until you can no longer perform the movement in slow motion, as if you were watching a movie. Each set should be eight reps and you should feel every inch of every movement from the start to the end. As soon as there is the slightest break in form, a little swing, a little lean, anything no matter how slight, you've found your starting weight. You'll have to be honest with yourself about you form and trust your training partner. Remember, slow motion until you hit the slightest break in form. Concentrate on every moment of every movement. Feel the contraction of your muscles. Observe the way the weight moves through every inch of the range. Don't stop at the starting or ending position of any movement but move through the complete range of each movement. For the first three weeks, every rep of every workout should be performed this way, very slowly. You are working your muscles but more importantly you are teaching your muscles how to work. This will serve you well for the rest of your training life. I know you want to get in there and throw some weight around. There'll be plenty of time for that. For now, it is imperative that you learn how to exercise correctly.

After three weeks, nine workouts, you can begin to increase your poundages by the smallest increment available to you until you observe even the slightest form break. You can also increase your performance speed a bit. At that point, back down on the weight increment and continue at that level. Thereafter, you can attempt to increase your weight once per week. The best day to attempt a weight increase is after your complete rest day. Continue this pattern for the balance of the first six weeks.

After six weeks, you can add one additional exercise every three weeks. I'll give you a list of exercises to choose from at the end of this section. When you add an exercise go through the slow motion process I described to establish your training weight. You can continue adding exercises until one of three conditions occur:

When you're performing two exercises per body part
You can't increase your weight on at least one of the exercises for each body part
without sacrificing form, even in the slightest, for a week
The length of your total workout exceeds forty-five minutes.

Using these parameters continue until you reach a three week plateau, when no increase is possible. At that point you should change your workout completely. Take a week off and return to one exercise per body part training in slow motion using movements you haven't performed previously. Work back up using the exact same system. This pattern will take you through your first year of training.

You'll probably be reading magazines and books on training during the first year, as you should. You'll also hear all kinds of advice from other trainees in your gym, at shows or wherever you meet other weight trainers. They'll talk about training to failure, cheating, super sets, giant sets, split routines negative training and Position of Flexion (POF) training. These and dozens of other techniques can and should be used in their place, but not by beginning bodybuilders. You don't need them. They won't improve your progress and may actually slow your growth. Each of these techniques is another way of increasing the intensity of the training process. The sooner you start tampering with the intensity in ways other than those outlined, you run the risk of creating an over-trained condition and the loss of gains and perhaps hard-earned muscle tissue. I'm a strong proponent of training to failure (I've trained that way for more than twenty years) but only after you thoroughly know what you're doing. My guidance would be different if you were training for strength, speed, jumping ability or some other goal rather than or as adjunct to your bodybuilding training but for the strict bodybuilding trainee there is no exception. If you subscribe to MMJ and, while I'm admittedly biased, you should, you don't need to apply everything you read immediately. Save the articles till you're at the stage where you can benefit from them. They can guide your exercise choices, diet, supplements and such but not your training style. Use your intelligence to extract what is relevant and apply only that information.

In closing out this section of the article I'm including a list the list of exercises from which you can choose. It is not complete. No list could be. There are a nearly endless variety of movements available. Chose them according to the instructions that accompany them and equipment available to you.

Squats Lunges Hack Squats Sissy Squats Leg Extensions ¯
Dead Lifts Reverse Hyper-Extensions Leg Curls ¯ ¯ ¯
(Standing, Military)
Side Press (Dumbbell) Arnold Press Laterals
(Front, Side, Bent)
Upright Rows Cable Laterals
(High & Low)
Bench Press
(Flat, Incline, Decline)
Bench Flyes
(Flat, Incline, Decline)
Dips Cable Crossovers ¯ ¯
T-Bar Rows Chins Pull Ups
(Close & Wide Grips)
Pull Downs
(Front & Rear)
Cable Rows ¯
Hyper-Extensions Good Mornings Nautilus or Cybex
Back Machine
¯ ¯ ¯
Crunches Reverse Crunches Cable Crunches Pelvic Tilts Hanging Knee-Ups Leg Raises
Barbell Curls Dumbell Curls Incline Curls Preacher Curls Reverse Curls Cable Curls
Lying Tricep Extensions Close-Grip Bench Press French Press Kick Backs Press Downs ¯

What about aerobics?

I stated earlier in this article that on the days when you're not lifting weights you should be performing aerobic and flexibility exercises. I'm not going to teach aerobics or stretching techniques here. I will, however, provide some guidance. Find an aerobic activity that you like. My favorite aerobic activity is cycling (well, my second favorite). Its easy on the joints, always aerobically challenging and good fun. The steady pounding of running or jogging is tough on guys my size. Frankly, I think it would be tough on anyone over two-hundred pounds. Nevertheless, if you enjoy it and your joints can handle it, go to it. Speed walking is a safer alternative. In-line skating or as its popularly known roller blading (Roller Blade is actually a brand name) is a good choice. Swimming is a good choice for aerobic stimulation but not for weight loss. It is also a problem for many as a year-round activity. If you'd like to mix the types of aerobic training you do, that's fine, perhaps even beneficial. The most important issue is that you choose one or more activities that you will perform, rain or shine, all year round, three days per week. I still like cycling.

One other consideration you should keep in mind, two or more person activities such as martial arts or boxing, handball, tennis, basketball or the like can be a great deal of fun. They are not good choices for your regular aerobic activity. You need the type of activity that permits you to reach and maintain your heart rate in a fixed range. Multi-person activities don't readily allow such control. If you enjoy playing any of these sports, feel free to participate in them in moderation but don't consider them as your aerobic activity.

Whatever activity you chose, you will probably want to obtain a heart rate monitor. These gadgets aren't strictly necessary but they make your task much easier to accomplish and more accurate. The key to aerobic activity that challenges the heart and encourages the body to burn fat, rather than just exercising the heart, is the duration and rate at which your heart beats during the activity. Here's how you determine your target heart rate:

220 minus Age = Maximum Heart Rate

Maximum Heart Rate X 0.65 = Target Heart Rate

220 is not a magic number just a good approximation. Some individuals are more fit, others less. Your fitness capacity does not really decline linearly with your years but close enough for estimation purposes. The reason the first factor needn't be exact is that your fitness level will be reflected by how hard you have to work to raise your heart rate to 65% of its maximum. The reason the second factor needn't be exact is that there is actually a range in which your body will burn fat preferentially. That rate centers around 65%. Don't confuse the goal I've stated as the maximum rate at which you can burn calories. Your body burns calories faster at higher heart rates. Once your heart rate exceeds about 70%, however, your body shifts to burning circulating blood sugar and then glycogen stored in the liver. Finally, after some complaining, it will switch to breaking down muscle tissue to extract the glycogen stored in it. This stage is to be avoided at all cost. There is no avoiding the use of circulating blood sugar first but if you keep your heart rate in range your body will shift to burning fat. If your heart rate is too high, there isn't sufficient time for your body to convert fat to sugar for use. Now since you have to burn the circulating sugar first, you'll need to sustain your elevated heart rate for a minimum of twenty minutes. Since there is a limit to how much aerobic exercise you can perform without generating huge amounts of stress hormones, notably cortisol, which can cause the breakdown of muscle tissue you should probably limit your aerobic activity to a maximum of thirty minutes. Performed on a regular basis this is quite sufficient for maintaining excellent cardiovascular fitness

What about flexibility exercises?

There have been few voices in the bodybuilding field that have argued for serious flexability training as part of the development of a muscular body. Among the few who have, two are notable. The first was Achilles Kalos who wrote fairly regular articles for Muscle Mag International in the early days of its publication as a national magazine. Kalos seems to have found few adherents and I've not seen an article from him in quite a few years. The more recent voice for flexability training is John Parrillo. Parrillo makes two arguments for flexability training. The first is that stretching the fascia (the fibrous tissue surrounding muscles) allows the muscles more room to grow in, which he believes encourages size growth. The second reason he offers is that stretching the Golgi tendon organ increases the capacity of the muscles to handle heavy weights. Since relatively little is certain about the functions of the Golgi apparatus, he can purpound whatever theories he likes. Nevertheless, both of these reasons are scientifically questionable based on research. There is little in the way of supporting evidence. Mr. Parrillo makes the argument based on his own observations and experience but such empirical data is not evidence, only arguement. If his were the only reasons for flexability training, it would be a personal call, an experiment of sorts. They are far from the only reasons. For nearly 6,000 years the Hindus have been teaching, using and studying the effects of Hatha Yoga, a systematic approach to stretching and stress reduction as part of an exercise method. The experience of the yogi tells us much more about why we should be stretching. Our weight training will stimulate our muscles and to some degree our nerves, tendons, ligaments and joints. Our aerobic training will stimulate our cardiovascular system. Neither of these, however, adequately stimulate the internal organs, glands or the central nervous system (CNS). No other form of training address balance, internal harmony or internal cleanliness as well as Yoga. These needs of a healthy body are best addressed by the regular practice of Hatha Yoga. Here again it is not my intention to teach Yoga technique. Such techniques can best be learned from personal instruction. Find an instructor that has been trained by Swami Sivananda, Swami Satchitananda or Swami Vishnudevananda. There are many actively teaching all around the world. Take at least a few lessons. At minimum, obtain one of the books written by those I've named. You will find that regular practice of the techniques you'll learn pay extraordinary dividends not only in bodybuilding but in life.

How much of, or what supplements do I need?

Reading this journal you would probably think I'd recommend a whole host of supplements. You would be mistaken. At this early stage of the game, it is too soon to know what types of supplements are likely to be helpful for you. You don't yet need most of the cutting edge supplements I discuss regularly in these pages. What is important is that you adjust your body mass ratio and lifestyle. If you're too fat, you'll want to lower your body fat percentage, though not necessarily your weight. If you're too skinny, you'll want to increase your muscle mass but without adding body fat. Combined with proper training, both of these can be accomplished by learning to eat properly. A proper diet provides 10-15 calories per pound of bodyweight (dependant on your metabolic rate and activity level). The macro-nutrients of your diet should be 60% good quality protein, 30% complex carbohydrate and 10% essential fatty acids. Your diet should be as varied as your circumstances and appetite will allow. You should try to avoid sugar in any form whether you're fat, skinny or perfect. You should supplement your diet only enough to assure near optimal nutrition. Here are our recommendations:

Multi-Vitamin We recommend Solgar's VM-75
Multi-Mineral We like Solgar again, Solomins
Vitamin C Find the cheapest source and take 1-3 grams a day
Vitamin E We recommend dry form

You will, at this stage, benefit more from learning about and using nutrients to improve your overall health than from bodybuilding specific supplements. They are neither mandatory nor ignorable. Without any supplements you will add quite a few pounds of muscle in the first year. With them you may add a few additional pounds. You will, however, feel a great deal better, healthier, more vibrant having taken them. You will be less likely to become ill and more resistant to the various "bugs" that tend to make the rounds in urban areas. Should you become ill you'll have a better chance of fighting off the cause, whatever it may be. I know you'll hear or read about Creatine, DHEA, Vanadyl Sulfate and a vast array of other genuine and bogus ergogenic aids. Reading MMJ will keep you well informed on the large majority of them. Taking them, however, is largely a waste of money this early in your bodybuilding life. They may work but if you follow the approach we've outlined, you'll already be adding muscle and improving your fitness about as quickly as your body can sustain. There is nearly as much chance that even the best supplement will impede your progress, by over-burdening your systems resources, as that you'll achieve any lasting benefit. The time will come, all to soon as you'll learn, when it becomes a great challenge to find ways to add additional muscle. You muscles have finite growth potential and the closer you get to attaining it, the harder it is to find ways to persuade your body that you need another inch of upper arm girth. At that point, the kick in the butt you may get from super- supplement X could be what it takes to spur that growth. Till you reach the point where growth becomes a challenge, save your money. That doesn't mean you shouldn't inform yourself about what's available. Reading the mass market muscle mags, you'll come across a number of absolute lies and even more half truths, misrepresentations and marketing hype. (I suggest you read our Credo.) It takes a fair investment of time to become educated enough about the body to be able to separate the truth from the scam. Of course, MMJ will be here to help but we can't get to every product immediately; there are too many. Most often, it takes time to track down the factual research and report it. Often there is little or no research and we must conduct our own with the limited resources available to us. That takes even longer. All I can advise is that you apply you mind to your body before you put your hand in your pocket. Learn where you can obtain honest information but give your trust judiciously. Science can be a tool or a weapon.

How do I know when I'm no longer a beginner?

You may this the least satisfying answer in this entire article. It isn't an easy question to answer. Everyone is a beginner for the first year. It takes at least that long just to get to know your body and how it responds to various exercise stimulus. I've seen guys in the gym that are still beginners after five years. They haven't got a clue what they're doing. They show up and do whatever occurs to them that day. Sometimes it's the latest routine from one of the magazines. Sometimes it's the exercise some other guy at the gym was doing the last time he was there. You get the idea. Typically, it takes about a year and a half to get out of the beginner stage. Smart bodybuilders always continue to learn, so that's not the determining factor. Perhaps the best way to answer the question is, when you reach the point where you know how to work every muscle in your body effectively you're no longer a beginner. You'll always be looking, reading, testing and experimenting in the search for more effective ways but you know how. When you can adjust your diet to gain or lose size without fear that you won't be able to reverse the process, you're no longer a beginner. When you can get into contest shape, even if you never compete, you're no longer a beginner. Finally, when you know what it means to be an expert, even if you don't know enough to be one, you're no longer a beginner. Good luck, go Make a Muscle.

Copyright © 1996 Physique Tools and Wesley James

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