I wrote this for an FAQ on a forum but thought it would be useful here. Other members of that forum did provide feedback and suggestion on my draft so I can’t take sole credit. I will be posting it as a series of bite sized chunks.
Picking the right routine
You will noticed that all these routines centre on compound exercises (those that involve more than one joint moving) and that’s because they are more result for your effort. In terms of gaining muscle, other exercises are useful in focusing on specific muscles but as some pretty or entirely new you need to focus on every muscle so compounds make a lot more sense. In terms of strength, you can exert, and hence train, much more strength across multi-joint movements so again make a lot more sense.
First you need to know if you are a beginner or intermediate. If you have never/barely lifted a free weight before you are a beginner. If you aren’t sure then you are a beginner. The intermediate routines are listed so you have something to come back to look at later after you are getting to be done with a beginner routine.
The three most tried and tested are Icecream Fitness 5×5, Starting Strength and Stronglift. You need to pick one and stick to it, this matters much, much more than which one you pick. You also need to do it as written- if you don’t know enough to write your own then you don’t know enough to be tweaking one either.
One common problem with new lifters is they don’t start with a light enough weight. Each of the programmes give slightly different advice on exactly how much you could start with but the common theme is not a weight you find particularly challenging. Normally being challenged is fundamental to progress but as a noob you are an exception because you need technique practice more and lighter weights makes this easier. If in doubt always begin by erring on the side of lighter.
Icecream Fitness 5×5 (ICF)
This routine will take you more time than the others, this is because it has more assistance exercises. Assistance exercises are those that aren’t central to your progress towards your given goal but will help you get there. ICF has these because it focused more on looks more than the other two. You’ll gain muscle (diet depending) and get stronger with any of the 3 but ICF helps you develop a more balanced physique. So the question is do you care enough about anaesthetics to spend more time in the gym? If the answer is no then you want to do Starting Strength or Strong Lifts.
If you spend a bit of time googling then you’ll have no trouble finding people swear one is better than the other. The reality is they are so similar it’s a fairly trivial debate and you shouldn’t worry about it.
The main difference is whether you do a power clean (SS) or a row (SL). If you think you might want to move into weightlifting (as in the Olympic sport) eventually then you may well want to learn to power clean now or you might just like the look of it. However power cleans are significantly more complicated to learn to do well, hence make progress on, than a row. If you aren’t that bothered about learning to power clean or aren’t willing to be a bit patient with it then go with a row/SL.
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