The First 8 Weeks of Training: Getting Started and Staying With It
Strength training can be intimidating when you are starting from scratch. Your body has become comfortable with not having to constantly adjust its physique in response to external load, and it is happy that way. But you shouldn't be. The longer you wait to begin strength training, the more quickly your body will more or less “age.” When you reach a certain age, your body naturally looses muscle mass (a process called sarcopenia) and your bone density steadily declines. So, the better shape you are in before these inevitable processes start, the more ahead of the curve you will be. You have to start somewhere, so start. Find a gym, a trainer, a buddy, a workout class - whatever. And then stick with it. That’s the key - sticking with it. That’s where you will begin to see these changes. But they don’t all come at once.
When beginning, make it a priority to find a place and/or person you are comfortable with first. There is already resistance when it comes to exercise, so don’t make this resistance even more profound by going to a place that intimidates you and/or doesn’t motivate you. Once you have found this place, ease yourself into it. Too many times people have made up their mind to begin training and then overdo it the first session. This will also provide even more resistance and steer you away from the gym. Go slow to start - low weights, high reps, good form, not a ton of exercises. Then build from there. Begin with maybe 2 days per week of low volume and then work your way up to 3-4 days per week of higher volume. Here’s what will be happening with your body:
1.) You will be sore. Expect and embrace soreness, but it should be a tolerable soreness. This is your body responding positively to the external load that is placed on it - your muscles break down and then rebuild to become resistant to the load you previously placed on it. When you do these same exercises again with similar load, you will be less sore. But once your provide variation and/or apply more load, you will be sore again. This is a natural and beautiful part of the process.
2.) You will see significant improvement as far as weight lifted in the first four weeks or so…but it isn't because of strength gains. Most of this improvement is your neurological system at work. Especially when you are starting from scratch, your body will actually turn on your antagonists muscles (the muscles that oppose the muscles you are targeting in an exercise) in order to protect you from injury. Once your body realizes that you have control over the load you are placing on the targeted muscles, it will allow the antagonists to “turn off” a little bit more, allowing you to lift more weight.
3.) After eight weeks, you will begin to see actual gains in strength. Continuously challenge your body with variation and progress in terms of load and these gains will continue to occur. You body will “plateau” at some point or another, but continue to push past this point. If you reach a place you want to stay at as far as lean muscle mass, keep with it for maintenance purposes.
As discussed in earlier blogs, gaining lean muscle mass will theoretically aid in weight loss by increasing you body resting metabolic rate. You may not burn as many calories as you would in a cardio bout (although it is entirely possible if you do MetCon/ HIIT type training), but you will burn more calories after and at rest!
You have to start somewhere, so why not now?
Stephanie Spoto, CSCS