Welcome back to Sticking with Fitness, the article series designed to help you realize your fitness ambitions.
Assuming you’ve read last week’s edition, you’re armed with your SMART and stretch goals and suitably motivated.
But, how do you turn that motivation into something more tangible?
That’s where finding a program comes in.
Finding the right program is crucial to realizing your goals. With so many programs out there, though, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start.
Fear not! Today, we’re running through three of the most widely practiced beginners’ fitness regimes. We’ll be talking about their advantages and disadvantages so that you can find the best one fort achieving your goals.
First released as a book by strength guru Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength is a staple of beginner’s strength training.
If weightlifting or powerlifting is of interest to you, then this program is a great place to start.
Starting Strength is a very simple program. There are two different workouts done three times a week, that look something like this:
|Workout A||Workout B|
|3 x 5 Squat||3 x 5 Squat|
|3 x 5 Bench Press||3 x 5 Overhead Press|
|3 x 5 Deadlift||3 x 5 Power Cleans (or Barbell Rows)|
One of the most obvious advantages to Starting Strength is its simplicity. You only need to learn five lifts, the progression is straightforward, and three sessions a week is a manageable time commitment.
In Starting Strength, you start light, adding 5kg to the bar per session. Working this way, you won’t be exhausted after your first session, and you’ll see results quickly; both of which are major motivators.
Also, it’s a fairly balanced program in terms of major weightlifting movements. Squats, hinges and pushes and pulls are all accounted for.
Because of the powerlifting slant, Starting Strength puts a lot of emphasis on lower body. If you’re looking to really build your chest, arms and back, then it has its limits.
It also introduces squats and deadlifts fairly quickly. These lifts, requiring good mobility and balance to achieve, can be difficult for newcomers. And, upping the weight before mastering these movements can limit progress.
Still, there are workarounds. Increasing the weight by 2.5kg, rather than 5kg a session, for example (which is what I did when using Starting Strength) gives you a bit of breathing room for mastering the lifts.
Ice Cream Fitness
Jason Blaha’s Ice Cream Fitness (ICF) 5X5 program feels, in many respects, like a response to Starting Strength. Where Rippetoe’s powerlifting program put an emphasis on the lower body, Ice Cream Fitness is designed to increase muscle gains in the upper body.
Like with Starting Strength, there are two workouts, three times a week.
|Workout A||Workout B|
|5×5 Squat||5×5 Squat|
|5×5 Bench Press||1×5 Deadlift|
|5×5 Barbell Row||5×5 Standing Press|
|3×8 Barbell Shrug||5×5 Barbell Row (10% lighter than Workout A)|
|3×8 Tricep Extension||3×8 Close Grip|
|3×8 Barbells or Incline Curls||3×8 Barbell or Incline Curls|
|2×10 Hyperextensions with Plate||3×10 Cable Crunches|
|3×10 Cable Crunches|
If Starting Strength was too light on upper body for you, then Ice Cream Fitness is very much the antidote. You won’t be short on chest, back and arm gains with this one. All the major movement categories are included, along with the focus on major compound lifts and linear progression. But, you also get plenty of supplementary exercises for your upper body.
Ice Cream Fitness isn’t exactly a simple program, especially when compared to the straightforward Starting Strength.
Your workouts are going to take a lot longer. It’s 5×5, not 3×5 for a start. You’ve also got more exercises per session and a lot of new lifts to learn.
The complexity of the program and the time commitment required can put off some absolute beginners. And, if you’re serious about this one, recovery time is key. You’ll be eating and sleeping a lot to make it work.
You’ve also got the same squats and deadlifts issue from Starting Strength, though, as with that program, increasing your weights by 2.5kg, rather than 5kg is an effective workaround until you’re confident with the lifts.
Nerd Fitness Bodyweight Circuit
Nerd Fitness has exploded in popularity in recent years. The website, which aims to “help nerds, misfits, and mutants lose weight, get strong and get healthy permanently” has attracted a huge following amongst many who wouldn’t normally consider a fitness regime.
Unlike the other regimes on this list, the Nerdfitness Beginner Bodyweight Circuit is designed to be performed outside of the gym. In fact, the only thing you’ll need is a kettle bell, though even this can be substituted for a gallon milk jug. The circuit looks something like this:
|Nerdfitness Beginner Bodyweight Circuit|
|20 Bodyweight Squats|
|10 Push Ups|
|20 Walking Lunges (without weights)|
|10 Dumbbell Rows|
|15 second Plank|
|30 Jumping Jacks|
The very obvious advantage to this one is its accessibility.
It’s short and incredibly simple; you can complete it in under 20 minutes. It doesn’t require any specialist equipment, you can do it pretty much anywhere and it costs you absolutely nothing to do.
As a result, it’s incredibly easy to stick to the Nerd Fitness Beginner Bodyweight Circuit, and it can be a hugely motivating place to start your exercise journey.
Unfortunately, the simplicity that makes the Nerd Fitness Beginner Bodyweight Circuit so accessible is also its biggest downfall. On this program, you’re going to plateau very quickly. You can add more circuits, sure, but you’ll quickly stop seeing the benefits.
It’s perhaps unfair to be too hard on Nerd Fitness for this, though. The whole point of this program is that it’s an introduction to personal fitness, and a means of making fitness a habit. On those terms, it’s a success.
You have your goals. You have your program. Now you need somewhere to train! In next week’s edition, we’ll take you through the process of finding the best gym to put your program into practice, and the pros and cons you’ll need to weigh up.