The Starter’s Guide is built around easy to follow, basic, foundational exercises that will produce gains in muscle size and strength. So if you’re using this program as a kick-start after a long hiatus, you’ll likely be familiar with all the principles Grinnell has incorporated. But, if you’re a gym newbie, we put together some additional guidelines to help you take the first step toward fitness.

Here are some tips on each of the Starter’s Guide main four workouts so you can head to the gym confident in your plan and ready to lift.

Workout A

Workout A, as well as the three other lifting workouts, calls for you to perform many of the exercises in pairs. For each A and B exercise pairing, go back and forth between the two moves one set at a time – similar to a superset, only with full rest between exercises.

The pairs generally consist of opposing movements—for example, a pushing movement and a pulling movement. These pairings are designed to allow you to work more muscle groups with less fatigue in each lifting session. 

Workout B

In Workout B, Grinnell prescribes a drop set for two of the exercises—the goblet squat and the standing calf raise. Drop sets are essentially a technique where you perform an exercise and then drop (reduce) the weight and continue for more reps.

Drop sets are a great way to increase muscle mass as they are a quick and easy way to increase blood flow to the muscles, get the heart pumping and, most importantly, fatiguing the muscles to ensure muscle hypertrophy. The reason why drop sets work is that, in any given set, you are only recruiting a certain amount of muscle fibers. By then stripping the weight down and going lighter, you recruit different muscle fibers, which should help the muscles achieve growth that couldn’t be achieved by sticking with the same weight.

So, for the goblet squat, you will perform eight reps for the first set with your estimated 8-rep max weight. Then, drop the weight about 20-30% and do eight more reps. Drop the weight another 20-30% and complete eight more reps. That’s one set. Do this twice more with two to three minutes of rest between sets.

For the standing calf raise, the same principles apply; only you’ll be changing the number of reps each time you drop the weight. Do 20 reps for the first set with your max weight. Then, immediately drop the weight about 20-30% and do 15 reps. Drop weight again and do ten reps. That’s one set. Do this two more times with a few minutes rest between each set.

Bonus Tip- Romanian vs. Stiff-Legged Deadlift: “With Romanian deadlifts, there’s a bigger bend in the legs and the bar just passes the knees,” says Grinnell. “With stiff-leggeds, the legs stay almost fully straighten and the plates touch the floor.”

Workout C

For Workout C, the last set of each exercise should conclude with two rest-pauses.

Rest-pause training, which calls for you to take short breaks (15-25 seconds), takes advantage of your body’s explosive energy stores – collectively known as phosphagen – helping you to exert maximum force on each work segment. This can mean more total pounds lifted and more calories burned per workout, usually within less time and with less fatigue.

For each of the exercises, rack the weight after your fourth set and rest 15-20 seconds, then perform as many reps as possible with that same weight. Repeat this one more time for a total of two rest-pause sets.

Workout D

Workout D has you perform two to three warmup sets of the barbell squat and the stiff-legged deadlift. Warmup sets on these moves are essential to perfecting form and unlocking your full range of motion, also helping prevent injury. After the warmup sets, start with a moderate weight for your first set of five reps. Slowly increase weight each set until you reach a tough five reps on your last set.

Bonus Tip- Romanian vs. Stiff-Legged Deadlift: “With Romanian deadlifts, there’s a bigger bend in the legs and the bar just passes the knees,” says Grinnell. “With stiff-leggeds, the legs stay almost fully straighten and the plates touch the floor.”

Other Starter’s Guide Tips

  • Perform a dynamic warmup

Begin every workout with the quick, simple Starter’s Guide warmup to prime the body for the ensuing lifting and/or cardio session. “For starters and veterans alike, a warm-up is essential,” says Grinnell. “It prepares your muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments, increases core temperature, improves joint mobility and activates the nervous system.”

  • Get conditioned

Some sort of cardio training is generally recommended in any well-rounded fitness program. And it’s particularly important for beginners. Aside from the obvious health and wellness benefits of building cardiac strength, cardiovascular conditioning helps increase your work capacity, which will be useful when performing intense circuits on the weight room floor. Incorporating cardio is also crucial to fat-burning, which will result in noticeable changes to your physique in a short time.

Check out the Starter’s Guide cardio workouts for Grinnell’s full conditioning plan.

  • Give it a rest

Make sure to take the full amount of rest prescribed between exercises and sets. The rest time allotted in this program is carefully designed to promote muscle growth and strength without hindering recovery. Rushing through your workouts increases your risk of injury and doesn’t allow your muscles the appropriate recovery time to make the most of each lifting session.

  • Take a break

At least one full rest day a week is strongly suggested. Beginners or anyone coming back from a long break from the gym should consider two full rest days per week.

  • Plan ahead

In order to fit in all four lifting sessions and all three cardio/conditioning sessions and still allow for one or two days of full rest, you’ll need to pair a lifting session with one of the cardio sessions one or two times each week. Plan ahead to ensure you schedule enough gym time to tack on cardio after you lift a couple of times a week.

  • Don’t blow your gains in the kitchen

You need to feed your body what it needs to enhance performance and recovery. And, let’s be honest, you also want to make sure all the hard work you’re putting in at the gym gets noticed. For that to happen, you need to make sure you’re adhering to proper nutrition. Stick to the Starter’s Guide four basic nutrition guidelines, and continue cleaning up your diet from there, to help achieve and maintain a noticeable change in your physique.

  • Power down

You grow when you sleep – not when you train. And failing to get enough of it can seriously impede growth, recovery, mental acuity, energy levels and hormone levels. Make sure to get at least eight hours of sleep each night.

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