The Student Room Logo
This thread is closed

Fitness 101- A FAQ for exercise

Hi and welcome to the new FAQ!

Here we try and give a nice succinct FAQ for all major aspects of fitness! From diet to cardio to weights we cover it all! :biggrin:

With special thanks to BKS, k9markii, SlowBro93, Hype en Ecosse, The Blind Monk and Woody MKC

Thanks also to OU student and E ai epaz :smile:
(edited 7 years ago)
Healthy Eating and Healthy Living

We all care about our health and fitness in this subforum, and an important part of that is having a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle is any lifestyle that promotes physical, mental and emotional well-being, but it can be difficult to know what changes can be made to make your lifestyle healthier, or to understand what a healthy lifestyle looks like. There are many factors that contribute to a healthy lifestyle and well-being, but the two that will be the focus of this FAQ are physical activity and diet.

[field="Physical Activity"]Physical activity is an incredibly important part of healthy living and avoiding disease. It's often said that if exercise were a pill, it would be prescribed to everyone and be one of the most effective drugs to ever exist.

What is physical activity?

When people think of physical activity, they think of hours spent sweating in the gym, running outside, cycling to work and swimming in the pool. However, physical activity isn't just about the exercise you do. It's about all the movement you do throughout the day: this includes day-to-day walking, housework, DIY work, gardening and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. All of these things contribute to the amount of physical activity time you rack up throughout the day.

How much physical activity should I be getting?

The physical activity guidelines for the UK state that all adults should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. This should also include at least 2 days of muscle-strengthening work done per week. You may be wondering what type of activity falls under these vague headings of "moderate", "vigorous" and "muscle-strengthening" and NHS choices does a good job of clarifying all of that here!

How can I increase my physical activity?

For most people, a large proportion of their physical activity time is made up by walking. Walking is an ancient sort of physical activity that's made up a majority of our day for millenia, and it continues to be an important part now. Anything that increases the time you spend walking is fantastic: taking the stairs instead of lifts; getting off public transport one stop early or parking at a distance away from your destination and walking the rest of the way; use breaks as an opportunity to get up and walk around. Anything that makes you expend more energy than you normally do is a step in the right direction.

A comprehensive guide to getting into exercise is provided in the rest of this FAQ, and any of these can also be used as a great method to increase your physical activity time!

Is how long I spend sitting down relevant?

Yes! Absolutely! Research has shown that time spent sitting down is independently related to disease and fitness in the long-term: long periods of time spent sitting down, even if you already meet your weekly physical activity targets, contributes to poor healthy!

How much time can we spend sitting, then!?

To be honest...nobody's really sure quite yet! Although we know that excessive sitting is bad for your health, we don't know at what point it becomes excessive. Current recommendations are that you should take a break to walk around for a couple of minutes every 30-60 minutes. Again, any time spent out of a chair is more beneficial than being in a chair: so things like standing up on public transport, getting up during the adverts on the tele or while matchmaking in a video game, and trying to avoid driving somewhere if you can walk there instead is beneficial.

What's the point of all this physical activity if I feel healthy??

Most people who read this guide will be students in their late teens or early twenties. The burden of disease for people in this population is quite low! However, the effects of lifestyle choices made now are seen much later in life when things like heart disease, joint disease and diabetes start to catch up to people. Efforts to live a healthy lifestyle now are to fend off disease and ill health in the future. Hence why it's important for everyone to try to lead a healthy lifestyle.[/field]
(edited 8 years ago)
Healthy eating

We are battered with information of what you should, or shouldn't eat to be healthy. This part is to try and simplify it! :smile:

What is healthy eating?

Healthy eating, is a diet balanced around eating enough, but not too much fat, protein, carbohydrates and fibre(knowns as macronutrients) in vitamins and minerals (known as micronutrients).

Why are macornutrients and micronutrients important?

Fat is essential, no matter what the glossy mag industry says! Fat is needed for hormones like testosterone and oestrogen and hence is essential for everyday life. Saturated fats (mainly animal fats) have a bad reputation, whilst poly-unsaturated (mainly plant based fat) have a good reputation. These lines are blurred however, with most of saturated fats being associated with fried foods, which are low in all everything but the calorie content! Despite this saturated fat, especially in men, it is needed for testosterone production. Sources include meat, oils and even some fruits like avacados.

Protein is essential for maintaining strong muscles, hormone production and having too low a protein content can have effects even down to how strong your cells are! Protein is most abundant in meat, however lentils and grains are good sources for vegetarians/ vegans. Have a look at the how much protein do I need FAQ :smile:

Carbohydrates are what your body uses as it's number 1 fuel, it is essential for all activities, from thinking to moving. Cereals, rice, potatoes etc are all good sources of them.

Fibre is the forgotten macronutrient, there are two types both found in plants, (best sources are pulses, beans and green veg) - fibre is associated with lowering blood cholesterol levels and decreasing the chances of things like bowel cancer :smile:

Wholegrains are the best of carbohydrates and fibre combined, the high fibre content slows the absorption of the carbohydrates, giving you prolongued energy release plus it helps keep you fuller for longer. Wholegrain bread, cereals and brown rice are examples :smile:

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals - whilst deficiency in individual vitamins and minerals is uncommon, it is becoming an increasing problem. Eating a varied diet, rich in lean proteins and high in fruit and veg will mean you don't need any supplementation.

So how do I do this?

In today's society, we're increasingly busy and tempted by salty, fatty foods with little to no micro-nutrition and low in fibre. Learning to cook, is the cheapest and easiest way to improve your diet.
You don't need lots of fancy equipment, a pair of knives (one big, one small), an oven tray, a pair of saucepans and a chopping board is all you need to start with.

Whilst setting up with the bare essentials may seem expensive, it will be cheaper in the long run. Discount supermarkets and the reduced to clear isle in your normal supermarkets are a MUST for the person on a budget. Cheap ingredients are around if you look for them. With the rise of the online butcher and veg shop, cheap ingredients have never been easier!

Asian shops are fantastic for herbs and spices, they're often a mere fraction of the super market price, check them out!

Learning to cook is a daunting experience, however the Delia Smith "complete cookery course" is perhaps the easiest place to start as they are simple and pretty much bomb proof, The Beyond Baked Beans is awesome for veggies :smile:

Don't know what to cook, websites like pinterest and yummly are really good for finding recipes for what ingredients you have :smile:

This is will take ages!

Cooking really needn't be a slow, all day task. Cooking a chicken breast, some veg and some rice needn't take more than 15 minutes and the more you do it, the quicker you shall become :smile:

But why is processed food so bad?

Now I like something salty or "bad" as much as the next person, however too much processed food is bad; as mentioned above it's often very low micronutrients and fibre, yet very high in fat and hence calories! It is also very high in salt or sugar to make it taste nicer or make you crave it more. Whilst you need a bit of salt in your diet, too much is often linked with artery disease and raised blood pressure - not healthy!

Food labels and nutritional information

Don't be caught out by food labels! Whilst they might provide information as to how many calories etc are in them; always check how much of said food this accounts for! An example of this is on cereal packets; whilst the calorie content looks low, the amount of food needed to reach said calorie count is often calculated as 30 grams, which isn't a lot! Make sure you weigh your food not to be caught out :smile:

RDAs - how to use them

Recommended daily allowances are guildines for the entirity of the 70 million people here in the UK. These should serve as what they are - guildines. If you're a young, active and healthy, you're going to need more than the 2000 calories as a woman or 2500 calories as a man. Whilst if you're utterly sedentary, you probably don't need so much. Using a Total Daily Energy Expenditure calculator like here are good places to start :smile:
(edited 8 years ago)
How do I lose weight?

Calories in vs calories out

Losing weight is a game of numbers, if you eat more than you burn then you will not lose weight!

Start by working out your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) via a website such as

Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure is the number of calories you burn with your current exercise level - be honest to yourself!

Then to keep track of the number of calories, use a calorie counter such as My fitness pal or Livesstrongmyplate; the number of calories you consume each day under the level of your TDEE!

A pound of bodyfat is worth 3500 calories, so so lose the recommended 1lb (ish) of body fat, a week you should eat approximately 500 calories less than your TDEE per day :smile:

TDEE calculators are only a guide however, if you're not losing weight after a fortnight, then it's time to cut calories further, try another 250 calories lower and work from there

But I'm hungry all the time when I diet

In addition, lots of people when they start dieting struggle with hunger pangs and makes cheating tempting! The best advice is to hold on and keep strong, you'll get used to the reduced portion sizes!

How satiating a food is, is how filling it it. Improving what you eat, will make dieting easier eating more protein and fibre helps as both are highly satiating. Lean proteins like chicken and protein give bag for your buck, due to being relatively low calorie yet high in protein and hence is good for weight loss. High fibre foods include beans, lentils and green vegetables and are also very satiating.

Should I do xyz diet

The answer as to whether you should do a diet prescribed by anyone is - no

Diets which take you away from a normal healthy diet is a bad one, as once you've finished the diet - most people will fall back into they're old ways! Keep a normal diet and reduce your portion sizes, weigh stuff and plug it into Myfitnesspal etc :smile:

Do detox diets work?

In a word... No! Detoxing is a fitness fad promoted by people who just want to sell you stuff! Detoxing has no scientific merit and your kidneys and liver do it all for you!

Keeping hydrated will do more for detoxing than any diet supplement will :smile:
(edited 8 years ago)
How to gain weight AKA Bulking

Much like losing weight, gaining weight is the same principle - calories in vs calories out.

Start by working out your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) via a website such as

Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure is the number of calories you burn with your current exercise level - be honest to yourself!

Then to keep track of the number of calories you eat, use a calorie counter such as My Fitness Pal or Livesstrong's My Plate. To bulk aim to eat 500 calories above your TDEE as a start to gain around a lb a week of bodyfat. Eat the same number of calories over a two week period and if you're gaining more than 1lb a week eat about 200 calories less. If you've not gained enough - add another 200 calories and then try again

I eat loads and I can't gain weight

This is a common problem. The most likely case is that you don't eat as much as you think you do and is a well studied common problem! :smile:

Ok, maybe... so how do I eat more

Start with more meals and/or bigger portion sizes. The number of calories you eat each day is what matters, not how many meals you eat- try different things to see what works best for you. :smile:

Liquid calories can help. Make your own weight gaining shakes - milk (or a dairy free alternative) some peanut butter/ almond butter some whey protein if you choose and some fruit to make a tasty protein rich weight gaining shake.

Do I have to eat clean?

Eating chicken and rice only will make you're life a misery! That's not to say that you shouldn't eat healthily, but the so called clean diet will eventually drive you crazy :tongue: Eat a balanced diet, which involves having treats in moderation. Chocolate etc is okay, but only in moderated amounts!
(edited 8 years ago)
But bro how much protein?

The fitness industry likes protein... A LOT. You'll find it comes in bucket loads of forms and ranges from dirt cheap to horrifically expensive!

So how much do I need?

Papers have found that the absolute maximum amount of protein that competitive athletes can increase performance on is 0.8g of protein per lb of body weight. It must however be noted that these are professional athletes with very intense training programmes.

I'm not a professional athlete though!

As 99% of us aren't professional athletes we don't have to eat so much protein! The recommended amount of protein for people is between 1-1.5g of protein per kilo of bodyweight.

Will eating more than this be detrimental?

Within reason - no, however your body will convert your protein into carbs as an alternative energy source. As protein is more expensive gram for gram than carbs, you'll just be eating expensive carbs!

But abc bodybuilder recommends huge protein intakes!

They do, largely as elite bodybuilders are firstly professionals looking to put on as much muscle mass as possible, whilst they are often on a lot of steroids (even if they claim they're natural, more often than not they aren't!) and have much greater nutrient partitioning (as in more of the protein they eat can go to muscle growth) and hence can use more protein. That said many intake far too much for it to be of any use!

Where should I get my protein?

My Protein and Go Nutrition are the most commonly recommended protein companies, their impact whey protein and Whey 80 respectively, are some of the best value on the market :smile:
(edited 8 years ago)
The beginners guide to cardio

Everyday, you see adverts and notices about how we should all do more exercises. As a beginner, you may get tempted into getting an expensive gym membership. However, introducing cardio into your life can be a lot easier and less strain to the wallet :tongue:

What are the benefits of cardio?

There are many reasons why you should do more cardio. Apart from things such as losing weight, you can benefit from a reduced heart risk, stronger bones and conditions such as diabetes. There have also been studies that have shown that you'll have more natural energy, improve on your memory, feel less stressed, feel more positive and grow in confidence :yep: So introducing cardio into your life can only be a positive right? :biggrin:

Where should I begin?

As with any new activity, you should make sure you start off SLOWLY. If you tell yourself that you'll be aiming to an hour of running every single day for a week, not only will you exhaust your body but it will be a mental strain too. This will then cause you to just give up.

Try and start doing things that are small and build up. If you take the bus home, get off a stop early and walk the rest. If you take the lift at uni or work, walk up the flight of stairs it it's only a couple of floors (on average, you can burn 10 calories for every flight of stairs :ahee:) Once you've introduced these into your life, challenge yourself. You could aim for example to do 2000 steps a day. A lot of phones have tracking devices that can measure this too :smile:

By building up, you'll be able to see the changes and it'll encourage you to doing more :h:

How about joining an activity?

There are many sports clubs and classes that you can join that will allow you to increase in activity and cardio. These can be in your local gym or run by your university societies. Have a look around for these :smile: Most of the time the equipment is provided so it's just the case of having suitable clothing :yep: No need to go expensive, you can have a look in sports direct for example and they would have everything you need in terms of gear.

You can also consider doing something like Couch to 5K. This is a 9 week programme where you'll be able to run 5K in 30 minutes. You could introduce this once you're used to having cardio in your life. Here are further details:

Anything I should consider?

As with anything, if you have any form of medical problems make sure you get the approval of a physician. Once you have the seal of approval you should be good to go! :h:


Running requires little specialist equipment, can be social and highly enjoyable. It is also a highly effective way of losing weight and increasing fitness levels. This article will detail how you can get started, improve and enjoy running. You can discuss running on The Student Room in the running thread or get motivation for beginning your journey in the couch 2 5k thread.

Getting Started
If you are new running there are a number of programmes that can help ease you into it. If you take part in a lot of sport or have good cardiovascular endurance you may already be able to do this and wish to skip this step. One of the most prominent of these is called Couch to 5K and is provided by the NHS to encourage people to get into a healthy lifestyle. This is particularly useful as it starts off with short bursts of jogging between longer recovery walks and by the end of 10 weeks, running three times per week, you will be able to run 5km (just over 3 miles).

What To Wear
The most important thing to get right with running is footwear. It is imperative you wear trainers to reduce risk of injury. There are many different styles of running shoes and different things suit different people. You can buy some very cheaply but the most expensive shoes aren't always the best for you. A key thing that many specialist running shops offer is gait analysis. This is done by recording a runner on a treadmill and slowing down the footage to see how the foot moves through each stride. Your running technique can put stress on different parts of your feet or ankles and using shoes that suit your running style will be more comfortable as well as reducing the risk of injury.

In terms of clothing, make sure what you wear you are comfortable to run in. Dress appropriately for the weather so what you wear will probably depend on the time of year. If you are planning to run at night or early morning it helps to wear bright clothing so you can be seen easily. Reflective material can also be useful to help you be seen in the dark and if where you are running is not well lit you may consider using a head-torch.

Where To Run
*Treadmill: If you have access to a treadmill this can be a good option when the conditions aren't good you are still able to run and the surface of the treadmill is slightly springier than concrete so can be less jarring on joints. Bear in mind that running on a treadmill for extended periods can become tedious.

*Pavements: Pavements are traffic-free and one of the most obvious places to run for people in cities. The concrete is quite unforgiving on your legs.

*Paths: Cycle tracks, bridleways, canal towpaths and footpaths can be excellent ways to explore an area and continue running. These are all traffic-free but it's worth noting that they might not be particularly even underfoot meaning it can be more challenging to run in these conditions.

*Grass: Running on grass is excellent as it's a more comfortable surface to run on but isn't significantly more difficult than running on pavements. If you live near a park or playing field you can enjoy some excellent running on the grass.

*Roads: Many roads are simply inappropriate due to traffic. However, by carefully selecting quiet, safe roads you can open up huge areas of countryside for new routes. Choose wisely and stay visible.

There are many forms of plotting software to map out a route to run before you set off common examples can be found at mapometer or map my run but there are many to choose from. Planning your route in advance can be important for safety, knowing your way and the distance you are from your finishing point. You will soon build up favourite routes that you can repeat and adapt to suit your needs. Running can also be a great way to explore an area and be very scenic.

Tips to avoid injury
*Wear suitable clothing particularly sensible footwear
*Don't run in worn-out shoes. They will not support your feet and can lead to injuries
* Always warm up with some jogging to raise the heart rate and dynamic stretches before exercise to prepare you.
*Listen to your body. If you are in pain (not just out of breath) slow down or stop
*Run within your limits. It's good to push yourself but trying to improve too quickly can lead to injury and will be much slower
*If you do get injured take some time off
*If worried you are losing fitness when injured do a low impact sport such as cycling or swimming (aquajogging can be very effective)
*Don't overtrain and build in rest days to allow your body to recover
*Seek specialist advice if injured (doctor and/or physiotherapist)

I can run 5K but I want to improve
Firstly congratulations you are now a good runner and ready to develop. One of the first things you may want to do is join a local running club. You can find local running clubs through the UKA website This can be good due to the social running as well as focussed sessions to help you improve your running ability. To improve you will be wanting to run at least three times a week but focussed sessions are more important than the amount of time you spend on your feet.

The following are commonly used sessions to increase speed and the strength of your legs to help you run faster:

*High intensity interval training: This is used to increase your speed, ability to recover from exercise and run at high speeds for longer. It can be performed with a range of distances or times but the essentials are that you run a shortish distance 200m to 1 mile depending on your ability and what you want to work on at a high intensity (you wouldn't be able to hold a conversation easily at this pace). This is then interjected with recovery periods at a much lower intensity usually walking or jogging slowly. The aim is to keep a consistent high intensity in each interval and you can repeat this a number of times, suitable for your ability and related to the distance of each interval.

*Hill repetitions: This is used to increase the strength of your legs, which in turn can make you last longer at a fast pace or go at a harder pace over difficult terrain such as mud. Your legs will also get fatigued less quickly so you can run further. In essence this technique is very similar to interval training but on an incline. By running up the hill you are putting in much more effort than you would on the flat and forcing your legs to work harder to drive you up.

Other types of sessions can focus on other aspects of your running performance:

*Long runs: A weekly longer run can help improve both your muscular and cardiovascular endurance as well as how long you last on your feet. This is essential if you are wanting to run longer distances but it also improves your performance over all distances. Speed doesn't really matter with a long run.

*Tempo Session:Tempo sessions can both improve your pacing and improve your speed over a significant period. The main focus of a tempo session is to run at the goal pace you wish to run at in the future, for a race or otherwise. By running at the goal pace but for a shorter distance it helps you feel what speed you need to run at in the future and trains your muscles to know what to expect.

All of these are useful ways to improve and you are likely to make significant improvement by following these. As ever, it is important to listen to your body - if you are unsure it is better to avoid injury rather than pushing yourself beyond your limits.

I want to race
Racing is a great way to enjoy running as well as giving you the motivation to keep running, whether running a mile for charity or attempting a marathon there are similar things that are useful to remember. To find out about races near you, you can look at the links in More Info.

*Don't set off too fast. When starting a race it's always tempting to sprint towards the front but conserving your energy for when you need it is best. The aim is to run at a virtually even speed the entire way (or slightly faster towards the end)

*There is only one person you are racing in any race and that's yourself, you know how much effort you're putting in and so long as you're happy with how you did that is key.

*HAVE FUN. Racing can be really enjoyable, challenging yourself as well as making friends with other runners.

More Info
Here is a non exhaustive list of useful sources of information about running.

NHS Couch to 5K is a ten week program aimed at getting you from a complete beginner to running over three miles.

Parkrun is a set of free community-organised runs that take place every week. You turn up with a barcode, run 5K and receive a time.

Runbritain is a website made by UKA, the governing body of running, it links to all affiliated races though there may be fun runs and "unofficial" races that are not mentioned.

Runner's World is a magazine about running. It has extensive forums, articles about running and information about races.
(edited 8 years ago)
The Dojo - martial arts - a brief overview

There are a range of reasons as to why people take up a Martial Art (MA) This post is to help you with the decision process and answer some questions that beginners like to know. I've been training in Jiu Jitsu for the past three years so these answers are also based on personal experience :yep:

So why martial arts?

People have their different reasons as to why they want to train in a MA. Some people do it to develop practical self defense and gain fitness. Others do it for the art aspect, as for some martial arts they are conducted so that they are pleasing to the eye. Whatever your reason, if you want to go down this path there are many clubs that can suit you style.

What martial art should I do?

Especially in bigger cities, you may find that the amount of MAs that are on offer can be overwhelming. One may of eliminating down what you should specialise in is have a look on what's offer in your area and spend say an hour looking at each arts demonstrations (for example Karate demonstration) on YouTube. You'll find that with a lot of these videos, they have the much higher grades and therefore you can really see for yourself what you'd be doing should you chose that art. In addition, if you're not too keen on what you've seen you can cross it off the list.

Once you eliminated your list to say 2-3, see what times each club train and try it out. Most clubs allow you to do the first session for free and you can usually wear lose clothing. Pick your favourite out of the ones you've tried and then see how you feel. Whilst you're there, talk to the club members and instructor outside the session. They can answer questions that you may have and club members can give you an honest feeling as to what you should expect in terms of training, strictness etc. This can really help with the decision process of whether you have picked the right MA and right club.

How violent are martial arts and will I get hurt?

This can be really dependent on the MA. So for example, in Jiu Jitsu as we are a contact sport there is a chance that you can be injured. However, there are many Martial Arts out there that don’t have any contact. You can find this out during your research (see above answer)

Do I need to be fit to do a martial art?

In most cases no :nah: You develop your fitness during training like with any new sport. In addition, you will also develop in general strength as you could be doing a mixture of cardio and strengthening exercises depending on the club you decide to join.

However, if you do have any long term medical conditions let your GP know before you participate just to get the seal of approval. In addition, most clubs will have the right procedures in place to make sure that your safety is put first should it be a contact situation.

So what are the costs?

Should you want to carry on your MA long term you may want to invest in some kit! Most of the time you will need uniform what is usually called a Gi. This could be around £20 and you should be able to get this from your club. Sessions are usually charged too and these vary from club to club. This should be explained when you look into joining :smile: In addition, you may have to invest in club insurance however this will depend on your MA :yep:

Hope you found this post useful and any questions feel free to ask :smile:
Reply 10
What is a routine and why does it matter?

A routine is a plan for what you do in the gym, also referred to interchangeably as a programme. It includes which exercises you will do each day, for how many reps and sets you will do of each exercise and how you will make progress.

A routine is important because you need consistency to make progress and you need to be doing the right exercises, reps and sets to achieve your goals. Without a routine you are exercising for the sake of it, that's fine if it's what you want but if you have a specific goal (in this case getting stronger and/or gaining muscle) then you need a routine. As a newer lifter you don't have the knowledge or experience to create your own routine (there's more to it than you think) so it is only sensible to use one written by someone more experienced and that is well proven to work- all of the ones listed here are.

The Basics

This is some 101 info that you may already know but will help you make sense of the programmes linked to and to explain yourself well if you have further questions

When we talk about a bar we mean a 20kg bar that is 2.2m/7ft2 long. There are loads of other types of bars but this is what you want to be using and if a different bar is meant then the bar type will be specified- though you won't need other bars for the routines listed here.

When discussing the weight lifted you say the full weight lifted. If you have a 20kg bar with 10kg on each side then it's 40kg, not 10kg or 20kg.

The big round weights you put on the bar are called plates. The thing that holds the bar up for you to lift it out of is a rack.

1x5 means 1 set of 5 repetitions (reps). 5x5 means 5 sets of 5 reps. A set is a group of lifts done one after the other with no rest, reps is the number done within the set.

We also always discuss weights in kilograms because that's what plates have wrote on them, that includes body weight for the sake of consistency- you'll get used to it quickly even if you usually use pounds.

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 5x5, 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 5x5 (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.

Starting Strength (SS) vs Strong Lifts (SL)

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.

When it is time to switch to an intermediate programme?

You make quicker progress on a beginner programme so you want to stick to it for as long as you can. If you feel like you are struggling then first consider if you are eating enough? Right now you should be gaining muscle, which unless you were overweight to start with, means the scales should be going up. If they aren't then you need to go read the diet sections of this FAQ. Second, you need to consider sleep. Sleep is when most of your recovery happens, recovery is the process through which your muscles get bigger and stronger, so if you aren't sleeping enough then you will struggle. Third, consider if you really are still doing the programme. Sometimes people slowly drift off doing the programme as it is written so don't notice they have done it which goes back to the problem of you not knowing enough to be tweaking the routine. Also, make sure you have been deloading as the programme recommends.

If you have those three things in check then you can start considering when you are done with your beginner programme. Unfortunately there's no clear cut answer to this but one thing that will make it easier is if you have a written log of your training to look back on, in a note book and/or online. It means you can go back and look at your progress more objectively than say going by how you feel it's going this week. Decide to switch when you have reached a point where progress has slowed significantly and deloading no longer seems enough. It's not a clear but thing but you'll likely know it when you get there, try to push through for a bit but it doesn't really work.


If your goal is strength then the most common programmes to move onto after you finish with ICF, SS or SL are the Texas Method , Madcow, Candito's 6 week and 5/3/1. By now you have been lifting a few months and will have learnt a lot so will be better placed to work out for yourself which is right for you. The articles linked to(for Candito's looks at the relevant PDF and spreadsheet) will give you a good grasp on each programme but if you are really can't decide then again just pick one. You can always change your mind later but are both good and the key thing is to be doing a good programme consistently and to stick with it for at least a few months.

If you feel like it's time to transition over to an intermediate routine, but have a primary focus on bodybuilding/muscle gain, you may wish to give Lyle McDonald's Generic Bulking Routine a try. This routine is, as the name suggests, a generic, basic routine that covers all muscle groups and is aimed at producing hypertrophy - perfect for continuing to build a balanced, well-rounded physique. It's a middle-of-the-road routine with good frequency as well as moderate volume and intensity and should be suitable for the majority of intermediate lifters looking to pack on some quality size. Full and detailed instructions are included, and if you follow the program to a tee, stay consistent with your diet and sleep well, you can't fail to gain! - With thanks to Woody MKC for this part!

Can I add cardio into my routine?

Yes, you can. Cardio is an important part of any healthy exercise regime and is perfectly compatible with training for hypertrophy. The idea that cardio kills gains is a myth! However, adding any form of additional exercise into your routine will increase your activity level, so this has to be taken into account when considering your TDEE when gaining or losing weight. Your 250kcal surplus may become a deficit with a high volume cardio routine, so be sure to compensate the additional exercise with more food.

Routines for Women

The above all apply to women since your body builds muscle and strength just the same as a man's does. The difference is in how quickly you can progress, particularly in your upper body. These programmes so all assume you are a man so do need a little bit of tweaking.

For overhead press start with 10kg, your gym should have smaller fixed weight bars or a smaller set of plastic weights that you can use. This means you'll need to lift the bar off the floor instead of out of a rack but it's light enough that you will be able to do that fine. Switch to an empty bar when you get to 20kg. For bench, add half the weight the programme recommends. For everything else add the weight recommended but once you've had to deload a few times consider halving it too.
(edited 7 years ago)
Reply 11

Protein Powder

Protein powder isn't needed to gain muscle or strength. It is just a dietary supplement that can be useful such as when loosing weight and wanting to keep their protein intake up whilst keeping their calories down. If you are thinking about getting some then read the section about protein requirements first to decide if you really need it.

The most common places to buy protein powder are My Protein and Go Nutrition, they will almost always be cheaper than anything bought on the high street.

The most commonly used type is whey. It comes as isolate or concentrate. Isolate is more expensive because it has higher amounts of protein due to more filtering- when buying you might want to check price per g of protein you get to compare effectively. The most commonly used non-dairy protein is soy, all that you've heard about soy being full of estrogen is nonsense but soy protein does taste worse than whey.


Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in your body that helps supply energy to your muscles. Taking creatine powder gives your muscles a bit more energy to work with when you are training. It is pretty much the only performance enhancing substance that works and isn't banned in sports drug testing but it's far from essential. Dietary sources are meat and fish so if you don't eat them then supplementing is more strongly advised.There are lots of different types of creatine available on the market. Creatine monohydrate is the most well studied, as well as the cheapest, and the evidence does not suggest that other forms of creatine supplement are better than monohydrate.

Mass Gainers

Having read the weight gain section you might find yourself realising you need to eat a fair bit more than you thought. Mass gainers are just calories dense shakes to help you get easy calories if you struggle with that- they don't do anything special beyond that. They can be useful but they usually aren't the most budget friendly way of drinking your calories- consider milk (of any sort) and if that's not enough you could blend in oats and/or peanut butter.

Fat Burners/Weight Loss Aides

In short, they don't work. The process by which you loose weight is the diet section so have a read of that. To take an example, Grenade Thermo Detonator, which I'm not saying is especially or specifically bad but rather it is typical of these products. It contains:

Green Tea
Often mentioned in relation to weight loose, this has no basis in science- just have a quick look on google scholar and you'll see at best it comes out as having an insignificant effect

Bitter Orange Peel
If they weren't pills I'd assume this was flavouring, it has nothing to do with weight loss.

Caffeine & Green Coffee
There is evidence that caffeine can help with weight loss or management but there's also evidence this is when from natural sources rather than supplements. The most common theory is caffeine is a stimulant and therefore increases your metabolism. But if it were to be proven true what everyone agrees on is the difference it makes isn't much, I think we all know from experience caffeine isn't some magic diet aide.

As in cayenne pepper. It is thought that Capsaicin (what makes chilli hot) may increase metabolism in the same was as caffeine so the same logic of little difference applies but with much less evidence for it than caffeine and has never been proven in humans.

It is as amino acid, it has almost certainly has nothing to do with weight loss. It has some link to being a stimulant which could result in being more energetic hence burning more calories but again, isn't proven in science.


As you'd guess, this is a drink designed to be taken before your workout with the goal of improving your performance during the workout. The contents vary so read the label and know what you are taking but typical ingredients include:

Protein and Creatine

Discussed above. If taking a pre workout with creatine then you need to consider how much is in it before taking creatine powder as well- you want the total amount not to be more than what the creatine packet recommends.

Carbs and Dextrose/Glucose

The idea is making sure you have enough to use as energy throughout your workout. Dextrose and glucose are different names for the same thing.

Caffeine/Coffee/Yerba Mate

For it's stimulant/getting you going effects.


As seen in Red Bull.

Arginine Alpha Ketoglutarate
Never proven to do anything in terms of strength/body building uses.

At this point you probably don't want to be spending your money on them, eat a decent meal not too long before going to the gym and have a cup of coffee if you feel the need. If you don't drink coffee already then you'll probably find yourself quite sensitive to the amount of caffeine in most preworkouts because you have low caffeine tolerance.

If you do use them then stick to the recommended amounts, excessive use can cause of problems because you get all sorts of stimulants in them with reported side effects including sleep paralysis, nausea, increased blood pressure, dehydration, nervousness, irritability and insomnia. It is even possible to develop a dependency and caffeine withdrawal is more unpleasant than it sounds. Most of these side effects are reported anecdotally because there's a lack of research on the combined use of the ingredients and/or on the long term use of the ingredients which is to say we don't know what harms they could do exactly but excessive use is still a bad idea. None of this is at all likely if you just take it as the label tells you.
(edited 8 years ago)


Chalks is a must for lifters. It eliminates sweaty hands on pulling movements like rowing and deadlifts. Chalk allows you to be limited by your strength not by your sweaty hands!

Liquid chalk is very quick and is very accessible from places such as my protein and amazon. Whilst solid chalk is available online or in outdoor shops for climbers. It's a personal preference.. have a try!


Lifting gloves are unnecessary and make you weaker due to it increasing the radius of bars - making it harder to grip. Unless you've got a torn callus or similar, there is no need for them!


Belts are used by every powerlifter and strongman in the land! Belts increase your abdominal pressure and allow you to lift more. Belts are good, Inzer belts are often considered gold standard, however they're very expensive. Strength shop and similar companies sell good belts for a reasonable price.

However to start, there's no need for a belt. Wait until you've been lifting a while and become more than just a beginner before spending the muscle on getting one.

Knee sleeves

Knee sleeves are used by many as a safety precaution, with increased warmth in the joint, anecdotal evidence suggests this reduces injury risk

Dipping belt

Dipping belts are often a pad of fabric with a chain attached. The purpose of them is to allow for adding weight to exercises such as pull ups and dips.

Your gym might have one you can use but as a beginner it's not something you should be thinking about getting. If you really need to add weights on dips/chin ups then it's likely to be a light enough amount to hold a DB between your legs

Knee wraps and suits

Lifting with knee wraps and in squat/ bench or deadlift suits is termed "equipped" lifting. Equipped lifting is a denomination of lifting as opposed to "raw" where suits and wraps are banned.

Wraps are incredibly tightly bound around the knee joint and aid lifting more weight. Wraps are worn by a tiny number of lifters as equipped lifting is very niche. Wraps are proven to increase injury risk in knees

Suits are loaded with tension on the concentric part of the lift (lowering the weight or getting in position in the case of the deadlift) this loading allows for lifters to get out of the bottom part of the lift (the hardest part) and hence allow people to lift more weight.


Bands are used for many purposes, lighter resistance bands can be used for stretching such as shoulder pull aparts.

Heavier resistance bands can be used for adding resistance to movements. However this isn't used by many people.


Straps remove grip being your weak point. Straps shouldn't be used really, as a beginner you need to be training your grip strength, so unless you have a hand injury stopping you, they aren't really a necessity.

For a more intermediate lifter, straps are useful for training after doing heavy grip work, like deadlifting.
(edited 8 years ago)
Reply 13
Assorted FAQs

Realistic Expectations- Why you can't gain 20kg of muscle before your holiday next month

Your body can only build a limited amount of muscle in a given time frame, you need to accept that biological reality in setting your goals. If you eat more calories than your body can use in the process of building muscle then it will end up as fat which I doubt is what you are going for.

If you read the weight gain section it will give you advise on how to gain 0.5kg/1lbs a week. More than that and you are and the amount of fat you gain really won't be worth any additional muscle gain you might get.

Training for Strength/Muscle Gain at Home

Is the problem that you find the thought of going into a gym intimidating?

If so, you basically need to suck it up and give it a go. Nobody will be judging you. We were all noobs once upon a time and the vast majority of lifters are glad to see more people getting into it. But mostly, nobody will find you very interesting so are very unlikely to notice what you are doing at all So you're probably building it up to be worse than it will be.

It can help to have a plan and know what to expect, for example, know you are going to go in, find a rack and use it to squat 40kg 5x5. You may well feel more self conscious if you haven't already decided what to do and end up standing around thinking- but even then nobody will actually care what you are doing.

And FWIW some of the nicest people I've ever met are huge, strong guys who can be quite intimidating to watch lift.

Or do you think you should train at home to get a 'base' first so you aren't the smallest and weakest?

You might well be the smallest and weakest but you won't be for long and there will be other beginners about. And that guy benching 100kg- it's probably not that long ago he was struggling with 50kg and because your goals forever increase, he probably doesn't think of himself as especially strong.

And anyway, this is flawed logic, it's harder to make good gains at home because of the lack of equipment so you could just be setting yourself up to fail. Plus postponing going to the gym probably isn't going to make it any easier the first time, it goes back to you needing to just suck it up and give it a go because it's not bad at all.

Or do you think you can train with just body weight?

You can do a fairly decent upper body routine with just body weight exercise though the main problem is training legs. If your legs are weak then you will never be strong as a whole. If your legs are twig shaped and your upper body gets decent then you'll look silly in shorts. Plus, even for upper body it is much simpler to use weights and you can still have bodyweight exercise within your lifting routine.

Or do you plan to buy equipment for a home gym?

This is a valid option so long as you are really willing/able to make the required investment. To make proper gains you should be doing one of the routines recommended here. For them you will at least need:

Squat rack, preferably with safety bars, that goes low enough to bench from (£130)
Bench (£60)
20kg bar (£90)
100-120kg in weights (£200)

You may also want:
Rubber floor matting- to protect it from weights being dropped on it
Dumbbell handle
Pull up bar

And you'll be surprised how quickly you need more weight. In the brackets is a rough idea of what it would cost new but you can save money if you get lucky on gumtree/ebay. The new costs are for the cheap end of the market, personally if I were to be setting up a home gym I'd spend a bit more to have it work and last well.

You'll notice I didn't say go to Argos and get a 50kg weights set. You can't bench or squat properly with no other equipment and 50kg is nowhere near enough to be challenging for long enough to make any noticeable progress.
(edited 8 years ago)
Do I need to eat clean

Clean eating broadly refers to eating a healthy diet with no processed foods and lots of lean protein. This in itself isn't a bad thing, however the obsession with eating little other than chicken and rice is not good! You'll likely crack from the boredom of eating the same thing everyday! Eat a balanced diet and on the rare occasion spoil yourself :smile:

If you're looking to gain weight, eating low satiation, high sugar foods will aid you much more in your goal than eating chicken and rice! :tongue: Doughnuts anyone? :biggrin:

I'm skinny fat, should I bulk or cut

This is a personal decision and depends entirely on how skinny or fat, skinny fat you are. If you air on the side of skinny - bulk. If you're more on the side of fat - cut for a month or so then bulk :smile:

How do I eat enough without spending any money

This is a common question for newbies! Cook in bulk for several days, discount supermarkets and shopping late in the day to get reduced items of food are great ways to reduce food bills :smile:

Is it worth paying a PT to teach me to lift

If you have a good PT then yes, however 90+% of them are atrocious and know less than your average lifter and hence you see bizarre things like bosu ball smith machine squats! So in all honesty teach yourself, the internet is a fantastic resource for teaching yourself! (Like this FAQ, which is awesome, even if I'm a little biased.. :tongue: )

I eat loads but I'm still 6ft and 8 stone, what do I do

The reason you're that skinny is because you don't eat as much as you think as you do! Eating lots of low satiation, high calorie foods like peanut butter and if needs be doughnuts will help you gain weight (That said, this doesn't mean that MaccyDs everyday would be a good idea, you should try and still keep the basis of your diet healthy!)
(edited 8 years ago)
Injury prevention and recovery

No matter what you do, you will mostly pick up an injury at some point in your life, however there's a lot you can do to prevent it!


Stretching shouldn't be the 10 seconds you did in PE! Static stretching the night before exercising, such as for your lower back, hamstrings and hip adductors/ abductors should be done at least 3+ times a week, with stretches being held for between 1-2 minutes increasing the burn. It doesn't need to take long! :smile:

Before exercise, mobile stretching is a good idea, lunges, sumo squats, opening and closing the gate all are great. Another option is doing something similar to DeFranco's limber 11

But I lift, surely I don't need to stretch

This is a common mistake and a lot of people don't. Increasing you hip flexor and hamstring is an easy way of improving squat and deadlift form. Whilst stretching out your pecs will help prevent issues from pressing.

Buying a resistance band is a good idea for your shoulder mobility - doing band pull aparts and shoulder dislocates help improve shoulder mobility and hence helps to prevent impingement injuries from benching.

Warm up

No matter what exercise you do, you should warm up. Warming up, up-regulates your nervous system and makes you more efficient and hence will not only make you stronger, faster etc but it's also wise to get blood moving to your muscles and hence help to prevent injury

Should I foam roll?

Short answer - yes
Long answer - HELL YES

Foam rolling helps to remove myofascial tension (basically freeing up your muscles) and helps to improve recovery and aids flexibility. Foam rolling your IT band (The tendon which runs on the outside of your thigh), Hamstrings, glutes and thoracic (ribbed) spine are great places to start. Other places to consider are your lats, trapezius muscles; whilst a tennis ball is great for your shoulders.

I do foam rolling and stretch already am I good to go? The sports massage

Sports massages are a good investment. They are like foam rolling x 10000000 if you get a good masseur (and yes it's not meant to be comfortable). Worth splashing out every once in a while to aid recovery/flexibility and prevent injury.

I'm injured - what do I do?

First things first - training through pain is not a good idea! You'll make things worse and have an even bigger time off. (his is speaking from experience!) If you can find an alternative - exercise such as swimming is low impact and hence if your have a lower body injury, it might be very good for you! Train around it if you can, for instance if you've hurt your back, you can probably still bench press, however again - if it hurts don't continue!

For muscle pulls and mild sprains, foam rolling might aid in recovery, however again - if it's absolute agony - probably don't!

Follow RICE - Rest, ice, compress and elevate. Follow this and with a smidge of luck you'll be back to yourself again!

Squat depth - a problem for modern man

Squatting for many when they start is an physical impossibility. Improve your hamstring, hip adductor and hip abductor flexibility through yoga positions such as frog, lizard, butterfly pigeon pose and seated glute stretch

For hamstring mobility with your legs pointing out at 45 degrees to one another and reach for my toes as far as you can for 2 mins each side.

For more pointers on this see the squat depth sticky! :smile:

Hand care

Lifters often mess up there hands with ripped calluses... have a look at this video for handcare advice :smile:

But Cucumber, I don't have time for this

Stretching with some foam rolling should not take anymore than 20 minutes a day and at that, you don't need to do it everyday. Do you sit at your computer procrastinating? Watching your TV? Perfect times to get going!
(edited 8 years ago)
How to start squatting to depth

Inflexibility is common when you come to start lifting, if you find this to be a problem see above! However often your body just doesn't understand the squat groove/mechanics. The easiest way for most people to learn is by doing goblet squats
This helps you lean how to squat because you can sit your hips back against the counter balance.

Many people don't actually know how to sit their hips back. They just push their knees forward instead and it's nearly impossible to break parallel that way. Learn to push your hips back with the wall patterning drill found here:

Also, if you have difficulties keeping a strong back arch, back extensions are a good idea:

You can foam roll your calves, piriformis and other lower leg muscles to help. After this soft tissue work, try and get into the '3rd world squat' position. Use plates/books/some kind of prop underneath your heel if necessary (anything that won't collapse is fine)
When you get to the bottom, 'pry' in the bottom position. Basically move around, place your elbows on your inner thighs and push out. You want to replicate this 'knees out' position when you are squatting at all times. If you get knock knees when you squat, it's not good for your knee health.
For prying, see this video:

Another stretch that will help many people is the 'couch stretch'
Make sure you keep your hips square while you do this for best results. is a good resource for stretching related issues as he discusses mobility with a view to making you stronger. His methodology also gives quick results that are usually usable during a session if done during the warmup or as an alternative to the above stretches in the flexibility and recovery FAQ.

Try squatting again after playing around with this stuff and it should be much easier. :biggrin:
(edited 8 years ago)