Often times novice lifters make the mistake of attempting to do too much at once in the gym. Among those things, a very popular method is countless reps upon reps, mistaking the effect of achieving a pump (blood rushing into the muscle) as a confirmation that they are taxing their muscles and making them grow that very second. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll find many wrongs in the above sentence, but for this article we’ll focus on only the aspect of rep counts. To start, beginners should always focus on strength, and strength is never achieved with high reps. Well, let me rephrase that. You can certainly gain strength over time by doing high reps, but to accelerate strength gains low rep ranges are optimal. As a beginner, your body is new to the whole lifting experience, and the best way to get it to grow is focusing on strength training, or in other words, lifting some heavy weight (and a good diet, of course).
As a beginner, you need to build a strong foundation all throughout your body. Your focus should be compound movements, and for more on that and the ultimate compound routine (as a novice, approach with caution – is my advice), check out our Best Routine article. The reasoning is simple, you can’t get bigger without getting stronger. However, you can get stronger without getting bigger. As you engage in strength training you will be building that strong foundation, and if you eat right you will also be putting on size.
To sidetrack for a second and evaluate the above point, most novice lifters do not have the necessary understanding of diet to put on mass. They believe they need to get protein, but their knowledge often ends there. Often times they will eat tons of protein while avoiding carbs or fats, and will not be eating enough overall to put on size. However, as they train in the gym, their strength increases. This is possible because strength is based on the Central Nervous System (CNS), as it adapts it allows you to increase the amount of weight you can do irrelevant of the fact that you might not be eating enough to grow. This is often the case with beginners because their CNS prior to lifting has not been heavily taxed, and as they enter the gym and begin lifting, it rapidly adapts to the new stresses. Over time, as the adaption levels from one workout to the next are not as extreme, the adaption subsides…until you’re advanced enough where you really won’t make great strength progress if you’re not eating right (as an advanced lifter).
The reason I mentioned the above is simple, even if your diet is not in check, you can establish a strong foundation due to the fact you strength train and your body is new to the experience. Therefore, as you immerse yourself in the subject matter with due time and learn about proper nutrition, when you begin to track your diet and sculpt it to perfection you will have already established a strong foundation for you to now grow in size. Strength training, as a result, is often coined the building block of a lifter’s road to success. For those who don’t have this problem and come into the whole experience understanding the importance of diet and how to manipulate it to their needs (the minority), a strength routine becomes no less important. Although they are ahead a step, they still have to deal with the newly created stress on the body and allow their body to adapt by building a strong foundation. Therefore, regardless of how much you know starting out, your best bet is to focus on strength training. Let the strength rise, and let the mass either come with it, or come later when you catch up to date on the other important factors.
Stick to reps of 5 or 6 on the major lifts. Also, please read our Enhance Training article to start off the gym experience the right way. Learn how important form is, and how to achieve the best results by using a Mind Muscle Connection, because without it, you’re not going to make the best progress. Taking advantage of the wealth of information around the site to catch yourself up to speed on what the best exercises are and how to eat right to achieve great results as well. Good luck!