5 Common Beginner Athlete’s Questions Answered

IMG_2961 (1)

 
Nearly every time I begin consulting with a new client, I ready my programming paperwork, my application forms, and my video technique tutorials. Another thing I always like to have present in my mind is a short list of answers for questions that I am inevitably asked by new clients. These questions seldom vary from person to person, as a great deal of new people simply don’t know the answers to what some of us consider to be fairly obvious questions. This doesn’t mean my new clients are stupid, they just don’t know, and it is my job to educate them. I have assembled a league of extraordinary questions that most of my new clients ask during our first call, in hopes that some of you will no longer have to wonder what the answer is, for fear of looking like a simpleton when you ask.

1. How long should I rest between sets?

This is a question that I, along with others, get asked on an almost daily basis. New athletes want to know how long to rest in between sets, and this question has its roots in bodybuilding. Some bodybuilders, when chasing the pump, like to keep rest intervals short, so as to maximize their muscle pump during their training. While this can be beneficial for bodybuilders, it does not necessarily apply to the training that a lot of us are doing. Now, this is not to say that we don’t use it on occasions, in fact I personally use short rest intervals when I finish my main lifts and am doing high rep accessory work. 

However, attempting to keep rest periods short when you are working with heavy weights will usually only hinder you. Let’s say you have to squat for sets of five rep squats at 82% of your max. This isn’t back-breaking weight, but it is heavy, and as such, requires recovery in between sets, so you can hit the next set effectively. If you plan on taking 60-90sec rest intervals between these sets, there is a high chance that you will be failing the sets you should be accomplishing easily. Our cookie-cutter response to this question is: “Rest as long as it takes for you to hit the next set as effectively as possible.” This is not a race, and as such, should not be treated like one. The goal here is an increase in strength, not a muscle pump. Save the pump for lighter hypertrophic movements. Read more on this topic HERE, with sources.


2. Does it matter when I eat my macros?

You can ask three different people this question and get five different answers, but since you are on my site, you get my answer. I have found that it does not matter what time you eat, when you get protein after a workout, when you eat carbs, etc. Instead, what matters more to me is that you reach your daily macronutrient allotment. Some have found great success with carb-backloading, timing breakfasts, or having butter in their coffee. There are also a great deal of people that have noticed no benefit from doing any of these things. Instead, we have worked together to find the right amount of macros they require for the day, and simply reaching that number is enough to get them what they want. 

I find that this allows them a great deal more freedom with the way they eat, and it seems to be more beneficial when approaching it from a long term point of view. One issue I find with these other methods is they can be a diet that is a short term approach to reach a short term goal. I would rather see someone approach their eating in a way that they can continue to use after they have reached their goals. This is just my approach, however, you are free to do as you please (Unless you pay me to tell you what to do, in that case, do as I say).


3. Should I eat less on days that I am not lifting?

When I hear this question, I instinctively want to plant my hand on my forehead, but then I remember that the question could almost make sense, so I see where they are coming from. I believe their mentality is “since I am not lifting, I naturally require less calories, otherwise it will just convert to fat.” Fortunately for everyone, that isn’t how it works. What are rest days for? To recover and grow from the previous training sessions, in order to adequately prepare for the upcoming sessions. Now, how will you recover properly if you deprive yourself if the necessary calories you need in order to repair and grow stronger the muscle damage you have inflicted from your previous sessions. If anything, I would suggest eating MORE than you do on training days. One day of food won’t make you fat, and if you want to properly recover, you will finish everything on your plate, then go back for seconds.

 


4. How long should I spend warming up?

This is another good question. Most of us see warmup videos, mobility stretches, and various other mobility walkthroughs all over our Facebook feeds. This can give the impression that one should spend 30-45mins warming up before lifting. The drawback to this is, of course, the fact that most of us don’t have an extra 30-45mins to spend at the gym before training just warming up. This does not mean that you should avoid stretching, I did that for awhile, and it wasn’t great. Instead, you should work on getting to a level where your mobility is so on point that your warmup is 15mins or less every time you train. You can reach this level by working on your mobility OUTSIDE of the gym, like at home when you watch TV, or just before you go to bed. Address your stretching issues outside of the gym, so you don’t burn through gym time. If you have “plateaued” your squat at 315lbs for over a year as a male, you probably don’t need to spend 40 minutes doing 10 stretches from MobWod, you need to make better use of your gym time by actually lifting, not stretching.

AGAIN, I am not saying to avoid stretching, just find a better time for it instead of training time. Jace, Matt, Alanna, Nick Best, and myself spend less than 15-20mins warming before lifting.


5. How often should I test my maxes?

This is also a valid question, and can be easily answered with excerpts from my previous article:

Simply put, it is my opinion that new athletes aren’t really in need of testing a 1RM for quite a long time, and even intermediate athletes do not need to test single maxes very frequently. I used to think that new and intermediate athletes should be testing a 1RM, as you can see in some of the older programs I have written. To me, new athletes don’t need to test 1RMs for a few reasons. The first reason is elementary: 1RMs do not really contribute to strength. For new and even some intermediate lifters, a 1RM amounts to little more than mental masturbation to make yourself feel better about what you are doing. 
This seems to be suitable to athletes across all strength sports: A new lifter would gain much more benefit from higher volume training, even a 3RM or 5RM would be more suitable for someone whose primary goal should be building strength, muscle mass, and joint/tendon thickness. This leads to the second error I see with lots of 1RM implementation: 1RM testing does not increase muscle mass, joint thickness or strength in any worthwhile amounts. 1RMs are mostly a stressor on the CNS, and while “frying the CNS” isn’t really our worry here, newer lifters should be focused more on increasing muscle density and strength.
Now, this isn’t to say that heavy singles can’t be a useful training tool. Sometimes we put heavy singles into newer athlete’s programming, but there is a difference between getting in lots of volume of a lift, and then adding a little amount of weight for 4-5 singles. We do this, knowing that it is not their max, we simply want them to get to feel some heavier weights and build some confidence under load, without making their confidence and technique go down the drain when a true 1RM is approached.

The third error I see committed when following programs based off percentages are lifters that can’t resist testing a 1RM on a day they feel good, a day that doesn’t call for testing. I definitely understand the desire to test a new max when I am feeling good, the issue is that the progress of a program can be altered when an intermediate athlete tests a 1RM out of turn. I said “intermediate lifter” because I don’t feel that percentage training is an efficient way to train new lifters. I am not alone in that mentality, for reasons that were stated above: New lifters need volume and multiple rep maxes, not 1RMs.

Intermediate lifters still will benefit from multiple rep maxes, rather than monthly or bi-weekly 1RM. I consider competing as one of the stages of being an intermediate lifter, and competitions are an appropriate place for 1RM testing to occur, usually on the third rep attempt. Leading up to a competition is still not an appropriate time to test 1RMs, in my opinion. Instead testing heavy doubles would be more beneficial until the lifter gains more experience and muscle memory with the movements.

Hopefully these answers helped clear up some questions you may have. If you have any other questions, drop it on the Facebook page.

  • Good stuff Brandon – I guess since I’ve been coaching teen girls for so long, I don’t get these kind of questions too often. They pretty much go when I say go, and stop when I say stop.

    They never eat enough, and only warmup if I remind them. They don’t recover properly, and I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard “I haven’t eaten anything today”…. I’d be rich.

    But, they end up stronger and faster than before, so I take what I can get most of the time.

    As for me, your post is exactly what I do, so I’ve got one step in the right direction anyway.

  • Very helpful tips for me having only been lifting for just about 8 months and asking myself these questions all the time.

  • Okay, I’ve hesitated posting this question long enough.

    I am almost comfortable calling myself an intermediate lifter. Been doing Crossfit for 3+ years, recently added some power lifting type work to help build strength. Mostly back squats, bench, strict press, weighted pull ups, rows and dead lifts.

    Given that I use percentages of my 1 rep max to establish my weights (eg: 5×5 @85-90%, 5×3 at 90-95%, 5×1 heavy singles @ 95-100% of current 1 rep max), I don’t consider my testing new 1 rep max as “mental masturbation”, but rather a training tool.

    That being said, I don’t do a particular lift more than once a week (except maybe squats), so by the time I cycle through my different workouts (I have about 5 or 6 variations of the above set x rep workouts plus rest week), it’s usually 2 or 3 months between tests.

    Since every time you addressed the question “how often should I test my 1 rep max” you technically haven’t answered it, except by saying do multiple rep maxes instead, is 2-3 months a reasonable interval between tests if you are using that number to establish your training weights?

  • This comment has been removed by the author.