Most of the time people often think they are more advanced in the training continuum than they really are. However, it's much more advantageous to be a novice because you can see improvement much faster than if you were a higher level. You should WANT to be a novice! Of course, some people will be much further along in their novice progression, especially if they've been training for a period of time. These people will still see gains from the novice program, but the time spent in the novice progression will be shorter than that of a previously de-trained individual. Simply put the ability to progress rapidly in a novice progression is because anything that disrupts normal levels of stress results in some form of gains. This adaptation can happen very fast with the majority of trainees. By adding weight, reps, reducing rest periods. to each subsequent training session the stress slowly increases over time to continue to provide enough stress to continue to cause an adaptation. The point at which the training does not provide either enough stress to cause an adaptation or provides so much stress that proper recovery cannot be achieved in the designated time frame (48-72 hours) represents the end of your novice training phase. To simplify, if you cannot put more weight on the bar or do more reps with the same weight session over session, you are training too hard and not allowing recovery, or you are past the novice progression. The later meaning you simply need to do more to spark some form of gains. In my opinion everyone should start out using a simple novice progression until they show they are past this level.
Establishing proper movement patterns right from the get go is very important. You will need a good experienced coach to teach you how to Squat, Deadlift, Press, Bench, Chin, and Row at the very least. Please spend the time and money to set yourself up for success later down the road. Bad form leads to poor results and injury. Learn how to move efficiently and effectively!
Weight selection is another area where many people error. Put your ego aside for now and realize the weight will quickly add up on the bar when progressed properly. Avoid the pressure to impress others. Starting with the 45lb bar or a 15lb practice bar is nothing to be ashamed of! I typically use a RPE 1-10 scale (1=very easy, 5=somewhat stressful, 10=max effort). When finding a load for whatever rep range you will be using in the novice progression I advise the set should feel like an 8. Now how do you find this load? You should gradually make jumps in weight until it is starting to get closer to the 8 range, you should also see the speed of the lift start to decrease. Here is an example of the number of warm up sets and weight used a client who was starting off for the first time with their Squat.
-empty bar x 5 reps x 2 sets RPE=1
-65 lbs. x 5 reps x 1 set RPE=3
-95lbs x 3 reps x 1 set RPE=5
-115lbs x 1 rep x 1 set RPE=7
-125lbs x 1 rep x 1 set RPE=8
-work sets at 125lbs x 5 reps x 3 sets
Now for documentation you'll need to get a composition book to record your workouts. What you need to do is write down what exercises you did, how many reps and sets, how much weight was used and the rest periods taken. Here's a sample of how to enter the information for ease of use:
Squat x 125lbs x 5 reps x 3 sets- Rest 3 min
The reason for recording your workouts and all this information is because it provides you with a history of what you've done and tells you what to do next time. Example: if you squatted 125 x 5 reps x 3 sets on day 1, then the next time you squat you'll do 130 or 135lbs x 5 reps x 3 sets. The amount of weight you jump up should be between 2.5-5lbs for upper body lifts (press and bench press) and 5-20lbs for lower body lifts (squats and deadlifts). Again, try not to get caught show boating adding weight. Think of it this way: if you add just 5lbs to every lift every time you see them on the novice progression, you'll have added 210lbs total to every lift by the end of a year! Now the odds of going up 210lbs on every lift in a years’ time is highly unlikely for most. However, you may do this for 4-6 months before your gains start to slow down to weekly, bi-monthly, monthly etc.…
A questions that you might be asking is, "Why does the weight have to increase every time?" Let's say you go into the gym and on day one your squat 85lbs x 5 reps x 3 sets. This represents a somewhat challenging workout, but not so much that you couldn’t complete. What this should tell you is that you already possessed the strength, coordination, balance, power, etc. to complete the squat workout with that weight for that amount of sets and reps. In order to progress, you will need more STRESS the next time to drive adaptation. So why increase the weights instead of the reps? I'll be the first one to admit that increasing the reps works well, but it only does so for a shorter period of time, maybe a month or two. Also, a novice learning the lifts does not possess the ability to maintain the correct form when the reps start to get high (10+). This is usually due to fatigue that occurs during the set and lack of concentration after a certain period of time. I like to use the 5 rep range, because it offers a nice blend of strength, power, conditioning, and muscle growth.So what do you do after you reach the tip of the novice progression? There comes a time where the stimulus provided in a single workout does not drive the adaptation to successfully complete a heavier weight the next training session. On the other hand, the session may have provided adequate stimulus, but the recovery time needed to allow the adaptation to occur may be longer than 48-72 hours, maybe more like 4-6 days! In this instance, the person has advanced from beyond the novice level and is now ready for more complex training and programming. Remember, being an intermediate or advanced trainee is when the gains start to come much slower, so no reason to rush to get to this point!
All in all, try to make an improvement in yourself work-out to work-out and when this stops you will need to start to train a little smarter but not always necessarily harder!