No matter the weight training program you follow when starting out, you will likely experience a honeymoon phase.
You’ll feel like you are adapting quick, making gains and getting stronger. This is what we call the newbie phase. And I hope you enjoy it. Because its a precious time in training.
That phase ends at some point however. The weights stop increasing with ease. The same shit feels just as hard as it did last month, or three months ago and you’re like, what is happening? Have I plateaued? Am I overtrained? Do I need to do more?
That’s what we’re unpacking in today’s episode – all you need to know about newbie gains and lifting.
Many adaptations are taking place when you ask a muscle to contract repeatedly as a given load, with a given speed and then recover. To be clear, the adaptations to training happen in the recovery from said training. That’s where the anabolic affects take place. Two of those adaptations driven by different styles of training can be…
Neurological AND metabolic adaptions
You need BOTH and can HELLA benefit from both when starting out.
That’s heavy load, low rep lifting, and high rep low load lifting. Both should be challenging, but in a different way.
And both can help build a strong foundation of movement patterns, capacity and strength.
So when you start training and you’re PRing every week, upping weight on every exercise, are you getting stronger? Are you gaining muscle? What’s actually happening?
That leads us to:
Skill vs actual muscle growth
You are not likely putting on significant muscle growth, or rather your “gains” and improved force output week to week in the first month or two of training are NOT from increases in muscle mass. They are from building skills – neurological adaptations. Your muscles and mind muscle connection are becoming more proficient from practicing these movements for several reps every week.
These neurological adaptations don’t STOP as you start acquiring more muscle mass. They simply account for most of your “newbie gains” in the first few months of consistent training.
And that neurological piece will be there, responsible for weight increases regardless of your program, or rep scheme.
But then we do have those differences that I mentioned earlier – in the long term, neurologically demanding training stimuli is going to be more pronounced in lower rep, higher load training like traditional strength training. Strength is very much a skill. While higher reps and lower loads (but still challenging) will likely drive more metabolic adaptations – more mitochondria inside the cell, a high demand for ATP regen and production, etc.
What happens when the PR’s slow, and weight stops going up?
You haven’t plateaued per say. You simply need to begin and will likely benefit from more variance in training factors and intention in program design.
That doesn’t mean you need to confuse your muscles. It simply means that upping JUST WEIGHT or JUST ADDING REPS isn’t enough week to week or month to month anymore.
We can manipulate tempo, rest periods, yes – load and volume, exercise variations and more when it comes to training factors that can lead to more muscle growth or strength gains for you as a trainee.
Question worth asking:
What are you expecting from your training? More muscle mass? More force output (strength?) Higher capacity/fitness?
Your program needs to be pushing for and providing the right stimulus.
And you as the trainee need that clarity so you can find the right program for your needs.
If you think you don’t have training expectations, you likely do. And your reaction to results from said training will reveal your expectations. 😉
If you’re coming off newbie gains (in your first year or two of training you likely have not PLATEAUED. If you switch a training factor up or just stick to whatever program you’re following, the gains will start to appear again in time. Just might be slower than you’re accustomed to in that newbie phase.
I have a full episode on four types of training plateaus and what to do for each. Be sure to check that out as well if you truly do think you’ve plateaued and you’re unsure how to know or what action to take.
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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