This Is Where You Should Start Your New Year's Strength Training Resolution

Cue the Andy Williams tune: “It’s The Most Ridiculous Time of the Year”. But this time, you’re going to really do it -- you’re going to start training. You’ve read all the arguments for strength training, you know why it makes more sense than just riding the treadmills, and you have decided that this is the year you start to reverse the ravages of time and get some strength and muscle mass back.

Working in the garden or the garage won’t do it, or it already would have. Running won’t do it or runners would all be strong, and you know as well as I do that they’re not. Playing around with the dumbbells, ditto. It’s time for the adult approach: a barbell strength training program. But there will be problems, so let’s solve them now.

The Equipment

You’ll need barbells. There are no substitutions. Bars, plates, a rack to squat and press from, enough room and rubber on the floor to deadlift safely without tearing things up are absolutely essential for barbell training, as should be obvious. The dumbbells won’t work, because they are not barbells. The kettlebells won’t work for the same reason.

This means that you’ll either own the equipment or have access to a gym that does. Buying it is not terribly expensive, you’re an adult with the wherewithal, and your own garage gym places the scheduling directly under your control. Once set up, you’ll find that it’s not the big distraction from the rest of the house you think it will be. And I assure you there are worse things to spend the money on.

But not everybody has the room for a gym in the house, and this will make a gym membership necessary. Obviously, you’ll look for a place with the equipment you need, and do not be persuaded by the sales staff that bent bars, smith machines, junky racks, and not enough plates are perfectly adequate for the task -- they are not. If you live in a smaller market, your gym choices may be limited and you may have to build you own, but any town with an airport also has enough gyms that you should be able to find enough decent equipment to serve your purposes.

Smaller, privately owned gyms are sometimes better than large corporate gyms, but not always. Smaller gyms are often run by people who don’t know much more about this than you do, and they often feel the need to control your activities to the extent that you can’t get anything done. In a big gym, you can hide from the staff -- who are probably not that motivated to find you anyway -- and get your barbell work finished. If the problem in a smaller gym is the ownership, the problems you’ll encounter in a corporate gym will be the other members, who will usually be in your way. You can work around them, if the place has enough equipment.

Your Schedule

You may have decided that this is the year you get serious. But actually getting it done with a busy schedule may be a problem. Making the time and having the time to make are really the same problem, even though they may seem to involve separate considerations. If you’re going to do this, it’s going to take at least an hour either two or three times a week, depending on your age when you start. I assume you’re doing something with that time right now, and this means that something will have to change if you’re going to use it to train.

So it boils down to a change of schedule, and that means -- especially for older guys who seem to fall in love with their schedules -- a period of adjustment that you may not like. Hell, the training itself may be less onerous than being somewhere different than you’ve gotten used to. I know how you are -- do it anyway. But I also know that the logical application of the basic principles of training (adding a little bit of weight to the bar every time and the resulting accumulation of very positive results) appeals to your sense of order and efficiency.

The best way to make peace with the addition of a couple of workouts to your weekly schedule is to add it to your work commitment. It’s not like a bowling league -- it’s one of your responsibilities. Thinking about the workout as the last part of your work day ensures the correct level of priority is assigned to the task.

Technique

The first few times you do the exercises will be a challenge to your ability to do them correctly. In fact, there may be reasons why you can’t actually perform all of the basic exercises -- the Squat, Press, Deadlift, and Bench Press. Our books and our website, startingstrength.com, have all the information and instructions you need, including free videos that are tremendously helpful, in addition to the books and dozens of articles about how they should be correctly performed. If you have access to a coach, that’s the best case scenario. If not, online coaching is available. Many people have taught themselves how to do the exercises with the help of the instructions that have been provided, and the instructions have been designed for you to use this way.

But there are cases in which not all four of the basic exercises can be performed. For example, if your knees are bad enough, you may not be able to squat correctly without some professional help. Don’t let this stop you from doing the ones you can. Almost every human being who is ambulatory can deadlift with a little instruction, more people can squat than think they can’t squat, and most people can either press the bar overhead or bench press, if not both. You may only be able to deadlift and bench press right now, and if that’s all you can do, that’s what you do. Chances are very good that as these two important exercises gradually make you stronger, you will be able to eventually perform all four of them.

But you have to start somewhere, and that somewhere should not be in front of the dumbbell rack or on the treadmill. Dumbbells and treadmills do not make you stronger, so stop pretending that you can do this the easy way. It’s going to take some time and the right equipment, but you’re an adult and you can get this done. Now is the time to start.