The beginner’s guide to getting strong & looking awesome

If you are truly interested in getting fit and/or looking awesome, there are a couple of things you need to do –

  • Stop asking about fitness, fat loss and health on FaceBook forums filled with idiots who think they know nutriton ‘cos they eat and fitness ‘cos they flail around a couple of dumbbells.
  • Shut up, open your mind and listen when I talk.

If thats cool, read on. If not, thank you for stopping by.

Linear Progression

Strength is the foundation of fitness. Period. The sooner you realize that and start working towards get stronger, the faster you will get to your goals. So then what is the fastest, safest and most effective way to get strong?

Arnold - Strong is awesome!

In the world of strength training, the world in which people are strong as hell and look awesome as heaven, the concept of linear progression is a very familiar concept. The awesomeness of this concept is that it applies equally to both the beginner who wants to look and perform well in life and to the fitness enthusiast who is looking to continue climbing up that fitness ladder.

Linear progression is, in all honesty, nothing more than continually progressing linearly. This refers to progress that is continuous and linear without any sharp jumps or drops during the (training) cycle. And if you understand the concept of linear progression, you will realize that it is the only sure shot way to fitness and success in general. Don’t believe me? Think about it for a second.

Why do you start school at grade 1 and make your way up to grade 12 before moving on to college/university? Why do you start off as a subordinate and slowly make your way to the managerial positions? Why are you asked to start off with the empty bar (wrt barbell work)?

The point is, linear progression works and it works so well that, as long as you stay the course, success is a given! Let me explain.

Have you heard of Milo? No. Not the sugary junk that is marketed as health food. I’m talking about Milo of Croton – a wrestler from the 6th century BC. Heard of him? If not, check this out. Definitely an interesting read. Among many of his feats of strength, the following is applicable to what we’re talking about.

Legends say he carried his own bronze statue to its place at Olympia, and once carried a four-year-old bull on his shoulders before slaughtering, roasting, and devouring it in one day. He was said to have achieved the feat of lifting the bull by starting in childhood, lifting and carrying a newborn calf and repeating the feat daily as it grew to maturity.

See what he did there? He started off by lifting and carrying around a newborn calf and then he continued to lift and carry around the same calf each and everyday. In a few years, the calf was no longer a cute little thing that weighed a few pounds but a fully grown monster bull that weighed as much as a dozen men! And, Milo, grew strong enough to lift and walk around with a fully grown bull!

Myth? Maybe. Maybe not. But the point is that you start with a load (resistance) that you can comfortably handle and every progressing day (or week), you increase the load by the smallest possible increment. Ideally, you want to increase the load in such small amounts that you hardly even notice the added resistance. That, my fine folks, is the holy grail of getting strong and there is no denying it!

What about beginners?

Here is a question for you – Before we get all fancy with loads and reps and increments and rest periods, can you control your own bodyweight? Are you strong enough to move your body under total control? If you said no, then read carefully.

Let me make this very clear.

  • If you can’t do 25+ proper full ROM bodyweight squats, you have no business trying to squat a load or sitting at the leg press machine.
  • If you can’t a 120+ sec plank you’re pretty far away from a 6-pack or washboard abs. Period.
  • If you don’t have 25+ legit pushups (chest touches floor), the bench press station means nothing to you.
  • If you don’t have a single pullup, you are only making yourself look like a douche curling those 25lb dumbbells.

I can go on and on, but I’m sure you get the message.

Folks, seriously – walk before you run. Bodyweight training before weighted training. As a general rule when you work with a particular weight, move on to the next weight, ONLY when you have truly dominated this weight!  So work up to a good number of reps of each bodyweight exercise before you even consider adding extra poundage or touching them machines.

How do you do that?

1. Simplify your training. Understand that a fitness program isn’t a compilation of a bunch of random fancy looking moves. Fitness is the capability to do things and there isn’t much things you can do if you haven’t mastered the basics. So instead of doing 30 different exercises for no sensible reason, focus on the very basic movements – squat, pushup, pullup and plank.

2. It might sound like common sense to learn to do something right before doing it over and over again, but common sense isn’t so common these days. So learn the right way to do these basic moves.

3. Once you have learnt the right way to do things, practice them! Strength is a skill and unless you practice strength (moves) over and over again, you’re never going to get good at it i.e. you’re never going to get stronger.

4. If you see that you’re not strong enough to perform the basic moves as is, look into beginner variations. Mark Sisson has some awesome videos that explain beginner progressions for the various basic moves. Check them out here – SquatPlankPushup and Pullup.

5. Work towards satisfying the following requirements before adding any kind of weight to your movements.

  • Squat – 25+ repetitions with perfect form
  • Pushup – 25+ repetitions for men (5+ repetitions for women) with perfect form
  • Pullup – 10+ repetitions for men (1+ repetitions for women) with perfect form
  • Plank – 120 sec+ elbow plank

Be it the random trainer at your neighborhood gym or the extremely experienced CrossFit level 1 trainer or Mark Rippetoe himself. I don’t care who tells you what. The bottom line is – if you aren’t strong enough to satisfy the above requirements, you have absolutely no business doing anything other than these 4 basic movements.

I’m not a beginner anymore! What now?

If you don't know what this is and/or which book this is from, you're still a ranked beginner

So I’ll assume you laid the foundation as stated above and you’re now an advanced beginner or an intermediate i.e. someone who satisfies the above requirements and is aware of the proper technique to do the basic moves. Here is what you need to do.

1. Simplify your training. Choose a squat (back squat, front squat, KB squat etc.), a push (OH press, pushup, dip etc.), a pull (pullup, row, inverted row etc.), a hinge (KB swing, Rack-pulls , Deadlift etc.) and a isometric hold (plank, L-sit, L-hang etc.). Forget everything else. Seriously.

2. Do 2 sets of 5 reps of each of these moves every other day or 3 days a week. For eg. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Rest as required between sets.

3. Each progressing training session, increase the number of repetitions by 1. Once you get strong enough to perform 12 solid repetitions, increase the weight by the smallest possible increment. Continue progressing.

4. Eat slightly above appetite and sleep as much as you can.

5. Don’t do anything else. And by that I mean, don’t f*cking do anything else! No running on off days, no basketball in the evenings, no extra ‘weights’ at the gym, no more nonsense. More is not better. Better is better and it doesn’t get better than this.

What about women?

Yeah. What about women? Won’t we get big and bulky? Ummm no, you wont. Don’t believe me? Look at Neghar Fonooni. Is she big and bulky? Or is she strong and awesome? You tell me.

Neghar Fonooni – Strong is awesome!

How does she train? Well, here is a sample.

Summing up

Whether your goal is to get fit or look awesome or both, do what been said, and only whats been said, till you get strong enough to back squat 2 x BW (1.5 x BW for women), deadlift 2.5 x BW (1.75 x BW for women), do 15+ pullups (6+ for women) and hold a 3min plank.

And then we’ll talk. We’ll talk about variety and macros and six pack abs and training frequency and rest periods and tempo and what not. Until then, shut up, open your mind and listen when I talk.

Peace out.

15 responses to “The beginner’s guide to getting strong & looking awesome

  1. Adarsh January 20, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Aye-aye captain!

  2. Arjun January 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Wow – i cant even do 2 pullups! I’m gonna work on these ONLY… from today. You think its a good idea – to do just these along with cardio?

    • RG January 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm


      “5. Dont do anything else. And by that I mean, dont f*cking do anything else! No running on off days, no basketball in the evenings, no extra weights at the gym, no more nonsense. More is not better. Better is better and it doesnt get better than this.” That includes cardio too. So no cardio.

  3. Arjun January 20, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    ermm… ok… just read your “why no cardio article” 🙂

  4. Bala January 20, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    Very “on you face” and I love the way you write, Awesome stuff…I am subscribing NOW…Thanks Coach, cheers

    • RG January 20, 2012 at 9:31 pm

      dont help if you want to get strong. and you need to get strong first to get fit. burpees are an excellent all-in-one exercise but thats exactly what they are… all-in-one – which means you dont get better at anything in particular.

  5. Pavi January 21, 2012 at 4:35 am

    Interesting article. I am a runner who never quite got into strength straining.(no- I am not a cardio junkie. I just like to see how far my legs can take me). Your article has given me a good starting point. Perhaps I will master the basics of the squat, push up, pull up and plank before I join your bootcamp in June!

  6. Mitchell - Home Fitness Manual January 22, 2012 at 1:13 pm


    I’m with you and beginner being able to hit those benchmark stats. If a newbie can’t do a single pullup, then they should need to concern themselves with advanced training techniques. Sticking to the basics is super important for the beginner. Every minute training “smart” will be fruitful. Time and focus is essential.


  7. M Mohamed Ali January 24, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Dear Raj,

    I found your blog very interesting and found it amusing they way you reiterate your points. I appreciate your effort in spreading awareness. How ever since most of your points are as a matter of fact, I need to bring your attention on the image you have posted on your blog as Arnold. I believe that image of the fitness expert shown on the image is of Franco Columbu who incidentally is a friend of Arnold (and in that image he does look like Arnold). Do look his images up as “frank columbo pull ups” in Google for image results. I just thought to bring this to your attention to make your Blog more as a matter of fact.


  8. Pingback: Success Story: From overweight to awesome « Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.

  9. PS April 29, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Hi – I am a bit confused — in two different places in the article you say 1+ and 6+ pull-ups for women. Which one is correct?

    I am trying to do this basic set on my own, hence the question.


    • RG May 9, 2012 at 10:58 am

      Both are correct. Just different levels of fitness. 6+ pullups for women is pretty awesome.

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