A lot of people who come to the gym for the first time have no idea what’s important to make proper progress. In the flood of all kinds of machines, “miracle” supplements, and all kinds of diets that are trending at the moment, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle and start worrying about crap. So how do you make sense of it all? In the following paragraphs, I will discuss what is really important. What’s really most important, is whether you want to sculpt, put on a bunch of muscle or lift a hell of a lot of weight. Here we go:

1. Putting effort into training

There is no other way around it. It is necessary to stress the muscles enough so that they have a reason to get stronger and grow. This is best achieved by training mainly with free weights, machines should be more of a fringe issue. Your workout should ideally revolve around a squat cage, a platform with a barbell and a rack with single-arm dumbbells. Squat, hip movement, press, pull and a few isolated exercises for small body parts are all you need. I’m sure you’ve seen the dude on the leg press performing half reps without any hint of sweat or facial grimace looking at his cell phone between sets. That’s really not what it should look like… And I understand that not everyone wants to lift heavy weights, but that doesn’t change the fact that these exercises are the best ones, whether you want to lose weight and shape your physique or gain muscle and strength. Most people who come to the gym for the first time, however, have to go through preparation to master the proper technique and ranges of motion, so they have to drill the easier variations of these exercises first and work on mobility.

2. Read

It’s always important to have someone to guide you through your training and diet in the beginning, but in the end, it’s essential to read and educate yourself. Nowadays we have a great advantage in that a lot of information is freely available. It’s just a matter of getting it right because there’s a lot of crap and sometimes downright dangerous information out there, especially in the online space. You need to dig a little deeper and read a few books.

3. Learn how to eat

No, it’s really not about starving yourself or eating something you don’t like over and over again. It’s not about extremes or cutting out any macronutrients for good. Today, we’re inundated with a lot of bullshit on the internet about how to cut out this or that. Among the worst diets, I’ll mention the keto diet, which according to the latest studies is downright harmful to health and carcinogenic. Eliminate only the foods that you can’t digest properly or you have an intolerance to, but everyone has to test this on themselves. Learn to eat well and give your body all the nutrients it needs. A metabolism that runs at full speed and is not stressed by excessive deficiency then has no reason to hold on to extra fat, and even the brain then works much more efficiently.

4. Train with someone who knows what he’s doing, or hire a trainer

When I started training, I didn’t have many options. I lived in a village and the nearest gym was 11 km away. The only way was to buy basic equipment and train at home, only once a week I had the opportunity to go to the gym with my classmates from high school. At home, I had dumbbells, a barbell and a bunch of plates. I was benching on stools and doing pull-ups on a clothesline, and it was a long way from the ideal technique. The drive was there, but the execution fell short. If I had someone to teach me the basic technique, training and eating principles in the beginning, I could have avoided many mistakes. The most significant ones were over-training the pressing exercises versus the pulling ones and the resulting shoulder injury that still echoes to this day at times. I also ate too much, put on a lot of fat and then it took me a long time to get rid of it.

5. Only share your goals with those who support you

Since we live in a country that has been historically subjugated and humiliated, it is indelibly etched in us. That’s why everyone is quick to tell you that you can’t do this or that. Most people project envy and low self-esteem onto others, and your eventual success would be an attack on their already whining ego. This is one of the few things that is still better in America today because most people there are encouraged to have a winning mentality and wish success to others. That’s why it’s better not to say anything to most people. But if they see that you’ve changed something, they might start asking questions. Then it’s better to give them a rather vague answer and keep your specific goals to yourself. There is a difference between telling someone “I want to lose weight” and “I want to lose 50 kg”. With option 2, they’ll more likely tell you that it is not possible. In short, it’s better not to talk about it too much in general and possibly only with those who will support you. And remember, when someone tells you that you can’t do something, it actually means that they can’t do it themselves.