Beginner tips for beginner athletes

Nada Alami
6 min readJan 22, 2021


(This article is primarily focused on weightlifting/bodybuilding tips, as that is my area of interest)

1)For many, the difference between beginner and intermediate is not a matter of how much time you spend on the skill..

There’s a division of skills that allows for most ‘internet fitness educators’ to be reductive with their recommendations to seem concise. The simplest explanation among bodybuilding/powerlifting youtubers, is that a beginner athlete may have 2 years or less of experience while intermediate athletes have more than that. This format can be used on a surface level to recommend inexperienced lifters to avoid or modify overly complex exercises. However, it’s definitely not a title one should impose on themself without knowing the difference between a beginner athlete and an advanced one.

While time is undoubtedly a strong corollary factor in what makes an experienced athlete, being an intermediate/advanced athlete comes from one’s inner knowledge of their own body’s mechanics, in addition to experience with those mechanics.. This often comes from neurological mindfulness during exercise, as opposed to just how long one spends training. For example, beginner runners often don’t grasp the importance of breath control, flat-footedness, and optimal stride. This lets them overestimate or underestimate their projected endurance because they aren’t familiar with their own body signals. Beginner lifters tend to think inaccurately about how much/how heavy they can lift and the issue of form can get in the way of “optimal results”. In both of these cases, this can be attributed to a self-familiarity that grows through recognizing how the body moves under stress.

One doesn’t have to perform at the Olympic level to be an advanced athlete, either.

2)Bodybuilding is way harder than it looks, and harder without steroids

To avoid the ire of social media health influencers, the uglier parts of bodybuilding are rarely discussed in beginner circles. This can leave people with the impression that they can literally muscle through some subconscious physiological barriers that keep people from looking like they walked right out of a body building magazine all the time.

Extreme leanness often comes with a high physiological cost and can only be maintained for a short time without a drastic drop in that person’s functioning. The nervous systems that often depend on over 20% of the energy we make, will be a mess on low body fat (under 10%) to put it lightly.

Most visible attributes of a “ripped” body can be attributed to dehydration, extreme diet restriction, spray tan, and sometimes steroids.. Many professional and amateur bodybuilders understand that the sport tests your relationship to food, and induces a schedule of what would normally be disordered eating and drug use, and even implicitly encourages it.

3)Workout From Home Mentality

I don’t think we need to hear an attempt at relatability from me by describing this monstrosity of a pandemic, but the reality is, working out from home is looking like the safest option for the majority of people. Stay-at-home orders also vary based on where in the world you live currently. I’m not advising risking your health to be in an active environment, even if it’s hard to craft one wherever you live. It’s realistic at the present, to have lower motivation and high stress. Both of these things can be observed to directly impact athletic performance. At a certain point, caffeine and motivational pep talks can’t override this, even assuming poor mental health isn’t also getting in the way. Bottom line is, working out at home isn’t secondary to working out in a gym, and due to global events, suboptimal performance is to sort of be expected. So take it easy on yourself and don’t punish yourself for being affected by life.

Working out from home may seem lame in comparison to all the cool things a gym can offer, regardless of if you can go to the gym or not. What’s important to remember is that having some sort of routine is better than having none at all, and your home is often the easiest place to start building that.

4)Avoiding Rush Hour

Time for exercise should ideally be sequenced to the quieter part of the day. Some people swear by early morning workouts to jumpstart the day, and neurologically, it’ll be harder to do your best after a long day of work, mental or physical. However you program your time is up to you. If you schedule exercise for the quieter parts of the day, it’s more likely that the psychological and physical benefits can be appreciated in the still moments.

While no one was expecting to build an “ideal summer body” using bodyweight exercises at home, there’s still benefits to taking the possibly indefinite quarantine to do low-intensity, less-stressful, short workouts at home. What avoiding the rush hour means in this instance is keeping your exercise time as distraction-free as possible, with whatever methods work. There is a lot of generic advice I could give about how to do that but it’s better to take a starting point from someone like Terry Cruz, here.

5) A bad foundation for fitness is number chasing, especially starting out weak.

Both of those sentences derive from nearly the same issue, which is the dopamine reward pathway in the brain. External motivation can be extremely useful if one needs a kick in the pants, but it often obscures some of the simpler rewards you can get from exercise, such as the endorphin rush, better energy and mood, and happier joints and tendons.

Working out alone is as much of an exercise in restraint as it is to ignore the numbers. This can apply to a timer, scale, or barbell bar. It takes discipline to not instantly turn towards other people for your dopamine hits, instead of your own efforts that put you here in the first place. Social media enables too much instant gratification for number and fame chasers, and it’s kind of antithetical to the delayed gratification that hours of exercise is supposed to give you.

Besides, being a hobbyist in any sport has about as negative a connotation as being a “casual gamer”. These are both just categories of people that do things for the fun of it. There’s no obligation to be naturally talented, or brutally dedicated to the point of not having fun anymore.

Optimal performance isnt really the goal as a newbie/intermediate(or even beyond!), just useful.

6)Rigid eating can be reductive or counterproductive when you’re in the beginner stages.

Each adjective in that prior sentence carries the meaning very heavily. This isn’t to discredit the work that bodybuilders and weightlifters do, even as there is a morbid ideology that’s common among pros. “In the grand scheme of things, you have to care about your bicep circumference more than your lifespan.”

This isn’t me strictly advocating for a certain way of eating. There are athletes that do perfectly fine with intuitive eating, and others may need diets to function how they want.. Beginners have a bit of an underrated advantage by not needing to be so concerned about the calories in => calories out dynamic (which is reductive and a bit counterproductive to people whose primary hormone is estrogen, because food science is woefully behind when it comes to how hormones majorly contribute to how food is stored, used and broken down.)

Food science in general has been a hotly contested field for decades, with very few conclusive statements being drawn about nutrition. If there were less implicit biases against marginalized people, we could have a better scope of nutrition that could be more widely attributed to the general population. At the end of the day, all bodies are different, and the image that comes into your head when you think of a “bodybuilder” is often caused by a state of disordered eating, if not extreme dehydration.

Just know that there’s no silver bullet diets when it comes to “eating healthy” so you should jump into things with an open mind, without viewing food as “good” or “bad”, “rewarding” or “punishing”. Your body may demand more food in general to keep up with the new output of energy, so please listen to it and form a knowledgeable relationship with yourself to keep your vessel content.



Nada Alami

Nada, 22, Muslim, Trans, Cognitive Science Major, big nerd.