- As you get fitter, you may benefit from different styles of training, experts say.
- Gym newbies don’t need to worry about specifics, but they should focus on good habits.
- For experienced athletes, recovery and training techniques, like periodization, are key for gains.
Working out is more than just getting sweaty and sore.
To get fitter as you progress from a gym newbie to an experienced athlete, changing your training style and priorities could help you continue to make progress and avoid common pitfalls that stall gains, experts said.
Beginners improve quickly, so focus on good habits for future gains
A helpful way to start thinking about your fitness level is how long you’ve been consistently working on strength training or aerobic exercise, says Mike Boyle, a strength and conditioning coach.
Someone with less than a year of experience would be considered a beginner, and they could make gains with almost any exercise, not worrying much about details such as rep ranges or workout splits, he told Insider.
“It’s like a ‘free’ period where they’re working out and hit a PR every time, even though they’re probably still looking at Instagram for ideas,” Boyle said, referring to a personal record, such as a max-effort lift.
A lot of the initial “newbie gains” relate to neurological changes as the body learns how to move better. Building lean muscle mass takes time to accomplish, but it happens more rapidly for beginners.
To get the most out of the beginner stage, work on building good habits and plan ahead to create a strong foundation for continued progress, Boyle said.
Intermediate athletes should aim for balanced training
As you advance in your fitness, progress slows, and you’ll need to train more deliberately and with progressive overload to improve, says Stan Efferding, a powerlifter and coach known as the world’s strongest bodybuilder.
“There’s a difference between exercise and training. You can leave sweaty and tired, but you’re not training if it’s not measurable,” he told Insider.
Efferding breaks down training goals into attributes of strength, speed, muscle mass, stamina, coordination, mobility, agility, and skill. Improving all of these over time helps build the foundation of overall fitness, what he calls “general physical preparedness.”
At the intermediate stage, between one and five years of training, athletes should become aware of how they fare in each attribute and pay attention to the whole picture of fitness, instead of a single aspect, to keep making progress, he said.
“There’s a point at which you’re strong enough. At some point, you need to put less emphasis on what you excel at and put more work into your weaknesses,” Efferding said.
Intermediate athletes must also start implementing recovery strategies since an increased work capacity means they’d be able do more but accumulate more fatigue in the process, he said.
An example is alternating high-fatigue days, such as heavy lifting, with active recovery that gets your heart rate up, such as sled pushes or biking.
Advanced athletes can benefit from periodization, or focusing on one goal at a time
After five or more years of training, you hit the advanced stage of fitness where PRs are few and far between, Boyle said.
To continue making gains, it’s crucial to understand your goal, he said, which is why many advanced athletes start to implement training cycles or periodization.
Periodization allows an athlete to focus their effort on a single skill, Efferding said, ideally while being able to maintain other skills.
Training cycles often last between eight and 10 weeks and gradually increase intensity over time, to allow athletes, such as elite powerlifters, to maximize their efforts while avoiding burnout.
“You can’t gain on every skill at the same time,” Efferding said. “If you tried, you’d lose your ability to recover.”