Frequently, I get asked questions related to training styles and how they change based on an exerciser’s level of skill. The biggest question here is “how does training change based on one’s current level of skill?” (beginner/intermediate/advanced) Another common question is “how do I know my current skill level?”
To simplify matters, and so that I can save myself time during email writing, here are a few basic guidelines. It’s okay if some of this doesn’t make sense to you yet, but this is the general trajectory of everyone’s fitness journey:
Beginners - 0-1 years of training
Focus on adherence above all else - until you hit near total adherence to any program, nothing matters. That means sacrificing workout frequency and intensity as needed to keep it doable. I absolutely love this recent post from Bryan Krahn about adherence for beginners: “On Coaching Gen Pop clients: Exercise choice, sets, reps, volume increases, calorie cycling, etc. = 5% of the equation. Solving lifestyle roadblocks = 95% of the equation.”
Focus on major compound movements: squats, deadlift, bench press, shoulder press, rows. Also: burpees, jumps, running, carries, drags, planks, for those who can handle.
Improve movement quality, aim for good form, identify and work around any existing movement deficiencies.
Avoid isolation exercises, which will provide little benefit for you at this level (sorry curlbros).
Full body workouts, 3-4x/week, varying rep ranges but keeping volume relatively steady.
Develop good dietary and exercise habits to last you for the long run.
Intermediates - 1-2 years of consistent training
Find a passion or goal to motivate you - weight loss, muscle gain, strength gain, sport performance, etc.
Begin to train using specialized styles and programs seen in your particular focus, seek help from qualified coaches or trainers.
Improve with diet - learn to use intuitive eating strategies or count calories via lots of practice.
Gradually increase intensity, add in more targeted and specialized exercises to continue improving.
Advanced - 2+ years of consistent training within your discipline, potentially much longer
Assess and develop your particular issues, weak points, genetic quirks, and identify how to target them with highly specialized routines, isolation exercises, etc.
Develop yearly training plans with different training cycles intended to maximize development.
Training cycles include regular variations in intensity, volume, loading, exercise selection, or other variables in order to avoid stagnation.
Often only possible with the help of an advanced coach in your discipline.
Nail down diet and learn to change diet based on training needs.
Training volume continues to increase - frequency and intensity need to be carefully structured and organized in order to ensure quality work with adequate rest periods in between.
Training for different qualities (strength, endurance, muscle, etc.) needs to be balanced in order to ensure lack of interference.
It’s important to understand that training status is always relative. If you’re a bodybuilder who has trained for 5 years in bodybuilding, you’re still a beginner or possibly an intermediate when it comes to another discipline like, say, gymnastics. Some disciplines are more closely related than others - think powerlifting and bodybuilding, or CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting - but this doesn’t mean that you should consider yourself an advanced trainee in a related discipline without specialized training in that discipline.
However, it is often possible for advanced trainees in one sport to skip over the beginner phase when it comes to another sport - after all, they’ve likely already nailed down the basic, general exercise skills in the pursuit of a different sport.
Another important notice is that the relative times given here are not set in stone. Due to genetic makeup, some gifted individuals may advance through training stages pretty quickly, while some disadvantaged individuals may struggle and take much longer than the numbers I’ve outlined. Genetics is the single biggest factor in how quickly you improve, but most people hover around the middle line. This is a general recommendation based on my experience as a coach and trainer, and should describe a majority of the population.
Typically, elite athletes have 5+ years of consistent training within their discipline, and sometimes as much as 10 or 15. t takes a long time to be the best at anything - though again, sometimes, some genetic monsters simply break all the rules.
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