How to Survive the First Year

James Plumb
A guide for the non-gymer to become strong, and not quit.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”. Winston Churchill

Here is the summary. If you don’t quit – you will end up strong, athletic and a better person. 

Sadly – most of your brain is going to tell you to quit. Your brain is going to tell you that all the time, quit, don’t show up, its too hard. Your friends and family will probably agree.

By understanding what your body is going to go through in the first year – you have every chance of succeeding – by using your intellect to overcome self-doubt and insecurity.
You are Going to Feel Super Un-Co-ordinated – Its fine – so did everybody
Let just use a squat for an example – but it applies to any compound movement. Doing a squat with any level of proficiency has a recipe – where you just don’t have the ingredients. You need:
  1. The actual knowledge of how to do a movement – you’ll need to weed through a barrage of internet articles – or hope you meet a coach who has some knowledge
  2. The stabilizers in order not to shake all over the place as you go down
  3. The mobility to get into the right positions
  4. The muscular size to move the weight
  5. The neurological pathways to recruit muscle fibres
In simple words. It’s a lot. But, take solace in the fact that every 300kg squatter started with the bar – and they didn’t look good either.

Over at DBS Barbell, we’ve had a lot of beginners start – and I’m really proud to say, many of them went from falling over with the bar – to squatting over 120kg in the first year.

Here are some practical tips to make sure you start off on the right foot. Work on what’s easiest first. Before your first day at the gym, try to chill in the bottom of a full squat for a few minutes each day. The shower is a great place to practice this – you are warm, no one is watching – and water will go into place you never dreamed.

Next – google reviews of the gym you are going to – and see if they have beginners that have succeeded. This is important. It is way way easier to learn to squat right on day one, then have to relearn how to squat on day 100. Sadly, many PT’s although qualified – have very little idea. Ask them how much they squat – if they are offended – you may be on to something.

If you stick with it, it’s a matter of weeks for the mobility and stabilizers to catch up – and you will be squatting the bar like its weightless.
Lastly – get what you need to stay safe. A belt and some wrist wraps are a good place so start. Nothing should hurt when you train – if something does – figure out why.

 getting into powerlifting

You are a learner driver – you need the hours on the road to get better

Once you are settled in – you have your equipment, you feel like you are on the road – its time to get strong. You know how to do that – repeat yourself thousands of times.

If you coach is giving you a thousand variables – it's very hard to get strong in that manner. Equally – its hard to get strong when you are doing limited reps. Here are some easy tips to ensure you get out of the newb stage with some muscle mass, and strength
  1. enough reps to get bigger. The fancy word for gainz is hypertrophy. If anyone asks, you are in a hypertrophy block – they’ll love it. 5-12 reps is perfect
  2. Use enough weight so its challenging. Push yourself. At the start – your body is lying to you. You are stronger than it thinks. Tell it to shut up, and do another rep
  3. Don’t use too much weight and have bad form. People will laugh at you. You will get injured – there is no upside
  4. Do enough sets to create muscular stress. 5-10 sets for beginners is perfect
If you can do the above – and survive six months – you know you will be fine. The WORST thing you can do is say ‘I’ve done enough this week’ – you need to be there 4 times a week in order to create momentum. 4 x 90 minute sessions is 6 hours. You spend 6 hours a week looking a Instagram and facebook – so this should be as important.
 powerlifting for beginners

Bonus tips – look pro from day one

Humans judge other humans – its normal. Don’t feel bad if someone at the gym looks at you – you can’t be discouraged by another person being human. Here are some easy things to avoid being labelled a newb or getting in the way.
  1. When you load a bar – heaviest weight on the inside. Don’t ‘add up’ little plates. Put a 20 on rather than two 10’s. Don’t ask why – it just looks better
  2. Do not touch a bar when someone is grinding out a weight – unless you know what you are doing. Stealing a rep hurts us all on the inside
  3. Yes – people use equipment for a long time in strength sports. Don’t just mill around a rack – ask if you can sit in – or use another piece of equipment
  4. Gloves never, ever look cool. They just don’t
  5. Don’t yell like a crazy person – or have a tanty if you miss a weight. We’re lifting things – not solving the world hunger crisis
Strength gyms and strength sports are some of the most welcoming aspects of the gym world. If you try hard, everyone likes you, regardless of strength. Try to train at a gym that cheers beginners as much as it cheers competition lifters.

Share this article with someone who needs practical information to get started. For more practical information – please feel free to follow us on or

A practical and structured outline of surviving your first year of powerlifting – or any other strength pursuit.


About the author

Andrew Jansen is the co-founder and a director of DBS Barbell, Sydney’s premier strength gym.

He has competed in equipped and raw powerlifting, and in Strongman comps.

His current best lifts are raw 237.5kg squat, 172.5kg bench and 290kg deadlift at 105kg bodyweight.

You can find DBS on or

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