What To Expect From Weight Training

man and woman weight training

Jan 7, 2015

We all have our reasons to weight train. Some of use train to improve in sports, others to look good while others may train to improve their overall fitness levels. Goals and objectives are an essential part of successful weight training program.

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Without specific goals in mind, it’s going to be very difficult to reach your objective. Assuming you have your goals and objectives in mind, how do you know you’re on the right track? How do you know your program is working? What can you expect from your program?

Today, I’m going to go over a simple timeline that will outline what you can expect from a typical weight training program. Mind you, this is for an average progressive weight training program and more or less aimed at beginners who don’t know what to expect. It’s a little funny because based on my experience; a lot of beginners tend to assume that muscle magically appears after a couple of months of training. When I think about it, how would a person really know? When I first started training I assumed that I’d look like Arnold after my first workout (seriously). There was absolutely no information on what I should be expecting or how my body should be reacting to a successful weight training program.

With that in mind, let’s start at the beginning from week 1 and go through the process of what you can expect from a basic weight training program all the way to week 12. This information is designed for beginners. If you’ve weight trained before, you may already be in a position to know what to expect.

For your first workout, it’s going to seem very strange. At first, your body will seem like its helping and glad to move the weight but after a few repetitions, it’s going to start fighting you. Your arms and legs will start to shake after a few repetitions, your muscles will tire and will sometimes even cramp up. Once your muscles start to cramp, it’s time to put the weight down and move onto your next exercise. Remember to take a lot of water with you and drink lots of it.

After you’ve finished your workout, your body is going to feel numb. You’re also going to feel a little tired and perhaps a little dizzy. It’s important that you drink a lot of water, eat a banana and even consume a carbohydrate drink like Gatorade.

Your body will continue to feel somewhat numb throughout the day (affected body parts). Your metabolism will also rise to help with recovery so you might feel warmer than usual. Remember to keep drinking lots of water.

It might be a good idea to invest in some tiger balm (or A535) and rub on your muscles. At this point, they may or may not be sore so rub some muscle relaxing ointment on them.

I’m not going to lie to you; your body is going to be sore the day after weight training. In fact, it’s going to be sore the entire week. That’s just the way it goes.

On your second workout, your body will probably still be sore from the first workout. Remember this, if your body is so sore that you have a hard time performing simple tasks such as getting up, reaching for salt or picking up your shoes, take another day off.

All in all, your body will be sore the entire week so remember to take it easy, drink plenty of water, and get plenty of rest. Read our rest and recovery guide here .

Also take a look are our muscle soreness articles here

At this point, your body is attempting to establish a bench mark. That is, it’s setting up a starting point from which you can start to improve upon. This will become very important in the coming weeks.

I’m sorry to have to say this but you’re not going to gain any new muscle this week. Your body is confused and desperately trying to adapt to the strange movements in order to regain balance and control. In addition, you’re central nervous system is going to be affected so you may seem a little tired and weak at times. Overall, you’re probably going to feel pretty crappy this entire week so try and be prepared for that.

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After taking the weekend off from weight training, your body should start to feel somewhat normal. If you still feel sore and crappy, take another day off from weight training (do not do anything, including cardio) and rest up.

When performing your workouts, your muscles will still shake when doing the movements and you should still be experiencing a certain amount of muscle tiredness (which may seem numb and often called “spaghetti legs or arms” in the fitness world) after a few sets. At this stage, your body is still adapting and trying to regain control so don’t get too stressed out if your body is still shaking like a leaf when performing the movements. Also, your balance will still be a little off and you may experience some wobbling or imbalance when using dumbbells. Again, don’t get too stressed out because all of this stuff is normal and will stop in the coming weeks (before we get to the really good stuff!)

After your workouts, you’re going to experience muscle tiredness and you may be a little warmer than usual throughout the day (as your metabolism is higher than normal). In addition, your central nervous system may be a little overworked so you may seem a little tired at times.

Your body will be sore this entire week and like the first week you’re going to feel a little crappy. Just remember to keep drinking a lot of water and eat plenty of fruits (especially bananas ) high octane carbs, protein and fats. See our nutrition page here to find out what you should be eating.

Invest in some tiger balm (or A535) and rub on your muscles. If you can, invest in a cold pack and apply ice to the sore muscles for 15 minutes. Better yet, ask your better half for a massage!

Like the first week, you’re not going to build any new muscle mass. At this point, your body is still adapting to the strange movements and trying to regain balance and control. Your body is trying to find equilibrium so be patient and keep up with your routine (the good stuff is coming up!).

By now, your body should be getting somewhat used to the movements. You should be noticing that your muscles aren’t shaking as much (although they probably still are just not as much). Your muscles should start to feel a little tighter and somewhat stronger. That is, you should be able to perform more repetitions in your movements using the same weight as you did in the previous week.

Your muscles will still tire like they did in the previous two weeks but not as severe. Your balance will probably still be a little off so you may still be a little wobbly and awkward in certain movements. At this point, your metabolism should be balancing out so you shouldn’t be feeling as warm as you did in the previous weeks (although you should still be feeling warm). In addition, your central nervous system should be getting used to the workload so you won’t feel as tired as you did in the first two weeks.

Your muscles are still going to get sore but not as severe as the first couple of weeks. You’re still going to feel somewhat crappy but again, not as crappy as the first two weeks.

At this point, your body is still getting used to the movements and finding its balance but the good news is that it is starting to control the movements. This is a step in the right direction as your body is starting to change for the good.

At this point, your appetite should be growing. Your body is starting to crave foods to help replenish lost nutrients including protein, fat and carbohydrates. More likely than not, your body will start to crave carbohydrate heavy foods after working out. Try drinking a simple carbohydrate drink like Gatorade after working out in addition to consuming an apple or banana. This should help with the cravings until your next meal.

Bad news: You’re still not going to build any new muscle. This only happens once your body accepts the changes and starts to adapt to the movements by getting stronger. This can take another two to four weeks to start getting stronger and another two to four weeks to see new muscle tissue. We’ll discuss shortly how you can speed this process up.

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If you’ve managed to hang in there to keep consistent with your workouts, your body is now switching on its adaptive mechanisms. In the first 3 weeks, your body was trying to find its balance and equilibrium so it was basically in a state of havoc and confusion. By now, it is starting to find its footing and now ready to start to get stronger.

Your muscles should be a little tighter and they should feel stronger. By the time you step into the gym for your first workout, your body shouldn’t be tired or sore. In fact, you should start to feel energized. By now, your muscles are starting to feel tighter, stronger and ready to move some weight.

Although your muscles may still shake a little bit when performing the exercises, it shouldn’t be a severe as the previous weeks. By now, you should be able to perform more repetitions using the same weight as you did in the previous week in most of your movements. Keep in mind that some muscle groups are more stubborn than others so you may not experience the same strength improvements across the board. Just stay consistent with the program and they’ll start to improve.

In addition, you should be experiencing what is called “the pump”. You may or may not have experienced this in the previous weeks but at this point, you should definitely feel your muscle expand after performing an exercise. Your muscles are now able to perform more repetitions so the body is now pumping more and more oxygen (blood) into the muscle to perform even more repetitions. Personally, the pump is an indication that what you are doing is working. For example, after performing a dumbbell curl exercise, your biceps (front of the upper arm) should feel full and somewhat “different”.

At the end of the workout, you’re going to notice that you’re not as mentally weak as you were in the previous weeks. In fact, you’re probably going to sweat a little more this week than last but you’re also going to feel somewhat more energized after your workout.

You’re still going to get sore but you’ll notice that your muscles are starting to get a “different” kind of sore. Your muscles are starting to shift from a loose soreness to a “tight” soreness. This is the first sign that your muscles are starting to build more muscle tissue and are growing to adapt to more stress (weight training).

Good news: Your body is starting to get stronger and has found its balance and control. Your body is adapting and starting to change.

By now, you should be looking forward to your workouts and ready to improve. You have now found your balance and in control of the weight. Although you may still be shaking with a few of your movements, it shouldn’t be as severe as in the previous weeks. By now, you are ready to improve.

It is time to start thinking of adding more weight to most of your movements (if you haven’t already done so). If you can easily perform the prescribed repetitions for your routine, it’s time to add more weight. I suggest adding another 10% more weight than you did in previous workouts and strive to perform the same amount of repetitions. Please keep in mind that this only applies to your last set. Let’s use the bench press as an example:

Bench Press

Week 4 Week 5

Set one: 1 set of 15 repetitions using 100 pounds

Set one: 1 set of 15 repetitions using 100 pounds

Set two: 1 set of 12 repetitions using 110 pounds

Set two: 1 set of 12 repetitions using 110 pounds

Set three: 1 set of 10 repetitions using 120 pounds Set three: 1 set of 10 – 12 repetitions using 130 pounds

As you will notice, an additional 10% in weight has been added to the bar for the last set in week 5 for the last set only. This is a basic progression set.

This type of increase should be applied to most of your exercises, provided you can easily perform the prescribed repetitions for that exercise. If you can’t perform the necessary repetitions, don’t bother increasing the weight and strive to complete all repetitions as prescribed in your routine.

Your body should still be getting sore but you should be noticing that the soreness isn’t as severe. Your body should start to feel “tighter” and you should feel stronger. Your leg muscles should start to feel stronger when walking around and your upper body should feel somewhat tight.

In addition, your appetite will increase. Since you are working harder, your body will increase its appetite in order to keep fueling each exercise session. Don’t fight this and eat plenty of whole foods. Stay away from junk food and eat only healthy and whole foods.

Your body shouldn’t be as tired as in previous weeks. In fact, you should now be a little more energized throughout the day.

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By now, your body should be accustomed to weight training and muscle shaking should have stopped. You should be well balanced and in complete control of the weight and the movement. However, don’t stress too much if your muscles are still shaking a bit. Keep consistent with your routine and the shaking will disappear in the next week or so.

By the time you get into the gym, you should be feeling very fresh and energized. Your body shouldn’t be sore and you should feel tight and strong. In fact, your muscles should be toning up. The first sign of muscle growth is always an increase in strength followed by a “tight” feeling in the muscles. Soon after you start feeling tight, your muscles will start to tone up and take shape.

As with the previous week, try and either perform more repetitions with the same weight as you did in the previous workout or add a bit more weight. Remember, you should only add more weight once you can do the prescribed repetitions in your routine with relative ease.

Your body should be changing for the better. You should notice more muscle tone, strength increases and an overall feeling of wellness. In addition, you should notice that your body is stronger when performing everyday activities such as walking and getting up.

Your body is now priming up to add more muscle. Don’t worry; you’re not going to look like the incredible hulk all of a sudden. What I mean is that your muscles will start to look just a little bit different. You’re going to notice slight muscle shape in places you didn’t even notice before. Your biceps and triceps will appear a little harder than before, your butt will be a bit tighter and harder than before, you’ll start to notice changes in the hardness of your chest. These are small changes but if you’ve been consistent with your program, you will definitely start to notice.

Your appetite will also increase so don’t hold back. Don’t worry, you’re not going to get super bulky or get fat. Trust me on this one. Eat plenty of whole foods, six times per day and cut out all junk food and you’re going to get along just fine. Plan ahead and cut out the chips and pop. Remember to drink plenty of water. Drink two glasses before working out, two while working out and another two after you’ve finished. Read this article here to see how to transform your body.

By now, you should definitely be getting stronger. Your body shouldn’t be shaking at all when performing your movements. You should be improving in all of your prescribed exercises in your routine. If you were able to perform the prescribed repetitions in week 6 with relative ease, now is the time to increase the weight in each of your exercises. Like you did in week 5, it’s time to add 10% more weight to each of your exercises and strive to complete the prescribed repetitions in your routine.

Your body should be feeling fresh, strong and tight. Your body is still going to get sore from weight training but unlike the first couple of weeks, it’s actually going to start to feel good. I know, it sounds weird but the soreness is going to feel more like muscle tightness than outright agony. At this point, sore muscles mean more muscle tone and growth. If you’ve stopped getting sore, you’re on the wrong track and need to either increase the amount of repetitions you’re doing or add more weight.

It’s time to start thinking of adding more sets to your exercises. For example, if you’ve been doing 2 sets of 12 repetitions for the bench press, it’s time to add another set so that your progression is 3 sets of 12 repetitions. Do this right across the board for all your movements.

Your appetite should be leveling off. That is, you shouldn’t be as hungry as before but try and maintain steady eating habits because you’re going to need an abundance of nutrients to keep growing.

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At this stage, you should have all your movements under complete control and performing each with nice, fluid motions. Your arms and legs shouldn’t be shaking at all when performing the movements. In fact, they should feel strong and sturdy.

Your muscles should be toned and harder than in previous weeks.

Your internal metabolism should be kicked into mid gear and you should have reached an equilibrium point. By now, you should be getting used to your bodies higher than normal metabolism (due to the training) and you should visibly notice a reduction in your fat deposits (this is dependent on how well you’re eating). Your body is now ready for real change. Think of your body as a company that changes over to a new management team with a whole different ideology and direction. The company has just fired a bunch of lazy workers (fat tissue and flabby muscles) and hired new energized workers (stronger muscles). The company is now ready to make some real money which in this case, ready to change your body from soft and flabby to strong, sexy and sleek.

By now, you should notice a definite change in your appearance. Your muscles should be stronger, more toned and you should be experiencing a feeling of wellness.

Remember, your body will crave more fluids so you should be drinking plenty of water and increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables (especially water based fruits and veggies). Don’t be shy, eat as much fruits and veggies as possible.

At this stage, your muscles should feel strong, fresh and energized. In addition, you should have increased the weight, sets, and repetitions for all of the exercises in your routine. You should have complete control over the weight with no balancing issues. All movements should be nice and fluid.

You are now out of the beginner’s stage of weight training and entering into intermediate territory. You should be feeling very comfortable with all of your movements.

In addition to muscle tone, you should be noticing some muscle growth in certain areas of your body. For example, your arms should be slightly larger than when you first started. Your chest should feel harder and a bit larger. Mind you, the change isn’t going to be huge but at this point, you should be noticing something. You might even notice that your dress shirts seem a little tighter in the upper arms and torso area.

Your body is now undergoing a change. It is transitioning from an inactive metabolism to an active one, a lot like an internal button being pushed. This is where the magic of weight training starts to come into play. Your metabolism is now kicking into a higher gear working 24 hours even while you’re sleeping. At this point, you’ll start to notice the fat starting to melt (provided you’re eating only whole foods) off your body and lean muscle tissue will now become much more noticeable.

You are now starting to build lean muscle mass and reducing body fat levels.

You should be feeling a heck of a lot stronger than when you first started. Your muscles are now a bit bigger, more toned and tighter. You should feel refreshed and full of energy. In fact, you should start to feel like a different person.

At this point, you should be thinking of adding more exercises to your program. For example, if you’re doing the bench press for your chest, think about adding another exercise to accompany the bench press. For example:

Bench press: 3 x 12 repetitions

Add the following exercise:

Incline dumbbell press: 3 x 12 repetitions

Your body is now ready to handle more volume which will help tone and build even more muscle tissue. Ideally, you should be really feeling the positive effects of weight training. You might have even received a few praises from your work colleagues or classmates. Your entire body should feel stronger with muscle growth in the major muscle groups such as the back, chest, shoulders and legs. Again, don’t expect to look like the hulk. Your muscles are going to appear a little harder, a little larger with more shape and aesthetics.

It’s time that I spill the beans about the weight training paradox. This paradox is something a lot of beginners and intermediates fail to understand. If you can grasp this concept, you will be well on your way to building the body you’ve always wanted. Here is the paradox. The better you get, the harder it gets to achieve more results. It never, ever gets easier and once you reach a certain point in your training program, there will come a time when you stop improving. However, if you remember to feed your body the right nutrients get plenty of rest and adapt to training plateaus you will overcome most obstacles.

You’d think that the stronger you get the easier it is to progress even further but with weight training, it’s the exact opposite. The stronger you get the harder it is to progress to the next level and this is why you don’t see a whole whack of people in the gym who are in super shape with sexy abs and lean tight muscles. All in all, most people at your gym will all look average. The reason is this paradox and what most people fail to understand that weight training is non-linear. If you truly want to keep looking better and better, you’ll have to work harder and harder and adjust your training to accommodate this paradox.

If you’ve managed to complete 12 weeks of consistent and progressive weight training, you deserve a big congratulations. After 12 weeks, it’s time to start thinking of additional ways to start working harder and harder. You are now ready to set a true set of goals such as losing 50 pounds or gain 10 pounds of muscle. It’s time to try using intermediate, specialized or advanced routines. The point is to always keep improving with each passing week.

I mentioned earlier (week 3) about how to speed up the muscle growth process. The only way to do this is through nutrition timing. Proper nutrition is a must in order to really start seeing some results. Nutrition will play a huge part in your success (in the order of 60%) so make sure you have your nutrition in place. After your fifth or sixth week of training, I want you to think about implementing the techniques on this page here:

Two ways to build muscle fast

The methods on that page will help speed up your recovery process using the right nutrients at the right times.

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All the best and good luck,


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As the owner of Building Muscle 101, I am committed to providing you the best practical weight training advice. I've been training for over 24 years (and still train to this day!) and the advice and guidance I provide comes directly from my experience and knowledge.

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