You gotta love beginners. Their combination of enthusiasm and lack of knowledge/experience often leads to some of the dumbest diet and training related questions you’ll ever see.
It’s cool though, we were all there once asking the same silly noob things.
But one of the least dumb questions I get from beginners all the time has to do with their beginner status itself. More specifically, at what point can a beginner consider themselves an intermediate and move on to a more advanced workout routine?
In my experience, there’s usually 3 answers to this question… but only 1 truly makes sense.
1. The “Time Frame” Approach (And Why It’s Dumb)
The most common answer you’ll hear to this question is likely time frame related. As in, you should use a beginner workout routine for X number of weeks or months. When that amount of time is up, move on to an intermediate routine.
Doesn’t sound too bad, right? I’d agree completely, except there’s one major flaw to this approach: who’s to say you wouldn’t have kept progressing just fine well past this specified time frame?
For example, let’s pretend you heard you should use a beginner routine for 6 months. Now let’s say you’ve been progressing amazingly well (like most beginners using an intelligently designed routine do) and today officially makes it 6 months exactly.
Are you just going to stop this awesome run of progression because it’s been 6 months? Are you going to abandon a workout routine that’s already working perfectly for you right now just because the time is supposedly up on it and a more advanced routine is waiting for you? If so, I think you’re a dumbass.
No offense, but if your routine is working and producing the results you want right now, the last thing you should do is stop using it in favor of something more advanced solely because it’s been X amount of time. This beginner routine may have continued working for you for the next X weeks or months just the same, and likely better than any intermediate routine would have at this point.
But with this approach, you’d never know that. You’d just move on to something more advanced and unknowingly sacrifice your results in the process.
2. The “Strength Level” Approach (And Why It’s Dumb)
The next most common answer a beginner will get to this question is based on their strength levels. As in, you should use a beginner routine until you can bench press X, squat Y, and deadlift Z.
Again, it doesn’t sound too bad, right? But again, there’s a flaw that’s pretty much identical to the one we just covered: who’s to say you wouldn’t continue to progress and use this routine to exceed all of these specified strength levels?
For example, let’s pretend that a 185lb bench press is whatever magical percentage of your body weight that you’re supposed to be aiming for before moving on to a more advanced routine. Do you really think that’s the EXACT maximum point you’d reach with this routine? I sure as hell don’t.
I’d say there’s a really good chance that you can just keep doing what you’re doing and progress to 190lbs and beyond without a problem. Of course, you’d never know that. You’d be too busy making less progress on some intermediate routine you had no reason to switch to yet.
3. The “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” Approach (And Why It’s Best)
Now, while I don’t completely disagree with the two approaches we just covered… I definitely don’t agree with them either. They’re both flawed, so when I get asked this question, I base my answer on something else altogether: common sense.
Simply put, you should use a beginner routine until it stops working for you like it should.
Assuming everything is being done correctly, a significant and sustained drop off in progress is the best sign that you’re ready to move from your beginner routine to a more advanced intermediate routine.
I don’t care if that’s after 4 months, 6 months, 8 months, or 2 years. I don’t care if you bench, squat and deadlift some magical percentage of your body weight that some guru pulled out of their ass, or 100lbs more than that. As long as the beginner routine is still working well for you… just keep on using it.
Ride that program out for as long as it works and as far as it takes you. No time limit to set. No strength levels to meet. Just keep on going for as long as progress is still being made and use your results (or lack thereof) as your guide.
Basically, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s an idiom that can (and often should) be applied to most aspects of diet and training, especially those pertaining to you silly beginners.