Cryptocurrency Investment and Speculation Primer – Part 1

Okay, you’ve decided to take the big plunge and invest (or speculate) in the wild world of cryptocurrencies.  The potential rewards are overwhelming but so are  the choices.  In this article, I’ll be covering the major strategies (as I see them) and what is involved.  In part 2, I’ll be going over some specifics of how to implement some of the strategies below.  Note: Mining is not included in this article as I touched on it in my Beginner’s Guide to Cryptocurrency.

Motivation and Goals

The first question to answer is what is your motivation and what are your goals?  Are you just looking to earn a little extra or are you trying to save up to put your kids through school?  Your individual situation will influence which strategy might be best to take.

The FOMO is real

In case you’re not up on your internet lingo, FOMO stands for Fear of Missing Out.  Although FOMO might have its place (for example motivating you to learn about this stuff in the first place), if you make your investment and speculations based on FOMO, then you’re going to sell low and buy high and lose your shirt.  Sometimes it’s better to just hold and wait for another opportunity.

Satoshis or Dollars or Something else?

Is your goal to accumulate satoshis (1 millionth of a bitcoin) or dollars.  Trying to do both at the same time may lead to compromises that result in neither.  Satoshi gatherers usually have a longer term view thinking that eventually cryptocurrencies will become a viable (if not dominant) way of buying goods and services.  Dollar accumulators want the value of their investment to be worth more dollars even if it costs them satoshi value in the short term.  Decide on a goal up front.

Strategy 1: The HODL

This comes from a famous misspelled forum post from back in 2013 that reads in part, “I AM HODLING. I type d that tyitle twice because I knew it was wrong the first time.  Still wrong.  w/e.  BTC crashing WHY AM I HOLDING? I’LL TELL YOU WHY.  It’s because I’m a bad trader and I KNOW I’M A BAD TRADER.”

The strategy is pretty simple.  It’s basically Jeremy Siegel Stocks for the Long Run applied to cryptocurrencies.  Choose a selection of crytpocurrencies that you think may have a future, and HODL them for all you’re worth through thick and thin.  You probably want  to hold some mainstream (Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dash, etc.) as well as some newer, cheaper, up-and-coming alt-coins.

This strategy probably the best one for people with limited time and tolerance for anxiety.  Once you buy, don’t look at the price on a weekly, daily, hourly basis.  Just check once a year.  This strategy is also best for a longer time horizon.

Strategy 2: Sleep at night speculation

This is similar to the HODL strategy except that whenever a coin doubles whatever you put into it, you withdraw half and put it into another potential up and coming alt-coin. As an example, let’s say you buy 100,000 PurplePill coin for the equivalent of $0.001 (total of $100). The price of PurplePill goes to $0.002, now your PurplePill is worth $200.  Sell $100 of it and use it to buy another new alt-coin.

If the PurplePill becomes worthless, you still have $100 in the new alt-coin.  If the price of PurplePill goes up to $0.1, then your initial $100 is now worth $5000.

But if you hadn’t sold, then it would be worth $10,000!!! This strategy sucks!!!

The FOMO is real.  Yes, you halved your potential profit, but you also preserved your original capital, and own a new alt-coin that might do just as well.

This has a couple of benefits over the HODL.

  1. Over time your portfolio will become highly diversified.
  2. This will limit your potential for catastrophic loss
  3. AND put you in a position where you own lots of alt-coins which may one day breakout and make you “instantly” rich after you held them for however many years.

Strategy 3: Day trading

Just like it sounds, this involves frequent trading in and out of various alt-coins.  People who do this are usually skilled in the dark art of Technical Analysis.  It doesn’t take a huge effort to learn how, but boy can you lose your shirt fast if you don’t know what you’re doing.  You can combine this with Strategy 2 to provide a short term and long term combined strategy.

Strategy 4: Masternode investing/speculating

Dash was the first coin to implement masternodes.  These are computers that hold a large number of coin (1000 in Dash’s case) and are used to verify and speed transactions.  In return, masternodes receive “interest” in the form of new coins. As of this writing, a Dash masternode receives about 200 new Dash each year, representing a 20% annual return on the initial investment.

Sounds like an awesome deal right?  Plus if the price of Dash rises, the value of both your masternode and its interest rises.  Unfortunately, at the current price of Dash, a masternode will set you back a cool million dollars.  If you had bought your masternode just 12 months earlier, it would only have cost you $12,000.

This is the closest to true value investing (IMO) because you get an income as well as a speculative assest (even if you’re being paid in said speculative asset).

So the key is to look for solid up and coming coins that have the potential to go up in value.  Good luck.

As a more speculative play, you can look for brand new coins that often pay out more than a 1000% interest.  These will pay back the original cost of the coins within 15-40 days.  So if the price can hold out for one month, you’ll have your initial investment back plus a masternode in that coin.  Keep it or cash out and repeat.

Do this strategy over and over with various new coins.  After 1 year of this, you’ll have 6-10 masternodes providing an interest return in that many new coins.  Now if just one of them doubles or quintuples in value…. well, you get the idea.

Personally this is my favorite strategy.  It does take a little server administration know how to set up a masternode, but you can learn it or outsource it fairly easily.

Warning!! Danger Will Robinson!!!

NEVER NEVER NEVER put your coin in a wallet on the masternode.  Never give anyone the private keys to your wallet.  Your wallet should reside on your own computer, and the masternode just references the wallet.  People have been scammed out of their coin by people they hired to set up their masternode.  Don’t fall prey to it.

Bonus: How to evaluate a cryptocurrency

No matter which strategy you adopt, you need to be able to analyze a potential alt-coin investment.  Here is a handy checklist that you can use to evaluate the worthiness of a potential investment/speculation.

What are the coins fundamentals?

  • What problem is coin or project trying to solve?  How is their approach different?
  • Does the project have a compelling story?
  • Who is on the team? A 30 person team with experience is more credible than a project of 2 people with no experience.
  • Who is the leader of the team.
  • What partnerships does the project have in place?  It’s one thing to claim a future benefit to…someone.  It’s another thing to have a client signed up in advance.
  • What is the community response to the project?
  • How much capital is backing the project?  Technology is wonderful but without capital to back it up, there’s no there there.
  • Are there any anticipated events (such as the CEO being featured on a cable news show)?

Technical aspects

  • What exchanges is the coin listed on?  This can dramatically affect the ability of the someone to acquire the coin.
  • What is the volume of trading?  Be very very wary of purchasing coins with low volume.  You might not be able to sell it at any price.
  • What is the price history
  • If you do technical analysis, feel free to do so.

 

Beginner’s Guide to Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency

Beginner’s Guide to Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency

It’s practically impossible to ignore Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency lately with the media touting as the largest bubble in the history of the world…even bigger than tulip mania!!!  But finding hard facts can be difficult.  When you look on Facebook, Youtube, and Google, it seems that 90% of the content is trying to sell you on some kind of get rich quick scheme.

So this little (okay probably not so little) article distills the basics right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.

So what exactly is a Bitcoin?

At its core, Bitcoin is a distributed ledger system.  Thousands of computers all over the world keep a copy of the ledger, which makes it extremely difficult to counterfeit.  This distributed ledger system technology is known as the Blockchain.  “Owning Bitcoin” is basically owning the ledger entry.  In order to record new transactions into the ledger, computers have to solve very difficult math problems.; this is called mining.

As their reward miners get a small percentage of transactions.  Addionally mining will occasionally result in a new Bitcoin being discovered.  The math is set up in such as way that the problems become progressively harder so that there will be that there will only be 21 million bitcoin ever created/discovered.  Early on, it was relatively easy to mine them, and individual miners could mine multiple bitcoin.  Now the math is so complicated that most mining is done in “pools” with multiple miners sharing the resulting Bitcoin.

21 million doesn’t seem like it’s enough.

Luckily Bitcoin is fractional, which means that you can own as little as 0.00000001 Bitcoin.  (Just like you can own one dollar, or 0.01 dollars (aka a penny).

Where does Bitcoin get its value?

Like all economic questions, the answer is both simple and complicated.  I’ll keep this short and dedicate an entire article to it later.  The simple answer is supply and demand.  As seen above, there’s a limited supply.  So where does the demand come from?  Well, Bitcoin is useful for keeping track of who owns it, and it can’t be artificially inflated like a traditional government-issued fiat currency (dollars, Pesos, Cruzeiros).  Bitcoin set out to be a better and more secure currency than traditional government-issued money.

If you think about your bank account and credit cards, dollars for the most part today are just computer entries of who owns them or who owes them.  The problem is that nothing prevents the government or Federal Reserve from just creating additional electronic entries out of thin air.  In fact, this is how the banks were bailed out in the 2008 Financial Crisis.  Let’s hear it right from the head of Federal Reserve (at the time) Ben Bernanke:

The U.S. dollar has lost 95% of its purchasing power over the last hundred years due to money creation by the government, and it’s considered a bastion of stability compared to the Thai Baht, Mexican Peso, Argentine Peso, Brazsilan Cruzeiro…uh Cruzado…uh New Cruzeiro…uh…Real.  You see the point.  The demand isn’t just from Americans; the demand is international, partly as a hedge against inflation, and partly as a way to get your money across borders.   Bitcoin can be sent anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes.

But isn’t Bitcoin a bubble?

Yes and no.  The spike in demand is creating interest that in turn fuels additional demand as speculation.  But there are so few bitcoin in the world compared to the number of people who may want them, that it’s hard to say what will happen in the long term.  My best guess is that Bitcoin has a long way to go up before it comes down.  There will be dips and corrections along the way to be sure, but unless Bitcoin is hacked (unlikely given its nature and track record) or the development team does something really stupid, chances are good that it will remain a valuable commodity for a while.  There are some issues with Bitcoin that may limit its ability to be used for every day transactions (see below), but I think that it will still be used for larger transactions and wealth transfers.

Ultimately, the “bubble” exposure is good for Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies as the news coverage exposes people to them (and impells me to write articles like this).  The more people know about it and own it, the more likely people are to begin using them for transactions, which will turn stabilize the pricing and preventing a future crash.

So what’s a Cryptocurrency?

Let’s sum up first.  Bitcoins are ownership of ledger entries in a distributed blockchain.  The process of discovering new ledger blocks and verifying new entries for existing blocks is called mining and based on solving complicated math problems.  So…those really hard math problems?  They’re based on codebreaking, aka Cyrptography.

Bitcoin was the first “currency” to use blockchain technology.  There have been several others that are based directly off Bitcoin or developed their own similar (but different) approaches.  Collectively these are call Cryptocurrency.  Because it’s the oldest and most well-known, it’s become the de facto standard, and all the others are called alt-coins.

Some of the alt-coins are just competitors to Bitcoin that seek to eventually become the most used by addressing problems that bitcoin has.  Others just hope for a piece of the action.  And some are trying to do something completely different such as become a way to track real estate deeds or educational transcripts or which websites are most trusted.

Some of the most popular alt-coins include:

  • Litecoin: is essentially bitcoin 2.0.  It was designed to be a faster, cheaper Bitcoin.  It’s probably technologically superior in every way.  It currently serves as a testing ground for Bitcoin development.  The Bitcoin developers can see how a proposed solution to a problem plays out in the real world before deciding whether to incorporate it into Bitcoin.
  • Ethereum is actually a blockchain development platform.  It’s main purpose is to serve as a base for potential applications of blockchain to do interesting things.
  • Dash is designed to be a cheap, fast, and anonymous (if desired) currency for making transactions.  The Dash team is heavily marketing themselves.  They’ve been targeting the medical marijuana community, since many banks will not do business with them.
  • Zcash is supposed to be a cheap, fast alternative to Bitcoin.
  • Monero emphasizes complete anonymity.

You keep saying cheaper and faster.  What do you mean by that?

Remember that miners get a fee for verifying transactions (new ledger entries).  In Bitcoin, new entries are recorded every ten minutes.  To be confirmed, you need at least two separate blocks to show your entry (to prevent double spending of the same Bitcoin).  This means that it takes about 20 minutes to get confirmation of a transaction.  That doesn’t really work for instant transactions like paying for a cup of coffee, but it’s a heck of a lot better than waiting three hours for a wire transfer or 3-5 days for an electronic funds transfer (EFT).

Furthermore, each block can only record so much information, which means that your transaction may not be recorded in the next block at all.  To ensure faster processing, you can offer a larger mining fee.  Alt-coins that want to be cheaper and faster have different ways of addressing these two big problems with Bitcoin.

Many people predict that as a result of these issues, eventually Bitcoin will become used as a store of larger wealth, while another alt-coin will be used more for daily transactions.

Stick a fork in it.

When a proposed change to Bitcoin or another Alt-coin is disputed, sometimes the coin will fork.  This means that it becomes two separate coins with two separate block chains.  As an example, recently there was a dispute over the way to solve some of the issues listed above.  So some of the Bitcoin developers forked the Bitcoin project, and called their new coin Bitcoin Cash.  When this type of fork happens, if you own some bitcoin, you end up owning your original Bitcoin and the new coin too, so don’t fear the fork.

Okay, so how do I get my mitts on some Bitcoin?

There are essentially three (and a half) ways to obtain Bitcoin. (These will apply to pretty much all of the alt-coins to some degree).

The first is to mine it as described above.  (The half is to mine another cryptocurrency and then exchange it for Bitcoin).  I have a tutorial on how to get started mining the easy way, so if this interests you, then click here for the tutorial.

The second is to take Bitcoin (or other cryptocurrency) as payment for goods and services.  This is actually remarkably easy.  Bitcoin is probably best used for someone you know and trust, because of the speed of transaction issue.  Another coin that is faster would probably be better for a one-off transaction like buying something off Craigslist.  It’s as simple as having a QR code that the person paying scans, enters the amount, and presses send.  Even easier than Venmo.  Use Google to find local groups.  For example, in West Palm Beach, there are number of Bitcon Meetups.

The third way to obtain Bitcoin is to buy it with dollars.  The easiest way to do this is with Coinbase.  Coinbase is criticized in the Cryptocurrency community (sometimes unfairly, see below), but it’s still the easiest on-ramp to Cryptocurrencies.  You sign up for an account, and then you can buy Bitcoin, Litecoin, or Ethereum with either a credit card or electronic fund transfer from your bank.  Once you own some coin, transfer it to your own wallet (see below).

Tell me what’s wrong with Coinbase?

The unfair complaints have to do with privacy as Coinbase complies with IRS regulations that govern financial institutions.  That’s what allows them to take dollars in the first place.

Other complaints include that it’s relatively slow and the fees are higher than other services.  This is somewhat true, but it’s still the easiest way to acquire some Bitcoin.

Finally, the Bitcoins held in Coinbase are not actually held by you.  They are held by Coinbase on your behalf.  So if something happens to Coinbase, it’s possible that someone could abscond with your bitcoin, but it’s certainly no less secure than Equifax or Target.

One last complaint is that their website “keeps breaking.”  This is primarily due to the overwhelming increase in demand in recent days.  They are working to try and resolve these issues as quickly as they can.

Recommendations for dealing with Coinbase (and pretty much any online exchange)

  1. Use my link to sign up.  Once you buy $100 worth of any coin, we’ll both get $10 of Bitcoin.
  2. Enable two-factor authentication. (When you sign in, they will require verification that it’s you via your phone.)
  3. When you place your order, the price is locked in even though it takes about 5 days for electronic funds transfers to process.
  4. Once your funds have cleared, transfer your coins to your own private Bitcoin wallet.

What’s this about a wallet?

Bitcoin is “owned” by being recorded to a particular Bitcoin address (series of letters and numbers).  A Bitcoin wallet generates an address (or multiple addresses) and calculates  how much bitcoin is recorded to each address to generate a spendable balance.  When you pay someone, your wallet authorizes the transaction.

The magic is contained in a pair of keys, called public and private keys.  The private key verifies that the transaction is being generated by the rightful owner of the address.  As such, you need to guard your keys.  If someone has access to them, they have access to your bitcoin.  If you lose them, then you lose your bitcoin!!!

I can lose my Bitcoin? This doesn’t sound very secure.

Well, it’s certainly not idiot proof.  But it’s not all that insecure as long as you’re careful.  Your wallet will generate a seed, a code or series of words that can be used to regenerate the private key.  For the love of God, protect this code.  That way, if you lose your phone, or someone throws you in the pool, the bitcoin stored in your phone’s wallet won’t be lost.

One other thing to be aware of is that if you’re dealing with multiple currencies, don’t send the wrong currency to the wrong.  For example, if you send litecoin to a bitcoin address, there’s a good chance that they’ll be lost, possibly forever.

Wallet Practices

Choose a secure wallet, such as an offline wallet to store the majority of your Bitcoin.  Then transfer a little bit to an online wallet (whether your phone or computer) for walking around money.  If you practice this protocol, if you do ever lose your online wallet or have your computer hacked, you might lose the small amount stored there, but you won’t lose your savings.

The most secure wallets are called hardware wallets.  They are typically a USB device that runs the wallet software and authorizes transactions.  Since the private key is stored in the device, when it’s unplugged there is no chance that anyone can electronically still your Bitcoin.  Make sure you configure a passphrase for the hardware wallet to prevent someone who finds your hardware wallet after if fell out of your wallet from taking your bitcoin.  Keep the seed separate from the.  The Ledger Nano S seems to be the most popular hardware wallet at this time.  The Trezor is never in stock and is a bit more expensive.  The Keepkey is another alternative.

You don’t need a hardware wallet, so don’t let that stop you from getting started.  You can also create a paper wallet for free.

You need a wallet for each currency you want to own.

Some wallets are called Multi-Wallets because they can handle multiple crytpocurrencies.  Others are specific to a single type of coin.  Before you buy a hardware wallet, make sure that it can handle the currencies you want to use.

Two popular software multi-wallets are Jaxx and Exodus.  Jaxx can be used on your phone and computer.  There are some security concerns with the way that it stores your private key, so don’t go doing stupid things like getting a virus, and see Wallet Practices above.  One of the nice things about the Jaxx wallet is that it integrates Shapeshift, which is an exchange for Cryptocurrencies.  So say, you have Litecoin in your wallet, but the person you’re buying from wants Dash.  The Jaxx wallet can convert it for you via Shapeshift, and then send the Dash.  Exodus also integrates with Shapeshift, but is not available for phone and tablets.

Bottom line:  Take Action Now

I’ve know about Bitcoin for at least 7 years.  I kept thinking, you know, I should figure this stuff out and buy some…maybe $500.  If I had done that back in 2010 or 2011, or 2012, I’d be a millionaire.  If I had even done it in early 2017, my $500 would now be worth about $8000.  It was the inertia and learning curve that did me in.

I don’t know what the future holds specifically, but I can tell you that blockchain technology is going to revolutionize the way we do business and make purchases.  Chances are very good that Bitcoin will continue to rise in value along with some other alt-coins.

It’s not too late.  There’s still a lot of up Bitcoin before there’s a down.  But don’t be stupid.  Start small.  Learn how it works. Become familiar with the issues.  Then you’ll be prepared for what comes.

So, here’s your homework:

  1. Follow my Minergate Quick Tutorial, and you can be mining cryptocurrency in about three minutes.
  2. Start a Coinbase account and buy a small amount of crytpcurrency (Bitcoin or Litecoin).  Whatever you’re comfortable with, whether it’s $5 or $500.
  3. Create a wallet
  4. Transfer your coin to the wallet
  5. Buy something from overstock.com with bitcoin.
  6. Create a paper wallet.
    1. Send a $1 dollar to it.
    2. Destroy or lose it.
    3. Use the seed to recreate it.
  7. Go out to lunch with a friend.  Have them pay in dollars and you pay them in Bitcoin.
  8. Use Google to find other local people who use Bitcoin.

Once you’ve done these things, now you’re ready to snatch the rock from my hand and go out into the world.  In my next article I’ll lay out some investment and speculation strategies as well as share some resources for learning more.

Minergate Quick Tutorial – Mining Bitcoin and CryptoCurrency the Easy Way

Minergate Quick Tutorial – Mining Bitcoin and CryptoCurrency the Easy Way

In the wake of the recent run-up in Bitcoin, and then LiteCoin, and then Ethereum, you may be thinking, “Well I’d like to get involved in this, but I can’t afford that.”  So then you learn that you can “mine” for cryptocurrencies, but it all seems ridiculously complicated.

Well, it turns out there’s a ridiculously easy way to get started mining.

Enter Minergate

Minergate is a mining pool, which means that when you join it, any computers that you use to mine with them get added to a group of other computers, and you each get a reward proportional to your computing power.  They’re not necessarily the “best” mining pool, but they are the easiest to get started with, and done is better than best.

I’ve created a short video.  You can be up in mining within about three minutes.  Written Instructions are shown below the video.  If you found this guide helpful, consider using my link to sign up for Minergate.  I’ll get a small commission at no cost to you.

Minergate Starting Instructions

  1. Click the link to go Minergate.
  2. Click “Sign up” and fill out the form.
  3. Click downloads
  4. Download the GUI miner for your operating system
  5. Run the install program and just choose the default prompts.
  6. Run the Minergate program.
  7. Choose start mining.
  8. Done

Configuring Minergate

By default, Minergate will try to mine whatever coin it thinks was most profitable in the last hour and supposedly switches to keep you profitable.  Some things to consider.

Core Decisions

You can choose the number of cores to mine with.  Most computer processors these days are “multi core” which means that the processor is made up of multiple processors.

There is a dropdown that allows you to choose the number of cores to use.  The more cores, generally the faster you can mine, but also the more heat you generate and quicker you may wear out your processor.

Some people report that using one or two cores fewer than the maximum number sometimes results in a higher hash rate (indicator of mining progress), so you may want to experiment a bit.

CPU vs GPU Mining

Bitcoin and most of the alt-coins are mined more efficiently with graphics processors (GPU) than with the central computer processor (CPU).  However, a few -coins, such as Monero (XMR) and Aeon were designed specifically to be mined with a CPU.  This means that if you’re on a laptop (or cheap desktop), chances are good you should stick to Monero and Aeon.  If you have a gaming computer, chances are good that you have a GPU and should use it to mine a different -coin, such as Zcash.

There are so many coins, AAAGGGHHHHH

Don’t freak out.  You don’t have to become a crypto-savant to do this.  Just choose automatic mode, and Minergate, and you’ll be mining.  But if you want to take things to the next level, you can learn more about the different types of crypto-currencies.  At the time of this writing, the best bests are: 1) CPU mining…either Monero or Aeon.  2) GPU mining…Zcash.

Okay I’m mining; how do I get paid?

Look in your Minergate dashboard on the website, and you’ll see something that looks like this:

Minergate dashboard

  1. This is your overall account balance. You can choose to see its value in Bitcoin, US Dollars, or Euros.
  2. This is the total value of what you have mined in your account (not sure the exact time frame).  Same denomination choices.
  3. This is the amount of whichever coin you’re looking at that you have mined and its value in Bitcoin, USD, or Euros.  Note that this amount of coin is yours but it’s being held in Minergate’s wallet, not yours at this moment in time. You can use the buttons next to this number to change your mined coin into another currency.  For example, if you’re mining Aeon, you can use Changely to exchange your Aeon into Bitcoin or Litecoin.
  4. This is the total number amount that you have mined and how much of it has been confirmed.  Confirmations can take a few minutes to several days depending on how fast your machine is and other factors.  It’s not really yours until it’s confirmed.
  5. This is a choice you have in terms of fees.  It takes longer to confirm the PPLNS but there’s a lower fee. If you’re going to be mining for a long period of time, you’re probably better off leaving it as PPLNS.
  6. These buttons can be used to move the dashboard of the coins you’re mining upward or lower for your viewing convenience.  Put the coins you’re mining at the top.
  7. As noted in Number 3, the mined coin is being held for you in Minergate’s wallet.  To truly make it yours, you need to transfer it to your wallet.  Click the Withdraw button to transfer the coin to your private wallet.  (Note: you have to have a wallet for that currency to use this option.  Otherwise, use Changely to exchange your mined coin for a currency for which you do have a wallet.

Here’s a video explaining some of the more advanced options and how to get your money out.

That’s it for the moment.  There’s more to learn though. It’s reported that the GUI miner is not as efficient as the command line (console) miner, so in a future post, I’ll walk you through setting up a console miner.

So you want to get strong…Where to start? Who to trust?

So you want to get strong…Where to start? Who to trust?

 

So you want to be strong like Dr Feigenbaum here?

Congratulations gentle reader.  You have just taken the most important step of your life.  You’ve admitted that you’re a pathetic weakling and want to get stronger.  Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

But now you have another problem.  You’re overwhelmed with information, most of it contradictory.  What should you do?  Who should you trust?  How do you even learn to speak the language?

What’s your goal?

Ultimately, the kind of training you do should be somewhat determined by your goal.  And yet, strength is a generalized adaptation, so on the other hand, when you’re first starting out your strength program is going to be fairly general.  Wrap your head around that for a moment.

That didn’t make any sense.  Can you try again?

Okay.  building a general base of strength will help in just about any endeavor that you do, whether it’s looking better, competing in strength sports, staying out of a nursing home (muscle loss is the number one cause of disability among the elderly), or performing better at a sport.

Use Compound Movements

Generally speaking, strength is going to be built best with compound movements.  These are movements that involve more than one joint.  Working multiple joints at the same time provides a number of benefits.

  • It takes less time.  Now there are some people who simply love the gym and want to spend all day there.  I’m going to assume that you actually have other things to do in your life and would like to minimize your time in the gym.  Compound movements help you do this. because one movement will cover several different muscles and joints.
  • It works the body as a system by allowing muscles to function as they naturally want to.
  • It allows more muscle to be worked

Keep it simple stupid

As a novice you need a novice program.  I mean, you can use an intermediate or advanced program, but you’re not going to get as much out of it.  If you’ve ever driven a stick shift, you can start in 3rd gear, but it’s a lot easier and faster to start in 1st gear.  So what makes a novice program?

  • Full body.
  • Increase the weight each workout
  • 3-4 workouts per week.  No more.

As a novice, you can recover from stress of lifting weights within about 2 days, so you want work out about that often, but not more.  You don’t get strong by lifting heavy weights.  You get strong by recovering from lifting heavy weights.

As a novice, you can increase the weight on the bar every workout, so a novice program should take advantage of this by designing it in.  It’s not complicated.  Choose a weight.  Lift it for the prescribed number of sets and reps.  Next time, add 5 pounds and repeat.  When you can’t go up 5 pounds, go up by 2.5 pounds.

It’s simple to be a novice.  A novice program should be simple.  Don’t complicate it.

So where should I start?  How about Starting Strength?

I like the Starting Strength model and recommend it.  But you need to understand it.  It’s a novice program, and will only last you 3-6 months.  It’s not meant to be done forever.  It’s designed to be simple and provide a foundation of strength.

At its most basic, it starts out with four lifts on a two day split routine that looks like this:

Week: Monday   Wednesday   Friday

1:          1                     2                  1

2:          2                     1                  2

Phase 1: 2-4 weeks

Workout 1:

  1. Squat 3x5
  2. Overhead Press 3x5
  3. Deadlift 1x5

Workout 2:

  1. Squat 3x5
  2. Bench Press 3x5
  3. Deadlift 1x5

Optional:

  • You can add in chinups at the end of workout 2 if you like.
  • You can also add some barbell or dumbbell curls if you really want to.

So what weight should I start at?

  1. Start with a lightweight.  Probably just the bar.  Do a set of five.
  2. If it’s easy, add 10 pounds, and do another set of five.
  3. Repeat step 2 until a set feels mildly challenging. (This might be step 1 for some people.)
  4. The weight that felt challenging will be your starting weight.  Do two more sets with that same weight.
  5. Log the weight in a notebook.  Next workout, you’ll add 5-10 pounds.

Phase 2: Once you’re comfortable with Deadlifts

Now, you add in power cleans in place of deadlifts on Workout 1.

Workout 1:

  1. Squat 3x5
  2. Overhead Press 3x5
  3. Power Clean 5x3

Workout 2:

  1. Squat 3x5
  2. Bench Press 3x5
  3. Deadlift 1x5

Phase 3: When it gets hard to recover from deadlifts

It’ll take you several months to get to this point, so I’m not going to describe it.  By this time, hopefully you’ve bought the Starting Strength book, maybe joined their forum, and read enough on their website to know what to do.

How do I do these exercises?

I’m going to provide several videos for each lift below.  You don’t have to watch them all.  Generally speaking, watch the first one.  Try it yourself.  Take a video of yourself and compare your form to it.  If you want or need more detail, then watch the others.

Squats

These are the foundation of the program, and the most functional of all the movements.  More than any other lift, this one will keep you out of a nursing home.

Starting Strength recommends and prefers what are commonly referred to as “low bar” squats.  The videos below teach their method.  You don’t have to use low bar if you don’t want to.  High bar squats will work just fine.

For years Alan Thrall preached “whatever works for you squats,” but when he plateaued and started using the Starting Strength style squats, he started progressing again.  Here he teaches what  he learned.

Here, Alan Thrall’s Coach describes three common mistakes.

Here we have Starting Strength Founder, Mark Rippetoe teaching his squat method.  This is a playlist.

Overhead Press, AKA The Press

Playlist of Mark Rippetoe teaching the Overhead Press

Alan Thrall explaining how to set up for the Press

Deadlift

Alan Thrall teaching the 5 steps to a good deadlift.  Similar to his squat, Alan had stopped progressing until he changed his technique.

Common Deadlift Errors:

And Mark Rippetoe teaching the Deadlift.


We’re half way THERE!!!

Okay, at this point you should be done with your first workout.  If you wait three minutes between sets and take one minute for each set, it should have taken you about half an hour.  So now enjoy a little Bon Jovi before you learn the next lift for Workout 2.

Benchpress

Power Clean

The power clean is the most technical of the lifts that you’ll do in the Starting Strength program.  You shouldn’t try to learn this lift until you have a a fairly clean deadlift.  So somewhere between Week 2 and 4.


That’s a lot of videos! Anything else I should know?

How about diet?

Good question.  Generally speaking you should be eating a fairly high protein diet.  A good rule of thumb is 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.  If you’re very obese, you could go a bit lower.  If you’re very thin, you might want to go a little higher.

You’re going to get the most out of Starting Strength if you’re in a caloric surplus.  Building muscle is an anabolic process.  Losing fat is a catabolic process.  Your body doesn’t like to do both at the same time.  (You can for a limited time if you’re starting out obese.)

When talking to skinny young men, the founder Mark Rippetoe’s advice is to eat 4500-5000 calories a day for the first month or two and don’t worry about getting fat.  Once you’re strong, it will be easy to lose the extra weight.  If I were younger, I’d follow this advice myself.  But since I’m an old man, I make do with a small caloric surplus of about 300-500 calories per day.  (You can estimate your maintenance as 15 x your bodweight in pounds.  If you’re inactive, then use 14 x bodyweight.)

If you’re obese, then you’ll want to eat in a mild deficit at first, so maybe 12 x your bodyweight.  If you’re very obese you could be more aggressive and eat 10 x bodyweight.

No matter which strategy you choose, understand that adequate nutrition plays a huge part in getting stronger, and reducing calories is going to reduce your strength.  While you’re in the novice phase, don’t be too strict.  Once you’ve gotten strong, then you can can reduce calories and get lean.

What about fat and carbs.  You can go however you like here, however, higher in carbs, and moderate in fat tends to do better for most non-obese people.

What should I eat? The vast majority of your food should come from “whole” sources.  If you don’t know what that means, then try Dr Jordan Feigenbaum’s advice and only eat foods that have one ingredient.  I have a number of recipes on my website of foods that have helped me on my own fitness journey.

You should have some desserts or other treats that you enjoy every day.  If you don’t, then you’re more likely to binge and go off diet altogether.  My three secrets to not going overboard with treats are:

  1. Log it before you eat it.
  2. Weigh out your serving
  3. Put the container away.
  4. Leave the kitchen before you eat it.

This will make you less likely to have “just a little more” or go back for seconds and thirds, and fourths.

For further reading, here’s a nice long article on nutrition by Dr. Jordan Feigenbaum.

Is this going to make me big?  I don’t want to be big.

Only if you eat in a large surplus.  Now, the plan is to gain both muscle and fat during the initial novice phase, and then to lose the fat afterward.  You’ll look a bit fluffy during this process, but it’s temporary.

If you’re worried about looking like this, that takes drugs.

Now, if you’re a woman, there are some extra things to be aware of.

  • As part of the adaptation process, your muscles are going to be a bit fuller temporarily.  Stick with it, it will go away.
  • Your weight will fluctuate over the course of your menstrual cycle.  You simply cannot compare your weight or your measurements from week to week.  What you need to do is compare them to the same week the cycle before.

This is so exciting.  Are there any fitness channels that you like?

This is a tough one.  Most of the Youtube fitness channels are junk.  Here are are few that I like that won’t lead you too far astray:

  • Starting Strength: Heck this whole article is about Starting Strength, so I guess I should recommend the Youtube channel.  Mark Rippetoe (“Rip”) is quite the character.  The channel has a bit of everything.
  • Barbell Medicine.  Two Starting Strength who are also doctors run the website BarbellMedicine.com and have a podcast by the same name.  Dr Feigenbaum’s youtube channel is their outlet.  They are also active on Instagram.  I really enjoy their take on things.
  • Alan Thrall: You’ve seen some of his videos above.  Alan has a gym called Untamed Strength and recently became a Starting Strength coach.  He now offers online coaching through Barbell Medicine.
  • Omar Isuf is a Canadian who just got into lifting.  He’s quite the character, and his channel reflects his growth over the years that he’s been lifting.  He likes to have lots of guests from the lifting world.

Should I get a personal trainer?

No.  Most of the personal trainers, especially the ones that work at commercial gyms (Planet Fitness, LA Fitness, 24 hour Fitness, etc.) are garbage.  You’re lucky if their advice doesn’t actually harm you.  It would be a good idea to get a coach, preferably someone who is familiar with the Starting Strength model and performs the basic compound lifts themselves.  If you can’t find anyone local, you can get online coaching at both Starting Strength and Barbell Medicine.

And finally, if all else fails, you can post your questions and even videos of your form on the Starting Strength forums and get answers for free.

The lifts are not all that terribly difficult, and you’re going to start with fairly light weights and slowly increase the weight over time, so don’t freak out.  You’ve got plenty of time to fix your form and get better at it.  If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing wrong.  Because who’s naturally good at everything the first time?

Get out there and lift some weights.

 

Beginner’s guide to weight training terminology

Beginner’s guide to weight training terminology

Congratulations.  You’ve decided to start lifting weights.  But you’re not sure where to start, so you start searching the internet and youtube for guidance, and suddenly, you’re overwhelmed with terms that don’t seem to make any sense.  You go to a gym and try to join in a conversation but people look at you weird because you’re using the words incorrectly.

This article should help clear up some of the confusion and help prevent some embarrassing moments while you transition from novice to expert.

Weightlifting, Weight Training, Lifting Weights, and more

Weightlifting technically always refers to Olympic Weightlifting.  This is an officially recognized Olympic sport.  It is very very specific.  The two main components are the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.  (Described later under Specific Exercises.)  To avoid confusion, don’t say you’re weightlifting  unless you’re doing olympic lifts.  Sometimes abbreviated “oly” or “oly lifting”

Lifting weights on the other hand means any activity in which weights are being used.

Weight training is sometimes used interchangeably with lifting weights, although the term implies using the weights as part of a systematic plan to achieve a particular goal.

Powerlifting is a sport in which people compete in three different lifts.  They do a single squat, bench press, and deadlift.  You add the maximum weight for each lift together, and the highest total wins.  It’s slightly more complicated, with weight classes, but that’s the general idea.

Strongman refers to a sport with a number very specific feats of strength including picking an Atlas stone (large round rock), giant tire flipping, and picking a log up off the ground and lifting it overhead.  Strongman lifts are more awkward than Olympic lifts and Powerlifts.

Bodybuilding specifically refers to using weights for the purpose of winning bodybuilding competitions (or achieve a look that could).  Bodybuilding is primarily concerned with size and shape of muscle.  At the highest levels, bodybuilding depends on having the right genetics for symmetry and proportion.  There are several different “levels” within bodybuilding.  Traditional bodybuilding (think Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lou Ferrigno for us old people) is called Classic or Classic Physique.  The newer class is “physique” where guys are typically smaller and wear board shorts instead of “posing shorts” (think Speedos).

Female bodybuilding has three levels, Physique (similar to men’s classic and is dominated by steroids), figure, and bikini.  Bikini is the least muscled of the levels.  There is also fitness which is kind of like figure but with some sort of athletic routine (usually gymnastic or dancing).

Aesthetics refers to training for looking good (which of course is subjective).  The most popular male role model of aesthetics ever seems to be Brad Pitt’s character from Fight Club.  Note that looking good with clothes on is not necessarily the same as looking good in clothes.  Bigger typically looks better in clothes (for men anyway), while leaner typically looks better with no shirt.

Strength training refers to training to maximize strength.  It could be for its own sake or for in the pursuit of a strength sport (Olympic Weightlifting, Strongman, Powerlifting, or other smaller specialty strength endeavors).

Training Terminology

Split refers to the number of workouts in a cycle, with most cycles taking a week.  Each unique workout is usually assigned a letter (A,B,C, etc.)  So a 3 day split generally refers to working out 3 days a week. For example Workout A on Monday, Workout B on Wednesday, and Workout C on Friday.  A 2 day split has 2 workouts that alternate, you might do Workout A on Monday, Workout B on Wednesday, and then Workout A again on Friday.  The next week, you would start with Workout B and repeat the pattern.  A five day split has five different workouts.  You get the idea.

Other Common Splits: Bro Split refers to a 5 or 6 day split, where each body part has its own workout.  PPL (push/pull/legs) refers to a three day split where one day is “push,” another day “pull”, and a third day “legs”.

Rep (repetition) refers to one complete movement of an exercise.  So in a squat, squatting down and standing back up is one complete rep.

A set is a number of repetitions done together.  So 5 reps done in a row would be considered one set of 5 reps.

3×5, 5×5, 3×10… are shorthand ways of describing set and reps.  The first number is the number of sets.  The second number is the number of reps in each set.  So 3×5 means three sets of five reps each.  3×10 means three sets of 10 reps each.

Rep Max, Max Rep, RM all refer to a set where a person cannot do another set.  So a set of five reps where the lifter can’t do a sixth rep is called a 5RM.

Intensity refers to the weight on the bar combined with the effort it takes to lift it.  High intensity typically means heavier weight, and therefore lower rep sets.  So a 3RM set would be more intense than a 5RM set.  Intensity is often calculated as a percentage of a person’s 5RM or 1RM.  Alternatively, intensity can be measured subjectively using a scale known as Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) (see below).  One thing to be careful about is that intensity in the exercise physiology research literature does not refer to this definition, and instead refers to taking a set to failure.  Under this definition, taking a light weight to failure at 25 reps is just as intense as taking a very heavy weight to failure in 3 reps.  It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world except for Lola!

Progression means increasing the weight over time.  The rate of progression is limited by a person’s training age, which is not measured in time but by getting stronger.  The terms Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced are generally used to describe training age.  

Novices (or newbies) have the fasted progression because they’re starting from basically zero.  Almost anything they do is going to make them stronger, which is why 12 week beginner’s programs never lack for testimonials.  Some people like to use strength standards to gauge a person’s training age, but the best gauge is usually how often a person can increase the weight on the bar.  If the answer is every workout, then the person is a novice.

Note that the novice stage can last anywhere from 3 to 9 months on a well designed program.  Not eating enough or sleeping enough or running too intense a training program, and being older can decrease the length of the novice phase.  Alternatively using a poorly designed program can result in a person never exiting the novice stage.  The vast majority of gym goers are novices no matter how long they’ve been training.

Intermediate lifters can no longer increase the weight on the bar every training session.  Intermediate programs are usually designed to allow the lifter to make weekly progress, and as a result are more complicated.  Before a person progresses to an intermediate program, they should ask “The First Three Questions.”

  1. Am I trying to take too big a jump in weights.  A rank novice may be able to go up 10lbs each workout where a more experienced novice can only go up 2.5lbs each workout.
  2. Am I waiting long enough between sets?  As the weight gets heavier, it takes longer to recover between sets.  Metabolic fatigue can be a limiting factor with shorter recovery periods.  A brand new lifter may be able to do their next set after just 1 minute, while a more advanced lifter may need 3-5 minutes between sets.
  3. Am I getting enough calories and sleep?  One does not get strong by lifting heavy weights.  One gets strong by recovering from lifting heavy weights.  Not providing your body with enough calories and sleep will impair your ability to get stronger.

Advanced lifters can no longer progress each week, and now the time frame extends to a month (or longer) and the program becomes even more complicated.

Gains is slang for increasing performance in the gym.  It generally refers to increasing the weight on the bar or increasing the number of reps with the same weight, but the term is quite nonspecific and can even refer to looking better.

Frequency can refer to either the number of workouts in a week or to the number of times a particular lift is executed, or to the number of times a particular muscle group is worked.  Confusing right?  Get used to disappointment.

Volume is another amorphous term that can be used to mean several different things.  The definition I prefer is the total number of reps in a given time frame (workout session or week).  So in a 3×5 workout, you would be doing 15  total reps for that lift.  In a 5×5, you’d be doing 25 total reps in the workout for that lift.  A competing (although inferior) definition of volume simply the number of sets.  This treats a set of one rep the same a set of 10.  A third definition of volume is the total number of reps times the weight lifted, although this is better called tonnage (see below).

Tonnage refers to the total weight lifted.  So if you benched 225 lbs for 3×5, you lifted 3x5x225 = 3375 lbs for the workout.

Work sets are juxtaposed with warm up sets.  A work set is a set heavy enough to induce a growth stimulus.  Warm up sets on the other hand are lighter in weight and their purpose is to get the blood flowing to the muscle warming it up and allowing the movement pattern to be practiced.  A proper warm up should not fatigue the muscle.  It should prepare the muscle.

Effective reps refers to the idea that in a given set, some of the reps are harder than others.  Imagine lifting a light weight for 30 reps.  The first ten to 15 reps might be easy.  Those reps are not “effective,” because the muscle is not having to struggle.  The heavier the weight, the higher the percentage of reps that will be effective.

Periodization refers to the planned change in a training variable to promote progression.  Intensity, volume, and frequency are the main variables that can be manipulated.  The simplest periodization is called linear progression, where only intensity if varied–you add a small amount of weight to the bar every session.  It’s not truly linear because the amount of weight added gets smaller over time.  You might start out adding 10 pounds each session, and then after a few weeks only 5, and then eventually 2.5.  So it’s more of a logarithmic progression, but I don’t foresee that catching on anytime soon.

Naturally linear periodization can’t go on forever of eventually everyone would be as strong as Superman. Eventually Other forms of periodization must be used if a trainee wants to continue to make progress, so frequency and volume may also be changed.  Buzzwords you may hear include daily undulating, weekly undulating, and block periodization.  Novices don’t need any fancy shmancy periodization and should just stick to linear until they can’t any more.

Concentric contraction occurs when a muscle shortens.  For example, lifting a weight overhead, pulling a weight off the floor, or standing up.

Eccentric contraction occurs when the muscle lengthens.  For example, lowering a weight or sitting down.  Many exercises have both a concentric and eccentric portion; for example, in a squat, you first squat down (eccentric) and then stand up (concentric).  The eccentric portion of a movement is sometimes called the negative.

DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) refers to soreness that comes on within 12 to 48 hours of performing an exercise.  DOMS is more associated with the eccentric portion of a lift.  It is also associated with using a new movement pattern.  This is why people are always sore on “muscle confusion” programs like P90X.  You’re always doing something new so you’re always sore.  DOMS is NOT associated with getting stronger.

Miscellaneous

Bro is short for brother and can use in almost any situation.  It is often used in place of “dude.” For example, “There was this bro at the gym…”  It can be used in place of “you” as in “Bro, try lifting this way.”  It is often used in a slightly pejorative manner to refer to gym goers who may not be the most productive or adhere to outdated training opinions.  These outdated opinions are derisively known as “Bro science” which gets passed from bro to bro in a telephone-like game until there is no semblance of actual science (or even common sense).

Swole is slang for swollen referring to a person’s muscles getting larger.

Natty refers to a natural, meaning someone who is not on performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).  Someone who is secretly on PEDs or suspected of being on PEDs is often referred to as a fake natty.   “Half natty lighting” refers to using lighting, shadows, and angles to make a person appear better than real life.  It is sometimes used the same ways as fake natty.

PEDs is short for performance enhancing drug.

Gear refers to any number of PEDs but usually includes testosterone.

Eat Clen and Tren Hard is a twisting of “eat clean and train hard” usually a cynical response to the question “How do I look like [insert name]?” that implies that the person in question is taking PEDs and to look like him, you probably need to take drugs too.  See Clen and Tren below.

Clen is short for clenbuterol, a selective beta-2 agonist that enhances muscle contraction and mobilizes fatty acids aiding in weightloss.  (It’s in the same drug class as albuterol so it can also help with asthma.)  It was never approved in the U.S. for humans or animals raised for food; it is, however approved for use in horses as a bronchodilator..

Tren is short for trenbolone, the most potent testosterone analog that we currently have.  (Potency refers to the amount of effect that a drug has per dose.)

Supp does not refer to a greeting.  It is short for supplements.  Supplements are generally anything that not is not a medication or drug.  The line can be blurry.  Many supplements are isolated chemicals such as creatine or L-carinitine.  Others “natural” such as ma huang (not legal in the U.S.).

Creatine is the only supplement that has compelling human research to support its effectiveness.  (That’s not to say nothing else works; but the evidence is not as strong.) The only version you should take is creatine monohydrate.  Pretty much any brand will work.  Take 5mg daily.  You have to work out for it to work. Not everyone responds to it.  As a side effect, it produces intramuscular water retention making muscles look fuller but also causing a small increase in weight (yes water weighs something).