Here's what I've learned from 20 plus years of weight training and how you can apply these lessons.
Last night, I was cleaning up some of my old books and magazines and came across a muscle magazine that was dated for Oct 1986.
On the cover was Troy zuccollotto (who won the nationals that year, I believe) and it brought back a lot of memories for me.
This was one of the first (of many), muscle mag issues that I purchased over the years and as I flipped through it, I realized that over 20 years has passed since I purchased that magazine.
Wow, it really got me thinking of all the routines, diets, supplements and methods that I've tried over the years.
We all heard that saying, that "If I only knew than what I know now" I'd probably be a millionaire or I'd be the president of my company, or I'd be a totally different person - Or whatever it is. For the most part, this is true but than again, it wouldn't have made you the person you are today. Personally, I'd probably do some things differently and make things a little easier on my body. Who knew, at that time that doing 6 months of pure negative training would be bad for your connective tissues and joints? Well, I know now, that's for sure.
Anyways, as I sifted through that magazine, I thought to myself, what have I learned from all these years of weight training? Well, I'm going to lay some of these lessons out for you, and how you can learn and apply some of these things that I feel are of utmost importance and will further enhance your physical goals.
Alright, here we go.
1) As the Nike commercial goes, "Just Do It". We can plan until the cows come home but really, you just have to jump in there and do it. I'm not saying that planning is not needed, because it is, but when you want to get into shape, lose some fat, and build some hard, lean muscle, you just have to get your ass to the gym and do it. Over the years, I've found that procrastination is the real deal breaker. One missed workout becomes two, than one week, than one month, than a couple of months go by and by the time next year comes along, you're wondering why you're still fat and out of shape.
Get your ass to the gym and do one exercise per body part and do that consistently for 2 weeks. I'm not talking about doing anything fancy, just a couple of sets per body part. The important thing is to get your body moving and get it working. After you've done this for two weeks and start to see some progress (And you will), you will want to plan your workouts and start to get your diet on track.
2) Set goals. Setting goals is one of the most important things you can do to start getting the results you want. The power of setting goals cannot be underestimated and it will be one of those elements that will get you to your dream body the quickest. For example, I don't even think about going forward with a weight lifting program until I know what I want to accomplish with it. Whether it be to lose 20 pounds or add another inch to my arms, I always set goals. By setting goals, you give your brain a "blueprint" for it to follow and it will know from the start what it wants, which of course, is a pair of 19" arms :)
It took me a couple of years to figure out the importance of setting goals but once I did, everything else seemed to fall into place. Once you re-program your brain, your body will follow and strive for what your brain wants.
See this page here for more information:
3) It's very important to understand that proper warm up and technique are vital for your longevity in weight training. When I was 20 years old, warm ups didn't exist. I'd show up to the gym, jacked to the hilt, and I'd want to tear the weight apart. I didn't bother with body warm ups or muscle specific warm ups. I'd lie down on the bench press and by my third set, I'd be nearing my maximum poundages. What a stupid move. Today, I have a bad shoulder and a bad left knee. I can still do intense workouts, but I lost a year because of recovery, and at a time when I really wanted to get into shape. Of course, there are some movements that I can't do anymore because of my reckless weight training when I was younger.
Combine a poor warm up and bad form, you're going to get injuries, it's only a matter of time. A word to the wise. Always do your warm ups and always do your movements in correct form. Note* Try and always do rotator cuff exercises before all of your upper body movements, a rotator cuff injury is bad! - Trust me on this one -
4) When I was 17 years old, I wanted to gain weight at all costs. I weighted about 145 pounds or so and I desperately wanted to gain another 40 pounds of hard body mass. You see, at the time, I was playing hockey and I wanted to get my body weight up to about a solid 185 to 190 pounds. This way, I had the body weight to play against the big boys, especially the big defencemen.
However, I just didn't have the proper understanding of nutrition. I worked my ass off in the gym but for the most part, my problem was nutrition (well, it was my weight training program as well). If I'd have taken in the correct amount of calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fat, I'd have gained those 30 to 40 pounds with relative ease. My problem was that I was starving my body when I should have been feeding it to grow. In those days, I was taking in about 1800 calories when I should have be feeding it about 3,500 calories per day. At that time, I was lucky to eat 3 meals per day when in reality, I should have been eating at least 6 meals per day.
Also, the majority of my food was from junk food.
For those of you who want to gain solid, muscular weight, you need to feed your body in order to grow. Here's my advice, if you want to gain muscle mass, feed your body quality nutrients in order to attain your target weight. If you weight 130 pounds and want to get up to 175 pounds, you need to drastically change your eating habits. Multiply your body weight by 25 and that's what you should be eating on a daily basis, in terms of calories in order to get to your goal weight.
For more information, please see:
5) Looking back on my old weight training programs, I can clearly see where I was going wrong. At that time, my overall weight training philosophy was clearly out of touch with reality. My old weight lifting philosophy was based on volume because, that's what Arnold did. Back in my late teens, there was about two or three years that I was training each body part with 20 to 25 sets each. That was total nonsense. On top of that, I was doing negative work for just about every body part.
How does one expect to grow when they are training 2 to 3 hours per day, 6 days a week? And on top of that, eating less than 2,000 calories per day. This, is a recipe for overtraining and injuries - I got both.
Here's what I suggest:
- Keep your "actual" weight training time to 45 minutes to 60 minutes (tops). By actual weight training, I mean weight training minus your aerobic activity.
- Keep your sets reasonable. I simply don't see any reason for anyone to be doing 20 sets per body part. The way I look at it, is if you can do 20 sets for your legs, your not working hard enough. Your legs should be near there maximum stimulation point by set 8 to 10 (combined exercises). By this, I mean actual working sets. Really, these days, the only sets that I count are what I'd like to call growth sets. These sets are the ones you should only be concerned about when it comes to building muscle and gaining strength. Doing 5 sets for squats, 5 sets for leg press, 5 sets for hack squats, and 5 sets of leg extensions is way too much for the natural weight trainer. 8 working sets is plenty to get your muscles to grow big and strong.
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6) If you really want to build muscle mass and get super strong, you need to get rid of your isolation exercises and really concentrate on compound movements.
Compound movements such as the squat, forces your body to work harder. By doing so, the intensity of the exercise increases, therefore increasing the potential for growth. I know that I sound like a broken record about compound movements but there is just no other way to get big and strong. If you don't want to grow and build muscle, keep doing cable curls and leg extensions. If you want to get hard, dense muscle mass, start doing heavy squats and barbell bent over rows.
Here are some examples of compound movements:
• Dead lifts;
• Barbell press;
• Bench press;
• Bent over rows;
• Olympic lifts - power clean and snatches;
For more information how to use these movements, please see the following page:
7) If your body is sore, stay away from the weight room. Don't do any stretches, aerobic work or anything that makes the muscle more sore. I know, you've probably read that it's beneficial for your sore muscles to do some light stretches or other "light work". Really, your body is telling you not to train a sore muscle so listen to it and take an extra day off. The way I look at it is if your muscle is sore, it's going to be weak and vulnerable. By training that muscle group again, your not going to improve it but probably injure it more. Let the muscle fully recover and it will be stronger in a couple of days.
You want to improve with each workout, and to do that, you need a rested body. I used to train through soreness no matter what and you know something, those were some of the worst workouts I've ever had. They were a waste of time and brought me closer to injuries because I was relying more on tendon strength than muscle strength - Something you never want to do.
If your muscle group is still sore the day you need to train it, do yourself a favour, stay home, make yourself a hefty protein drink and watch a movie.
8) Do not try and train through an injury. Let me give you a specific example. Back when I was 21 years old, I was doing a heavy duty bench press and near my final set, there was a small "pop" in my left pec. What did I do? Well, I lightened the load and did two more sets. A stupid move that cost me a lot of pain and agony.
I was in pain for 3 months afterwards and had to stop training for another 2 months to let it heal. If you feel anything out of the ordinary such as a sharp pain or "hot pain" anywhere in your body while you are training, stop and go home. If it still hurts in the morning, and depending on the severity, you might have to go see the doctor. Which brings me to my next point...
9) If you have an injury such as a pulled muscle or even sore joints, please stay out of the weight room. You might feel lousy about it, but park your butt on the couch and watch some movies or whatever it is, but don't do anything that might aggravate the injury. I know personally what "training around" an injury can do. It's not good. Take a week or two off and let it heal. Take the time to let the injury to heal, the first time around because if you try and train with the injury, there's going be a second time around and it's going to take longer to heal.
10) Weight training programs are very "individual specific". One routine may work like magic for one person but be totally counter productive for another. There is no such thing as a perfect weight training program. I can say to you that the routines I've outlined in www.building-muscle101.com are awesome but these are just some of the routines that I've put together and used over the course of my weight training career that have worked for me. Mind you, these routines are based on tried and tested principles, but they may simply be a waste of time for you.
I suggest you take a routine that may be of interest to you and slowly customize it to your body type.
11) Add some aerobic activity to your weight training program. I know, you've read that if you want to gain weight than you have to give up aerobic activity. Not true. If anything, aerobic activity will help you gain more muscle mass than anything. Improving your overall aerobic capacity and improving blood flow to your muscles is a good thing. Now, I'm not saying you should be doing 2 hours each and every day on the stepper, but keep your cardiovascular system working. By that I mean, do a 5 to 10 minute warm up before each and every weight training session and follow that up with 15 mintues of aerobic activity. This works.
12) Cycle your weight training. That is, train in 12 to 15 week intervals and take two to three weeks off. This is often called "periodization" and one of the most powerful concepts you can use to gain a lot of muscle mass and strength. For more information on periodization, check out the following web page:
13) What about supplements? Let be very clear about this - Supplements are not necessary for optimal growth. The only two elements that will build you a well muscle body is a proper diet and a smart and solid weight training program. Supplements are not needed. However, with that being said, supplements are what you might call aides. For example, I use protein powders as fillers. That is, I will use protein powders for my first meal, my meal immediately after my workout and one before bed.
Always get your diet and training down and slowly introduce supplements to your program. Make sure the supplements you choose actually do what they're supposed to do and come from a reputable company.
For more information on this, see the following page:
14) Get plenty of rest. I'm not going to get into the science of rest, but I know that everyone needs at least 8 hours of sleep per night. I've tried a bunch of sleep times and the one that works best for me is 8 hours. Anymore than that and I'm a zombie for the morning. Anything less than that and I'm crabby and restless for the whole morning.
15) When I was 17 years old, motivation was never a problem. I knew what I wanted and I worked my ass off for it. However, as time went on, the motivation to lift as much weight as possible seemed to have faded. Today, my ambition is different as are my goals. I think you have to sit down and figure out what you want to accomplish with your weight training program.
Think about why you want to train and use that very element to get to the gym and use that element to attain your goals. For every training cycle I do, I have one thing in my mind that I want to accomplish and based on my position, I'll go forward with attaining that goal. I know that, after I finish my training cycle I will get the result I’m looking for.
If your reading this page now, I’m guessing that you really want to achieve a higher level of fitness. Whether that’s making next year’s football team or getting ready to look big and ripped for summer, you have something there that’s enough to motivate you to train hard.
Use this element and grill it into your mind.
16) Try and keep your stress levels low. Stress can really put a damper on your workouts and can actually cause your workouts to be counterproductive. I know, it's not always possible to escape stress but if you can keep it in check, your workouts and success will be much higher.
17) Find resources that are accurate and reputable. When I first started out weight training, we basically had our choice of a couple of magazines which were basically Flex, Muscle and Fitness, and Muscle Mag International. Here was my problem, the routines from those magazines came from professional body builders and these were not for your every day, natural weight trainer. I used these routines and I basically overtrained my body. Find a trusted and reputable resource and use the advice to further advance your weight training program.
Today, there are a bunch of great resources at hand that are great. Some of these resources are free, such as www.building-muscle101.com and some are paid.
Here is a great paid resources:
- Kyle Leon's Somanobolic Muscle Maximizer - This is a fantastic resource because it is the first of its kind to use body type profiling to help you build maximum muscle and burn maximum fat. Using a patented software, it determines a complete, custom nutrition and weight training program for your particular body type, gender, age, and metabolism. I've personally used this program and have written a review of it at:
18) Enjoy what your doing in the gym. I'll tell you this right now, if you hate going to the gym and going through the motions, your not gonna last. To get the absolute most from your fitness routine, you have to look forward to going to the gym, or your basement, and enjoy what your doing. That may mean doing 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer or doing a gruelling leg workout, whatever it is, find some enjoyment in it.
Alright, these are just some of the lessons that I've learned from my experience in the and out of the weight room. Watch your diet, use a smart weight training program, listen to your body and get the proper rest and everything will fall into place.
Remember, listen to your body and you'll avoid injuries, build muscle and get super strong.
All the best,
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