This month, I discuss the power of habit, eating to gain muscle, eliminating distractions in your training program, the essential laws of strength training, and much more.
What is the best exercise program you can do? The answer is simple – the one that you actually will do. Too often people spend time researching programs and exercises, and what they are missing out on is the actual execution of going to the gym and working really hard. Nothing replaces hard work – organization and proper planning are important to making long-lasting and sustainable changes, but it all begins with hard work.
A good quote from T-Nation writer Bret Contreras:
While short-term blasts can be effective, the lifter who trains twice per week for 52 weeks out of the year will see better long-term results than the lifter who trains five times per week for 20 weeks out of the year.
As someone who stretches every morning, I know the power of a good routine. Your day starts off better if you get a good sleep, eat a satiating breakfast, and get your body ready for the day. The above post recommends the following things:
- Wake up early and at the same time each day
- Prime your muscles (stretching or through body weight exercise)
- Hydrate (a big glass of water)
- Have a cold shower (or alternate between hot and cold to ease into it)
- Eat meat and nuts (increasing brain function)
- Drink coffee
This thought ties into the first point – less is more with training. Sure, having the latest and greatest supplements, training tools, and exercise program may seem cutting edge, but people usually make the most progress in the gym when they keep things simple. Some obvious advice:
- Leave your phone in the car
- Have a plan b in mind (especially if you train at a busy gym – it is hard to get the equipment you want)
- Don’t skip the gym when injured (stretch, rehab, or work around the issue)
- Have home training options (get some dumbbells, or even learn a few solid bodyweight routines you can use in a crunch)
Here are a few of them:
- Little alcohol consumption (one night of drinking can ruin a week of hard work in the gym)
- Go to bed and wake up early
- Build a foundation – this comes back to proper recovery, stretching, and rolling, even if you aren’t currently injured
- Don’t miss training sessions
- Deload every once in a while (take some days off, or skip the gym for sports – your body will see much better gains in the long run)
Don’t obsess over dietary purity – keep things as simple as you can. The harder you make it to stick to a diet, the less likely you are to do so.
Find out what works for you, not what works for other people.
Eat according to how you live. If you are very active, you need more carbohydrates than someone who isn’t. If you are only at the gym once or twice a week, you don’t need a banana and an apple for breakfast every day.
Stick to something – don’t switch diets or exercise programs every few weeks. The body adjusts after a while, but you need to build the habit before you can go and make changes to it.
Not eating enough. Not as common as overeating, but just as likely to sabotage your progress in the gym. Food is going to grow your muscles, and food is going to fuel your brain. Lifting a weight may get you stronger, but you won’t sustain that strength gain unless you provide your body with the nutrients to repair and rebuild.
Some research was done to see if cardio before strength training had any negative impacts, and vice versa. The results aren’t really surprising – expect diminishing returns if you try to combine cardio and weights in the same session. If you want to add size and strength – limit cardio to a one or two time-a-week interval session. If you want weight loss, focus on keeping your heart rate up during weight training, and program in sufficient cardio (every session).
For athletes, it gets more complicated, but it isn’t impossible to incorporate both into each session.
For example, For an athlete who is already strong, powerful, and posses a large amount of muscle mass, my goals of training may be to improve their general fitness and work capacity and maintain their strength and power. In this athlete I may choose to perform some conditioning work first in the session and follow that with a low volume strength session, as maintenance work, for a few weeks until I get the fitness changes that I want.
For an athlete who possess great conditioning but lacks strength and power my goal in that first phase of training would be to perform the strength and power work first in the session, to prioritize that quality, and then perform some low volume conditioning (maintenance work) at the end of session.
20 things that are very important, but not vital, to strength training. A great read, very insightful and comprehensive.
You don’t have to squat, deadlift, train to failure, stretch, or foam roll. They all have a place in programs, but depending on your goals and constraints, you don’t need to be doing everything that people tell you to do. Find out what works, and stick with it.
You must foam roll
Foam rolling feels good. Ask any foam rolling lifter if it makes them feel better, alleviates pain, or prevents injury, and the resounding answer will be yes.
However, there are millions of lifters who don’t foam roll who do just fine. To date, there are only a couple of studies that have been conducted on foam rolling, and to be frank, we really don’t know much about it as far as what it does and doesn’t do (Miller & Rockey 2006, MacDonald et al. 2012). Right now we can speculate as to what it does, but at this point it’s just that – speculation.
Here are the important ones – you have to follow these if you want to see some improvements. Consistency is a key, as is a good work ethic in the gym. You have to warm up, you have to apply the principle of progressive overload, you need to eat well, and you need adequate sleep. Seems simple, right?
Many of my clients of the female variety would be concerned when I handed them heavy weights – “won’t I get big and bulky?” They would ask me. The answer was no. Here is why:
Unless you have naturally high levels of testosterone, which is possible in the case of some women, and/or are taking drugs, you just do not have the hormones to build a significant amount of muscle mass.
There are a ton of benefits to lifting weights – more muscle, less fat, increased bone density, more energy and stamina, and so on. So don’t get concerned if your trainer gives you heavy weights – you aren’t going to look like a bodybuilder any time soon.
If you are new to the gym, or have gone in the past but don’t feel comfortable with what you are doing, read the above link. There are five fundamental movement patterns that everyone should master, and they transfer over to a vast number of exercises.
Here they are:
- Hip Hinge (deadlift)
- Upper Body Push (push-up, bench press, overheard press)
- Upper Body Pull (chin-up, row)
Learning the squat:
If you have any questions or want to suggest a topic, feel free to let me know by commenting below.
Previous Fitness Tips:
- NHL Offseason Training: The Gary Roberts Impact
- Five Fitness Tips – October 2012
- Five Fitness Tips – September 2012
- Five Fitness Tips: August 2012
- Five Fitness Tips – July 2012