Starting out at the gym is a strange adventure into unknown territory.
Where am I?
I began training at Gold’s Gym in the late 70s just after its move to 2nd Street in Santa Monica from the original Venice location. I suppose that you could have plunked me down in the wilds of Madagascar and the landscape would have seemed more familiar. Name a way to make a mistake and I found a way to make it.
Beginning trainers make all sorts of mistakes, but the prime ones, or at least the main ones that evolved to become the most costly in my case, were ones that I have seen many individuals, who take lifting seriously and intend to stick with it for the long game, often make since:
- Training long is the same as training optimally. The more time you spend in the gym, the better. A guy who puts more hours in, gets bigger than the guy who puts in less.
- Rest and recovery are pillows for the lazy.
- Pain is just weakness leaving the body and has nothing of importance to teach me.
- People who take a long time to get fit don’t know what they’re doing. I do, it’s simple.
- Injuries are for old people. Champions ignore, move on and outclass them.
- Genetics are for the handicapped. Will and ambition can and will inevitably overcome genetics.
- Weight lifting is just about lifting heavy weights.
- Depends how serious you are about training.
- You either change gyms or
- Figure out how to train the areas that you want to train with the tools free and available for you to use.
If all else fails, you can always politely but determinedly ask to work in with the current user(s) of the equipment you are after. Most experienced trainers are aware of gym etiquette and will know just where you are coming from, others will…well, just move on to other things when they see you mean business.
Most decent gyms will have a certain amount of redundancy built in for peak time usage or equipment that can be, with perhaps a little determination, imagination & inspiration, adapted to purpose.
- A squat rack is a great venue for working legs with squats, but there are other ways that can be put to use to get in a reasonable leg workout (using a dip belt with a chain slung over your hips and attaching it to a ground pulley system. Takes a bit of playing with, but works).
- The Flat Bench Press. Probably the most ridiculously mythically overrated chest exercise in history. Take your pick: pulleys, dumbbells, dips et. al. will usually produce better chest development for most people.
- Shrugs. You can use almost anything in the gym to do a shrug. There are many more tools available that can be used for shrugs than ones that you can’t in some way figure a fix with.
- I could go on all day offering up suggestions for alternatives. It is better for you to think about the work needing to be done and what at hand might be adapted to do it. This often leads you to surprisingly useful discoveries. Discoveries that you wouldn’t have made if you just used the standard equipment in conventional ways.
I have lived most of my life in gyms, from the most basic using rebar and concrete as dumbbells and barbells to others that you’re unsure whether they are actually supposed to be gyms or a weightlifting billionaire’s idea of Aladdin’s Cave.
Now, I run my own and what I have found is that as long as a trainer is motivated enough, he or she will find a workaround almost anything that might prove an obstacle.
Whether that obstacle proves to be a crippling injury…or just a crowded gym at peak time.
One man’s meat is another’s poison.Anonymous
It is likely to vary pretty wildly and probably be dependant on what your genetics are.
Many authors who are proponents of a long term Keto lifestyle, in particular guys like Volek and Phinney like to show you all manner of data that they interpret as proving that HDL goes up and LDL goes down whenever the word “KETO” is mentioned.
I’ve experimented with the diet quite a bit, both on myself and with clients, and while it undoubtedly affects body fat levels and many other physiological parameters positively, it doesn’t work that way with all of them or equally with one person to he next.
In my case , long stays (over 5 weeks or so) in ketosis having a surprisingly deleterious effect on my cholesterol levels. Blood work showed a quadrupling of Cholesterol Ratio values from around 4.5 to 17+, sending LDL soaring while HDL remained pretty stable. My GP was rather astonished and mentioned that he hadn’t seen many patients with scores that impressive.
Triglycerides did pretty well and body fat % dropped to an all time low of % 8.1 (DEXA measurement) within about 8 weeks, though That was very nice.
An additional worrisome side effect was that my Cortisol levels went zooming up, but strangely enough, this was not in evidence until a week or so after I had ended my 8 week kept cycle.
Most of my customers and clients haven’t taken the trouble to do anything in the way of blood profiles, so I can’t mine much data from that source but, in my case, it was a pretty mixed bag.
Depends on how fast you want it to go.
Faster than it is when you’re sleeping?
Faster than when taking a spin on the Lex Luthor Drop Of Doom?
Faster than the moment that you heard that yours was the only winning ticket for the recent Mega Millions Powerball drawing?
Faster than considering a situation where Scarlett Johansson calls you up out of the blue and asks you if you’re busy tonight?
Faster than it was when you were 12? Faster than after that awful 7 day fast? Faster than a speeding bullet?
Faster than what? Faster for just how long?
Listen, the point lamely trying to be made here is that there are a lot of variables to consider in order that this question produces any answer is practical and will stick. Perhaps, some simple advice resulting in actions taken by you to develop a mindset that will help you improve your fitness and lose body fat. Who knows, we’ll give it a quick try.
The question itself is a very general and non-specific one. Here’s a few non-specific general suggestions, in no particular order, which may prove useful:
- The more lean muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism will be. So lift weights to get some more valuable muscles to aid you in upping your metabolic game.
- The higher the intensity of an activity or exercise and the longer the duration that activity is sustained for, the faster (to a point) your metabolism will become in order to service the demands that activity exerts on your body. So engage in any activity that suits you. Just make sure that you do it hard enough, for long enough. “With A Purpose,” as they probably still say in the army.
- Complex, higher protein foods require more metabolizing than twinkies and cokes. Eating the right things will be necessary to optimising your metabolism.
- Your brain is one of the most energy hungry organs that you possess. But there is a catch.
You have to push yourself a little and use it.
See what I’m driving at?
Offal, muscle & organ meats are your best bets, with some fish sources doing reasonably well and dairy products coming in a pretty piss poor 3rd.
There is so little to be found in vegetable sources that, as far as creatine content goes, we can forget about them. The problem is this: to get any significant amount of excess creatine from natural sources, a hell of a lot of meat will be required to be acquired (and consumed) by you [1*]. And if it happens you are a vegan or vegetarian, that sucks.
Which begs the question:
These days Creatine Monohydrate is so dirt cheap, in comparison with natural sources, as to be laughable.
If creatine is your main concern, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be, why not just bite the bullet and be practical about it? In order to benefit from creatine, it is necessary to use it in significant amounts. In this sense, it can almost be classed as a macronutrient. Why would you not want to make things easy for yourself and concentrate on something more pressing than how much creatine that particular piece of Ox Tongue has?
If you want to take in enough to see results, just go out and buy half a kilo or so of it for less than a good steak would cost you and mix it with something that tastes good.
- How much? This much:
You could reasonably expect to see some effect at a minimum daily dose of about 5g.
Notice the amount of Pork that you’d need to eat to get even this modest amount, about a Kilo…and that’s raw. Yum.
Not a big fan of raw pork, you say? Right, then how about Herring? Hell, we can switch to an imperial measurement for that, only a Lb. of so of that nice little fish…a day.
Voila! the infamous concept of MUSCLE MEMORY, or neuromuscular conditioning, is born.
Of course, this idea shouldn’t be so unusual or very startling. The effect is probably down to the way humans form skills and habits, rather than some miraculous and mysterious physiological hocus pocus. Although there is, of course, more than a little myocellular magic going on within the portmanteau of the above stated neuromuscular conditioning term.
Here’s a, perhaps illustrative (if not apt), comparison: if you have ever spent any amount of time practicing Stairway To Heaven on the guitar, your expectation will probably be that it’ll be easier to play next time you pick up a guitar than it was the first time you tried it…furthermore, that the longer and more often you had practiced this skill in the past, the easier and faster that it is likely to come back to you in the future. Perhaps, maybe not as successfully as it would return to say Jimmy Page, but better than the first attempt.
Just remember, that stronger doesn’t automatically mean bigger or more muscular. They’re not always equivalent, even if people usually take it for granted that they are. These processes tend to make their growth comebacks at different rates of speed. And all muscles, areas of the body and other physical manifestations won’t immediately pop back to the same extent. But as previously mentioned, you can alway expect a better rate of return than that awkward first attempt.
Here’s a quick foray into a little ruthless optimism for the gym. I suppose it could be put to work in a few other areas of life outside as well. But what I know well is how to get by in the gym, the rest is just a little speculation and probably beyond my brief.
The Myth of Sisyphus
Because he had not kept up his end of a bargain and didn’t returned to Hades as promised, the Gods condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock up the side of a mountain.
Before he reached the top, the rock would always roll back over him and down to the foot of the mountain. Weary, crushed, dejected and hopeless, Sisyphus crawled back down the mountain to start this awful and pointless labour all over again.
The Gods laughed. They snickered and simpered like girls, for they considered nothing worse or more soul-destroying than futile & unending labor.
Now, let’s just hold that picture in our minds while reading the next little bit.
Mindset is probably the most important asset for self-improvement that one possesses in his/her mental and emotional arsenal. It is also a sword that can cut the other way, becoming a very keen tool, indeed for self destruction.
Mindset, along with its handmaiden Imagination, are arguably two of the main qualities that enabled humans to survive in the dangerous swamps and threatening landscapes of a savage world that does not wish them well.
As I sit at my desk and watch people saunter, burst and shuffle through the door of BodyWorks, I begin to think that they may be classifiable into two simple categories (for the purposes of today’s blog on training mindset, at least):
- Those who get their mind right;
- Those who don’t.
If you allow unnecessary obstacles into your path, those obstacles will probably deflect your attention, like piles of shit that get stuck to your boots on the way to your desired goal. And if those piles are big enough, you end up spending much of your time and energy getting unstuck from places that do you no good and don’t really belong in the gym experience. Then, all you are looking at is a hopeless uphill struggle pushing some heavy weight uphill.
I can’t imagine this being anything else other than a depressing experience. Hopelessly slogging away and getting nothing for it. Nothing could be more demotivating
Therefore, along with your favourite pre-workout concoction, a little pre-workout ritual may be in order.
Maybe do something like this:
Before you hit the gym, begin a little exercise in self-discipline to focus your awareness. Start by breathing deeply and evenly to help get rid of the unnecessary flotsam and jetsam of the day. Clear your mind of petty annoyances. Don’t multitask, it doesn’t work in the gym, bring your intention to heel, bend it to your will, sharpen it to a knife-edge. If you must think and worry on things, think and worry about things that you need to think and worry about after you’ve finished training.
This is mindfulness, as far as training goes. If you haven’t figured out how to do this type of mind training or fail to practice the right mental warmup exercises to clear your way, you might well be struggling with an unnecessary handicap. You will not be working with the necessary resources that a productive training session demands.
If failure happens often enough to you, if you allow this to happen, your path fills with unwanted residue of these failures until eventually it becomes impassable. Your intention waivers, your confidence fades, it lacks the power of the necessary positive driving force required. You lose direction, run out of steam and start to give up. And once the engine of a positive mindset is turned off, it’s pretty hard to get it restarted.
If you do not find or create this correct atmosphere within yourself, if you fail to summon up the required ruthless optimism that is a match for your goal, if you fail to exercise the discipline required to set your mind on the right footing, if you don’t take care to stoke the fire of motivation, you default to a level of existence that is less than you are capable of. You are allowing something to die off that is essential for you to move forward, succeed and win.
And if you let this happen, your spirit atrophies and without doubt you court derision & laughter of the Gods.
This is a question that might cost us more time than we actually want to allocate to it to make a proper job of it. After we’ve completed the list and run through the gamut of responses to the unlimited permutations of the kind of Things People Do Wrong In The Gym on a regular basis, ranging from the surprisingly ridiculous to the truly astounding, we could be running overtime into next week.
This blog, although it has been heckled & called many things in the past, is obviously not a forum for old gym rat reminisces. That is because after a hellacious training session, if you are still in the mood to listen to them, the perfect places for Old Gym Rat Reminisces are all-you-can-eat Swedish Smorgasbords.
Where you can eat your fill of cheap food and wash all the amazing and astonishing things heard and seen in the gym over a lifetime spent in The Church Of The Pumping Iron with copious amounts of your favourite beverage, if you can just manage to stop rolling around on the floor and laughing long enough to drink without sputtering liquid all over the room.
People using bad form and doing inappropriate exercises in an inappropriate manner are not the real problem, they are just annoying and wasting their own time, which of course is theirs to waste. Real problems come into play when exercises that can pose a risk of injury are done badly and with little thought of potentially what sort of damage might result.
The foremost epic gym fails are usually performed attempting to do Squats. Coming in a relatively close second place is the Dumb & Dangerous Department are Deadlifts, followed by the Flat Bench Press. Ignorance is often overrated as bliss, it’s not. It’s just asking for trouble. If you hang out in gyms for long enough, you come to the conclusion that you’ve seen it all and there must be some sort of divine plan for Stupidity.
But, of course you’re just being a bit naïve, because you haven’t…and there isn’t.
Ok, I’ll take this bait.
You would get very good at doing 2,000 push ups and greatly impress your friends…or at least, the ones around bored enough to stay with you until the completion of your awesome task.
So, if that is your goal, crack on and bask in the glory of future success.
But if something else is your goal, something perhaps more significant, then seek out the more efficacious methods available out there to help you achieve it.
Let’s first assume that you are actually capable of doing 2000 push ups in one go. We can make a guess at an average rate of about 1 push up per second. 2000 will take about 33 minutes, not counting any rest periods or time allotted for Facebook photo opportunities or sorting out YouTube streaming events.
Now, let’s take a different goal, say a goal which will yield more benefits, more value for you. For example a goal of overall fitness, fighting fitness, a Rocky type of fitness, etc. in its sights. You will achieve this goal, even if you do not have access to a gym, by allocating the same amount of time (or less) to a more thought out workout strategy like HIIT
Which is only one example, one of many perhaps wiser investments of a your limited resource of time.
The number of reps and sets that will be the squat sweet spot for you is something that has to be determined in one of two ways:
- OldSkool trial and error.One punter’s drink is another’s poison. What works? What do you feel worked best for you in the past? What seems to work well now? When you use a lighter weight and do 5 sets of 20 reps as opposed to doing 3 sets of 5 max with heavier poundage, what are the results? What is the difference? This is sometimes what you need to invest time in to learn what is likely to work for you in the future. Experiment and observation is old skool, you need to take care, be patient and try to learn from your mistakes. This concept still remains the gold standard in owning the answers to your questions.
- Get some gene testing done. Instead of having some gym fool on heavy gear that you look at and wonder to yourself “has he ever lifted?’’give you the last word on it, why not just let science do the heavy lifting and give you the clues. These days it is not expensive to get testing done. You save yourself the trouble of spending months or years trying to figure it out, like most of us had to do. The caveat here is that you may have to use your smarts to figure out just what the resulting data is actually trying to tell you.
However, let’s say that you prefer not to take this simple advice or either of the above advice actions, I don’t know why you wouldn’t, but let us assume you don’t.
In that case, what works for most people is this:
Utilizing a structured pyramid set and weights pattern. This consists of a 5 set, 10–15 reps/set squat session at a frequency of 1 or 2 sessions per week. You can start of with relatively light weights, topping out on the 3rd or 4th set and then descend for a higher rep, lighter weight set lift for the finish.