A few days ago while doing a heavy set of Incline Bench Presses, I asked one of the guys standing around to spot me during the last set. I was already tired and stopped somewhat short when bringing the weights down. After the set, the spotter advised me to drop the weights and rather bring it all the way down to my chest. Nothing wrong with the advice, so I just said; “OK, thanks for the help” and moved on. But I immediately realised that I was looking at this young man who was badly overweight, could not push half the weights that I did, and thinking; “who is he to even think of giving me advice?”
Even good advice from those who have obviously not achieved is often spurned.
The truth is that we happily take advice from people who have already achieved a level of excellence to which we aspire. Even good advice from those who have obviously not achieved is often spurned. So, I have decided to spend more time writing articles related to the area where I can show demonstrable results. Health and fitness is a strong suit, and I post a recent picture to show this (Note: I am NOT a body builder, and looking like one is not a goal – I gym for fitness, health and keeping in shape).
I often wonder where to begin talking to guys who approach me for advice. I reckon the most basic advice is to start moving, keep moving and learn the details later. Nothing is more important than the fact that you will show no results until you commit to doing the work. Dedicated members at our gym generally talk about the influx of new members at the beginning of the year – the “resolutioners”. They muck about, do everything wrong and half-heartedly, attend at irregular intervals and generally frustrate us for the first two to three months of the year and then tend not to come until the next year. The same applies to the group who come a month or two before the long summer holidays, thinking they can get into shape quickly for the beach.
Any training will be beneficial, and though there is a lot to learn, the first rule is that no gym or health club can send you results by post. You can pay all you want, but you still have to do the work if it is going to benefit you at all. This is such a general human condition that I have found in areas such as life coaching, training, study methods and the workaday life that I’m always amazed that people are still looking for quick fixes. Anything, as long as they do not have to do the work to achieve. Don’t they observe the obvious fact that the most successful people work their asses off?
Now, I’m not saying; “Go out there and kill yourself training” (at least not on day one). You have to progressively work up to the goal you have set yourself, and just like my goal is not primarily body building – not as a sport or competitively in any event , you have to decide what your specific goal is. It might be to be able to climb a few flights of stairs without getting winded or to be able to play with your kids, or to get heart fit or to look better or to get into shape for a competitive sport. Each different goal entails an entirely different approach, every person’s idiosyncratic build will require a uniquely suited programme and every one of us have differing schedules and willingness to spend certain amounts of time on this activity. After all, getting in shape entails paying the opportunity cost of what else you might have accomplished had you not been training.
The good news is that you do not have to spend three hours a day, six days a week on training as some seem to advocate. In fact, most newbies tend to over-train. They think that by going heavier for longer and doing more exercises for the same body part, they’ll achieve better results. Unfortunately, they hardly ever find out their error because, like I said, any effort will give results and is better than not training at all. So, while they achieve more than they have ever done before, they are blissfully unaware that they might have achieved a lot more by doing less.
Most newbies tend to over-train.
Training is only about 20% of the equation. The rest of the results are achieved in the periods between training sessions, and I have found very few articles that explain this aspect. Those that do are generally in the hard-core body building magazines not read by lay persons. The secret is that recovery is the 80% where your best results are achieved. Training muscles that are fatigued will not produce results, but are likely to lead to long term and severe injuries or even loss of mobility.
Let’s start with rest. Most people over-estimate their need for entertainment and under-estimate their need for rest. The difference is that entertainment may switch off your higher order thinking and movement, but still taxes your resources. If you’re playing a game, you are still thinking and moving, it is just not productive. If you go out for an evening of dining and dancing, the food and drink are counter-productive to your training, and even the dance moves might stress already tired muscles. You have to plan time for body and mind to recover from the daily grind if you are going to perform at peak capacity again with the next session. At least once a week you have to lay off the training for a minimum of two days (and I strongly suggest a break of at least two days between sessions where the same muscle group is trained, and three days at least once per week). Also build in a rest week at least once in three months, though you can do light training or cardio during the rest week.
Entertained, entertain you to death. But hey, you've got nothing to say, Just keep watching. - Entertain (Lyrics, Killradio)
Sleep is as important. You need at least 7 hours of good sleep every night if you’re training hard. It is worth investing in a good bed as well. Find a bed that is reasonably firm and rated for your weight. Personally, I find a good quality foam mattress (such as the Dunlopillo range – no, they’re not paying me to advertise their product) far superior to the spiral springed variety, even pocket coiled springs are not half as comfortable. Follow a pre-bedtime ritual where you generally wind down and get rid of distractions. Going to bed with everything you’ve just been involved with (computer games, business proposals, family problems, etc.) still running through your head is the main reason people find it difficult falling asleep. Think of things that make you feel calm and peaceful before going to bed and when you lie down, and you should be able to fall asleep in the first five minutes. Getting to bed early and rising early is also important. Predetermine both your bedtime and when you’ll wake, and once you wake get out of bed immediately. Snoozing once you’ve had sufficient rest not only robs you of your most productive time, but makes you feel tired again as you then generally wake halfway through falling asleep and keep worrying that you might oversleep.
The last factor in this recovery period is that you should eat enough. You cannot build optimal strength if you do not eat enough. Unfortunately, if you’re on a strength training cycle, this will also mean that you carry a bit of extra fat during that period (if you are vastly overweight, training will help you lose some weight simply because you’re burning kilojoules rather than sitting around). You should carefully monitor this aspect, and when you start getting worried about fat to overall weight ratios, enter a cutting phase where diet is more carefully monitored to bring those fat percentages down and so you can see the muscle gains made during the bulking phase. You'll need the muscles built here when cutting though, as they use more energy while resting just to maintain.
You might have heard it said that abs are made in the kitchen and not in the gym. This is absolutely true. Unless you are young and have a super-fast metabolism or are training for a body-building event, you should seriously consider whether showing those abs are worth the effort. You have to shed so much fat to do this, that it is likely to affect your health to an extent (not having enough fat will affect hormone levels and mean that you cannot train at optimal levels). Generally though, if you cut out most carbo-hydrates during your leaning-out phase, you will soon see the results. This means, eat as much vegetables and meat as you want, but reduce or eliminate carbohydrates like potatoes, bread, rice, beans and legumes, oats, corn, sugar, pasta and perhaps even dairy to an extent.
Carbo-hydrates are the most common source of energy, but they are interpreted by your body as sugar. This means that your body will secrete insulin and that the insulin will tend to store fat. Eat as much fruit as you want for energy, but not within half an hour of other food. You will get enough energy from fruits and vegetables to keep going, but you must realise that you will have to reduce weights somewhat during this phase. Don’t stop training though, or you’ll lose all the gains you made in the bulking phase. It is possible to build and cut at the same time, but this type of cycling between the two processes usually get faster results. Neither is very comfortable, but the results are very gratifying.
I know the above is a very sketchy explanation of the basics of training, but it should give you a head start. Most importantly get started, stay motivated and attend regularly, have a specific goal in mind and train accordingly, and keep learning while doing so. Remember you Maximum Life is attainable!