How to Succeed at the Gym

In my last post I talked about how people are lured into ineffective training routines by the gyms, personal trainers, and just about anyone else who stands to make money from keeping people from being effective and efficient in their training.  In this article, I am going to give you the other piece of the truth.  Here we are going to focus on what works, and why.

Keep in mind…  I am sharing my “opinion” here.  It just so happens, that in this case, my opinion is based on actual science.  Keep in mind that whatever you think your fitness goals are, they should probably start here.

What I am about to teach you is how to get universally strong throughout your entire body, while developing lean muscle, increasing your ability to function efficiently and effectively in whatever it is you want to do.  Oh, and if you stick with it, you will also have a fabulous body (and be trim and “toned”).

If you are already very strong, are happy with your body fat percentage, and looking to “bulk up”, this may not be the right article for you to read.  Otherwise, read on.

Pros and Cons of Properly Training

There are going to be things that you like, and things that you don’t like about what I am about to tell you.  There is nothing I can do about it, except to say that the reasons you won’t will go away quickly, as you get more used to doing things correctly.

First the good news…  You only have to be at the gym for 30-40 minutes a day (or less), 2 days a week.  That is it.  Truth be told, if you do this correctly, your body will not be able to handle more, and it will be counterproductive.

The other bit of good news is that it requires very little time on the “cardio” machines (if any), and only 6 exercises.  That’s it.  3 exercises each of the two days.

Now for the bad news…  You will be lifting heavy… very heavy.  For many of you, that is a scary thought.  Fear of injury is the biggest concern.  It should not be.  In fact, if you do it right (and it is easy), the risk of injury is no greater than any other type of weight training.

The second bit of bad news is that is requires a couple of exercises that you will not like at first… namely squats and deadlifts.  Finally, the third bit of bad news is that you are going to go out of your comfort zone… really far out of your comfort zone.  You are not going to like it at first.  It is what it is.  Trust me, though… it grows on you.

Here’s is How it Works

This is based on a split that I use.  I do this because research shows that muscles actually take longer to fully repair than was previously suggested.  If you train your muscles before they are fully recovered, you are over working them, and it undermines the process.  I due a “push/pull” split so as not to double train any muscle groups (with the exception of the legs which actually like more reps, more frequently).

These are all compound movements that incorporate many muscles at the same time.  The trick is to work yourself up to a point where you can lift heavy enough so that you can do no more than 8 reps to reach complete muscle failure on your first set.

For instance, let’s say you are doing bench press.  Give yourself a couple of light sets to warm up (an easy 10 reps).  Then you will pile on as much weight as you think you can lift for more than three reps.  Go to absolute failure, still trying as hard as you possibly can to get that last rep in, only giving up when your arms literally give out.  Then reduce the weight by 10-15% and do another set (after a long rest) of the same amount of reps.  You do not need to go to absolute failure here.  Reduce the weight, and do it one more time, and you are done with that exercise.

If you can get 8 reps on the first set, next week increase the weight.  The only exception to this is when doing squats.  Your legs tend to like more reps, for some reason.  Probably because they were made for it.  Don’t be afraid to go as high as 12-15 reps with your squats.

It will take you a while to get to the point where you can go to failure safely, so start slow

Monday (push day):

  • 5 minutes on the treadmill, slight incline, at about 3-4 mph to get the blood flowing (do not get out of breath!)
  • Bench press (dips also work) – Works the chest, triceps and shoulder
  • Shoulder press – Works the entire shoulder and triceps
  • Weighted squats – works the quads, hams, calves, glutes and abs.
  • 15 minutes more on the treadmill, same pace as pre workout (this is not for “cardio” as much as to maximize the “afterburn” effect of lifting by keeping your heart rate up)

Thursday (pull day)

  • 5 minute warm up as per above
  • Pulls/chins – Pullups and chins are pretty much the same, but with different hand position.  Pulls are harder, so I start there, and then do a set or two of chins. (Works entire upper back, biceps, and forearms)
  • Rows – Rows work your mid back really well, as well as your upper back, biceps, and forearms)
  • Dead lifts – Deadlifts work pretty much every pull muscle in your body, all the way from the hams to the back, and everything in between.
  • 15 minute cool down/walk as described above.

That is it.  On the off days, just move around some… go for a walk or two, ride your bicycle around a bit… Don’t “exercise”, just be semi active.

Why Does this Work?

Okay, here is the nuts and bolts of it… why this works.

The first thing is that by using compound movements, your muscles grow together.  That means if a single muscle is weaker than the others in the group, that muscle will grow in strength faster.  Eventually it will catch up, and the muscles will work together as a unit, making you strong all around.

Second, muscles burn energy… even more so when they are repairing themselves.  Energy = calories.  Your body will use carbs for this, until it runs out of carbs, and then will start using your fat stores.  The continuous using of energy in an anabolic state is called “afterburn”.

While doing an hour of cardio might give you additional calorie consumption for a little while after (30 minutes, maybe an hour), a high intensity strength training session will continue to burn calories for 48 hours or more.  Not to mention, once you get the extra muscle, just the process of having muscle raises your body metabolism and burns more calories.

A third benefit is actually… you ready?… better cardio!  Yup.  Cardio is a measure of how efficiently your heart reacts under load.  So, if you were to start doing an hour on the elliptical, the more you do it, the more you run against diminishing returns.  You will get to a point where you can run, full out, for 30 minutes before your heart rate reaches 160.

I do not care how much you think you are in shape… if you lift heavy (with proper intensity), you will spike your heart rate, and probably be out of breath for a bit.  Since you keep going heavier and heavier, the law of diminishing returns has much less of an affect.

But I Don’t Want to be Bulky

I here this from every woman I have ever talked to about this, and if you are a woman reading this, I bet that that is the one concern most on your mind (unless you want to be bulky).  Let me nip it in the butt, right here…

There are two reasons that you will not get bulky by doing this:

1 – You do not have the genetics for it, unless you are carrying a LOT of extra testosterone around.  “Bulky woman” load up on the testosterone to get that way, either through supplements or steroids.  Even then, it takes YEARS.  Women were not built to be bulky.  They are built to be sleek and sexy.

2 – By going to no more than 8 reps, you are not entering a state of muscle hypertrophy.  You are building strength, and while strength does require muscles, they are very compact.  If you wanted to get big, you would start with my routine, then move on to slightly higher reps workouts, and then finally, super-setting with multiple exercises to build the smaller muscle fibers (endurance muscles).

Here is the breakdown:

Less than 8 reaps – strength

9-12 reps – hypertrophy

15 or more reps – endurance.

For most people, strength should come first.  If you are looking to bulk up, you can start with hypertrophy, but the risk of injury is greater.  If you want to build endurance muscles, get strong first.  You cannot effectively raise the endurance level of weak muscles.

5 Week Case Study

I was dating a girl for a while that was interested in getting stronger and leaner…  We will call her Angel.

Angel was already pretty lean, but she had some concerns about her upper body strength, and lack of definition.  She had been a “cardio bunny” all her adult life, and was also fond of the Jillian workouts, and whatnot. You know the type… doesn’t want to miss her fitness class, ect.

Anyway, she let me guide her for a bit, and we spent some time together in the gym (a handful of sessions), where I taught her how to lift heavy.  She also took what I taught her and used the strategies to work out on her own as well.  Now, keep in mind, she refused to take my advice on dieting, or give up the intense cardio she so loved.

She also never quite got to the point where she could muster the intensity needed to make this work over the long term, but after only 5 weeks she still made some pretty amazing progress…

When she started, she could barely bench press an empty barbell.  Within just a few weeks, she was able to break the 100lb mark for bench press.  She made similar strength gains in other areas as well, and I do not have the numbers in front of me, but she gained strength in every area.

Better than that, her “batwings” started to disappear, replaced by nicely defined and “toned” arms.  I even took a picture of her with my phone, while she was shooting pool, and you could clearly see the increased definition.  She also started to get more definition in her shoulders, and some in her back.

It was really quite amazing.  Believe me, if you do this, together with the right “diet” (I know I have not discussed that here, but another article perhaps) you will love the results.  You will be lean, strong, and fit. Nice, round perky butt?  Done.  Killer 6-pack? Included.

As always, this is Steve, and that is just my $0.02.

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