If you are stepping into a workout facility, I hope you have the mind set to go hard. That your goal in the next hour is to get some serious work done and not to just socialize with you fellow friends and gym buddies.
The mind set to go hard and get everything out of that 1 or 2 hours of gym time is a great one to have, and few people have a mindset like this. For the people that are constantly pushing the weights, you have to know yourself. You have to know when to push your body and when to hold back. The idea of holding back can seem foreign and almost offensive to you as a determined individual.
Learning when to hold back in the long run will save your body a lot of pain down the road. It will also help optimize your gains and prevent burn out.
There are different thoughts on whether or not missing lifts is O.K. or not. I would never say it’s good to miss a lift. Some will say it is good because it shows that you are trying and always pushing yourself.
I fall on the other side. I do not think it is ever O.K. to miss a lift.
My reasoning is this. When you miss a lift it hurts your confidence, so that next time you go to lift heavy there will be a thought in the back of your head thinking, “I might not get this”. This will hinder your progression. The other reason is that if you are missing lifts you are lifting more then you can handle. Even if you get the reps in, you most likely compensated somewhere else to get those reps in.
When you notice that you start to miss more lifts, then maybe you should take notice and back off. This is not the time to think that you need to push even harder. Take a step back and reassess why you are missing.
I will always say form is king. When you lift with bad form, eventually something bad will happen.
Let’s take a simple bicep curl. What do you do when you are trying to get those last few reps. One, you will start increasing the momentum and incorporating the shoulder. Or the other common method is to just arch your back way back and lift with all you’ve got.
You will get your reps in this way, but it’s the wrong way and we all know it. By doing this you are bringing in other muscle groups, such as the back muscles. The bending of your back just gets you through the hardest part of the lift, the middle portion, by making the pull more horizontal and less vertical thereby decreasing the effects of gravity. This is not O.K. because now you are putting a lot of unnecessary stress on the lower back.
This is just one simple exercise where you can see bad form. Just imagine all the ways you can get more reps out of a deadlift if you let your form go. If you are lifting with bad form you are compensating somewhere else. This will put stress somewhere that it does not belong, eventually this will lead to an injury of some sort.
If your form starts to go, take a step back. You will be much stronger and healthier in the long run if you lift with good form.
You would think people would listen to pain, but most people will just push it aside as their body being a puss. If you feel pain, stop. I should not even have to write this. Just stop. This is not the time to push on.
Stop what you are doing and look at what is causing you pain. It could be that you are weak in a particular area or have instability or that you are over working a particular area. There could be many reasons. Listen to your body and take a step back and get healthy.
If you learn when to hold back it will save you a lot of pain in the long run. The goal of weight lifting is to feel better, not worse. Listen to these three simple rules: Don’t Miss Lifts, Form is King, and Listen to Your Pain.
Have a great week.
I get this question a lot, “How much weight should I start out at for this exercise?” This is not a bad question. It is, in fact, a relatively good one. This shows you have the concern that if you do too much weight you could hurt yourself or if you lift too light you will just be lifting for the hell of it.
The thing is, I don’t have a mathematic equation that allows me to tell you an exact number. Such as: [(height + weight)/training age] x (male/female+ exercise) = suggested weight.
This would be nice, but I do not know of such an equation.
My usual suggestion is to go light and get the movement down and then go from there. This would be for a person that I have not been working with for long. For a client I have been working with, I can usually guess within 10 pounds of the right weight. So I do have some good weight guessing skills.
What I am getting at is, if an exercise is important to you and you want to know if you have increased your strength in that exercise, then you should keep track of it.
With your handy dandy notebook (damn you Blues Clues). A notebook is a great cheap way to keep track of all your lifting numbers. It also is a great place to write how you feel and your thoughts.
And, no I am not talking about you writing how the ocean waves lapping against your feet make you feel on a cool summer’s eve. (Unless you want to, and in that case it feels good)
How you feel as in, did you feel tired coming into the work out, how do you feel after the workout, what were some noticeable weaknesses? Also, were you having trouble finishing lifts or were you getting stuck at the bottom? Did you feel tight or notice a lack of mobility? These are the things you should be writing down. Along with this keep track of your numbers for the day.
I am a little weird in the sense that I keep record of every exercise I have done, and at what weight and reps I was able to lift it, in an excel spreadsheet. You don’t have to go that far, but you should keep track of the lifts that you care about improving on.
With a well kept notebook, you should have all the information you need. Such as: what weight you are lifting, areas you need to work on or weakness, and how you are feeling. This record will help you be able to make your next workout more tailored to your specific needs and weaknesses. It also serves as a good reference to look back on to see if you are actually seeing improvements.
The workout journal can be an important tool to helping you meet your goals. And if you want to, you can also doodle cool pictures of you slaying mythical creatures, just to make you look like more of a badass.
It seems like as long as I can remember every workout had to be four days a week with two days devoted to the upper body and the other two be all about your lower half. If you were in college, then the upper body days were broken up into chest and tri, back and bi days, and the lower body days were skipped and replaced with more benching and bicep curls. All jokes aside, the upper lower split is a great way to workout and get results, if you have time for it.
The often forgotten full body workout is another option as well. The full body workout is not as popular due to the fact that it did not have a following behind it. What I mean by this is that the split body workout had the bodybuilding craze backing it. But there are some distinct advantages to using a full body workout over the split routine. These I will most certainly discuss in more detail later on.
I am partial to the split routine because it is the one I have used the most over my lifting career. I have focused primarily on strength, and in my personal opinion believe that if you are trying to get strong the split routine is the way to do so.
By breaking up your days into upper body and lower body days you are able to focus more of your energy on a particular region of the body. This results in more weight lifted for the group of muscle you want to target.
This structure also works well with people that are training for size, like bodybuilders or people who like beach tanning. The four day routine gives you the ability to break days up into more specific focuses, or foci, again letting you focus your energy on the group of muscles you would like to see increase in size. This is where you would see the back and bi, chest and tri, and legs scheme.
There are some downsides to the split routine. The big one is that it takes up four days, and most people have a hard time making it one day a week to the gym. So a four day commitment would be out of the question for many people.
Full Body Routine
The full body workout has a lot going for it. If you are a person that can only go to the gym two to three times a week, I would highly recommend this routine. The benefit of this routine is that at every workout you are hitting all of your major muscle groups. If you do miss a workout, I would argue that missing a workout on a full body routine is less detrimental then missing one on a split routine.
When working with athletes, the full body routine makes more sense then the split. This is because an athlete uses all their muscles during a sporting event. So training all of their muscles during the same block of time also makes sense as well. During the in season athletes may only have one to two days to devote to lifting weights, so a full body routine would be the better choice. This allows them to hit their upper and lower muscle groups up to two times per week compared to just one with the split.
Both of these routines offer some benefits. I would argue that the split is better for building strength and hypertrophy, whereas the full body routine is better for athletes and people that feel they don’t have the time or have commitment issues with the gym.
These two ways of organizing your training are just two of the most popular ways to organize. There are many different ways to structure your workout week. When it comes to choosing which one is best for you, I would recommend looking at how much time you are willing to give to the gym first. After that, look at which way you prefer to workout. It all comes down to what you like to do and what you will stick to doing.
A few months back I published my critically acclaimed, beloved by all post, Things That Are Acceptable In The Weight Room but Not In Real Life, or TTAAITWRBNIRL for short.
So since it’s [MY BIRTHDAY TODAY!!!!] and I can do what I want to. I am going to give you the flip side of this post.
In TTAAITWRBNIRL I discussed things you do in the weight room that just don’t translate over to the outside world all that well. In this post I am going to tell you 51/2 things that don’t translate over from the real world to the weight room, or as I like to call it, The Palisade of Weights.
Without further adieu here are my 51/2 things.
Where would we be without cell phones, no snapchat, no instagram, no angry birds, and no possible way for somebody to get a hold of you every second of your life.
Got to love technology. It gives us the ability to stay connected without actually having to spend time with people, awesome.
Cell phones are all well and good and very useful in fact, but when it comes to the weight room there is just no need for them. This has to be my biggest pet peeve. Is it really not possible for someone to go one hour without being in constant contact with the rest of the outside world? Let’s be honest, can you honestly think of anyone out there that needs people to be able to get in contact with them 24/7.
If you think that’s you, well, you’re wrong – you self-thinker.
Cell phones outside, “Wow wee, cool new phone”. Cell phones in the gym, “Awwww, what is that”, and better question, “What is it doing here?”
See, phone in gym is just not as cool.
I get it that hats are nice to keep the sun out of your eyes and keep you warm during the winter. They can even change the way others see you, depending on which style you go for. The three most common are:
- Hats makes you seem like you are an every day Joe, just loving life and maybe hiding a bald spot.
- Hats make you look sexy. In most cases you have to be a cowboy, or in all cases, one or the other.
- Hats make you look like a total jabroni.
I understand hockey players like to keep their long flows out of their face, but a hat makes you look stupid. You don’t wear sunglasses inside do you? No, hats are the same thing, except they go on your head to protect you from the sun.
The one exception is beanies; they keep your head warm in the winter and they feel good to wear while lifting. They are designed for keeping you warm, not protecting you from the sun, so they are serving their true purpose both inside and out unlike ball caps. This is why they are OK to wear and hats aren’t. It just makes sense.
Got to love me some gloves, especially those fleece ones; O so soft and so nice. Gloves are functional. They protect your hands from the elements. They can also make your hands go from plain and boring to badass, with a sweet pair of leather biker gloves.
I got me a pair of leather goatskin gloves for a dollar one time. Let me just say, once I slipped my hands into those gloves I became a whole new man, but that life is all behind me now.
Lifting with gloves does the same thing except for one big difference. They don’t make you look badass. On the contrary they do just the opposite. If your hands can’t handle the knurling on the bar, then you can’t handle the gym. If you are wearing gloves because your grip sucks, then work on strengthening your grip and grab some chalk.
Music is pretty great to say the least. Good tunes will put you in a great mood and get you ready to crush weights.
Pro Tip: Super set all your exercises with dancing, it keeps the fun level high and shows all the ladies in the vicinity what they’re missing out on.
When I see someone walking down the street in a Beats Headphone or Bose or whatever brand, I think they must really like music. When I see someone in the gym with the same aforementioned headphones I instantly think, “Wow what a D-Bag”.
This opinion is based on years of pre judging and I am sticking to it. So if you wear big ass headphones, I’m just letting you know its cool outside but in the gym you look like a giant bag of D.
Half Shirts and Skinny Jeans
I don’t know if either of these is actually acceptable in the real world but I know for sure they are not acceptable in The Palisade of Weights.
Well, except for half shirts, I can see them being useful in some really specific situations. I just have not figured out what that situation would be or what it would entail yet.
Maybe if you were working out and someone broke their arm, and the only thing you had available was the bottom portion of your shirt to fashion a sling out of. Then, after helping the person, you went back to finish your lift. I could see that being all right. So until this happens half shirts not cool.
As for skinny jeans, there is no scenario where they should be worn in a gym or anywhere else for that matter.
There you have it. My 5½ things that are acceptable in real life but not in the weight room.
I was thinking back to the days when I first started lifting; how simple it was, it was upper body or lower body days. I did what I wanted. Loading up the leg press with all the weights in the gym, it was a small gym, but still as a high school kid I felt badass, doing 400 pound shoulder shrugs, the true test of how strong you are, and sets and reps, always without a doubt, had to be 3 sets of 10 reps.
I don’t think I ever went higher or lower then the 3×10 until my junior year in high school. I always thought it was the perfect number, hell it was what everyone else was doing. It turned out that 3×10 was not the best set up for my goal of becoming a stronger athlete. I would have fared much better from a 5×5 or even a 5,3,1 set up. But with youth comes ignorance and many years of ineffective lifting.
At this point I have done a plethora of different set and rep schemes. Two that I have been playing around with recently is cluster sets and high-density sets (honestly I have know idea what these are called, if you know the common name feel free to tell me).
The Cluster Set
Cluster sets are a great way for you to be able to lift heavier weights for a higher number of reps. This results in an increase in strength.
Before you carry me off to be burned at the stake for my wizardry, let me explain how they work. You will soon see that there is no magic involved, just some simple sets and reps manipulation.
The cluster set is a group of mini sets within a set. This is what it looks like: (4×2)x5, this would be five cluster sets of four sets of two. You would do two reps rest 10 seconds and then do the next set and repeat this for four total sets. This equals one cluster set.
Are you following me? Just think of it as the ‘Inception’ of sets, a set within a set within a set.
If you were confused by the movie ‘Inception’ at any point then you should first watch it again and figure it out before attempting these.
For simplicity I will stick with the (4×2)x5 as my example. When selecting your weights you will not be able to use your two-rep max or your eight-rep max but something more like your five-rep max will be used.
You will end up lifting your five-rep max eight times. Isn’t set manipulation great? You can now lift your five-rep max eight times in one set. This will lead to an increase in strength, allowing you to do more work within each set. You can also use this for increasing muscular size and endurance by changing the reps and sets to fit your goals.
High Density Sets (Put Name Here)
This is very similar to cluster sets but with a little twist. This is how it works. You would have your sets and reps set up something like this: 3×5/2×8. At first glance this seems cut and dry, that is because it is.
The magic in all of this is not seen just by looking at the sets and reps. You also have to look at the numbers. This setup allows you to do more work within your workout. Let’s say your five-rep max is 225 and your seven-rep max is 200. If you were to do 5×5 at 225 you will have lifted at total of 5,625 pounds. If you did 3×5 at 225 plus 2×8 at 200 that will be a total of 6,575 pounds lifted. That is 950 more pounds lifted.
This results in more weight lifted but with using less weight due to the increased reps and decrease in weight in the last two sets. This is another great way to do more work but at the same time lifting less weight. Resulting in strength gains and muscle hypertrophy, while giving your joints a rest from the heavier weights.
Give these two sets and rep schemes a try. Not every workout has to be 3×10 or 5×5. Get a little crazy with your planning. Throw in a cluster set for your squat and bench or try using the high-density sets for your lunges and chin ups. If strength is what you’re after then try them out.
I am going to be honest I have not been in the fitness industry that long, but without a doubt the #1 goal for all females that are not athletes, or are athletes for that matter…. O.K. let me rephrases this; the #1 goal for any female that walks in through your doors is to tone up. The conversation goes something like this.
Me: What are some of your goals that you would like to accomplish?
Female: I would like to loose some weight and fat and maybe get a little stronger, but I don’t want to bulk up, I guess I would like to just tone up a little. Oh and I’d really like some abs.
Don’t get me wrong. I think this is a great list of extremely vague goals. The goal of wanting to be toned is a fine goal, if you know what it is.
For some reason the phrase “toning up” has come to be the all-encompassing phrase to sum up, “to get in better shape”.
The word tone means to be firm or to have the appearance of being firm. I used to think this was a combination of weight loss and muscle gain. As you loose fat and gain muscle mass the skin will appear to be firm or tone. This is what toning up meant to me. It’s pretty much the same thing as just getting into better shape, which is a part of the toning process.
While reading Mark Rippetoes’ book, “Practical Programming for Strength Training,” I was able to gain a better understanding of what it truly means to be tone. Here is a quote from his book, “The term muscle tone or tonus describes an electrophysiological phenomenon, a measure of ionic flow across muscle cell membranes. It can be thought of as the muscle’s readiness to do anaerobic work. The more fit the muscle, the more electrophysiological activity it exhibits at rest.”
So what does this all mean? What it means is the more your muscles are ready to lift weights the more tone you will be. So a sedentary person is going to be less tone then a person who frequently lifts weights, and a marathon runner is going to be less tone then a power lifter.
How To Get Tone
If you look at the spectrum of what will get you toned the fastest, going from least effective to most effective, it would look something like this.
Low Toning Medium Toning High Toning
Aerobic Exercise → Low Intensity → High Intensity
Weight Training Weight Training
Huh, that’s funny, if this spectrum is correct then most of the programs that are out there to get you tone buns and thighs are not the most effective means of programming. The typical commercialized toning program usually involves loads of long duration cardio or a cross between a bodybuilding program and an endurance program. This would fall somewhere between aerobic exercise and low intensity weight training, but where you really want to be is all the way over to the right.
Just to clarify, the word intensity is not describing how hard the workout is, it’s describing how heavy the weights are you are using. Doing circuit training and bootcamps can be taxing, and described as an intense workout, but this is not what is meant when talking in terms of weight training. High intensity means to be lifting heavy weights. If you want tone then you need to lift heavy.
If your goal is to have rock solid buns that resemble week old biscuits, not the best analogy moving on though, then take off the pink head band and put down the pink doubles and pick up some heavy weights. The more your muscles are ready to do work the more tone they will be. This is accomplished by strength training, not aerobic exercise or interval training but by good old strength training. Remember its 2013 and strength is the new sexy.
I love the big multi joint lifts. You know deadlifts, squats, and bench. They are great bang for your buck exercises. They can help develop full body strength, but they are not for everyone. People with range of motion limitations, stability problems, or pain with certain movements may be prohibited from performing some of these lifts. This is why it is important to perform an assessment before hand.
The assessment is the time where the client proves to you what they can do. A client may show that they are able to perform the multi joint lifts. Physically they may be capable but one aspect that I think is overlooked is if they are mentally able to perform these lifts.
I know lifting weights is essentially lifting heavy circular objects over and over again until you get that sweet swell. So anyone can do it without putting any thought into it. (This is my attempt at sarcasm.)
When working with young athletes I think it is a privilege for them to perform the big barbell lifts. This is why I am never quick to throw someone under the bar until they have proven to me they can handle it, both physically and mentally. I am like the Gandalf of barbells. I don’t know if that works, but I am sticking with it.
If you look at the deadlift, there is so many things to remember: hips back, chest up, back flat, push through the heels, and I could go on. What I am getting at is that if you don’t have the mental capacity to remember at least a hand full of these reminders, then there is a chance you will end up getting hurt. I don’t expect kids to remember all of them, but there is usually at least one or two cues they are going to have to remind themselves of during each lift.
Weight lifting should be fun, but when it comes time to perform the lift it should be all business. This is where the mental aspect comes in. It is our job to put our athletes in position to improve, while at the same time keeping the risk to reward as low as possible. There is nothing that irks me more then seeing someone mistreat a big lift. It makes me want to go up to the person and slap the bar out of their hands and say, “No”. Of course I don’t do that.
The question is how you know when an athlete is mentally mature enough. Age does play a role. An athlete of college age is more likely to understand the risk of performing a lift improperly. A younger high school athlete may not understand or see the importance of lifting with techniques. They could possibly see it as a need to just lift this weight any way possible, regardless of form. I am not going to mention middle school because I am not a big proponent of prescribing squats or any other big lifts to middle schoolers.
During the assessment it is good to take note of how the athlete acts and responds to your corrections. If they seem to take correction more seriously, then they may be more mentally prepared then someone who may seem to reluctantly take your corrections. From this you may get an idea of where they’re at. If you feel they show good form and are able to focus during the lift then prescribe them some big barbell lifts. You can always back off the lift if they show they are not ready to handle it. You can giveth and taketh away.
All the responsibility does not fall on the shoulders of the athlete. We as coaches need to spend time with our athletes, getting to know them. The more they are comfortable with you the more they will trust you and listen to your instruction. If you get your new athletes to open up to you it is amazing how much more they will listen to you.
Putting Everything Together
The multi joint barbell lifts are not for everyone. The athlete or client must show that they are physically and mentally able to perform the lifts. This is for their safety and well-being. Take note of their level of perceived maturity. From this, if you feel they can handle the big lifts, then prescribe them. You can always remove them. Finally it is our responsibility to get to know our clients. By doing so they will have a greater respect towards you and the lifts they are performing and will understand that you have their best interest at heart.