It was around eight years ago that I started lifting weights. Sick and tired of being the flat, skinny kid, it was time for me to do something about it! Back then I was typical naive teen. I thought I knew it all. You couldn’t tell me nothing. Oh how I was wrong.
If I could go back eight years and give myself five pieces of advice to follow, I know exactly what I would say. It would have saved me years of trail and error, numerous minor injures and lots of frustration.
The great things about lifting weights is they can be adapted to support basically any goal. From hypertrophy, to fat loss, to endurance and power. To a certain extent the points presented below will work with any goal. So even if your goals aren’t the same as my 19 year old skinny body’s, they’ll still apply.
Compound Exercises Give You More Bang For Your Buck
Sometimes the “sexy” exercises that we all look good doing in the gym aren’t actually the best ones to be doing. Everyone loves biceps curls and ab crunches. Whilst smaller, isolation exercises like those have their place, we should be dedicating at least 80% of a workout to compound moves. These are multi-joint movements such as squats, bench presses, pulls ups and deadlifts. They recruit the most amount of muscle mass and responsible for positive hormonal changes in the body for fat loss and muscle gain goals. This includes testosterone and GH. Compound exercises are certainly “money exercises” that I wish I gave more time to when first starting out.
It’s All About Tension
Lifting weights isn’t about how much you move from A-B, but more how much tension you can create from A-B. This is actually goal dependant, but for body composition goals such as lean muscle and fat loss, tension created in the muscle is everything. I was always obsessed with chasing the numbers. Each week I’d try and lift more, even if it was just a KG. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with this and doing so will technically create more tension and incur greater muscle damage, eventually you’ll get stuck. It’s at that point you need to look further afield and use strategies such as varied tempos, longer or shorter time under tension and different angles to create more tension.
Warm Ups And Cool Downs ARE Important
Every piece of exercise literature preaches of a warm up and cool down, but when you’re young who wants to follow the rule book? I certainly didn’t and I learnt the hard way. It was my first set of deadlifts and I went straight in with 100kg. I did it the previous week and I was fine. The third rep in and a felt this fizzing in my lower back. No pain no gain right? So I pushed on. The next day wow! The best way I could describe it was like fiery tooth ache in my lower back. For a good five months I paid the price. I had countless physio sessions and had to work extremely hard on mobility to release off my locked up posterior chain. Still to this day I have the odd twinge.
A good warm up should improve blood flow, mobilise muscles and joints and prep the Central Nervous System (CNS) for the work to come. A typical warm up is simply to perform a few light sets of your first exercise, but I believe there’s a more effective method. Try and structure your warm ups like this:
Dynamic movements – Perform a selection of dynamic movements such as mountain climbers, downward dogs, spine rotations, shoulder circles and hip circles. Pick 2-3 and spend 30 seconds on each. Start with a smaller range of motion and gradually increase it as you warm up.
Self Myofascial Release (SMR) – Use this opportunity to perform 2-3 SMR drills. You can either pick areas of the body that get tight on you, or areas that will help you get into the shapes and positions for the days workout. For example if you’re going to be performing overhead presses, foam rolling the lats and thoracic spine will help you get into a stronger over head position.
Ramp up with first exercise – Perform 2-3 lighter sets of your first exercise. Each set should get progressively heavier. As an example, if your first exercise is a barbell back squat and your working weight is 100kg. Do a set of 40kg, a set of 60kg and a set of 80kg before going in with 100kg for your first set. Ramping up helps prep the CNS efficiently.
I like to keep my cool downs simple. Seeings as after lifting weights your muscles are warm it’s a great opportunity to work into some deep end of range stretches. Pick 2-3 stretches around the area you’ve trained. By doing so you can help return muscles back to their resting length, prevent blood pooling and decrease muscle soreness. Let’s say for example you trained legs. A wise selection of stretches would include hamstrings, hip flexors and glutes. Spend 45-60 seconds per stretch.
It’s Actually Fairly Difficult To Overtrain
I can remember living in of fear thinking will this next set tip me into an overtrained state? Or will it be the next rep? If I didn’t feel like lifting weights one day it was “damn I must be overtrained!”. Yes it was that bad. I wouldn’t say overtraining is a myth, I’d just say that it’s actually really difficult to get there. Much, much harder than you might think. Without trying to put everyone down, most of us simply don’t train hard enough when it comes to lifting weights. Under recovered would be a much better term to describe how you’re feeling if you’re not 100%.
You Can Wear What You Want In The Gym – No One Will Judge You
I can vividly remember back to the first time I wore a vest in the gym. How self conscious I was. I thought everyone was looking at me, judging. Baring in mind the gym I trained at was a small community gym filled with OAP’s, no one was even batting an eye lid. It took me a good few weeks to get comfortable with it. When I finally did I realised – no one actually cared. It was just my state of mind when wearing a vest.
Wear what you want to the gym, whatever makes you feel comfortable. If it’s a skin tight vest – do it! If it’s a baggy T shirt and oversized joggers – whatever! No one actually cares. And neither should you.