No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training… what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capableSocrates
Obesity has become a major cause of cardio and stress related diseases in the 21st century. Maybe there might have been some obese people in our grandpa’s generation, but for the most part, they were bloody fit because their work mainly consisted of working out all the muscles in your body. Even if that wasn’t the case, they would usually walk or run to their home or work and they usually ate healthy. Therefore they had no problem of diseases strongly connected to obesity.
Fast forward to the 21st century where fast food, ride sharing, office jobs and high stress have all but negated any means of getting exercise, thus resulting in high levels of obesity, stress levels, cholesterol and fat levels and severe reduction in energy levels. It would be a big thing if most of us can run a 5K without getting ourselves killed. Fortunately, most people have realized this and are taking steps to bring their health to normal by whatever means possible. It may be hitting the gym, crossfit, sports, swimming, cycling, running, whatever.
I usually get my day started by means of hitting the gym and cycling, so I can’t speak of getting fit by other means. I’m no Arnold or Ronnie Coleman, but I can withstand a good deal of punishment. As to why I gravitated towards strength training?
I can easily get fat from eating even a little bit of rich food, so when I was strapped to the bed when I received a fracture a few months ago, I had no choice but to eat a lot for recovery. That one month of eating saw my weight balloon to 92 kgs and none of my old pants and formals fit me. So come January, I hit the gym and six months later, I’ve managed to reduce my weight to 78 kgs, feel fitter and stronger than ever and even my old formals are feeling slightly looser than before. I’ve never been a big fan of cardio routines with the exception of cycling and swimming and of course, in the event of another fracture, the muscles I’ve gained would at least reduce the accumulation of fat to a good extent, so there’s that.
Besides these, there is the confidence factor that one can gain from looking good (I’ve written a whole article on confidence. Do read it). Not to say that I have the body or strength of a Spartan, there is always room for improvement, but I’m definitely happier with my body than how it was a few months back.
Here’s all the tips and ways to get fit and strong by means of strength training.
Start Out Small
This is a mistake that every rookie in the gym will do. Yeah, even the guy that’s reading this post. Don’t lie on this, man. There’s no shame in accepting that you fucked up at the gym.
The reasons for this could vary from thinking the small weights are way too easy to trying to impress a girl or guy by trying to pull off a 80kg deadlift on the first day of the gym. I’ve seen rookies in the gym who think a 2.5 kg dumbbell is too piddly for bicep curls and go straight for the 7.5 kg dumbbell, even ignoring the 5 kg dumbbell and then go home crying to their mothers. Either way, all this peacocking about results in
- A bruised or severely body part, which could be your shoulder, hamstring or biceps. An ACL tear can and will fuck you up.
- You getting laughed at by that girl or guy you were trying to impress. Worst case, you could end up becoming the target of some douche-bros of the gym.
- You will definitely end up receiving an earful from your trainer.
While the small weights might look easy after doing one set of 12 reps, try increasing the rep count or the set count using the same weight and you’ll feel the burn, rendering you unable to do anything for some time. Those small weights that you scorn so much are actually the best weights, in that they provide the foundation for your strength training routine.
Trust me on this one. I had trouble with bicep curls for a long time (yeah, I’m not a big fan of bicep exercises. I’m weird like that). So, I trained with those 2.5 kg dumbbells until I could hit 3 or 4 sets of 20-25 reps without a sweat. Then, I moved on to 5 kgs. Rinse and repeat. Now, I can comfortably do 12.5 kg dumbbells with some effort. I know it’s nothing to brag about, but you get my drift.
Never ignore those small weights.
Perfect Your Form
This isn’t exclusive to rookies alone. This mistake can easily be committed by experienced fitness freaks in any discipline, be it swimming, cycling or even strength training. In the case of strength training though, performing your exercises with an imperfect form will result in imbalanced growth of muscles and damage to your muscles in the long term among others.
Of course, no one knowlingly makes this mistake. It’s usually a by-product of improper supervision, half-baked knowledge, a primal desire to finish the last rep of your set or a weird combination of these three. Worst part is, some guys will progress onto heavier weights or will hammer at that weight using that flawed form and then they’ll wonder why they aren’t making any gains, or why their back pains like hell, when all they did was bicep curls.
Again, use those small weights. Getting your form right should be your first priority, and progressing onto heavier weights can wait for some time. In case you have no clue what the perfect form for a deadlift or a row is, get help from either the trainers or the guys at the gym. There are nice people in the gym, y’all. They can help with your form and once you’ve perfected that, you can move on to other stuff.
Start With A Full Body Routine
So you’ve made your decision to hit the gym. You’ve decided to improve yourself alone and you want to know the exercises that would help you in your journey to become the next Arnold or Eugene Sandow. You are determined to weather the pain that accompanies your routine, day in and day out. Then you open up your browser and search for the best routine to shape you into the best version of yourself.
And the clusterfuck begins.
All of a sudden, you’re confused as to whether you should be doing dropsets, supersets, high-intensity splits, antagonistic routines, compound yeah, isolation boo etc etc etc. Trust me, there is no right answer on what routine fits a bodybuilder. What works for one, won’t necessarily work for the others. A big mistake I see rookies doing is starting out with splits. Splits are usually done by experienced bodybuilders who can’t gain any muscle anymore. Most beginners won’t see any noticeable gains or changes to their physique even after 6 months and they’ll end up becoming frustrated. This is where full body routine comes in.
Full body routines will work every major muscle group in your body, whether you’re a beginner or advanced. For beginners and even experienced bodybuilders, hammering out a full body routine 4-5 days a week with medium to high intensity will allow those muscles to develop at a rapid pace. As a result, you’ll see a noticeable change in your energy levels and physique that you can’t achieve that much with a split routine. Maybe, there are people who can achieve insane results with splits, but from personal experience, most beginners haven’t achieved much with splits. Before you scoff that Arnold built his body on high intensity split routines, let me remind you that he started out with a full body routine, which became the foundation for his future bodybuilding exploits. If you are confused as to what exercises to incorporate into your full body routine, you can check out some routines from sites like T-Nation, BodyBuilding.com or if you want to start out simple, you can check out the Terminator’s “Golden Six Workout” and use it as a reference point for your routine.
Compound > Isolation
For the uninitiated,
- Compound – Exercises that work more than one muscle group. (Eg) Deadlifts, Squats etc.
- Isolation – Exercises that exclusively work one muscle group (Eg) Dumbbell curls, Tricep pulldowns etc.
This one is universally agreed by most bodybuilders. Do a shit ton of compound exercises. Compound exercises work your body in such a way that no muscle group will ever get left out of development. Take deadlifts for example, they work your upper and lower back, your core, your legs and your shoulders to an extent. Besides working the muscles in your body, they can also make you sweat like crazy and knock the wind out of your sails, by making your body exert control over a bunch of muscle groups, as opposed to one muscle group. Most bodybuilders have developed great bodies by pulling off just compound exercises.
Not to say that isolation exercises don’t have a place in your routine. Let’s say that you have weak biceps and it’s impeding your overall routine. You can’t develop that weak point using compound exercises alone.
This is where isolation exercises come into play.
Isolation exercises should mainly be employed to develop and strengthen your weak points, but they should not take preference over your overall muscle development. While some people will say that you can develop a perfect body using the holy trinity of deadlifts, squats and presses, that principle won’t apply for everyone. You need to employ at least two isolation exercises into your routine to strengthen your weak points.
Now you have a handle of what your routine should be like. You’ve created a time table of your routine and you are confident that you can become ripped in a few months. But of course, you need the proper nutrition to maintain the required strength and so, you consult the internet again.
If trying to understand the science of bodybuilding on the internet is a clusterfuck, then trying to understand the nutritional science for building a great body on the internet is an ungodly clusterfuck of nuclear proportions. You’ll have proponents for Keto, high fat – low carb, low fat – high carb, Intermittent Fasting, Juicing, Vegan bodybuilding, Atkins (Is that still a thing in this age?), measuring macros, micros etc etc, with each proponent of their method trashing the methods of the others. Again, a point can be made that what works for one will not work for others.
If all of those articles are confusing you, then here is the bullet point version for eating well.
- Eat a balanced meal, with your meal rich in the essentials like protein, carbs, fat, vitamins etc. Fats and carbs aren’t necessarily bad, and you need both of them for energy and recovery. It’s the processed version that will kill you.
- Reduce processed sugar as much as possible. The key word is processed. The sugar or fructose you find in fruits won’t screw you, as much as some people will harp on about the evils of fruits. Again, it’s the processed version that will screw you up.
- If you want to build up your body, then you should have a calorie excess. If you are looking to reduce your body, then you should have a calorie deficit.
- Stay away from fried items as much as possible. Try to find possible substitutes for them. Instead of fried chicken, go for the grilled variant.
- Fuck French Fries. Seriously, fuck em. Fuck Mayonnaise while you are at it.
- If you ever feel hungry and want to snack, then either fill your fridge with veggies and fruits or satiate your hunger with zero calorie drinks like green tea, black coffee etc. It’s these snacking sessions that will seriously hurt your gains.
- Do have a cheat day. There is a high chance that your diet will make you crazy one fine day. So, have a cheat day once in a month and go hog wild that day.
Get the foundation right and then you can research and experiment on what method of eating works for you.
Intensity > Duration
When it comes to strength training or any other discipline for that matter, the amount of effort you put in to an activity is more important than the duration of the effort. It makes zero sense to take a 10 minute break between every low intensity set and then complaining about the lack of change in your physique. If you can pull off a crazy amount of high-intensity sets in a short amount of time, then that’s even more fruitful for your physique than faffing about for 2 hours and eating a rich breakfast.
So, try to take as little rest between sets if you are on a high intensity routine. Your muscles will beg for mercy, your heart will feel like bursting and you will feel like puking out your guts. But it will be worth it in the end.
Schedule Rest Days
Now you may be thinking, “If I work out seven days a week, I’ll probably become the next Dorian Yates, or I’ll have the body of Gerard Butler from 300.” Yeah, it doesn’t work out that way.
You see, when you do some intense physical exercise, the muscle fibers in your body undergo wear and tear. They need rest and recovery to repair and grow to their maximum potential. If you hammer away at your routines without any period of rest, you’ll end up becoming weak and this will impede your progress in the gym a good deal, since you are effectively working with damaged and torn muscles. So, a rest day is imperative.
Scheduling rest days depends on your schedule. Most people schedule the weekends as their rest days. Some people take odd days like Wednesdays and Thursdays as their rest days. I usually follow the weekend pattern. It depends on your bodybuilding routine and the level of intensity you are willing to push.
Now for some tips when you are in the gym:
- When you are finished with an exercise, do put the weights and bars back in the rack. Try not to be the asshole that leaves the weights and bars wherever you did your routine. This is gym etiquette 101.
- This mainly applies for guys. Don’t hit on women in the gym. Just don’t. Most women just want to work out in peace, and they will be repulsed or pissed when they see a guy coming on hard. Just ask your friends about this or look up the internet for various rejection stories.
- Don’t be a douche-bag. Just because you have a good physique now doesn’t give you the license to be an asshole to someone who is just starting to become a better version of himself. Help them out if possible or get the hell out of their way.
- People don’t like shouters or grunters in the gym. If you are in the last reps of your sets, most people will tolerate. But shouting your ass off for every goddamn rep of every goddamn set will definitely piss off every Tom, Dick and Harry in the gym.
- Try to hit the gym alone or with a like-minded friend who is serious about getting fit. Anything more than that will result in chit-chat and time wasted in the gym.
- You won’t get every equipment in the gym at your whim. For eg, you won’t get the bench presses on Monday because international chest day something something, so, either look for alternatives for that exercise or modify your routine to suit your time and needs.
- You don’t need the most costly gym with all the bells and whistles that has a dog to cheer you up and a gold Jacuzzi to get optimal results. All you need are quality weights and bars, good trainers, a shit ton of space and a drive to crush your goals. Anything more than that is just a plain waste of resources.
That’s all I have for getting fit via strength training. I’ll write an article about getting fit in different ways in upcoming articles.
An ever improving geek.