Starting out, there’s a lot of info thrown at you, and a lot of guesswork.
Whether you want to put on muscle, get lean, or just be generally fitter, there’s a tonne of varied and sometimes conflicting info. If you’re like me, you’ll maybe pick up one or two things, guess the rest and hope for the best.
Not the worst way to start, as long as you’re not doing anything silly and risking injury, but there are certainly principles that would have been handy to know.
Whether you’re thinking about getting fit, or have been here a little while but want to refine your routine, here are a few key principles that could help you get the most out of your workout.
***Note: there’s way more than 5 things I wish I knew starting out, but that would be one long ass post - if you’ve got any questions feel free to give me a shout, or if I run out of ideas before the end of January watch out for a part 2 to this***
COMPOUND EXERCISES FTW
“Why get stronger at a movement (using compound exercises) when you can hit each individual muscle (isolation exercises), making sure they get individually massive? Also, more time in the gym means you’re making more gainZ, obvs” - me circa 2008.
As we know, past me was an idiot. This particular piece of nonsense crumbled after talking to people who knew what they were talking about, and doing a bit of research. Compound exercises do more than just train a movement, they train your muscles to work together. If they’re working together effectively, then they’re doing just that - working. This means multiple muscle groups are getting hit at once, which is much quicker and a better use of time than doing isolation exercises for each individual muscle group. 3 sets of bench is a better use of time than 3 sets of chest flies, 3 sets of anterior delts (front shoulder) and 3 sets of triceps. Time spent in the gym means nothing, time spent working the muscles effectively is key.
There is still a place for isolation exercises, they’re just better saved for the end of a workout as details or weak-points work instead of making up the grand bulk of the day.
FASTED CARDIO SUCKS
This was something I did religiously when prepping for my first few physique shows, hitting a few miles of running in the morning before eating anything to get the body into “calorie burning mode” and dial up my metabolism for a bit.
While other people also did this, the science shows that there’s not much benefit to it. You’ll burn the same number of calories whether you’re on an empty stomach or not, and your metabolism won’t be too different. The only difference is that running or doing cardio after a meal is that you’ll have more energy to burn (from the meal), and so could go faster or for longer, burning more calories with the tougher cardio session.
All fasted cardio is good for is building mental fortitude against hunger, plowing on even when you’re super hungry. While a good mental exercise, it’s not doing much for you physically, so choose carefully whether to implement it or not, putting it in for the right reasons.
“Yeah just going to hit some curls with the 8kg’s, just 3 sets of 10 today” - me for 8 weeks straight.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t do any more (well, maybe I couldn’t with my noodle arms), but I didn’t even think to try. Three sets of ten reps was enough to start feeling the burn, which is what I thought was making it work. The fact it was getting easier to complete the 30 total reps didn’t bother me, I thought it was still working.
Unfortunately, to make progress we need to challenge ourselves. We need to give our bodies a greater stimulus to adapt to, so that it grows or becomes more efficient at the movement. To do this, we just need to try to do a little more than last time, even a little more each week
It could be adding a tiny bit of extra weight, 1 more rep or 1 more set. Maybe reducing the rest time or changing the tempo of the rep, it doesn’t matter what we choose, just that we are working harder than last time to encourage the body to adapt.
Push yourself, that’s what you’re meant to be doing.
TO GROW, YOU NEED TO EAT MORE. A LOT MORE.
If you’re wanting to grow or build mass, you’re going to need to eat more. Training is a great place to start, as it gives your body the stimulus or motivation to adapt and grow, but without the building blocks from your diet it can’t do very much. The first go to should be protein, as that’s the bricks of our mass castle, but we also need to be eating plenty carbs and fats. These are what fuel the building process, and give us the energy to keep working hard.
If you’re a skinny guy, like me, then you need to be eating more. Much more.
Just because you’re eating more than your friends doesn’t mean we’ll grow at the same rate as them - we’re all individual and have different energy requirements. The easiest way to look at it is if you increase your intake but stay the same weight after a week or two, then you need to eat more. Just like the burning fat side of things, don’t jump in at the deep end and increase by a huge amount - this jump can be hard to sustain long term, and long term is how we make progress. Just add a little more each week, and monitor your weight/how you look. Adjust as required.
Sleeping and eating.
Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating enough of the right foods to recover from your workout?
Without enough sleep, our brain doesn’t get the chance to rest and process everything from the previous day, impacting our decisions, focus and how well we perform for the next 24 hours. If you’re training, chances are you’ll have a pretty naff session.
Without proper nutrients, enough protein to rebuild the micro tears in the muscles and enough carbs/fats to fuel the rebuilding process, our body isn’t going to be able to perform as well as it could. If you’re not eating enough, your body will start to eat itself, and without enough protein then say goodbye to your muscles and gainz.
This is a tricky spot if you’re trying to burn fat without losing muscle, however the key is to get plenty of protein in your diet (so you’re not losing muscle mass) and to only reduce carbs/fats by a small amount at a time (so you still have enough energy to train, but you’re taking in slightly less than you need so your body dips into and burns the fat stores), and gradually reducing it over several weeks (so it’s easier to adapt and stick to than dropping them all at once).