Since just about everyone carries a high definition camera in their pocket I encourage everyone to film themselves working out. Not all the time but at least enough so you can get a good idea of your technique or lack there of. Many people have a hard time being aware of where their body or body parts are in space. Watch someone trying to perform a good morning for RDL for the first time and how they can’t get the idea of pushing the hips back without excessive bending of the knees. They may not be able to feel this because they have never tried that motion before. By being able to immediately see what you looked like it can help people realize what they are doing wrong and/or implement coaching cues more effectively. In this gym we film a good bit and often review in slow motion immediately after the lift to work on small details especially in the Olympic lifts. It is difficult for anyone to feel their lower back rounding in a squat or being able to judge their own depth while looking straight ahead. You can’t really be a judge of the relationship of your hips and knees when looking at your own face. Cameras are great for this if you train by yourself. Even if you are inexperienced and don’t know anatomy very well most movements aren’t too complicated. If it looks wrong it most likely is. This doesn’t mean film every workout and post it online. There is a difference between analysis and vanity. Although, to write that I guess I performed an analysis of vanity.
(Originally appeared on Mogy.me)
I often get the same questions from trainers and trainees alike. It seems that people go through a stage in their journey of fitness when they think they are missing something. The biggest secret in this business is that there is no secret. Many magazines and supplement companies want you to think otherwise, that there are pills you aren’t taking, powders you aren’t drinking, or training methods that are going to change your life. None of this is true. If you look at magazines from 20 years ago you will see the same type of supplement ads. If they worked then where are the supplements now? If the training methods in those same magazines are so magical then why are people using different training methods now? What happened to all the perfect physiques that should have been created?
The basic principles of fitness are the same as they have always been. Perform resistance training to improve muscle quality. Eat less to lose weight. Perform aerobic activity to improve endurance. These will always be the same. As we advance with our knowledge of the human body and our knowledge of training we find small things that can make a difference but these things are very small. The average person in the gym doesn’t need to be concerned with things that will help them improved a percent or two. So many people waste so much time trying to find hidden training information on the internet or trying every supplement under the sun. Really all you have to do is go to the gym consistently and be conscious of what you eat and you will achieve most of your goals. Of course if you are a high level athlete or trying to achieve something that is at the limits of your genetic potential you will have to be conscious of every little detail but these people are few and far between.
We love the idea that there is some rouge trainer or scientist going against what everyone else is doing and making incredible gains. In fact we hear about them all the time. Over and over they fade into obscurity. Sure on occasion someone may respond with a great amount of muscle growth performing only 2 workouts a week for 20 minutes. This is the exception, not the rule. If you are betting on what side a flipped coin lands on do you pick that it lands on neither heads nor tails and instead lands upright on the edge? Of course not. The chance of that is so remote and goes against everything we know about probability and the well-established history of how a coin lands. So why would you do the same with some magic solution for fitness. Sure we want to believe that it isn’t simply hard work. It is fun to play the lottery but no one in their right mind quits their job because they think they will really win.
We all have the feeling that the secret is JUST out of our grasp or we just haven’t stumbled on it yet. If you are training with relative intelligence and your nutrition is decent then you already have it figured out. At some point be it getting below 8% bodyfat or getting your bench press over 400lbs you may need to start exploring very specific diets or programs but until then the secret is just a lot of hard work and consistency.
There is no magic supplement.
There is no magic program.
There is no magic trainer.
There is no magic diet.
Those who have figured that out are making more progress than you are because instead of second guessing themselves they are forging ahead. Training is hard. Dieting is harder. That is the way it is. Accept it without looking for a way out and you will make better progress than you ever have.
I don’t work out in commercial gyms too often but when I do I am shocked at some of the habits people have and what gyms allow people to get away with. While you can’t make people change, you can change yourself. If you do hopefully others will follow your example. So here are some items of what I consider proper gym etiquette.
- Rerack your weights.
Not doing this this should be grounds for revoking gym membership. This is simply picking up after yourself. Something we all learn to do as children. It takes very little effort and helps the next person. Some people might say that the person before them left the weights scattered around so they are just leaving it the way they found it. That leads us to our next item.
- Rerack someone else’s weights.
It won’t kill you to pick up a small area you are in. Lead by example. If someone left your area unorganized then organize it when you are putting your weights up. It only makes sense. Who cares if you didn’t make the mess? Be better than that. Most people who have a normally functioning brain will feel bad seeing you pick up after them and won’t make the same mistake again.
- Give your equipment to people who need it more than you.
If you are doing curls out of a squat rack for convenience there is nothing wrong with that. However, if someone is waiting to squat it is a deadly sin. Squat racks are for squatting. The same goes for deadlifting in front of a rack. You can deadlift anywhere. So you have to walk a few extra steps with weight. You are in a gym. Don’t be lazy.
- Wipe down the benches and seats you use.
Gyms are breeding ground for bacteria. Additionally no one wants to deal with your sweat grease.
- Don’t be an intimidating asshole.
No one cares how big you are or how much weight you can lift. Everyone starts somewhere. Just because you have 15 years of experience under your belt you don’t have to make the 15 year old feel more stupid that he or she already does trying to work out for the first time not knowing a clean from a curl. You aren’t in the gym to put on a show. You are there to workout. So is everyone else.
6. Leave the girls alone
I watched 3 different guys hit on a very attractive girl who was working her butt off. She clearly was not interested in a date and was there to get work done. It was a gym after all. I can’t imagine how distracting that would be. And remember mirrors work both ways fellas. She can see you staring at her like a creepy stalker.
Be courteous. Get your work done. Go home. Then everyone is happy.
Don’t go into a gym just to workout. Have a purpose. Have a goal. It shouldn’t be something you do just because you think you are supposed to do it. What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to be leaner? Be stronger? Look better? Just get a good sweat?
You should have two basic types of goals. Long term goals and short term. Or you can look at this as general and specific.
Looking good naked is a long term, broad goal.
Losing 5lbs by the end of the month is a specific goal aimed towards that purpose.
You accomplish the long term goal by accomplishing many small goals. Most of the time people have long term goals and they think they can just show up in the gym and they will happen.
Here is the important stuff…
- Short term goals must be specific and realistic
- Long term goals are general and realistic but can be a reach
- Have a plan
- Tell people what your goal is. Be accountable. Don’t keep it a secret. It is too easy to get out of if you do.
- Find people with similar goals.
- Don’t have too many at once and keep in mind some will work against each other. (Example: Lost weight gain. Gain muscle. But if you lose weight you will lose muscle. Pick one to concentrate on)
- Body goals are accomplished outside the gym as well. Remember it doesn’t end just because your workout did.
- Take action. Be ready to adapt if you plain is failing. Don’t give up or spin your wheels just because you had the wrong approach.
If you have been don’t have a plan or a goal you will fail because you have nothing to accomplish. Write it down. Share it no matter how embarrassing it is for you. The only real reason you don’t want to share it is because it gives you and excuse to give up and fail and no one will know. Don’t be that person. Be brave.
This is a long process. If you are serious about having a better performing and/or better looking body then you will be working out for a long time. I always tell clients to think about months and years rather than days and weeks. Beginners will make tremendous gains in a short period of time. This is the exception. Olympic Weightlifters are happy if they add a few kilos to their total per year. Bodybuilders will normally compete around the same weight most of their careers and anyone who has worked for more than a year consistently knows how long it takes to see real gains.
Once you get to a certain level gains are made in small baby steps. Yes, there are exceptions to this but I am talking about advanced lifters or fitness enthusiast. When I get new people even if they are experienced they make large gains quickly. This is simply because I am correcting the mistakes they made in the past and they are introduced to organized training. Once that honeymoon is over they will stagnate. Then you find some small way to improve. Then stagnate again. Welcome to the world of working out. You should always strive for improvement but that doesn’t have to be a bigger arm, leaner legs or more weight. It can be small things like better form on exercises or to work on flexibility more. Think about it…
Let’s say you can bench press 315lbs
If you could add 5lbs to your bench press every month that doesn’t seem like much. However, at the end of the year your bench would be up 60lbs to 375
3 years = 495lbs
4 years = 555lbs
5 years = 615lbs
6 years = 675lb
If it was that easy everyone would bench 1000lbs. It is a constant battle to improve. You have to use smarter and smarter training methods and treat your body better and better for these small bits of improvement.
Anyone struggling with fat loss has experienced the same thing. You have 50lbs to lose. The first 20 come off quickly and then you are stuck. Instead of dieting smarter you do the same thing and get frustrated so you stop dieting all together. You gain ten pounds, get back to dieting, lose them quickly but are stuck again. This pattern goes on until you give up all together. However, it is you who has failed to accept what a battle this will be and that is a long process.
· The same training programs won’t keep working
· The same diets won’t keep working.
· It will get harder and harder and harder every year.
The improvement of elite athletes tend to look like steps. A push then a coast. These are people who have all day to dedicate to improving. They are fighting the same battle as everyone else. They have doctors, trainers, technology, physiotherapist, and everything else at their disposal but are still struggling for those small improvements. Then best thing you can do is learn how to work with your body instead of trying to force it to improve by doing the same thing you always do. You may feel like you deserve credit for putting in tremendous effort but no one gives credit to the fly who keeps bumping into the glass to get outside.
It isn’t easy to keep a six pack when you are 45. It isn’t easy to get your body back after having 3 kids in 5 years. It isn’t easy getting your deadlift up another 100lbs when you already can pull 650lbs but people do these things all the time. It is work and accepting that it isn’t easy. It is a long term relationship. The honeymoon is over. You have to grow together. You have to accept each other for what you are. You have to constantly work to improve.
It isn’t always easy. It isn’t always fun but if you are smart and you accept you are in it for the long haul then you will have something extraordinary.
A very common theme especially for beginners is trying to have a body like someone else. They want to look like a certain celebrity or athlete so they search high and wide for the training methods they use. This has never made sense to me. This is like trying to have someone else’s face. You are born with a certain blue print. The shape of your muscles and length of limbs etc. is determined by this. It is foolish to think that if you workout just like Joe Athlete then you will look just like him. Or if you follow the diet of Jane Sexygirl you will get her butt. You are unique. Some people respond best to higher reps. Some respond better to lower reps. Some can more carb tolerant than others. Some can recover from more frequent workouts. The trick is to find what works for you. It is great to look to others for inspiration but thinking you will be like them will only lead to disappointment.
Another thing to consider is that when you read someone’s workout or diet, you aren’t reading their history. Sergio Olivia was a great bodybuilder but he started out Olympic lifting. Magnus Samuelsson was an arm wrestler before he was the world’s strongest man. When you read a workout online or in a magazine you are looking at snapshot of what they are doing at the time (assuming it is a truthful article). How many people do you know workout the same way year after year? The work outs you read are good for ideas but you don’t have to copy it. Just because it worked for them for a period of time doesn’t mean it is going to work for you.
If it was that easy to look like someone else then the world wouldn’t be as interesting. Think of how boring it would be if everyone looked the same. Or if all singers had the same voice. Or if all athletes ran at the same speed. Embrace these differences and see where it takes you. Maybe your physique idol lifts heavy and take long rest. If you respond better to shorter, lighter workouts then do it. It is great and necessary to experiment and find what works for you but don’t do something just because someone else is. The principles of diet and exercises will stay the same. If you want to be bigger and/or stronger you need to perform some kind of resistance training. If you want to lose weight then you are going to need to restrict calories somewhat. That’s it. The rest is filling in the details.
A note to the ladies:
You are beautiful. Maybe you need to lose weight or gain muscle or both but please stop trying to obtain something that isn’t possible for you. Stop getting cut open and stuffing your body or getting fat sucked out just to look like someone you aren’t. If you work hard you can be lean, keep your curves, and I promise you will look great. It takes HARD work and time but you can do it. You might not have the genetics for the perfect bubble butt you want but you can build a killer butt that no guy would turn down (or girl if you go that way). Stop looking at other women. Look at yourself, get to work and be amazed at what you can do with the body you were given.
When it comes to your physique or athletic performance progress isn’t linear. When you first start out progress is easy and everything works. However, as you approach the limits of what your body can do progress slows. Once you could put 10lbs on your squat a week but now you are happy with 10lbs in 4 months. The better you get, the fancier you have to be to make progress. This is why you see world records in many sports being slowly chipped away instead of blown away. Eventually your progress will look like a series of steps and plateaus. It is important to remember the basic idea of what you are trying to do in the gym.
Provide a stimulus sufficient to cause the organism to adapt.
As it adapts over time, it takes more stimulus to cause an adaptation. Therefore, what you did to get your squat to 225lbs isn’t going to get your squat to 600lbs. Or what got you to 10% fat won’t get you to 5%. The problem with this very basic formula is that people being creatures of habit tend to not change enough to give their body enough of a stimulus. This doesn’t mean working out more. It may mean fixing weaknesses you have been ignoring. It may mean doing less work and recovering more. Your workouts will be a series of pushes and backing off. Push your body to the edge. Back off and let it heal. Progress is like steps. Small goals that lead to bigger goals. The point is that it is OK to get stuck. It just isn’t ok to stay stuck.
This idea is expanded on here…
Not enough attention is paid to coming down after a workout. There are lots of things we do to wake up and arouse our central nervous system but not enough on how to come down. We have limited abilities to stay in an excited state which should be respected. Time and time again people have learned that there is no way to get around this without consequences. The truth is many people don’t know how to relax. Sitting in front of a tv or computer screen is still quite stimulating. The idea of relaxing with your thoughts seems to be a lost art. People get into a cycle of drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverage to wake up and drinking alcohol to come down. They stress the body constantly throwing drugs into it and then wonder why they seem to NEED caffeine to wake up. It is a difficult cycle to break. If you get at least decent sleep you shouldn’t NEED a pre workout. They certainly can help but if you are taking them before every workout you may have more problems than you realize.
One of the reasons massage helps athletes isn’t just because your muscles are being massaged but because of the calming effect and atmosphere. It is one of the few times people will listen to calming music and just let their mind go. In world we live today this is more important than ever. It is ok to do nothing. No phone, no tv, no computer, just you and that mess you call a brain. If nothing is too much for you, then get a massage, try yoga, listen to calm music, write in a journal anything you can think of that will allow you to relax. This is a way to be fair to your system. If you want it to be super awake, then you need to let it be super calm. You can only push so hard for so long before you crash. The most successful people have found ways to have balance. Professional athletes sometimes have multiple training sessions per day but they also take a lot of rest and naps. The body can do amazing things if you know how to let it. Don’t complain about your lack of progress if you are going a hundred miles per hour at all times. Give something to your body so it can give something back to you.
Whether you are performing a fast lift like a clean or a slow lift like a curl, you should always be in control. If you feel like the weight has you and you don’t have the weight then you are going too heavy. If you feel like for some reason you are unstable when lifting then you need to evaluate your technique and your program. You may need some specialized exercises to work small muscles that may be weak. Remember that your body will always try to take the easy way out. You have to make it do the opposite in the gym. There is a difference between pulling yourself up to a bar or doing a pullup to increase back size and strength. You have to be in control. Are you pulling with your back or using your arms more? Do you go all the way down and let your back stretch? Can you pause on the way up, at the top, and on the way down? If you can’t do these things then you aren’t working out a muscle as much as working a movement. Cleans, snatches and the like and movements that we train. Exercises like curls, pullups, and pushdowns are to train muscles. Know the difference and make sure YOU are in control and not the weight.
In a typical gym you often see more people talking or texting than training. These same people wonder why they put so much time in at the gym and make so little progress. If you want to treat the gym like a social club that is fine but don’t complain about your lack of progress. If you have a one minute rest between sets this doesn’t mean rest one minute then respond to a text then do your set. If you are halfway serious about improving then focus on your workout. Get it done then socialize. It has gotten to the point where people seem offended if you don’t want to talk to them while you are working out. If this is you, remember that they aren’t being rude if they came to a gym to workout. You are being rude assuming that they want to talk.
Next time you are working out, try giving yourself specific rest periods between sets and exercises. Put your phone on airplane mode and use it only as a stopwatch. If you are training with someone tell them to save their stories until before or after you workout. See how much faster and harder your workout is.