A lot has changed since I first started training, the biggest thing being how I train.
Well it’s 2019 and I am welcoming it with open arms, 2018 was interesting, it had a lot of ups and downs but thank goodness it is done and over with. A new year means a fresh start to hit some goals and try to make some much needed improvements, for myself I would like to get to my show ready 200lbs, buy another house and a handful of work related goals.
For a lot of people the new year brings resolutions, and as much as we all hate the packed gyms, it is wonderful seeing all these new faces starting to flock to the gym. I know even for myself going to a new gym, that I’m not familiar with, can be a little nerve racking. You wonder around trying to find the equipment you need, you don’t know any one there, and “where the heck are you hiding the water fountains!”
But what’s worse then going to a different gym? Starting the gym for the first time! So I applaud all of you who are just starting your fitness journey and encourage you to keep it up, I promise it gets better. That first awkward bit can be painful, I very vividly remember it myself. Walking into a crowded gym to not one familiar face and no clue what you are doing.
You watch some people and try to mimic what they are doing, looking at the pictures on the machines trying to interpret where you are suppose to be feeling this. “Are people looking at me?” “Oh no am I doing this wrong?” With so many people starting their fitness journey it seems appropriate to write a post to give these people some guidance. If I could go back in time this is what I would tell my beginner self just starting fresh at the gym.
Bro’s unite and let the competition begin!
This first one applies more to males then females from my experience, with that being said I’m sure there are cases for each gender. This one is very relevant when you have the bros going to the gym to get all swole together. You see them all crowd around that bench press where it goes from “lets gain some muscle together”, to a competition of who can lift the most.
That brings me to the first thing I would tell little Cody walking into the gym for the first time. Thou shall not ego lift! Now this is not even a beginner problem but a gym crisis across the board, so beginners rest assured, its not just you breaking this cardinal rule. I almost blame the media partially for this one, look through any magazine, scroll Instagram, or jump on any forum, there are the self proclaimed gurus preaching the importance of lifting heavy. “You need to push yourself and lift heavy as you can to grow” but what they fail to mention is this is only beneficial if you are moving the weight properly.
Now I will be the first to admit it, I did the exact same thing, get together with all the bros and it instantly became a strong man competition, usually until someone got hurt. I thought injuries just came with weight lifting and that was normal since I always heard the knee and elbow problems everyone had. Oh to be young and dumb.
What I know now is how you lift the weight is way more important than how much weight you are lifting. Lifting to failure doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t lift the weight anymore like I always thought before, it actually means you lift it until you break form. When you break form you have technically failed the movement, “I go by the 3 strikes your out method. 3 consecutive lifts with bad form and I have failed.”
And not one rep was actually done that day
This one always makes me laugh, usually first seen at a bench press or leg press machine near you. You glance over and see a large amount of weight set up and it makes your curious “what kind of monster is actually moving that small car with their legs?” Scanning the gym you don’t see any superheros walking around, there doesn’t appear to be any strongmen here, then you finally see who is “lifting” the ludicrous weight and to your surprise hes only half your size.
That sparks interest and you then feel the need to watch this person, “after 10+ years in the gym I couldn’t do it”, but hey maybe he knows something I don’t. He climbs on the machine, you can tell he has the music blaring as he is zoned in like this is a gold medal event. He starts slapping his legs, almost to draw attention to himself showing off this mighty stack he is about to conqueror. Holy crap he got it off the stops! “Maybe he is one of those freakishly strong people”…. and the first rep goes down…. well maybe that was just a test rep to get used to the weight. But nope, more just like it continue to come. He gets up and looks stoked, talking himself up and how he accomplished some big feat. My excitement drops as I finally realize not one full rep was done that day.
Which brings me to the next thing I know I was guilty for as a beginner just like most young men. Just like form is so important for targeting the proper muscle, so is the range of motion the weight travels. I see it so often, people not touching their chest on the bench press, knees no where close to their chest on leg press, squats no where near parallel, and the list goes on.
Range of motion is so important for building an aesthetically pleasing body that looks complete. For years I made this mistake and when I finally got to the point of changing that habit, I almost had to start from fresh again. The top half of the exercise was easy and I had all the strength, but when I went deep with the weight I was still weak and couldn’t move it. I eventually had to drop my ego and start lifting properly with a full range of motion for each exercise.
As you can guess this really hits the ego hard and is almost like starting from fresh again so my word of advise to beginning is “please make sure you are moving the weight through a full range of motion.” You will build a way more full looking muscle and wont have to go back and start from fresh like I did.
Don’t you look strong swinging those 70’s
We are starting to see a trend with all of these and this one is no different. Do not let your ego determine the amount of weight you should be lifting, do not let what your friend is lifting determine what you should be lifting, leave the egos at the door.
As a beginner there are the essential lifts which are common across the board, bench press and curls. The latter of the two is where this next mistake always pops its ugly head in the gym. The bros go grab their weight to perform some “curls for the girls” so of course it has to be heavy to show off how mighty they really are.
They grab those fifties and start doing something that resembles a curl but somehow became a whole body movement. “I mean if you cant lift it add some momentum and some body arching to get that weight up right?”….. That will for sure impress the girls and my bros watching me move all this weight. Until my elbow is fried that is.
Which brings me to the next golden rule to properly building muscle, thou shall not use momentum to lift. If you simply can’t lift the weight that is totally fine, it is way better to lift in a slow and controlled manner anyway. This is going to prevent injury, which your body will thank you for later. It’s not a whole lot of fun getting into something, starting to see some progression and have a nasty injury pop up.
Most of us don’t start lifting weights to become the strongest man or women on the planet, but rather to look a certain way. Lifting the weight in a slower and more controlled manner will build a more full looking and better developed muscle, which in all reality is the look most are striving for. So the lesson here, I would go tell myself to “drop those 70lbs dumbbells, stop being a dumb ass, and lift them properly!”
“Bro trust me, we don’t need legs when we got a big chest”
When I was younger I Idolized Arnold Schwarzenegger, it may have been all the bad ass movies he was in that I grew up watching or just the fact he looked like the hulk. Whatever it was, I thought he was the man and he was my first exposure to bodybuilding. Now when we look back at his physique, “what really stood out on him?” That enormous chest and those meaty biceps. So naturally as any kid who knows nothing about lifting weights, pre-google days, would do, I worked chest and biceps pretty well all the time.
What I didn’t realize is how much Arnold prided himself for a well balanced, proportionate physique and he did much more then just chest and biceps.
We see the memes all the time of people with huge upper bodies and skinny legs, “don’t skip leg day.” There is actually a lot of truth to this I later learned, every time I seem to hit legs a little harder my upper body starts to grow with it. I mean they are the biggest muscles in your body and neglecting them is like leaving a big boost of natural testosterone untouched.
The amount of darn time I have had to focus on my back now to compensate and correct for all that chest work I did is ridiculous, so what I would tell the Arnold loving me back in the day. “Don’t be the weird self inflicted hunch-back guy and work more then just chest.” A balanced body is way more aesthetically pleasing and will gain strength a heck of a lot faster then working a single muscle group.
It could be the supplements, it could be the steroids.
Before we had cell phones readily available with all things internet at your fingertips all the time, I bought my share of magazines. It could really go one of two ways, fitness magazines or car magazines. That is first where I got introduced to the big world of supplements and all they have to offer, or so they claimed anyway. Seeing all these professional athlete endorse these products, testifying how well they work, it was clear I needed to go get some supplements. Then started the supplement and vitamin kick where I would spend stupid amounts of money trying to improve my physique, buying all these products that would make me more awesome and look like the monsters in the magazines. “Later I learned it was less the supplements and more the steroids doing that for them.” After trying almost every kind of supplement the local stores had to offer I came to a halting conclusion, they really were not worth the money. The claims they make may have some truth to them, but in such a small amounts that you honestly will hardly notice a thing taking them. Now I am not saying that all supplements don’t work, but in all honesty you can do way more with just diet changes than pretty well anything on the market. People just starting to work out seem to really rely on these supplements and think they need them to grow, I see young kids all the time in the gym talking about their supplement stacks. The thing that they should really be working on though is their diet, that is 100% the biggest factor when it comes weight lifting. So don’t be fooled by these athletes promoting supplements (for money) because if you ask any one of them how they obtained their physique I can guarantee you they will say “consistency and diet.” Even all the steroids in the world will not help you grow if you are not feeding your body the energy it takes to grow. Producing muscle takes a lot of energy and without a proper diet, full of protein, keeping your body fed, good luck. 10 years of training and lesson learned, don’t waste your money on supplements, spend it on food instead. Supplements are not necessary to grow but can make life a little easier some times, just as the name implies, they are a supplement.
Just like the 10yr challenge, I have changed for he better.
So just like the recent 10 year challenge, a lot has changed in how I train over the past 10 years. I have tried so many different techniques and diets since then and have learned what works and what doesn’t work.
“I know if I could go back in time I would for sure change how I train for the better and who knows how much better my physique could be by now.”
So for everyone who is just starting their fitness journey lets have a little recap of the things to be mindful about when you step into the gym next time. Lifting heavy is not as important as lifting properly. When training make sure you are getting a full range of motion to build a stronger physique. Using momentum to lift weight is less effective then lifting weights in a slow and controlled manner. Ensure you are working all the muscle groups (even legs) to grow a proportionate body faster. The last but not least, don’t waste your money on supplements, food will make you reach your goals much faster, so spend it on that instead.
If you make sure to keep these things in mind I promise you that you will grow a better physique with less injuries. Really who doesn’t want that? Training hard is always an option but the better option is train hard and smart.