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16 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Weight Training.

Pre-intro

It’s  been quite a while since I’ve last posted on my blog. This means I’ve been pretty busy (most of the time ;) )! I’ve been writing, reading, travelling, working for school and off course training quite a lot lately. I’m overloading my body and mind with too much stress and I felt my production capacity started to slow down. So I took a long weekend off and that was exactly what I needed. Although I didn’t really “rest” much, it did feel great to be away from all the clutter in my life!

Anyway, I’m glad to be home and able to work on things that inspire me once again.

Intro

In an earlier post I’ve been talking about how I’m going to dive a bit deeper into my passion. Well consider this my first real attempt! At the moment I have gathered three years of experience in the gym and I can honestly say I’ve made quite some progress (progress  video in progress ;)  ). By becoming stronger and more experienced I’ve also made a ton of mistakes. During the first few months I was wandering around the gym aimlessly, didn’t know what to do and didn’t have the courage to ask for advice because that would make me look “stupid”. Looking back now I can honestly say that was one of the biggest mistakes I made.

Anyway, all those mistakes have allowed me to grow in my craft. It has given me a list of the things that don’t work for me and the things that do.
So recently I’ve been thinking about what I would’ve done differently if I could start all over again.  What are the key elements I’ve learned over the past three years?  So finally I decided to make a list out of them to share with you guys.

This article has gotten quite lengthy (almost 5000 words!) and I don’t care that much for dividing it in smaller parts if I can say it in one post ;) If you don’t have that much time you can just skip to the end where I’ve provided a small summary of this post (but then you’ll be missing out on a lot of valuable tips of course ;) ) or you can just save it with Evernote to read it later

Anyway I’ve written this post so you can get a decent head start in this “health-game” because I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I used to make. So without further ado, here are my “16 things I wish I knew before I started weight training”

Note that these tips are geared towards increasing strength and building muscle, not losing weight.

1) Nutrition is key

healthy-header

This one took a lot of time for me to really sink in. My diet was off for the first two years and I’m still adjusting my diet every week as I learn more about nutrition.

What you put into your body is literally what is going to form your body in the next couple of years. Your cells renew itself continuously and eventually your body will consist out the food you’ve put into it. So don’t expect to have a strong, healthy body if you don’t supply it with what it needs. Basically a crappy input means you are going to get a crappy output (Makes sense?)

If you don’t educate yourself on basic nutrition, you are pretty much wasting your time in the gym. Or your results will be sub-optimal to say the least.

You need to be in a caloric surplus (meaning you need to eat more calories in a day than your body uses) if you are looking to gain muscle. You will need to calculate your TDEE (Total daily energy expenditure) and eat about 20% more than that for optimal muscle gain whilst minimizing the fat you store in your body.

Pro-tip # 1: Be sure you get in enough calories if you are looking to gain muscle.

If you want to take it more seriously, you can also calculate your macro-nutrient requirements for optimal results! If you work out decently and eat a surplus of calories consistently, you will grow. No doubt about that. But you could be doing even better if you give your body exactly (or at least close to) what it needs!  This will reduce the body fat you will store and optimize lean muscle growth. To make it really easy for you, I’ve included a link where you can easily calculate everything  ->  here. Props to iifym.com!

Fats

Many people tend to think that eating fat makes you fat. Nothing is further from the truth. Fats are essential in any diet as they supply a great deal of energy to the body and are key in absorbing vitamin A, D, E & K. The only problem with fat is that people tend to eat the wrong kinds of fat. These are the saturated and trans-fats. To improve your overall health you will need to eat primarily unsaturated fats (mono & poly-unsaturated) which can be found in nuts, vegetable oils, fish and avocados.

It’s also best to limit saturated fat (which can be found in animal meats, butter and dairy products) and avoid trans-fat altogether (which can be found in fried foods). You need to eat some form of saturated fat but only about 1/3 of your total fat intake per day should come from saturated fat. The other two-thirds should come from mono & poly-unsaturated fats.

Protein

Protein has a ton of functions in your body. Protein is what provides support for our cells and allow it to move. Immunoglobulin (a protein) will help your body fight of foreign particles like viruses and bacteria. They also allow us to transport atoms and small molecules throughout our body. When it comes to weight training, proteins are the building blocks of your body and will allow your body to repair itself after you’ve broken down your muscle fibers. Your body will overcompensate by repairing your muscle fibers which in turn results in stronger, denser and bigger muscles.

Basically your body has many uses for protein and therefore it is key to eat enough of protein packed foods.  Think chicken, steak, salmon, tuna, turkey and ground beef to name a few.

Complex carbohydrates

Carbohydrates should be your main source of energy. Opt for complex carbs that release energy slowly throughout your body. Complex carbohydrates can be found in oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa and whole wheat produce for example.

Limit your intake of simple carbohydrates (sugar, lactose, fructose) during the day. That basically means you should avoid an excess of sugary beverages like coca cola, Fanta, ice tea and energy drinks and sweets as they provide little nutrients to the body and are essentially “empty calories”. The best time to eat simple sugars is during your pre and post-workout nutrition. It is best to consume them before and after your training session, because they can spike your energy levels for a good training session and refill your reserves  after you’ve been depleted.

Water

Instead of drinking these high-sugar beverages it is better to supply your body with all the water it needs. During the day and while you are sleeping you lose a lot of water so it essential to keep yourself hydrated if you want to avoid fatigue, constipation or headaches. The RDA (recommended daily amount) for water is about 3 liters for men and 2,2 liters for women.  (And it’s recommended to drink even more if you exercise intensively)

Personally I drink about four liters every day to ensure I replenish my lost water reserves. Two 1,5 liter bottles during the day and another liter during my training. A great way to check if you need to drink more water is by looking at your urine. If it is dark yellow you are dehydrated and need to drink more until your urine is crystal clear.

Alcohol and smoking

If you are really serious about gaining some serious mass (naturally) you should consider ditching bad habits like smoking and excessive drinking. Smoking hurts your cardiovascular endurance and constricts arteries which in turn limits the supply of nutrients and oxygen to your muscles, hindering its growth. Smoking also suppresses your appetite which isn’t a good thing since you’ll be needing those extra amount of calories to repair your body.

Drinking alcohol lowers your natural production of growth hormone and testosterone. Two key components in building muscle. I’m not saying you can’t enjoy a few cold ones once in a while with your friends but if you are really serious about building strength and size it’s best to skip on it altogether (IMO, don’t shoot me ;) ).

2) Progressive Overload

weight training notes

The most important thing you have to do is to keep track off the progress you’re making. You should ask yourself if you can do more weight each training. Can you do more reps? Can you pump out another set ? Are you getting stronger? Are you getting heavier?

The way I do this is by keeping a training log in which I write down my workouts. This way I can easily keep track of the progress I’m making.

Pro-tip # 2: Write down in a training log just how much you reps, sets and weight you can do and try to beat your last performance every workout.

3) Don’t Skip Leg Day

weight training legs

When people start working out they mostly don’t work on their legs. They focus on the “beach muscles” like their chest and arms to impress the girls without realizing that that is actually counter-productive!

If you want to build muscle it is key  you work on those legs! The more muscle fibers you stimulate the more hormones your body will produce to help your muscles grow. And since your legs are one of the biggest muscle groups in your body. They have a ton (yes, I counted them!) of muscle fibers which you can stimulate so your body produces more testosterone and growth hormone. These hormones will in turn affect the overall growth of all your muscles.

Pro-tip # 3: Train your legs with intensity!

4) Get enough sleep!

weight training rest

You don’t grow in the gym. You grow in your bed. You can’t keep hammering on your body expecting super-fast results. Realize that rest is equally import to training. Give your body the time to recuperate after you’ve trained it. This will allow it to grow stronger so you can train it with more intensity the next time. Aim for about 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep (text-book). Personally, I sleep about 6 to 7 hours at night but studies show It is better to sleep a little bit longer. But in my opinion everyone is different and needs different sleeping patterns.

The best way to find out how much sleep your body needs (IMO) is by waking up at the same time every day (also weekends & holidays). This will give your body a set amount of time to rest and will condition it to fall asleep faster. This way you’ll be able to fall asleep almost instantly when you are tired. Which in turn leads to a more optimal sleep pattern and more energy (= happy face).

Your body adjusts itself (by getting tired, earlier) to the wake-up time you’ve set for yourself. This way you can figure out how much sleep your body really needs (So if you get sleepy around 23:00 and you always set your alarm clock for 7:00, your body needs 8 hours of sleep.)

Pro-tip # 4: Get between 7 to 8 hours of sleep (or figure out for yourself how much you really need)

5) Get a coach

weight training coach

There is so much misinformation and “bro-science” passed around in the gym that it becomes difficult to know what the best way is to reach the results you are after. You shouldn’t just believe what someone says just because they are more muscular than you. Don’t be scared (like I used to be ;) ) and ask some advice from someone who has achieved what you desire and is knowledgeable about diet & training. Just stick to their advice and block out the rest. This way you can prevent paralysis by analysis and make the most results in the shortest amount of time.

You can probably find a coach or trainer in every gym you visit that’ll happily help you with your training goals! This is probably one of the best tips I can possibly give you. Stop trying to figure everything out by yourself and ask some professional advice.

Pro-tip # 5: Ask advice about training and nutrition from an experienced coach.

6) Ignore Judgment

weight training judgment

Everybody is in the gym for the same reason. Namely to improve themselves. No-one really cares if you have 20 inch biceps or not. No-one cares if you are a overweight (or at least they shouldn’t). You shouldn’t care either what others think about you. The only thing that is really important is the effort you put into your training. The will to create a better, stronger you. If people do judge you, you shouldn’t give them any attention. Just do the training and exercises you set out to do and the world will move out of your way.

We’ve all experienced this at some point in our life. We start something new and aren’t 100% competent in it. This will usually lower our confidence and will make us feel inferior and intimidated by others. STOP that right when you start to feel it! In the end it really doesn’t matter how good you are at something or what others think about you. The most important thing is that you actually show up and try to make a positive change in your life. To try and grow as a person. Just focus on your training and nutrition and results will follow. Nobody can judge the effort you put in your training.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great” – Zig Ziglar

You shouldn’t compare yourself to people who are further down the road. Compare yourself only to the person in the mirror. He/she is the one to beat. Don’t feel superior or inferior to anyone in the gym.  Look up, stand tall and walk proud.

Pro-tip # 6: Ignore judgment for other people and only compare yourself to the person in the mirror

7) Don’t Skip Cardio

weight training cardio

You shouldn’t solely focus on weight training. Doing cardio will ensure that your cardiovascular health stays up to par with your physique. (This way you wouldn’t only look healthy but also be in great shape ;) ) Endurance also adds to overall health as it keeps arteries from clogging and keeps your heart pumping strong and lowers your blood pressure. It is possible to become a massive, muscular man but you can’t really enjoy the benefits of your training if you are always out of breath just by walking or climbing a flight of stairs (IMO, again don’t shoot me for this)

I usually go for a run in the morning on an empty stomach. I don’t really do it for the health benefits but rather because it makes me feel very awake and alive. Moving , breathing, a high heart rate and a bit of cold are all surefire ways to kick-start your day. All wrapped in one single exercise! Maybe you should try a morning run sometime (or maybe you shouldn’t, it’s all up to you!)

Pro-tip # 7: Do some cardio!

8) Always Implement Compounds! 

weight training compound

Doing compound lifts (exercises that utilize multiple muscle groups at once) will ensure you hit the maximum amount of muscle fibers for optimal growth. The three exercises that should always be a part of your routine should be: squat, bench press and deadlift. Other compound exercises I’ve grown a liking to are: dips, lunges, standing barbell press and pull-ups. These are all “natural” movements that will stimulate your body in growing stronger.

I always build my workouts around those three main exercises as they have really helped me get closer to my goal. (besides that, doing heavy deadlifts makes you feel like a badass haha :D)

Pro-tip # 8: Focus on compound movements

9) Focus on training

weight training focus

I see so many people in the gym talking, calling, playing games, browsing the internet or checking facebook. The gym is for one reason and one reason only and that is training. Leave your phone at home. You shouldn’t be texting or calling people when you scheduled that time to work on your goals. Don’t take pictures of yourself flexing in the mirror to post on facebook (seriously don’t). Take your training seriously and block out any distractions. Otherwise you will only be wasting your valuable time (and the time of others if you are occupying machines)

I always listen to music on my ipod whilst I train and leave my cellphone at home or in the locker room. This way I can get some nice clean focus on what should be done and nothing that can distract me from doing the things I came in to do.

Pro-tip # 10: Focus!

10) Repetition Range

weight training range

If you are looking to build strength you should aim for a rep range between 1 to 6 reps. If you want to train your muscle endurance you should opt for 15+ repetitions. If you are focusing on hypertrophy (muscle growth) you should aim for a rep range between 8 to 12 reps., the last three reps should be really difficult and mildly uncomfortable. Give your best shot in those difficult reps because they can really make the difference! When you feel like you can’t do any more reps, try to squeeze out another one ;) .

At the moment I’m doing five sets of six repetitions to increase my overall strength whilst also focusing on building lean muscle mass. I’ve noticed I’m making the most progress when my rep range is between 6 and 8 reps.

Pro-tip # 10: Use a rep range suited to your goals.

11) Use Full ROM!

weight training ROM

Always be sure to use good form with all exercises. If you don’t know what the correct form is for a particular exercise, you should ask a trainer or instructor in your gym or you can go to this link and look for instructional videos for any body part you want!  Be sure that you are in control of the weight and not the other way around. That means slowly lowering the weight during the eccentric faze and be explosive during the concentric part of the exercise. A good rule of thumb is two counts up and four down.

I’ve already seen so many people bending their backs and swinging their weights like there’s no tomorrow. If you want to avoid injury it is best to train with a lower weight in comparison to almost breaking your back whilst trying to curl an impossible amount of weight. That doesn’t mean an occasional cheat-curl isn’t permitted to squeeze out that last rep. Just be sure you don’t need a spot for your first set and you’ll be fine.

Pro-tip # 11: Control the weights instead of letting the weights control you!

12)   Variate Your Training

weight training variety

If you notice you aren’t growing, even after you are doing everything else right that means you’ve hit a plateau. The best way to break through a plateau is just changing up your routine totally. This will stimulate your body to grow even further. Try a full-body routine, Try some plyometrics, Try a totally different split, change training frequency ( and maybe even take a week of if you feel over-trained.) The key to breaking through plateaus is by keeping your body guessing!

Personally I change my routine every four to five weeks depending on how much progress I’ve been able to make with that certain routine.

Pro-tip # 12: Change your training routine/frequency when you aren’t progressing any further (four to five weeks should be adequate) 

13) Give Your All

weight training effort

Give your all when you are training. Don’t be afraid to sweat a little or to go to failure. If you want to grow you will have to give your body a reason to grow. Until you give your body a stimulus to overcome/handle a certain challenge it won’t change. Give it a signal that says “Oh shit, this weight is damn heavy, I’ll better get stronger to overcome this next time”.

This might be mildly uncomfortable but the reward (mentally as physically) is definitely worth the effort. Pain is only temporary while the benefits you gain from improving yourself last a lot longer! So I encourage you to run that extra mile or push out another rep because those are the ones that make the difference.

The person that really inspires me to give all I have and to become the person I want to be is Greg Plitt. He is an American fitness model, actor and former army ranger. On his website he shares all kinds of motivational and instructional videos that have really inspired me to train with intensity. My favorite video of him is this one (what it means to give your all).  You should definitely check it out.

Pro-tip # 13: Train with intensity

14) Spread Meals

weight training frequency

Instead of eating three big meals a day you should spread them throughout the day. This will raise your body’s metabolism which will in turn make you burn more calories while you are resting. Aim for six or seven smaller meals throughout the day. Increasing meal frequency will also prevent binge-eating because you don’t build up that much hunger when you are constantly eating. This will make it easier for you to keep your diet in check!

Some scientists also state that your body can only absorb x amount nutrients at a given time and that the rest can’t be used (so your body just excretes it). Others also say that you need to eat every two hours or your body will start catabolizing (breaking down) your muscles to use as fuel. I for one am convinced both of these statements are false. Our body will always tap into our fat reserves first before we start cannibalizing our own muscles. The human body is much more efficient than what we give it credit for.

Another reason why I spread my meals is because I have a high metabolism which makes it rather difficult for me to reach a caloric surplus since I burn calories at a high rate. Because of this I need to eat quite a lot of food every day to reach a caloric surplus (and thus actually building some muscle). it is pretty much impossible to spread my calorie requirements over three main meals.

Pro-tip # 14: Increase meal frequency

15) Just Stick To The Basics

weight training basics

Every day there are manufacturers coming out with brand new products and supplements that will “give you the body you’ve always dreamed of”. They promise incredibly fast results with a minimal amount of effort. I recommend staying away from catchphrases like “build 50lbs of muscle in 5 weeks” or “lose 50lbs of fat in 5 weeks”. Also stay away from any product that has trademarked ingredients in their formula especially if they promote that ingredient as a “magical” ingredient that will give your body you want. (We don’t live in the enchanted forest last time I checked.)

Basically, the rule of thumb I use when it comes to supplements is this: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going” – Beverly sills

My recommendation is to just stick to the absolute basics. These include a multivitamin supplement that contains 100% or more of the RDA/RDI of the thirteen essential vitamins and some useful doses of trace minerals (25% -> 100%).

Another basic supplement I would recommend are omega-3 capsules as they provide optimal brain functioning and many other positive effects (positive effects of omega 3). Aim for about 2000mg of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) + DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) combined.

And the last one I would recommend is a high quality whey protein blend. This will make it easier for you to meet your protein requirements (plus it is also a lot more convenient on the go).

Pro-tip # 15: Be critical when you buy supplements

16) Motivation Is Key

weight training motivation
“Nothing more motivating than a picture of some pretty clouds” – me

The best way to stay motivated is by tracking where you’ve been and how far you’ve come. Take pictures of your body. Measure yourself, weigh and analyze your body into the smallest details and write everything down. Write down the date, your weight, your height, physiological stats and put it on a place you pass by frequently (fridge, cupboards, bed,… .)

When you feel demotivated you can always look at these pictures and see how far you’ve come. It will make you remember why you started your journey to begin with and push you even further. This will ensure you are making progress!

There cannot be any motivation without a compelling reason to do so. My advice to you would be to write down exactly why you come through the gym door. Why do you choose to be in the gym while you could be at home doing something far more comfortable or fun. Is it to test yourself? To improve your health and feel better? To improve your confidence in overcoming difficult challenges? Think deep and let this come from the heart. Print it out and keep it close. When motivation has abandoned you, reread all the reasons why you’ve decided to go to the gym and feel the fire rekindle inside you (if not, you’ve probably deserved a break ;) )

It is going to take some time before you  get to where you want to be! If you are planning on adding 30lb of muscle in the next three months you got another thing coming ;) Just make sure your diet and training are in check and you’ll be good to go.

Sometimes you might feel demotivated because you aren’t seeing the results you want to see. These are the times you need to persist. You must really believe that you are able to change your body if you just give it some more time. I strongly believe that the power of your mind is what will determine if you succeed in any endeavor in life. I’ve written some more thoughts on persistence in a previous post (power of persistence).

Pro-tip # 16: Stay Motivated!

Essence

A quick recap of my tips;

Pro-tip # 1: Be sure you get in enough calories if you are looking to gain muscle.
Pro-tip # 2: Write down in a training log just how much you reps, sets and weight you can do and try to beat your last performance every workout.
Pro-tip # 3: Train your legs with intensity!
Pro-tip # 4: Get between 7 to 8 hours of sleep (or figure out for yourself how much you really need)
Pro-tip # 5: Ask advice about training and nutrition from an experienced coach.
Pro-tip # 6: Ignore judgment for other people and only compare yourself to the person in the mirror
Pro-tip # 7: Do some cardio!
Pro-tip # 8: Focus on compound movements
Pro-tip # 9: Focus!
Pro-tip # 10: Use a rep range suited to your goals.
Pro-tip # 11: Control the weights instead of letting the weights control you!
Pro-tip # 12: Change your training routine/frequency when you aren’t progressing any further (four to five weeks should be adequate)
Pro-tip # 13: Train with intensity
Pro-tip # 14: Increase meal frequency
Pro-tip # 15: Be critical when you buy supplements
Pro-tip # 16: Stay motivated!

So this list pretty much sums up all of the weight training essencemistakes I made when I first started lifting but that is part of the journey I’m making. Realize you can’t do everything right in an unfamiliar endeavor.

I’m pretty convinced you will also make your own mistakes and that is a good thing to! The more mistakes you make, the closer you get to where you want to be. Just stay motivated as I said above and work on your goals on step at a time.

If you do this then there will eventually come a day where you’ll have exceeded your expectations and you’ll be amazed of your own capabilities. It is possible. You have to truly believe you can make this change before you start this journey. Every change, invention and result once started as an idea. So shape your beliefs the way you want them to be and you will hold the power to transform your life.

I hope you liked this post as much as I loved writing it. If you are having any thoughts or questions about this topic (or something random to say), feel free to share that in the comment section below!
Take Care!

Love

Simon

Sources
http://www.fitforduty.org/?p=475
http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=850012
http://www.askmen.com/sports/bodybuilding_200/218b_fitness_tip.html
http://www.wannabebig.com/diet-and-nutrition/is-there-a-limit-to-how-much-protein-the-body-can-use-in-a-single-meal/
http://iifym.com/iifym-calculator/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7IK2jNEIoA
http://www.morguefile.com/
http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

 

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. That is one sick post… It shows that you put some serious time and effort. Definitely deserving of some attention.

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