I’ve asked myself the question several times. I’ve known going in I was going to back and bi’s or chest and tri’s, or legs. But what should I do? Should it be lots of squats on leg day, or should I do the machines? Will bench press suffice or will push ups suffice? Run 3 miles or sprint on the bike? It can be confusing at times, especially with no plan.
When I first started I just did what my brother did. He seemed to know what he was doing and wasn’t doing anything that seemed counter-intuitive or just dumb. I have seen plenty of dumb things at the gym. Just YouTube “Gym Fails” and you will find a plethora of things that make no logical sense. I’ve seen some of it at my local gym. But what to do when my brother leaves and I’m by myself?
I went to the muscle magazines and they had all kinds of pictures with workouts there. Bodybuilders held their barbells and dumbbells with extra trim muscles and bulging veins. Female fitness models would have workouts pictured and the angles would make the most pious priest blush.
I read all kinds of routines. One that still stands out today is one where your work one side of your body and the other side on a different day. I even tried it…once. It made no sense when I first read it but I figured that the people in the magazine just might know what they were talking about.
I quit after the first workout. It felt altogether wrong and made no kinesthetic sense. I push with both arms and stand up generally with both legs. I looked elsewhere. I needed something that made sense and worked.I needed a plan, plain and simple.
The muscle magazines never gave a plan, just workouts. If they did it was for a week, but I needed something for a year or more.
I didn’t squat but I did do legs. I did bench because who didn’t? I did no dead lifts because of fear of hurting my back, plus no one was there to show me how. I spent a lot of time perfecting nothing. I did get stronger, and more plates were added to the bar over time, but that was it. I felt directionless.
In my extra time I started learning how to learn. Yes I was at college but I admit it wasn’t until my third year that I began to really learn how to learn, for that is something they don’t teach in public schools. I came across something that made some sense. It’s called progressive overload. I thought I’d give it a try.
Essentially it is a gradual increase of stress (weight) on the muscles during training.This is common sense really as one hopes to lift more weights in the gym over time. One basic regimen is called 5×5. I won’t go into the details here, but a great link to a description of it is here. I began to follow the program I slowly, but steadily, I began to see results. My strength went up, the plates increased on the bar, and I began to build confidence in the gym.
Refining my form became important and I hired a trainer once to even help make sure I was doing it right, especially on more complicated lifts like dead lifts and squats. Years of lifting incorrectly screwed my lower back as did a car accident, something I still have to be careful about to this day.
The great thing is learning to do some of these lifts correctly AND over time, I’ve been able to build a solid body. Is it the most ripped hulk of a body out there? No, and quite frankly I’m fine with that. Being a dad can be stressful at times, which is the exact opposite if you’re trying to put on weight as muscle or lose weight as fat. But being a dad is worth it.
My main advice for what to do at the gym: Find a plan and stick the freak to it. Yes stick to it. It may be several months. That’s ok though. There might be a week or two where things don’t go quite right. It’s ok though. Kids or jobs or life might get in the way.
Over the last 3 months I’ve traveled out-of-state 4 times for work (3 times and 1 time for Christmas) and was away from my kitchen and my gym. Keeping any kind of routine was difficult. The holidays also make that tough. Instead of trying to lose weight I decided it would be a good time to eat as clean as I could and try to keep my calories at maintenance so I wouldn’t gain any weight.
After 3 months, the travels were over and the dust settled and I’m back at it, close to where I left off, because I’m on a plan.
If it’s swimming, find material about swimming routines and challenge yourself to get better. If it’s running, train for something specific like a 5k or marathon. If you like whatever, find the masters in that sport and learn some sort of program or routine that you can follow and then do it. A sample for me is a modified 5×5 program split as follows:
Monday Wednesday Friday
5×5 Squats 5×5 Overhead press Repeat of Monday at
5×5 Bench 5×5 Weighted Pullups 80% Mondays weight
1×5 Dead lifts 5×5 Machine rows plus any auxiliary lifts
On Tuesday or Thursday I will do some variation of sprints, either on the bike or the rower and some accessory lifts to help strengthen certain areas like lower back. It’s simple and it works. The key is patience. If I get impatient I regress because I don’t follow the program.
There are many programs out there. I tried SMOLOV (a crazy intense squat routine) once, to help with strength in squats. I couldn’t get past day two, even on a strong pre workout of my own making, because my body couldn’t handle it. Going back to 5×5 worked.
Robert Burns once wrote that, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” His notion was that sometimes the best ideas can fail. I submit they fail because people didn’t stick to the plan to begin with.
Stick to it and reap the rewards over time.
Make your day today!