Last month, I decided it was time for me to get back in shape. I stopped lifting weights shortly after college, and have tried several times to get back into it but end up quitting after a week or two.
It’s been about two months, and I already feel more energetic and look better.
But finding the time, energy and commitment to go - especially when it’s cold and dark out - is tough. Today, I want to share a few tips and tricks that have helped me get back in gear.
Note: I’m not a trainer. I have no credentials in this stuff. I’m not even terribly strong. I have learned a bunch of stuff over the years from the really smart people at the JP Fitness Forum. Many of them are certified trainers, a few of them famously so. This is just my personal experience trying to get back into an exercise routine as a skinny (in an insulting way), busy, lazy guy.
My Core Principles
- Compound exercises (those that work multiple muscles) are better than isolation exercises (those that work just one).
- Good form is more important than heavy weight.
- Working out with intensity is more important than working out for long periods of time.
- Three or four compound movements per workout.
- Two or three workouts per week (every two or three days).
- A new group of exercises and set/rep scheme every three to six weeks (the human body adapts to change very quickly).
Here’s the menu of compound exercises I’ll be selecting from as I plan my workouts.
Quad Dominant Squats Lunges
Hip Dominant Deadlifts Good Mornings Hyperextensions Pull-Throughs
Vertical Push Shoulder Press Dips
Vertical Pull Pullups/Chinups High Pulls
Horizontal Push Bench Press (in all its varieties) Pushups
Horizontal Pull Bent and Cable Rows
I find that A/B split routines, by virtue of their simplicity, are the easiest for me to stick with.
Here’s how the work: I set up two different workout routines, and alternate between them (allowing a day in between for rest). So on Monday I’ll do workout A, then on Wednesday I’ll do workout B, and then on Saturday I’ll do workout A again. On Monday of the following week, I pick back up with workout B and so on.
For each workout, I pick one leg-based movement (quad or hip dominant), one push movement, and one pull movement, making sure I’ve picked one from each category between both workouts.
Quad Dominant Horizontal Push Horizontal Pull
Hip Dominant Vertical Pull Vertical Push
My current workout looks like this…
Barbell Squat Bench Press Bent-over Dumbbell Row
Deadlift Chinups Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Sets & Reps
The general guidelines around picking a set/rep scheme are as follows:
- The fewer repetitions you do in each set, the more weight you can lift.
- If you care about strength, lift heavy amounts of weight.
- If you care about muscle growth, do more total repetitions (volume).
Depending on what you care about - growth, strength or both - you can pick your set/rep scheme accordingly. So if you want to be strong but small, do just a few reps with heavy weights, and only do a few sets of each exercise. If you care about growth, lift lighter weights for more repetitions. If you care about both, you can do many sets of just a few reps each, with heavy weights, which gives you more weight and more volume.
Just strength: 3x3 (three sets of three repetitions, heavy weight) Just growth: 3x12 (three sets of twelve repetitions, light weight) Both: 8x3 (eight sets of three repetitions, heavy weight)
Right now I’m doing three sets of eight repetitions for each exercise. That provides a nice balance of strength and growth with moderate weight, since I’m just getting back into the swing of things.
Over the next several months, I’ll be using the following set/rep schemes, in this order…
4x6 2x12 5x3 3x8
The idea is that I’ll continue to increase my weight while maintaining total volume (4x6), then back off and give my brain and body a few weeks of easier lifting (2x12). For the next six to eight weeks after that, I’ll be focusing increasing my overall strength (5x3 and 3x8). No idea what I’ll do after that.
Abs? They’re hit hard during squats, deadlifts, chinups, bent-over rows, and shoulder presses. Your abs are actually made up of several different muscle groups, and the “sixpack” muscles are the smallest and weakest ones there. Also, doing crunches won’t remove fat from your stomach.
Curls? My biceps are already getting hammered during chinups and rows. If they’re not exhausted when I’m done with those, I’m not using heavy enough weights.
Cardio? By keeping my intensity up and limiting rest between sets, my heart is already beating pretty fast. Studies have shown that your heart rate stays elevated after an intense weight lifting session for much longer than after a traditional cardio workout. No cardio for me.
Customizing this for your needs
There are a few ways you could adapt what I’m doing for your needs…
- You could use a push/pull A/B split instead the total body version I'm doing. Workout A would be a quad-dominant movement, and both a vertical and horizontal push. Workout B would be a hip-dominant movement, and both a vertical and horizontal pull.
- You can adjust rest periods or do circuits. If you wanted to burn more fat, you could use really short rest periods between sets (say 30 seconds). You could also do a circuit, alternating between exercises with little or no rest, and then starting at the first exercise again (for example, squat, benchpress, row, repeat).
- You could add ab work at the ened... if you really want to.
- You could do cardio on your off days.
I can’t stress enough how important using good form and picking appropriate weight for your experience level are. If you’ve never worked out before, bring someone who has with you, or check out some of the tutorials on the JP Fitness Forum. Exercises like squats and deadlifts are safe if done properly, but if done wrong, you can really hurt yourself.
What I've Learned
A few key takeaways…
- If I have set days I'm supposed go (every Monday, for example), I'm more likely to workout.
- If I take off two days between each workout instead of just one, I have a better workout.
- My local Gold's Gym plays odd workout music. The other day I heard "Backstreet's Back," "I Saw the Sign," and "Who Let the Dog's Out." Who's picking this stuff?!
My next challenge: Tackling my nutrition.