As a newcomer in the gym 5 years ago I fell victim to many broscience misconceptions, bad advice and wasted a lot of time trying to figure things out.
As Steve Jobs said ‘we can’t connect the dots looking forward, only looking back’.
The following are the list of the 20 most important principles and facts about weightlifting and dieting that I wish I knew on day #1 when I stepped into the gym.
If you’re relatively new to lifting read these principles over and over and understand them before applying them, you’ll be well and true ahead of the average gym-goer who doesn’t have a set regime and thinks protein powder is going to blow up his biceps.
I Wish I Knew When I Started Lifting…
80% of your gains will come from 20% of your exercises
Pareto’s 80:20 law is apparent in the gym. You will find that the main compound lifts such as the squat, bench, deadlift and overhead press will produce 80% of your results, trivial exercises like triceps kickbacks and a variety of different bicep curls are OK in moderation however these lifts will not shape your physique like the main compound exercises will.
Counting calories is essential
Fat loss, weight gain and weight maintenance all come down to calories in vs. calories out. By calculating your caloric intake and adjusting your diet to suit you’ll be taking the guesswork out of whether you’re eating the correct amount for your goals.
You can’t lose weight & gain muscle at the same time
Unless you’re brand new in the gym and making good use of your newbie gains you cannot lose weight and build muscle at the same time. Weight loss requires a calorie deficit while mass gain requires a calorie surplus – you cannot achieve both at the same time as a natural gym-goer.
There’s no such thing as a ‘clean’ food
Eating ‘clean’ foods such as unprocessed meat, vegetables and the like in high quantities will result in unwanted fat gain just as if you ate takeaway or processed foods. Foods deemed ‘clean’ e.g. unprocessed, high in nutrients and minerals are fantastic for your health, well-being, skin etc. but will still result in fat gain if overeaten.
90% of supplements are pixie dust
Hydrolized protein, advanced creatine blends, intra workout carbohydrate boosters and the like are all absolute garbage and you will not notice any noticeable differences by using these heavily marketed products other than a lighter wallet. Stick to the basics… spend your money on food and a gym membership.
Protein powder is no miracle muscle maker
If you are hitting your macronutrient goals (calculate your calories here to find out yours!) with food you do not need to use protein powder. Period. Protein powder’s primary use is to assist in reaching your daily protein macronutrient goal when you struggle to do so via whole foods alone.
Focus on correct form instead of half reps
Leave your ego at the door when you step in the gym and don’t get so caught up on the weight you are lifting initially. By performing half reps you are not engaging the entire muscle, resulting in minimal if any gains.
Squatting 225lbs with full range of motion is far more impressive (and affective) than squatting 315lbs for a few dodgy half reps.
Meal timing is irrelevant
Eating small regular meals does not equate to more gains or an increased metabolism (well, enough of an increased metabolism to accelerate fat loss). I used to get genuinely concerned when I missed a meal or was running behind schedule. Fasting ¾ of the day, eating 1 large meal, eating every hour – pick whatever suits your lifestyle best and adapt a meal plan tailored to your caloric needs.
Longer workouts don’t equate to more results
The law of diminishing returns prevails. Spending 2 – 3 hours per workout is counterproductive and if you’re doing so chances are you’re either doing far too many sets, have unnecessarily long rest periods between sets or spend half of your workout gossiping with gym rats. Hit your pre-determined work out and get out. A solid workout generally lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour 15.
Utilize a spotter for your own safety
When performing heavy bench press, squats or overhead dumbbell press utilize a spotter to get the most bang for your buck out of each set – the mental boost and confidence to push yourself further knowing someone is there in case you miss that last rep and things go south is significant.
You don’t have to train chest on Monday
Don’t follow the heard. International chest Monday is a joke (ongoing thing that every split body part workout routine puts chest on Monday). Why fight others for a free bench or a pair of dumbbells and allow the intensity of your workout to diminish? Switch it up – train back on Monday and chest on Tuesday if need be.
Get off the machines
Far too many newcomers waste time with pin loaded machines as opposed to performing the far more affective dumbbell/barbell version of the exercise. Strength gains made on machines will not carry across to the free weight counterpart exercise. Learn correct form on free weight exercises, utilize your stabilizers and get off the machines.
Track your workouts in order to apply progressive overload
Don’t go through each workout blindly or ad-hoc. Record and plan your workouts, know how many reps you performed last session and how much weight you lifted last session so you know what you’re gunning for now. You must always aim to BEAT your last workout – a rep, an additional 2kg on the bar, whatever it takes to continue to progress.
Low rep ranges are the key to natural muscle growth
Lifting in the 10 – 12 rep range is not the ideal way to build muscle or strength. As a natural gym-goer (aka. No anabolic steroids) your body will respond far better to heavy sets in the 4- 6 rep range.
Know your weaknesses and prioritize
Just about everyone seems to have a genetic strong point, a muscle group(s) that grow quicker and stronger than the rest, in my case it’s my triceps. A well-built physique is proportionate. Understand your weak points and strong points and train accordingly, weak biceps? Throw in a few extra sets. Strong triceps? Perhaps consider not doing as many sets.
Muscle memory exists
When you’re out of the gym due to a holiday, sickness, broken bones or whatnot don’t fret. Muscle you’ve lost is far easier to rebuild then muscle you have never had.
There’s no perfect workout routine, meal plan or supplement out there
Stop seeking the perfect regime, meal plan or supplement. It doesn’t exist. Pick a workout regime and follow a diet for no less than 3 – 6 months – gauge your results and make changes based on what you see in the mirror, chopping and changing to the next ‘best thing’ is a sure-fire way to make no progress at all.
Six pack abs come down to body fat
You can do as many sit-ups as you like but if your body fat is above 10% (or much above) you won’t be seeing your abdominals until you cut down. The saying ‘abs are made in the kitchen’ is correct.
Newbie gains slow down
The first year of you lifting weights if utilized correctly will allow you to pack on some serious muscle mass, however after this year do not get discouraged when both mass and strength gains slow down drastically – this is unpreventable.
Don’t neglect stretching & your flexibility
Injuries and poor range are often a result of lack of flexibility – stretch regularly to increase your flexibility. Your body (especially your rotator cuffs!) will thank you for it.