Don't Be That Guy!
Pssst! Hey, look over there at that guy beside the dumbbell rack. Yeah, the skinny guy with his cap on backwards. Watch him do those curls. Yes, those are curls! Wait, you're right, he could be doing barbells rows. Hell, with his form I can't tell. Look, now he's going to the Smith machine. It figures. Looks like he's going to do some benching. There's one rep, there's two. Well, I think that was a rep. Hard to tell, the bar is only coming down about an inch. Oh look, now he's adding weight! I guess the chicks just love a guy who can do one-inch presses on the Smith machine!
Listen, I don't care if you're the one who put the "new" in newbie, just don't be the aforementioned guy!
Top Eight Newbie Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes in the gym when they're first getting started. Ever unload one end of a barbell only to have the other end crash to the floor giving you and everyone within 100 yards a lesson in Newtonian physics? Yeah, we've all done that. Making mistakes isn't the problem. The real problem is that some people never fix those mistakes.
In reality, that guy mentioned in the intro might not be a newbie at all. He could have ten years of experience – ten years of doing everything either flat out wrong or in a less productive manner. And although he's been training for a number of years, his physique isn't that different from when he started. Bad genetics? Maybe, but more than likely he's one of those guys who never fixed his newbie mistakes. Do you want to be that guy? I didn't think so.
What follows is a list of the most common newbie mistakes. If you're new to weight training, then solving these problems early on will guarantee you better results faster.
1) Leaving out muscle groups
This mistake often stems from guys only training their "show off" muscles, like chest and biceps. Women who try to target their problem areas while leaving out everything else are also screwing up in this regard. What you end up with are guys who never train their legs or backs and women who never get off those abduction and adduction machines.
Training this way for an extended period of time could cause muscle imbalances and lead to injury. Building an impressive body is about training the whole package, not just a few choice parts. You can't just put nice wheels on your '88 Escort and expect it to look good, now can you?
Finally, if your goal is to add muscle, you're kicking your own ass if you leave out leg training. I've heard the "But I don't care about legs" excuse long enough. If you say that then you're either A) too much of a sissy to squat or B) you simply don't understand how the body works. The fact is, your body won't allow you to get really big in certain parts unless the rest of you is growing too. That means if you want a big chest, you'd better make friends with the squat rack as well as the bench.
Women who only work their problem areas need to understand that there's no such thing as spot reducing. Also, they need to realize that resistance training is all about boosting the metabolism by adding muscle. Therefore, why should you only try to add muscle to certain parts? From what I've seen, most newbie chicks tend to leave out the chest, back and shoulders.
2) Neglecting the negative
Without getting into a bunch of boring scientific details, the lowering, or eccentric part of an exercise is vital to your progress. If you're dropping the weight like a stone you're wasting your time in the gym. Go home and do the five knuckle shuffle instead. (Or if you're a woman, go home and "double click your mouse.") At least then you won't be wasting time. So, no matter the exercise, try to lower the weight to a two to four second count, at least the majority of the time.
3) Skipping the "big" lifts
Bench presses, squats, deadlifts, pull-ups: these are the big ones. If you want to be a big one, make these lifts the core of your program. Sure, you can do some low rows and pull downs for variety, but the variations of the chin-up should be your key back exercises. You say you're too weak to do chins? See the Back to Basics article for progression tips.
4) Overusing machines
Machines aren't as evil as we sometimes make them out to be, but the majority of your training really should take place with free weights. You like cable curls? Fine, but first get some good incline dumbbell curls before you head to the cable machine. Also, don't do all of your squatting, benching, and overhead presses in the Smith machine. You're not getting any stabilizer work. This means the strength you gain won't transfer into real world activities like sports and chasing loose women. You could also end up with an overuse or repetitive stress injury of some type.
5) Hitting the gym without a plan
Don't wander randomly from exercise to exercise in the gym. I've seen newbies train arms three times a week and leave out shoulders entirely, simply because they didn't have a plan of attack. Know what you're going to do before you go to the gym. Keep a training log and write down your sets, reps, and the weight you used. If you don't know enough about program design, just print out one of Ian King's programs here at T-mag and go to work. There's also a list of common training splits in issue 84's Dawg School.
6) Using incomplete movements and bad form
There're two reasons why people use partial movements. First, they're less painful and less fatiguing. Unfortunately, building a better body is all about pain and fatigue to a certain extent. Second, they can't accept the fact that they'd have to use less weight if they used proper form and a full range of movement. Which leads us to?.
7) Stroking your ego
If you look carefully, you'll see that many of these mistakes derive from stroking the ol' ego. Why not use a slow eccentric movement? Well, you'll have to use less weight if you do. Why use an incomplete movements? You can lift more weight. Why raise your ass of the bench while benching? It makes it easier. Why squat in the Smith machine or use the leg press? They allow you to use more weight than you would with free weight squats. Do any of these help you get more muscular? No! All they do is stroke your ego. Do you want a big ego or big muscles?
Listen, you may feel tough training this way, but to anyone who knows what they're doing in the gym you look like a total dweeb. Use correct form, a slower eccentric, and lots of free weight exercises and soon you'll be able to exercise properly and push up the big weights. Now that's impressive!
8) Neglecting your diet
Here's what I've noticed. Some men have the tendency to train hard in the gym, yet they totally neglect their diets. They'll do anything to build muscle or lose fat, from doing one-and-a-quarter squats (very difficult) to running an hour on a friggin' treadmill. Despite the tenacity they show in the gym, their diets consist of Taco Bell and candy bars. They're "diet wussies." Perform ten sets of squats? No problem. Eat some chicken instead of half a cheese cake? No way, that's too hard! Ironic, huh? Needless to say, diet wussies make poor progress.
Women tend to go the other direction. They'll go on a painful diet, but refuse to hit the weights. Of course, the answer lies somewhere in the middle: a sensible diet combined with a sensible training program.
If I had to sum up the average newbie's diet problems, I'd say they eat:
• Too much sugar
• Too much saturated fat
• Too many breads, cereals, and other high-GI carbs
• Not enough protein
• Not enough healthful fats
Newbies also need to pay attention to their overall daily caloric intake. I'd also suggest they switch from eating two or three big meals a day to four or five smaller ones (more details on that later in this article.) For the average person just starting a training and diet program, I often recommend a Zone type of diet, popularized by Dr. Barry Sears. Once he or she gets more advanced I'd then suggest some of the more hardcore diets we write about here at T-mag.
I could go on, but as long as beginners eliminate those eight mistakes, they'll see a huge leap in their progress.
Now for this month's questions:
Best Machine for Cardio
Q: My gym has a selection of cardio equipment – bikes, treadmills, elliptical devices, you name it. If I only have 15 minutes to get in some type of aerobic training, which should I use?
A: That's really a loaded question. There're many that believe aerobics are absolutely unnecessary if your goal is fat loss. They also state that too much aerobic activity can slow or even reverse your lean muscle gains. For the most part, I have to agree. I mean, would you rather cycle for an hour on a bike that isn't going anywhere or skip that four dollar box of M&M's the next time you go see a movie? Personally, I'd rather skip the candy than waste my time doing aerobics. In other words, diet is the real key, period. 'Nuf said, tattoo it on your chunky butt.
So what are you supposed to do to keep your heart healthy? Have you ever done four sets of squats with only a minute of rest between sets? Doesn't that get the old ticker pounding? Listen, for fat loss or heart health, just take shorter rest periods between sets of resistance training exercises. A good rule of thumb is to keep your rest periods short enough so that you're always breathing harder than normal throughout your weight training session. If you're breathing so hard you can hardly speak, then you're overdoing it.
As for your original question, I remember reading a few studies that said the plain old treadmill is the best tool for cardio training. This is because more muscle groups are involved, and you therefore burn more calories. Think about it, if you're sitting down and leaning back on a recumbent stationary bike, then half of your body is resting.
Based on the reasoning above, I never used to go to the gym just to "do cardio." Instead I watched my diet, squatted a lot etc.... However, these days I make my living sitting in the front of a computer most of the day. Sure I go to the gym, but if I'm not there, then I'm sitting on my ass surfing for porn on the internet ? uh, I mean, working really hard on this here magazine, Mr. Patterson, sir! Therefore, I've thrown in a bit of pure cardio activity to make up for having a largely sedentary job. For example, I'll do my weight training and then I'll take a lap or two around the local high-school track. Sometimes I'll go into the garage on an "off day" and go a few rounds against the heavy bag. Nothing major.
If you insist on jumping on a machine, just promise me you won't read the newspaper while doing it. That's just fundamentally wrong, man! Everyone knows the sole purpose of getting on a stationary bike is to scope out babes without looking like you're scoping out babes.
Why Eat Frequent Meals?
Q: After years of using diets and exercise machines I saw on T.V., I've finally figured out how to do it right. That means reading Testosterone and heading to the free weights section of the gym. My question is this: Everyone seems to agree that you should eat five or six meals a day. What's the idea behind that exactly?
A: Good question. Most newbies skip meals when trying to lose weight and are shocked when they find out that all those hardbodies they see in the mags eat four, five, even six times a day. It really doesn't matter if your goal is to lose fat or put on mass, frequent eating, or "grazing" as some call it, is the way to go. Frequent meals help you stabilize blood sugar levels (leading to more energy and less cravings), increase your metabolic rate, and may help you to better absorb nutrients. Here's a few tips:
• Eating six times a day doesn't mean you're eating six regular-sized meals per day. Let's say you eat about 2400 calories per day. Normally, that would be three 800 calorie meals or if you're one of those people who skip breakfast, two 1200 calorie meals. (Skipping breakfast, besides leading to wasted muscle tissue, usually causes the person to eat much more the rest of the day.) If you decide to eat six times per day, you'll still get 2400 calories, but you'll divide it into smaller 400 calorie meals.
• The first thing people say is, "I don't have time to do that!" Here's how most people schedule their meals:
Notice how many of the "meals" are really just snacks. Pack a cooler to work or use pre-blended MRPs for convenience. When I did the hectic 9-to-5 thing, I'd blend up two protein shakes and pour then into a thermos. I'd drink half between breakfast and lunch, and the other half between lunch and my afternoon workout.
• Play around with the calories. You don't have to have perfectly equal meals. You could have a 150 calorie snack and a larger lunch, for example. Just keep up with your daily caloric intake.
• Start with four meals a day and work your way up to six or even seven. You'll feel better and in time, you'll look better.
Q: When strength coaches talk about "training effect" what exactly do they mean?
A: Simple, the training effect is the end result of your training. Maybe you're training to drop fat or maybe add as much muscle as possible. Some care about neither and train only to improve strength. Whatever the end result, the training, combined with recovery time, equals the training effect.
Q: You've got to help me out, Chris. Give me a diet and workout plan to lose about 40 pounds. I'll do anything!!!
A: I hate to sound harsh, but based on past experience, I don't really believe you. I'll give you two examples. Last week I was approached by a painfully thin guy who asked the inevitable, "How can I pack on as much mass as possible without drugs? I'll do anything!" So I told him about keeping a food log of all his calories and macronutrients, squatting until he feels like puking, brief, but intense workouts ? all the usual stuff, right? I then invited him to train with me the following day.
He showed up late, admitting that he'd overslept (it was 1:00 in the afternoon) and that he'd skipped breakfast. When I headed for the squat rack, he strolled to the leg press machine explaining, "I don't do squats. The leg press rules!" When I finished up my leg day, this kid was still pounding away on some machine. He then chastised me for only training an hour and explained how he trained two hours a day because he was "hardcore." See my point? He said he'd do anything, but ended up doing nothing.
This same week, a female acquaintance of mine told me she'd do anything to lose weight. I took an hour out of my day to design her a very detailed diet and training program. I even typed it! The diet was sort of a modified T-Dawg Diet, fairly low carbs, moderate fat intake etc. She took one look at it and said, "I can't have bread? Oh, I love bread. I can't give up bread. Forget that. As for this workout, well, I'll just use my Body By Jake Thigh Blaster." I came very close to saying, "Well, fuck you then, bitch! Stay fat and die! No wonder your husband is boinking his secretary!" But since this lady was a customer of my wife's business, I just said, "Sorry. I thought you said you'd do anything."
I guess it's like this: People want to make big changes in their bodies, but they refuse to make even minor changes in how they train and eat. 'Sup wit dat? Also, if you're too lazy to do some research and plow through our Previous Issues section, then I'll bet you're too lazy to stick with (or even start) any program I write for you. I'll make a deal with you. You read all the diet and training info here at T-mag, pick out a few good programs, get started and then I'll be happy to help you sort out the details. Deal?
Q: Could you evaluate my program? My goal is to gain as much muscle as possible as I'm a bit on the skinny side.
Monday: leg extensions, leg curls, calf raises, crunches
Tuesday: pec deck, cable crossovers, pull-downs, lateral raises
Thursday: concentration curls, cable curls, tricep kickbacks, plus more crunches and a little cardio
Then I repeat the whole process. I'm using a protein powder and an ECA stack for supplements. I eat a healthy low fat diet and try to get a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, but sometimes that's difficult. Any suggestions? I've been stuck for a while at the same bodyweight. Thanks!
A: It's no surprise your progress has stalled. Beginners can often make gains even on the lamest of programs. When you go from doing nothing to lifting weights several times a week, even a bad training and diet program will work for a while. Now, however, it's time to put away your toys and get serious. Several things here:
1. You're using weenie exercises. Machines and single-joint movements have their place, but the majority of your training should come from compound free weight exercises. Replace the leg extensions with squats, the pec deck with dumbbell bench presses and the pull downs with chin-ups.
2. You've got some imbalances in your program as well. Notice how you do two chest exercises and only one back exercise. You also do two biceps movements verses only one for triceps. This is a common problem with newbies: they focus only on the muscles they can see in the mirror. This can lead to imbalances and injuries if you keep it up. You may want to even reverse things for a while. For example, on arm day, do tricep extensions and close-grip bench first, then do some standing barbell curls. After a few weeks switch to a balanced program.
3. Why the heck are you using a metabolism booster (ECA) if you're trying to gain weight? This is like eating a candy bar while sprinting. The two just don't go good together. I assume you may be doing it because you like the pre-workout buzz most fat burners give you. If that's the case try a caffeine tablet and a dose of Power Drive, my personal favorite. Otherwise, skip the fat burners when you're trying to add mass.
4. Why the low fat diet? Studies have shown that extremely low fat diets can lower your Testosterone levels. Not good if you want to put on some muscle! I don't mean to bust your balls here. I used to do the same thing. In fact, I was plateaued for a long time because of my fear of dietary fat. When I finally started eating a little, I not only gained muscle, I actually lost fat and felt better. Start by adding in a whole egg or two a day. Then try to get some "good fats" from flax oil and fish oil capsules. Udo's Choice blend is another good option. Just add it to your protein shakes. I see nothing wrong with the occasional steak either. This should also help you up your protein intake.
Hope all this helps. Actually, forget the "hope" part. I know these changes will help if you stick with them. Keep us updated on your progress.
Q: Let's say I adopt one of the fat loss diets you guys suggest. Will I gain all the fat back when I return to a more normal diet?
A: If your "normal" diet consists of Little Debbie snack cakes and Lucky Charms, then sure, you'll gain the fat back, with interest.
Let's look closer at the all important adjective normal. It's quite normal for most people to eat greasy fast food. Most people eat too many processed carbs, too, but are these highly refined carbs normal? We have to look back, deep into the history of man to find the answer. It's believed that our ancestors – 700,000 years ago – lived primarily on a diet of meat. It's estimated that 60 to 90 percent of their calories came from yummy-for-your-tummy flesh. They ate game animals, fish, birds, and occasionally eggs. Only a tiny portion of their calories were derived from plants. Oh, they'd live off of roots and stuff if they had to, but they were primarily meat eaters.
Warning: The following paragraph contains ideas based on the theory of evolution. If you're from Kansas, a state where such ideas are frowned upon and therefore no longer properly taught in schools, feel free to skip this part as it may give you a headache.
In the last 100 centuries or so (a blink of the eye, historically speaking) man has become primarily a carbohydrate eater. This began with the advent of agriculture, which is only around 8000 to 10,000 years old. These days, we're not only carb eaters, we're processed carb eaters. Here's the problem. This dietary change took about 400 to 500 generations to occur. Geneticist believe it takes up to 10,000 generations for any substantial genetic change to take place.
So why is this high carbohydrate, low fat diet so bad? Why does it lead to so many health problems (including having a big fat ass)? Simply put, the human race hasn't evolved enough to handle it. So you see, I question the idea of a "normal" diet, especially the typical American diet.
Anyway, let me get off the soapbox and back to your question. Healthy eating isn't something you should do for a few weeks until you lose weight. It's a lifelong process. Too many newbies seem to think a temporary change in their diets will solve all their problems. Do I like to go out for pasta and breadsticks occasionally? You bet, but the password is occasionally.
Also, keep in mind that if you go on a hard cutting program using a very low carb diet, you'll likely gain some water weight back once you up your carb intake. Along that same line, the first few pounds you lose from a low carb diet tend to come from water weight.