School Days - Part 1

LA practical training and nutrition guide for college students


Those of you who read this site regularly recognize the name of writer John Berardi. Well, whoda' thunk it, but the science guy has a science brother named Steve and danged if he don't write, too! I half expect other Berardis to come busting through cyberspace at any moment; maybe Madonna Berardi, or Luciano Pavarotti Berardi. But hell, if they can write half as well as their brothers, we'll welcome them all!

This particular article is aimed at you college types out there who, in the hopes of getting a high-level education, have left the friendly confines of your neighborhood gym to go to college. You might have expected to pick up where you left off, but you didn't count on all the distractions, the poorly equipped gyms, and the stuff that passes for food in the cafeteria.

Luckily, Steve Berardi knows your pain. He's a college student himself and he has overcome. So light up the bong, put on the blink-182 CD, and read what the man has to say:

There's a hidden problem that plagues most men in college, especially the dorm-dwellers. This problem is rarely talked about and even more rarely combated. It's got something to do with that painful burning sensation, but don't worry, the antibiotics should have cleared that all up. In this case your worries should concern the lack of that burning feeling as it relates to training.

It's September and you've just spent all summer training hard, eating right, getting enough sleep, and setting your body composition right again after last year's physique destruction. Yep, you went into college looking pretty damn good. But the little Swedish exchange student up the hall presented a pretty good distraction. Her fair complexion, blond hair, and that damn accent were more than your mortal self could take and you found yourself spending countless hours exploring "cultural diversity" rather than training.

And what about Chemistry class? That son-of-a-bitch professor wants us to know what? "Shit, I can't get to the gym, I've got a study group to get to. Oh yeah, and Rachel's in it." Definitely no gym this week.

And before you knew it, one excuse piled up after another until there were two new "women" in your life and they're thirsting for a little hot ménage action. Yep, one was the catabolic fairy and she brought her friend, the adipose princess.

So what's a guy to do to keep his physique on track amid all these distractions? How can he stay clear of the two horniest, yet most undesirable "girls" on campus? Well sit back and grab a pen and paper, because class is in session and Dr. Mass is in the building.

In today's lecture we're gonna discuss how to make the most out of training in any gym, even with the Vendela clone just up the hall. And next time we're going to focus on how your diet and lifestyle while at school can be adjusted so that you have a nice six pack, rather than looking like you just drank one. And yes, there will be a test at the end of this lecture. It'll be the hungry look that your ex-girlfriend gives you when you get home in the spring.

Lesson #1 – Coming to terms with reality

When you're away at college and especially if you live in the dorms, you've gotta accept one frightening reality. No school has a fitness facility like the one you train at while home. It's a fact. Oh sure, the facility for the football players is better than the US Olympic training center, but unless you're on the team, your facility isn't fit to serve as their laundry room (and accordingly, they think you're not fit to serve as their towel boy).

No, your facility will be full of drunken frat boys, eccentric professors, and the occasional smelly exchange student (whose culture doesn't believe in deodorant). And, none of them will have any clue how to train properly. Another thing your facility won't be full of will be hot chicks with muscular bodies. It also won't be full of machines that are newer than 20 years old.

This leaves you with few training options. You could pay for a membership at a nearby club but since you're broke, that's not an option. Or, you could just bag the weights and become that guy who always wanders the dorm halls and makes the girls want to check the peephole before they answer the door. Since you're probably a regular T-mag reader, I'm going to assume that this option isn't very appealing to you. Your last option is to get creative at your school's gym and get good workouts for free.

Lesson #2 – Getting creative

Again, most school gyms won't be nearly as well equipped as the gym you trained at all summer. Last year, when admin voted on whether school funding should go toward new equipment in the student weight room or toward that sculptural atrocity on the campus lawn, art won out. Sort of.

And some schools such as my own, God love 'em, will actually hide dumbbells over 50 pounds and just about all of the 45-pound plates. Yep, they're in the closet. They even go as far as banning sleeveless shirts from the gym. Oh, don't ask me why! Maybe they want to dissuade the "the meatheads" from scaring the other patrons. But what they don't realize is that Mongo was too busy filling out his training journal to fill out college applications. So the school gym is safe in that regard.

To the average fitness enthusiast these limitations would pose a problem, but we're hardcore and well above that. Give us lemons and we'll make lemonade.

Although I'm not allowed to wear sleeveless t-shirts, I do wear my Testosterone T-shirt. So the bottom line is that unless you're gunning to take Ronnie Coleman's title, your schools' fitness center is all you need. A standard Olympic barbell, some plates, a cable crossover tower, and a few other basic machines should do the job.

And "going old school" like this might even be better for your training anyway. We don't need any of that fancy Hammer strength shit. There are old school options that'll not only help increase the structural integrity of your joints and your functional strength, but leave 'em all wonderin', "What kind of shit is he on?" And all can be done with barbells and the cable crossover tower:

  • Chest: bench press, incline cable flyes, dumbbell flyes, cable crossovers
  • Back: bent-over barbell rows, standing one arm cable rows, barbell pullovers, chins,
  • Shoulders: military presses, front raises, lateral raises, Cuban presses
  • Bis: standing barbell curls, standing cable curls, reverse cable curls, preachers
  • Tris: close grip bench press, pushdowns, overhead extentions, reverse-grip pushdowns, skull crushers
  • Hamstrings: stiff-legged dead lifts, good mornings, dead lifts
  • Quads: leg extensions, lunges, squats, front squats, step ups
  • Editor's note: for numerous variations of these movements and many others, check the archives of Testosterone Magazine.

What's that? Lunges don't sound so hardcore? Who's gonna mess with the guy doing lunges up and down the hallway with a Testosterone T-shirt and 225 pounds on his back?

Regardless, it's possible you'll have to hoard every plate in the house, but if you're doing anything besides bench presses, chances are no one's gonna' ask you to work in. And if you're able to fill out the Testosterone T-shirt, you've got even better insurance that you won't be bothered when you gather up all the plates in the house.

Now if I didn't provide you with enough options, most school fitness centers are equipped with lat pull-down stations, parallel dip bars, seated flye machines, leg curl machines, and weighted crunch machines. What's that? Not enough weight on the stacks? Try putting a dumbbell or two on top of the stack. The gym proctor might come over and say something stupid to you about that, but a fierce growl usually takes care of them.

Since the dumbbells are usually scarce (and woefully light), you can do dumbbell movements after your heavy compound lifts. For instance, if you just have to do seated incline dumbbell curls; do them after standing barbell curls. Most fitness centers have dumbbells through 50 pounds, and if that's not heavy enough you'll have to adjust your form because you're probably no longer doing curls, but something T-maggers call "the 'tard" which involves lurching around like you just had a lobotomy (think of Jim Carrey's Dumb and Dumber character doing curls and you've got the right image).

You can also slow down the tempo. For instance, if doing curls with 40-pound dumbbells is too easy, slow 'em down. Take 3, 4, 5, or more seconds to lower the dang things.

These same principles apply to all other muscle groups and all other exercises.

And, if you're a real glutton for punishment, you may want to end your workout with a "finisher".

Lesson #3 – Learn how to say "Get the F&^% off that machine."

Now that we've got plenty of exercise options, we've gotta figure out how to deal with all of the people who are inevitably going to get in your way. You know the guys to which I refer. The ones who insist on doing 15 sets of bench-presses on the only bench in the place. Or the guy doing weighted most muscular poses between the cable crossover towers (he calls 'em crossovers). And don't forget the "metabolically challenged" girl who does 3 sets of 3000 crunches with 5-seconds rest between sets.

Although these fellow gym patrons are splendid at providing some brief comic relief, these people are also very adept at slowing down the tempo of your workout.

Here's your solution. Most often if you simply ask them if you can work in, they'll not only let you, but they'll leave the area too. What a bonus! Now if they don't immediately leave and it's clear that they're wasting both your time and their own as well, just make the exercise changeover process difficult, and after one set, they'll usually just leave. For instance, if your plan is to do incline cable flyes, and the person between the towers is doing "triceps pushdowns," drag the bench over and work-in. They'll most likely get the picture after one set and leave you alone.

Lesson #4 – Focus on your workout

All too often I'll see people talking for five or ten minutes between sets. They talk about how wasted they got over the weekend or what they'd like to do to Bobbi Jo on the abductor machine. Don't get sucked in by Bobbi Jo's thighs. Either literally or figuratively.

I know how good that young, flexible, nubile body looks, but there's plenty of time for that kind of talk during post workout cardio. Heck, rather than talkabout how good she looks while working her inner thighs, why not drop a few lines while you're dong cardio next to her. This way while they all talk, you'll be finding out how good she really looks. And that's fully abducted.

Now when I talk about focusing on your workout, I mean you gotta have a workout plan that's consistent with your goals before you even set foot in the gym (what's that old saying about failing to plan and planning to fail?). How do you go about picking out a workout? The easiest place to find a workout that's gonna pack on the pounds or melt off the fat is right here in T-mag. If you want more info on how to design your own kick-ass workouts, check out TC's "Testosterone Training Codex".

But the workout isn't going to do you any good if your rest intervals include 10 minutes of a blow-by-blow account of your date with the "horizontally accessible" girl in your political correctness class. Not only are you ruining the tempo and focus of your workout, you're also losing the fat burning effects of short rest intervals. Get yourself a stopwatch or simply watch the clock. But whatever option you choose, stick to your rest periods to the second. Afraid you'll look like Flavor Flav with that stopwatch hangin' around your neck? Don't worry, G. You may get a few glances, but you can't hold a candle to that guy doing lat pull downs to his waist.

So where shouldn't you get a workout plan? First of all, forget all that crap that your wellness prof told you about. Another person you need to completely ignore is that pasty, tree hugging vegetarian personal trainer in your fitness center. Her recommendation of "2 times through the circuit till it burns and 30-40 minutes of cardio" may be great for the cafeteria ladies, but you're not ready to put on a hair net and serve up some sloppy joes.

Also, your workout isn't going to be effective if you blow off a few sets just because you've already got a great pump. You've got to stick to your plan to the last rep and the last second of cardio. Skip out early and sure, you'll look good for the 10 minutes that you've still got a pump. But do it on a consistent basis, and eventually your girlfriend's gonna' mistake you for a panty hanger and hang her frilly silk ones on you to dry while she's out with the football team.

But on the other hand, be just as cautious not to train for too long; those 2-hour workouts are a thing of the past. Keep your workout to about an hour, give or take a few (remember the catabolism fairy?). Too much time in the gym means nothing but muscle wasting. Ever seen the muscle mass on a marathon runner? Exactly, they have none. They don't call long workouts "marathon" workouts for nothing.

esson #5 – Be flexible and make the most of your time in the gym

It's inevitable that the gym will be crowded at certain times. The most popular times to work out in college fitness centers are around 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. If you find that it's too crowded to get an effective workout during the times you work out, you're going to have to alter your schedule. And who knows, you might find that you get even better workouts at another time during the day. Remember that most fitness centers have early morning as well as late night hours, so even with the busiest schedule there's always time to squeeze in a quick workout. If you haven't planned well and you're pressed for time, here are some stragegies for getting the most out of your workout.

First, if it's chest and bi's day, try dropping your rest periods down to 90 seconds and superset chest and biceps. This way you could probably cut your workout time down significantly without skipping out on any sets and reps. If your workout calls for 6 sets of each, it should take you no more than 45 minutes for your entire workout.

Now, if you want to get in the full training session but are going to have to miss your cardio session, then try dropping the rest periods down even further. You'll get quite a bit of metabolic activity and be able to skip the cardio and get out of the gym even faster.

If it's obvious that you're not going to get both body parts done in one session because of time limitations, then go back later on and finish. Do just the chest workout in the a.m. and then hit the bis in the p.m. Or the next morning. If there's a will, there's a way.

Lesson #6 – Just say NO!

When in college distractions are aplenty. It's tough to live "the life" with friends knocking on your door to party, women on the floors above and below, and Baywatch reruns every evening at 5 and 6. They're all like chains trying to drag you back down into mediocrity. Don't let it happen to you. Like a real T-man, take charge of your life. No one else wants you to build a rock solid physique, and few will help you. It's up to you to prioritize your goals and say "I will accept nothing but the best and will do whatever it takes to achieve the best."

When training in an environment that's not conducive to growth, you're going to have to take an atypical approach to training; not every gym is going to have your favorite machine, not everyone is going to help you achieve your goals, and not everything is going to be structured to suit you. You've got to take your eyes off the obstacles and put them on your goals.

Now get to the gym and train your ass off.

Part 2 of this article will offer some nutritional strategies for the college bodybuilder who isn't keen on susbsisting entirely on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

John Berardi, PhD, is the founder of Precision Nutrition, the world's largest nutrition coaching and education company. Berardi advises organizations like Apple, Equinox, and Nike. He's coached the San Antonio Spurs, the Carolina Panthers, US Open Champ Sloane Stephens, and 2-division UFC Champ Georges St-Pierre.