Intensity Matters. An intuitive idea people have about a work out routine is something like buying 20 pound dumbbells and doing ten curls everyday. This is known as the every-teenage-boy.
But what I’ve learned is if you can do it there’s no point in doing it. If you can’t do ten 20 pound curls then good, do three sets of 5 with long breaks (1 min, 3 min, 5 min, even 15 minutes according to some strength coaches) but if it’s no problem then doing it isn’t doing you any good.
The advice I found helpful is you don’t want to be able to finish your last set. So if you’re doing three sets of an exercise at ten reps with a one minute break it needs to be with a weight that causes you to crap out around 8 in the final set. If you get through it, higher weight or shorter break starting next time.
So speaking of breaks, something else I know is Breaks Matter. Basically my adage is shorter break muscles get bigger, longer break muscles get smarter.
Muscles get bigger when they get repaired after being broken down (and they get repaired while you sleep if you’ve eaten enough protein so Sleep Matters, Protein Matters) so if that’s your goal then you want them to break down a lot. High weight, short break.
If you do low reps (half your max) with long breaks your muscles get smarter. They get trained not to build up lactic acid and they recruit more surrounding muscles to get the job done.
And until very recently I thought I want to be stronger more than I want to be bigger so strength training was more my focus but then one of the guys at work I talk gym with pointed out that if you don’t make the muscle bigger first you’re going to hit a strength wall a lot sooner.
So don’t be afraid or ashamed to body-build, it has functional value and isn’t just vanity. Unless you’re Luke Oliver, then it is just vanity.
I know that strength training is more about compound movements (involving lots of muscle groups like dead lifts because it teaches them to work together to get something done) and body-build (also known a hypertrophy) is about isolation movements like bicep curls to break down specific muscles one at a time.
Back to the idea that Intensity Matters, there is something to be said for fast work outs. I used to hate it when I heard things like get abs in six minutes a day because it’s just salesman talking. Super short works appeal to people who aren’t working out but it really just makes them easiest to skip. If you want to make exercise part of your life you carve out the fucking time. If someone promised you you could parent in six minutes a day would you want that?
I loved spending two hours in the gym until it was pointed out that long workouts are a form of laziness. You’re going through a lot motions and frittering around to feel good about how you’re doing but it’s not very effective.
Intense work outs keep your heart rate up, your blood pumping, they force you to have a plan, and they make you lift heavy rather than the excuse of lifting long.
Variety Matters. Don’t do the same exercises all the time, the effectiveness just isn’t there, you’re missing other related muscles and creating imbalances that lead to injuries and chronic problems. When I was designing my morning work outs I had like 50 movements I’d mix and match into two lists on Sunday then alternate them for the week and when I was in the gym I had to hit all the areas (the body weight space, machines, free weights, squat racks, and treadmills) and not do anything two days in a row. Variety isn’t about not getting bored – if you’re getting bored then more weight shorter breaks like I said up top or if we’re talking cardio just go fucking faster – it’s about different stimuli and not leaving muscle groups behind. There’s no perfect work out so you have to explore constantly.
And finally I’ll say Rest Matters but not as much as you think. Rest when you need to not when you want to. In the beginning you’ll be sore because your body is adjusting so go ahead and rest every other day or even two days in a row for a while but then watch out for trying to rest away bad form. Meaning – you do a movement badly, hurt, then rest until you don’t, then do the movement badly again and repeat. Most pain and problems come from bad form and not working out related muscles (like tennis elbow comes from having your forearms not as strong as your biceps). So start with low weight and focus on form, watch form que videos constantly, and learn to work the forgotten or neglected things like external rotation of the shoulder and you’ll find that you don’t need rest.
And that’s pretty much what I know so far about working out.