Now that you’ve cleaned your diet up, you’re ready to hit the gym, right? Only if you’re absolutely sure you know what you’re doing. Training without a solid program will actually harm you more than help. However, since you’re such a good friend, I’m going to help steer you in the right direction.
I’m going to start here by clearing up a few bits of vocabulary.
Tone is not definition. Tone is the continuous and passive partial contraction of the muscles. Definition is what most people think when they say they want to “tone up”. It’s a reduction of intramuscular and subcutaneous fat that allows you to see separation of individual muscles through the skin.
Resistance training is not just weight training. Resistance training is any sort of repetitive training designed for increasing muscle strength and endurance. This can be done with weights, bands, or even bodyweight…yes, bodyweight exercises are useful. Ever seen a weak or fat gymnast? We’ll get into that later.
Steady state cardio is doing one cardiovascular exercise modality (treadmill, elliptical, bike, rower, whatever) at the same intensity with no variation.
Most of these training articles will be written from the perspective of an avid resistance trainer (me, duh). Specifically, I really enjoy lifting/pushing/swinging heavy shit. It’s not completely necessary and I’ll show you how to apply the same principles to any resistance mode.
Now to kill a myth that really, REALLY needs to die. Resistance training will NOT make you all bulky and gross. If you end up magically looking like an IFBB pro without aiming for that goal (or without enough drugs to kill an elephant), tell me what you did because we can bottle and sell that shit. The truth is that you simply won’t wake up jacked and shredded. It’s not physiologically possible. Stop believing it.
Another myth is this ridiculous “no pain, no gain” thing. While it’s true that you may suffer DOMS (delayed onset muscular soreness) after a workout, it shouldn’t be your goal. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. I rarely get DOMS in my upper body no matter what I do but my legs get it like crazy. Sometimes your tendency for soreness goes away with regular training. The best way to get rid of DOMS is to train those muscle groups again. Also, make sure you listen to your body and know the difference between DOMS and something serious like a joint injury.
Now that’s out of the way, the advantages of resistance training far outweigh the advantages of using only cardio modalities. The metabolic advantage is much higher. The window of metabolic increase after a lifting workout is open longer than it is for steady state cardio sessions.
In addition, long sessions of steady state cardio (long is usually considered more than 25 minutes) will cause your body to release catabolic stress hormones like Leptin and Cortisol. Due to the evolution of human physiology, these hormones prevent your body from using fat for fuel, instead choosing to break down muscle tissue in an effort to conserve as much energy as possible. It does this because the process for mobilizing stored fat (lipolysis) into free fatty acids (FFAs) takes more energy than breaking down muscle protein. If you really want all the fun (hideously boring) details, ask me and I’ll share.
This isn’t to say that all cardio is bad. Cardiovascular health and endurance is important but, unless you’re an endurance athlete preparing for a race, it should not be your main mode of exercise. For more on cardio done right, take a look at How To Do Cardio If You Must.
Some of what I’ve bitched about so far will get more detail later on. For now, let me drop some basics.
Compound movements are always superior to isolation movements. The superiority comes from the economy of motion. All routines should be built around a full complement of compound exercises. Squats, deadlifts, presses, and pullups/rows (and power cleans, optionally) will hit every muscle in your body.
Free weights will always be superior to machines with one exception. The only exception is a cable crossover machine. All other machines are inferior because they do not require the use of stabilizer muscles for balance as the range of motion is mechanically limited. Free weight compound movements, by comparison, will all require core stabilizer muscles as well as antagonist (opposite) muscles. I and most other meatheads will tell you that there’s no better ab workout than heavy deadlifts.
When you are training (especially with lighter weights), the important thing to remember isn’t the number of reps and sets you do, the important thing is time under tension. You’ll get far more benefit from slow and controlled repetitions than you will from rapid fire reps. If you can throw the weight around, you need to add more. I’ll explain and apply this to different modes of training as I discuss them but just remember that TUT is of primary importance with resistance training.
The last thing I’ll say now is that you grow outside of the gym, not in it. Make sure you’re giving your body the right building materials and that you’re getting enough sleep. Sleep is when your muscles are rebuilt and repaired.
That’s about all I have room for now. Next time, we’ll get into different types of training and how to build a program.