Working out is complicated. With so many different variables and methods, it can be a truly overwhelming experience. There’s just too much information out there telling you to do this and take that, it becomes information overload. To make matters worse, most gym newbies try to consume as much of it as they can. This in turn leads to a condition I like to call analysis paralysis. You spend most of your time learning instead of actually doing anything productive.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We can get the greatest benefit from understanding a few fundamentals of exercise. The majority of everything else out there is unnecessary. In fact, a lot of the information can have quite the opposite effect of what we want. A lot of the (mis)guidance offered by some individuals is unsafe and ineffective. To make matters worse people look at them as experts in this field. In reality, most of them are just marketing puppets offering so-so fitness advice.
Let’s not stop there. Even the reliable information found in research journals can be distracting. Most of it is geared towards athletes and improving sports performance. For most people, this is out of their league.
Look at it this way, all the latest technology found in our cars was more than likely developed on a race track. It was then modified for everyday driving situations. This in turn, improves performance and efficiency in our daily commuters. Does that mean we drive racecars everywhere we go? Of course not.
The same is true with exercise and fitness. Athletic and strength coaches rely on research for new methods of improving sports performance. Does that mean we need to follow suit and try all the new methods of working out? For most of us, no. It’s not necessary for achieving our goals.
We can learn from it and practice some of the applications, but most of it is overkill. Even still, regular joes are trying these advanced techniques. To make matters worse, a lot of them can’t even do a proper squat or push-up. That’s like buying a Ferrari and not knowing how to drive a standard.
You have to embrace the fundamentals. Only then can you safely progress to more advanced techniques.
Sounds like a no-brainer right? Well, you’d be amazed at how many people don’t follow that simple rule. Then again, it’s easy to see why most people forget the fundamentals. Just walk into almost any big box gym and tell me what you see. A room so packed with equipment you need a map to get around. Ridiculous! No wonder so many people give up after a few weeks.
To be completely honest, I feel a lot of the blame comes from those damn bodybuilding magazines. 100 different way to do a bicep curl on 15 different machines is, to say the least, a complete waste of time.
This takes me to my first fundamental
Fundamental #1: Focus every routine around compound movements.
The key to an effective workout is to emphasize movements utilizing more than one joint. These are exercises like the squat, bench press, row, and deadlift. They target more than one muscle group. More importantly, they help you build muscle and burn fat quicker.
Some of you might be thinking “but I want arms like (insert favorite bodybuilder). If I don’t workout my arms to complete exhaustion I’ll never get guns like him/her.” Jesus Christ! For the love of all things holy, please stop with those ridiculous workouts. Besides legs, an entire day dedicated to a single body part is a waste of time. That is unless you are performance enhanced (AKA, taking steroids).
Two main reasons these workouts are ineffective and inefficient:
- By far, the most effective exercise you do for any body part is the first one. Anything after that can be effective, but only by small margins. You will quickly reach a point of diminishing returns (Unless you’re performance enhanced)
- 48 hours post-workout, a muscle will have completely recovered. That means it will no longer improve or get stronger. To get the greatest benefit, you need to work the muscle every other day. Otherwise, you’re missing out on potential gains. (Unless you’re performance enhanced)
So, to sum it up. Unless you are performance enhanced you’re wasting your time on those routines. That’s something you won’t see written in the fine print of the bodybuilding magazines.
(To learn more about what the best routine is, check out What’s the Best Workout Routine. Learn how to pack on muscle or burn fat with the right routine for you.)
Ok, let’s take what we just learned and use it in a real-world application:
Fundamental #2: Workout by doing a total body or an upper/lower split routine.
These routines are more effective at packing on muscle and/or burning fat. It will also allow for optimal recovery time between workouts.
As a general rule:
Beginners and people looking to lose weight should go with total body routines 2-3 days per week.
Intermediate/advanced lifters looking to pack on muscle should go with the upper/lower split. You can do this routine 4 days per week. As an example, upper body Monday and Thursday, lower body Tuesday and Friday.
You may have noticed the rest time between routines is longer for the upper/lower split. This is necessary due to the added stress with this type of routine.
Fundamental #3: Leave Vanity and Pride at the Door
As a trainer, I’m programmed to judge peoples’ level of fitness, but I’m not judging how weak they are. I’m judging how weak-minded they are. Don’t fall victim to vanity and pride. It will be your fitness downfall!
I see newbies and veteran gym rats alike fall into the sad pit of vanity and pride all the time. Do your best to avoid these common mistakes.
-Too many single-joint movements
-Use Improper form.
-Use way too much weight for your strength level
-Not asking a trainer for help when you need it
-Worst of all, hogging the power rack for bicep curls.
The last one’s a bit of a joke, but seriously don’t do it. You look like an asshole.
Fundamental #4: Master a few basic moves and you can conquer the world (or at least the gym).
Swallow your pride and put the bicep curls on the back burner. With a few exceptions, mastering the moves below with perfect form should be a requirement for lifting weights. Furthermore, not only should you master them you should do them (or something similar) regularly 2-3 times per week.
Even if you can’t lift a lot of weight, you need to make them your go-to movements. They will help you build heaps of confidence and improve your motor-neuron connections. Not to mention build muscle and burn fat. Then you can justify doing any single joint exercises.
Plank (1 min)
What’s great about these exercises is you can do them with little or no weight at home. This even makes a great beginner’s workout or as a supplement for off-days. Just don’t over do it.
As a workout do all five exercises back to back for 30 seconds each and then rest for one minute. Repeat two to three more times. Quick, efficient, and will help build your confidence to get in there and play with the big boys.
If you can’t go the full 30 seconds of an exercise do as many as you can and then move on to the next. Just remember, use proper form! Swallow your pride and don’t focus on how much weight you’re lifting or how many reps you can do. You will improve at a fast pace just maintain good form and it will come.
You may notice I didn’t mention the Deadlift. While it is one of my favorites, that exercise is better left to professional hands-on guidance. Especially if you’re a newbie.
So there you have it the top 4 fundamentals to exercise. Did I miss one you find important? If so let me know about it.
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