How to save years of your time spent on training
When I first started lifting weights and shaping my body, which was nearly 20 years ago, I had almost no clue what I had to do. At the age of around 17-18 I was really skinny and tall, and got a nickname from my lovely classmates in high school: Matchstick. Let’s be honest, it wasn’t really flattering. In the last year of high school, sometimes in PE classes, I had the chance to use an old bench for some bench presses. As you can imagine, it wasn’t effective at all but at least something had started.
Later, whilst at university, I managed to start working out at a higher level. This was when I bought my first tub of creatine (I remember the day clearly, when we were sitting in the room splitting the magical powder into two equal portions, using a spoon, with my roommate Steve). The university had a gym which exceeded all my expectations – it wasn’t difficult, as I didn’t really have any expectations to start off with.
In every PE class I asked for permission from Mr. Teacher to use the gym. He didn’t really like the idea of it because, in his world, lifting weights just to shape your body was something pointless. He was more worried about making someone, for example, a better swimmer, and felt weights had no impact on this. I remember when we started the kayaking season, and we had to take an exam from swimming. I was the last one to finish the 200m and Mr. Teacher was encouraging me loudly from the side of the pool, walking up and down. He may have been encouraging, but he was still making it clear that going to the gym didn’t make you better in kayaking and so on. I didn’t agree…
After university, at my first real workplace, which had a well-equipedd gym, I finally had the chance to go on with my training and experimenting. I tried loads of different supplements and dieting strategies. The dieting was key – there was a time when I used to eat lots of junk food, with my personal best being six cheeseburgers in one go. Of course, there was a result: 110kg bodyweight…not so lean. I also had to manage general life situations, finding the time and energy to train.
I had learned a lot in those years, and it was all stuff which couldn’t be gained from magazines and books. Nowadays you literally have the humanity’s whole knowledge in your pocket to access anytime, but this was before the age of gadgets. Here is a list of the key elements I learned back then (and have been learning every day since). I hope you can use this to your own benefit, so you don’t need to spend time on finding these out on your own, as I did.
1. Consistency, persistence
When we talk about weight loss, muscle gain or shaping the body in any way, one thing is for sure: you won’t see results overnight. Those fat pillows around your belly didn’t appear suddenly, and those muscular guys in the gym haven’t only been training for a month. Be patient and give some time to yourself. In order to start seeing improvements or to step up to the next level , you can’t afford any skipped sessions. Staying out all night (not to mention drinking) or days when you ‘don’t have time’ to do what needs to be done just won’t get you the results you’re hoping for.
Sit down and think about your next week – plan ahead! Plan your daily, weekly or even monthly schedule. Find those times to fit in to your schedule and work out what will be an effective training plan.
As a start, 2-3 days a week is fine. Book yourself in for those times and don’t let anyone to distract you. Those are your moments, and you owe it to yourself to use those hours productively. If you seriously think that you don’t have time, just think about those times when you just watch tv or play around with your phone… Honestly! Most people don’t even realise how much time they spend like that. When you catch yourself doing anything like this, just ask yourself ‘what is my intention by doing this and how does this support my goals?’ You will be able to answer these questions easily…
I hear this a lot – ‘I have to train xy body part today’, ‘I am too tired’, ‘I don’t feel too well’, ‘it is too cold/hot’.
First of all, training yourself is not obligatory. You don’t HAVE to do it. Nobody will force you to go to the gym against your will. What you need to understand is that this is not an obligation. It is a favour that you are doing for yourself. I know that every begininng is difficult, be it training, dieting or creating a system which works for you, but I guarantee that those difficulties in the beginning will quickly turn into enthusiasm as soon as you see/feel the first signs of your progression. From then on, there will be no tiredness, you won’t be influenced by all kinds of circumstances, and you’ll have no excuses. The tiredness will disappear after the first couple of minutes once you get to the gym, the cold/hot will make you prouder after you finish your session because you did it regardless of the temperature, and you will also realise that the illness was just something you imagined. When I do intervals (which in my case means sprints alternating with walking), on the peak of the high intensity period when it hurts the most, I always smile because I was given this lucky opportinity to have the ability to do something like this. I know, for sure, that some of us would be extremely happy just to be able to walk. Think about this when you are looking for your excuses why not to train!
3. The changing of your training plan
If you can describe your sessions as ‘I NORMALLY do this exercise on my chest day…’, ‘I NORMALLY use this weight…’, ‘I NORMALLY do this and this number of sets and reps’, then you can be sure that you have found one the most important factors which holds you back.
You always have to change something in order to give a new challange to your body. If you can accomplish four sets of eight squats, using 50kg, and it has been three months doing this, then it is time to move on. If your first exercise is always bench press on your chest day, then you should try something else.
In order to be able to take a good look at your session and progression so you can plan ahead, you need to track your sessions. Guessing is not enough. ‘As I remember, last time I used 20kg… ‘ is not good enough. ‘Last time I used 20kg and in the first set I could do 14, in the 2nd 10 and in the 3rd 7, with this tempo, having this amount of rest time between sets’ is much better. You can build on this, but it’s a good basis to start from.
Start writing everything down. You can use just pen and paper, or you can download some applications (Trainerize, Jefit, Gym Buddy) to your smartphone. This is essential for you to be able to build an effective training plan. You can also print THIS out, which is what I use with my clients.
This is the foundation of an effective training program.
4. Proper form
The proper form and all the details about it could make a nice novel on its own. For now, if your primary goal is to shape your body, then during your workouts your focus is definitely not on the pointless moving of the heaviest weights, regardless of what muscles you use for that movement. Your main goal is to contract certain muscles, and the movement is only a by-product of the contraction. The ability to contract muscles is a skill that you need to learn and, unfortunately, this doesn’t happen overnight. The best thing you can do is to ask for help from a professional. This way you can save months or even years on your progression.
I also need to add that those athletes whose main goal is not the shaping of their bodies use different principles, and for them the movement itself is much more important than the contracting muscle.
Your diet is probably the most important building block in the process of your body transformation. Although it is the most important, it’s not as complicated as it seems from the huge variety of fad diets and ads of the newest magic pills.
Let’s make this very simple.
Take a look in the mirror and/or measure yourself (girth measurements, weight, etc). Start tracking your diet. The amount and quality of the food you eat casues your body to look like it is now, shown by the mirror and numbers. Change something – mostly the quantity but the quality is important too. Take a look in the mirror/measure yourself again a week later. If you can see changes in the right direction then go on, if there is no change at all (or there is but in the wrong direction), then try to change something else. Of course, professional help can save you loads of time here too, but nobody will be able to tell you straight away what to eat or how much exactly. There are guidelines and calculations that you or a professional can use, but everyone is different and, as this is your body and doesn’t necessarily want to follow the same rules, so some adjustment will be needed.
To track your diet, again, you can use pen and paper, or there are smartphone applications, like MyFitnessPal, which can make your life much easier.
6. Adequate rest
Your body won’t improve during your sessions, but it’ll happen when you sleep. More is not always better when it comes to the number of sessions you do. A lot of people make the mistake of trying to rush the results, so they train every day, or even more than once a day. This, in most cases, is not only futile but detrimental. Don’t try to follow the newest Schwarzenegger’s training plan (authentically written, obviously, by him) from the internet. Even if it was a genuine plan from him, it probably wouldn’t work for you, as you are not him genetically and regarding any other circumstances, right?
Have a plan, earphones in, and hit the gym! Instead of chatting with your friends, do a fast, intense session and then shoot home, eat and rest! If you take a look at those guys in the gym, who are in top form, you will realise that they do exactly this…
If you seriously consider everything in the list above and act, you can save years from your training progression.
Always feel free to ask, if you have questions: