Most people who go to the gym simply have no idea what they’re doing. They are half-hearted in their efforts, and they train aimlessly without any real purpose.
I think the main reason this happens is due to lack of education.
They’ve never taken the time to truly understand weight training and how to actually get results from their time in the gym.
In truth, long-term success in the health and fitness game comes from sticking to tried and tested principles. Now, in over a decade of training consistently, I can tell you that there’s a lot more to it than this article.
However, what I’m going to share with you are five principles that are going to stand you in good stead. And if you apply what you learn here, you will be way ahead of 99% of people who train.
1. Focus on muscle fiber contractions
When you go to the average gym and take a look around, most guys are focused entirely on moving weights from A to B.
This is fine if you want to be a powerlifter and simply get numbers on the bar. However, if you want to build quality muscle mass you need to focus on muscle contractions.
Muscle contraction means squeezing the muscle in every exercise.
For example, at the bottom portion of a lat pulldown, you would pause and really aim to squeeze your lats. As opposed to mindlessly lifting the weight up and down as most do.
In addition to squeezing at the top of every contraction, you want to slow down the eccentric (negative) portion of the lift. This is the lowering part of the lift.
Aim to lower the weight for 2-3 seconds on every lift and watch the difference it makes to your physique. Indeed, research shows that the negative part of the lift is the one that leads to the most gains.
Jay Campbell and I elaborate much further on this topic in our new book: Living a Fully Optimized Life.
2. You need to build a strength base
Another thing that came up in our conversation was the importance of building a base.
That means building a solid foundation of strength. In the beginning, the best way to do this is through big compound movements like squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, bench press, military press and bent over rows.
These movements serve a few purposes. They help you develop neuromuscular co-ordination – which is key to the mind-muscle connection. They also give you the best bang for your buck and help you pack on plenty of size and strength.
Rookie trainees have no business doing isolation exercises, or should at least do them in small doses.
Don’t go chasing numbers that you read about on the Internet. Your strength is relative to your own bodyweight.
But in terms of simple numbers, the following numbers a good benchmark for building a strength base:
– 1.5 x bodyweight squat
– 2 x bodyweight deadlift
– 1 x bodyweight bench press
– 0.75 x bodyweight military press
Now, do you have to achieve all these? Not necessarily. It may hurt your knees or back to squat, and if this is the case you should follow the tried and tested maxim:
If it hurts, don’t do it.
However, where possible you should aim to at least achieve these numbers in three areas.
Hitting these numbers will give you a solid strength foundation that you can take into a muscle building phase. The ability to lift more weight for a greater number of repetitions is ultimately going to translate to improved muscularity.
It might take a while to build this base. But it’s worth it and will dramatically improve your body composition.
3. Machines are your friend
I used to scorn machines thinking they were for pussies and free weights were for the ‘real men.’ That was until one day I had a lightbulb moment after watching a video of a professional bodybuilder.
He said that you would be laughed out of the gym if you told him machines were for pussies.
My original training philosophy was simple:
Lift free weights, do compound exercises and you’re guaranteed a great physique! In reality, building a physique to be proud of takes a lot more thought.
Machines allow you to maintain constant time under tension.
For example, when you do regular chest flys, the tension is removed at the top of the movement. Whereas machine flys keep your pecs under constant tension throughout the range of motion.
Ultimately, more time under tension results in more overall volume and workload, leading to greater adaptations.
Machines allow you to target muscles from multiple angles. As a result, you can develop your muscles in a way that is simply not possible with free weights.
What’s more, and this is often overlooked, they are also kind on your joints and reduce the possibility of injury. This is especially true if you’re a man in his 40s or 50s.
Machines are extremely safe and dramatically lower the risk of injury. This is huge. How many people do you know who get injured using free weights? Many I suspect, but by comparison, relatively few injure themselves with machines.
Now this not necessarily an argument to say one form is better than the other. It’s simply to point out there are benefits of using both machines and free weights in your routine.
4. You can’t out train a bad diet
This one had stood the test of time:
You can’t out train a bad diet.
If you want maximum results in the gym, it’s in your best interests to eat like it. Indeed, I would go as far to say that nutrition is up to 80% of the game.
The food you put in your body determines your energy levels, your performance in the gym and the way you look.
I used to think I could train my balls off and get great results. I did get stronger and bigger. But in all honesty, I didn’t look all that good – I looked soft.
One day I looked in the mirror and decided that I wanted more from all my hard work and effort. Why train balls to the wall only to look OK?
I knew I had to take my nutrition seriously. Ever since then, my results in the gym have taken off.
You can train all you want, but if you don’t have the diet to support it, you’re leaving money on the table.
Why waste your precious time and energy?
5. Most guys who juice have it the wrong way around
In my book, Optimized Under 35, I have an entire chapter on anabolic steroid abuse in men.
Suffice to say, it’s full-blown epidemic, and yet hardly anyone recognizes it.
Men are taking steroids in their droves; often in massive quantities. All in the pursuit of muscle gain. But this comes at an extraordinary cost to their health.
However, many of them don’t seem to care.
I don’t know exactly what convinces men that they need to resort to gear to make progress in the gym. I suspect it’s a combination of social media and misguided expectations.
But truth be told, with a solid work ethic, proper nutrition and a testosterone-friendly lifestyle, you can build a QUALITY physique.
Totally natural. No gear required.
If you’re an older trainee, testosterone replacement therapy may be necessary to restore your hormones to an optimal level. But even then, most men would do well simply to improve their nutrition and lifestyle habits.
This is what my 1-on-1 coaching specializes in.
Anabolic steroids aren’t going somehow shortcut their success, despite what the bros say on the Internet. If you don’t already have the proper foundation of work ethic, nutrition and lifestyle in place, taking steroids will do nothing for you.