Fitness and diet, part 2

Here are some excerpts from my book Righteous Seduction, which I’m posting in serial form.  I’m presenting this to you for free, because this information is valuable to the public.  Being fit and healthy is a good thing; being better-looking is a cool side effect.  Stay tuned for more.

Once again, the disclaimer:  The information herein is meant to supplement, not replace, proper weight training.  Like any sport involving speed, equipment, balance, and environmental factors, weight training poses some inherent risk.  I advise you to take full responsibility for your safety and know your limits.  Before practicing the skills described here, be sure that your equipment is well maintained, and do not take risks beyond your level of experience, aptitude, training, and comfort level.

Get ‘er done

So, onto the specifics.  There are a great many exercise routines out there, which can lead to a bit of information overload, but there is no One True Way to do this.  I’ll give you something to start with, and you can and adapt it to whatever works for you and your lifestyle; just be sure to get off the couch and do it.  This will be a split routine, four days a week.  Two of the days, work out your upper body, two others, work out your lower body.  Like this:

  • Monday:  uppers
  • Tuesday:  lowers
  • Thursday:  uppers
  • Friday:  lowers

This will give you some time to rest and recover; you’ll need it.  Workouts should be at least half an hour, but no more than an hour long; overtraining is counterproductive.  The exercises will consist of one or more sets, each with a fixed number of reps (repetitions) or until you can go no further.  Between each set, rest for a minute for uppers or two for lowers.  On each rep, extend for two seconds, hold for one second, then contract for one second.  My personal technique is a little more “explosive”, but I’m just impatient that way.  I’ll spare you a long discussion about muscle fiber types.  Between sets, rest for one or two minutes, or start working on something else.

There’s a huge debate on cardiovascular training – aerobics, running, swimming, etc. – versus weight training.  I’ll cut it short and give my view.  Here are the differences:

  • Cardio:  Burn some calories at the gym for an hour.
  • Weights:  Burn some calories at the gym for an hour.  Eventually, your muscle mass increases, causing you to burn more calories at rest.

To me, the answer to the debate is pretty obvious.  If that doesn’t convince you, consider that both types of activities will get you slimmer, but only weightlifting gets you those musssscles!  The thing that cardio has going for it is that it doesn’t give you much of a workout burn later.  However, boosting your metabolism through weight training is an acceptable payoff for the pain, and looking muscular is better than just looking skinny.  Leaving it out just won’t get you the same results.  Still, if you want to throw in a day or two of cardio in addition to your weight training sessions, that’s cool too.  If you go to the aerobics class at your gym, you’ll probably be the only guy there, but that isn’t necessarily such a bad thing, now is it?  Likewise for yoga and pilates.

So start with the four day split given above, and see how it goes.  For uppers, this will include barbell curls, tricep extensions (such as “skull crushers”), bench press (get a spotter for that one, or use a bench with lockout bars!), chin-ups (or pull-downs if you ain’t there yet), and rows (either a machine, or pulling up dumbbells while crouched over a bench).  For leg day, go with either squats (place a barbell on your shoulders, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground, and stand up again), deadlifts (lift a barbell from the floor and set it down again), or a leg press machine.  Give each two sets of ten reps, vary as needed.

There is a lot of debate about high-intensity versus high volume.  Here are a few methods:

  • On the high volume end of the spectrum is German volume training.  This involves ten sets of ten reps, at 60% of the maximum amount of weight you can possibly move.  Then after that if the spirit moves you, three sets of similar exercises.  This is the way it goes.  Sets 1-2, you will think it’s going to be a breeze.  Sets 3-4, you will change your mind about that.  Sets 5-6, you’re starting to question your wisdom.  Sets 7-8, you’ll catch your second wind.  Sets 9-10, you’re running on pure inertia and the knowledge that the goal is just ahead of you.
  • As for the high intensity technique, this means 1-2 sets where you reach muscular failure – you can go no further – after 6-12 reps.  If you’ve reached the twelfth rep and can go on, then it’s time to start increasing the weight.  One advantage is that it lends itself to faster workouts.
  • Also, there is the pyramid method.  Start with a weight that’s not too challenging and do 10 reps.  Then increase the weight two notches and do ten more reps.  Repeat until you can do no more.  Then back it down two notches and do 10 reps.  Repeat until you’re at your starting position.
  • In addition to the above, there is a great range of possibilities in between low and high intensity, or intervals where you alternate, such as squats and cardio.

Again, there is no One True Way.  Find out what works for you.

Then there is the debate about free weights versus machines.  Personally, I prefer free weights, as this better helps to work supporting muscles.  Once more, do whatever works for you.  Make sure to study the correct form ahead of time so you don’t do things like hurt your back.  In general, this means keep your back in place and let your legs and butt do the lifting for deadlifts or squats.  For the bench press, have a spotter with you who can get the barbell off your neck if you run out of steam on the downstroke.  Having a barbell stuck on your neck and no way to get it off would kind of ruin your day.

If you’ve never lifted weights before, then the first two times, go easy and focus on getting the motions right; that part is important, as I just mentioned.  Also, if you come home sobbing like a little punk after your first trip to the gym because you hit it too hard, then this will make you reluctant to do it again.  Afterwards, start ramping it up, find out what your maximums are, and start pushing the envelope.

Now for a word on pain.  There are two types:  the post-workout burn, and localized stabbing pain.  The first type – delayed onset muscle soreness – is normal, and it’s not a bad thing because it’s a sign of progress.  (Just butch up.)  If you hit it hard, this will peak 2-3 days after the workout and rapidly diminish after that.  The second type of pain – a stabbing or shooting sensation – happens if you push it too far and get some tearing in a muscle.  If this happens, then stop working that muscle until the pain goes away, or you’ll damage it worse.  The human body contains approximately 650 skeletal muscles, so avoid that one and work on the rest.

You should make progress over time in one of three ways:  increased weight, increased volume (more sets, more reps), or better form.  An example of an improvement to form would be going from the “swaying doing curls like a drunken sailor” technique to doing it the correct way.  If you get stuck in a plateau, then vary it up a bit.  For instance, if you’ve been doing a high intensity technique, try higher volume or a pyramid superset.

Eventually your gut will start to go away.  It takes a while, but it happens.  You didn’t lard up in a day, so you don’t get rid of it in a day.  Fat distribution will come off the same way it came on.  Suppose it started with a spare tire, then love handles, then those cute back rolls.  Once the weight comes off, it goes in reverse order:  the back rolls go away, then the love handles, then the spare tire.  Lastly, spot reduction doesn’t work.  That is, if you do 10,000 situps, that won’t give you six-pack abdominals.  If you get your body fat to 10% or lower, that gives you the six-pack.

About 15-30 minutes after the workout is the best time to eat.  There is science to back it up, but I’m too lazy to look up the citations.  Make sure that you get a decent amount of protein, to recover and build your muscles.  That doesn’t mean to gobble down a couple of double cheeseburgers.  Good protein sources might include skim milk, lean meat, or powdered preparations to make shakes which your gym probably sells.  The latter are suitable, but make sure you read the label so that you’re not getting something that isn’t much healthier than kiddie breakfast cereal.  When your body needs protein but doesn’t get it from dietary sources, hormones are released that cause protein to be scavenged from your muscles.  Obviously that’s counterproductive!

Lastly, some guys make the mistake of focusing their efforts only on upper body exercises.  Granted, it looks impressive to have a well-developed torso and arms.  I’ll also be the first to admit that lower body workouts are pretty tough if you hit it really hard.  (After leg day, it won’t even cross your mind to run to your car if it’s raining.)  Even so, don’t neglect working out the legs, or you’ll get a case of the light bulb physique.  One fellow I saw at the gym had an impressively developed upper body, but his legs looked like they belonged to someone from a refugee camp.  See the thing in the paragraph above about protein scavenging.

So, that’s how it’s done.  Now get out there and do it.  After that, nobody will kick sand in your face at the beach and take away your girl!

Posts in this series

  1. Fitness and diet, part 1 – My journey, and why you should get the body you want
  2. Fitness and diet, part 2 – How to get started lifting weights
  3. Fitness and diet, part 3 – Nutrition 101
  4. Fitness and diet, part 4 (final) – How to avoid diet pitfalls

See also my first 50 posts and the main page

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Fitness and diet, part 2

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