The first 20 years I thought grit and stamina and simply wasting yourself completely everytime was the way to go. I did endless exercises, reps and sets, training 4 hours at a time and many times a week. In addition I lived on carbs (and trace amounts of protein).
The last 5-7 years I have been much more systematic in my approach, and I have achieved so much more, despite being middle-aged.
Here are some of the simple but useful lessons I have learned:
- To build strength: lift heavy weights about 5 times, rest about 2-3 minutes between sets
- Do compound exercises: deadlift, squat, overhead press, bench press, pull-ups, dips, rows
- Do speed work and other repetition tempo variations
- Limit your workouts to 60 minutes (testosterone/cortisol balance)
- To build muscle mass: lift lighter weights to failure about 12 times, rest 30-60 seconds
- Avoid micro rests between reps in the top or bottom of the rep, focus on keeping tension in the muscle throughout the set to cause metabolic stress.
- Longer workouts are OK to reach failure in several muscle groups and stimulate growth but more than 90 minutes is probably counter productive
- Iterate between building strength and muscle mass (requisite to get stronger) to gradually get both bigger and stronger
- Try new programming and periodisation about every three months. Google schemes like Smolov, Russian squat routine, 5x5, 5-3-1, Madcow, critical bench... Sometimes focus on many reps, sometimes on hevy but few, sometimes both in the same work out.
- Aim for a new record lift at least once a year
And some other tips:
- White-knuckle the bar (grip the bar hard as if to crush it, that primes the other muscles to contract fully. Or use fat gripz). Try it in the bench press, in pull-ups, in dead-lifts, in overhead press; you may be surprised
- Avoid cardio on weight lifting days. I avoid cardio all days since I think it is boring. A couple of times a year, however, I run 10-20 kilometers (6-12 miles) just to verify my heart, lungs and legs still work as they should.
- 3-4 hours a week is plenty. You should have very good reasons to work out more often than 3-4 times a week,... and if you have very good reasons you wouldn't be reading this
- Concentrate your food intake around (with focus on after) your work outs. You are naturally hungry, the body wants nutrition to undo the damage, your insulin won't spike on carbs. I always drink one liter (1/4 gallon) of milk in the men's locker room directly after every work out.
- Fast. I fast 16 hours every day. In practice, I skip breakfast and just have a coffee instead. That enables body sculpting without always having the body in full growth mode (which increases the risk of cancer and general aging). During fasting, the body cleanses itself through autophagocytosis. Also fasting enables both dieting and bulking every day, eliminating the need for seasonal dieting. Check out the Leangains fasting guide here.
- Drink Omega3 oil. It prevents and reduces inflammation, thus speeding up recovery after training and reduces the risk of falling ill. When I started drinking Omega3 from ArcticMed, I was constantly overtrained at just 2-3 hours per week, catching a cold about 2 times per year, and was about to reduce my schedule to 2 hours weight lifting per week. Within a couple of months even 3 workouts/week felt too little and I started going to the gym 4 times instead. Now, I feel less exhausted on 4h/week than I did on 2.5h and I am never ill anymore; I've had just one cold/fever/sore throat since 2006.
- Sit-ups are not required for a six-pack. Your abs will get enough exercise from all other compound movements, but if you really feel the need to do some ab specific work do leg raises and planks.
1994 (22 years old)
Working out 10 times a week and full of hormones.
1000s of situps per week
2007 (35 years old)
Working out 5 times a week x 2 hours at a time. Eating too little...
Still doing hours of situps per week
2014 (42 years old)
Compound exercises 3-4 hours a week. Drinking milk.
Limits situps to 100/week