In just seven days… oh baby…

Since last weeks post on fitness (or lack of it) on SciBlogs*, blag brother Ethan suggested a blag-wide fitness event– lets all talk about our personal ‘fitness’. What we do, why we do it, mistakes we made along the way, even though we are totally amateurs :P

Heres his pretty post :)

My post is going to be primarily directed towards women, but it applies to men too. Doesnt matter whether you want to get big, get small, or just get healthy. *clears throat*

LIFT WEIGHTS.



A long time ago in a galaxy right here, I worked out like a Generic Woman. Treadmill. Eliptical. Bike. Aerobics classes. “All you have to do is get skinny, and youll have the body you want!”

Except I didnt.

I was ‘skinny’, but I didnt have the body I wanted, I wasnt healthy, and I had a body fat percentage of ~25%.

So I put down SELF and picked up Oxygen, a magazine that had models that looked like women I thought were sexah. Started to get a bad feeling… I needed to learn how to lift weights.

That side of the gym‘ is scary. No machines. Just benches, cages, and lots and lots of weights. Girls arent taught to lift weights (YOULL GET BULKY!, no, you wont), much less how to lift weights properly. So I hired a personal trainer for a few weeks to teach me how to lift without hurting/killing myself. I had to tell the trainer “I WANT TO LEARN HOW TO LIFT WEIGHTS FOR REALSIES”, cause he assumed I wanted to ‘tone’ with the pink/purple/aqua dumbbells. When the trainer was 100% clear I was 100% serious, he was 100% awesome.

There are four exercises you need to learn how to do well. Make these four exercises your focus (and variations of these four), and everything else is icing (running, bicep curls, tennis, whatever).

  1. Deadlifts– Best exercise ever.
  2. Squats
  3. Pull-ups
  4. Bench press

These are compound exercises, meaning they not only work a main muscle group, but tons of teeny tiny muscles you never even knew you had.

An example of what I do:

Day 1– Deadlifts (heavy), military press, reverse flys (light)
Day 2– Pull-ups (heavy), lunges, triceps (light)
Day 3– Squats (heavy), dips, rows (light)
Day 4– Bench press (heavy), step-ups, biceps (light)

That doesnt look like much, does it? But if you really mean ‘heavy’, if you are really lifting as ‘heavy’ as you can while still keeping good form, thats all you really can do. Now, my ‘light’ stuff always rotates. When I get bored/hit a plateau, I mix that stuff around. But I always do the four core exercises.

I cut off ~10% body fat just doing that. No cardio. And now that the bf is off, Ive got awesome muscles to show off. No more skinny fat. However, since I got Arnie-man, Ive had to start doing cardio again (energetic pit bull + 3-6 mile run every day = furniture not destroyed by bored dog), so I just eat more :-/

Youll also notice there is no ab work in there either. Compound exercises, baby! All four of those work your abs. No reason to get on the floor.

Whether you need to lose weight or you need to gain weight, everyone can benefit from learning how to do these four exercises. Theyre just hard to start doing cause theyre scary, people are afraid to ask for help, and afraid to look stupid learning how to do the exercises right. I flopped around like a fish for weeks, trying to do my first pull up– who the hell cares what you look like or how light of weight you are using? I swear to god, anyone can do this!

** HI SCIBLAG OVERLORDS! WHY HAVENT YOU GOTTEN BACK TO ME ON ADDING FITNESS/DIET BLAGGERS, LIKE TONS OF READERS WANTED? KTHXBAI.

Comments

  1. #1 Pteryxx
    January 9, 2010

    One clarification… does “no machines on that side of the gym” include weight machines? Is there anything special about lifting free weights that is lacking in the same exercises done on machines?

  2. #2 ERV
    January 9, 2010

    I dont like machines because they 1) restrict movement and 2) take out all the teeny tiny stabilizer muscles you work with free-weights.

    Example: People can usually do a billion lbs on a leg-press or leg-extension machines… but then they cant squat the bar without falling over.

    BUT, I actually had to stop squatting for about a year because our student gym didnt have a power-cage or squat-rack. A leg press is a gazillion times better than not doing a squat safely!

  3. #3 Rosie Redfield
    January 9, 2010

    The difference between using ‘free weights’ and weight machines is working the tons of teeny tiny muscles as well as the big ones. With a machine keeping the weight straight and steady, you only work the big muscles. With free weights all the little muscles and off-to-the-side muscles are busy too, maintaining the relative positions of your body and the weight (that’s what ‘form’ means).

    Plus, machines are REALLY boring to use. With free weights you need to pay attention to what you’re doing, and you’re rewarded with not only lifting the weight, but doing it beautifully.

  4. #4 Sili
    January 9, 2010

    I still think it looks scary.

    But I’m shy and care far too much what other people think.

  5. #5 Tyler DiPietro
    January 9, 2010

    I love lifting. My problem is diet. I want to be able to eat pizza, drink soda, etc. But that’s not the way to get fit.

    Also, I can’t do pullups worth a fuck. Never could in my entire life.

  6. #6 ERV
    January 9, 2010

    Rosie– *high-five!*

    Sili– Other people are idiots. Why do you care what they think?

    Tyler– You just have to get used to the movement. If your gym has an assisted pull-up machine, use it instead of doing lat pull-downs.

    If they dont, do negatives. Start in the up position, then slooooowly lower yourself down. Thats how I started :)

  7. #7 Sili
    January 9, 2010

    Because I’m horribly conformist?

    Iono – in a perfect world I’d buy fewer comic books and join a gym. But I doubt even having paid for it will make my laziness any less. But thanks for the encouragement &c.

  8. #8 Art
    January 9, 2010

    Sili & erv – I don’t think other people are idiots. They just probably don’t even care about how you are doing it. I’m very selfconscious but then I realized that just as I wasn’t really looking at everyone under a microscope, they probably weren’t looking at me that closely either.

    Who cares if I lift the little weights? That’s what I can do and eventually it starts going up. (Same goes for everything else.)

  9. #9 JRQ
    January 9, 2010

    I felt the same way about the little weights, but sucked it up and thought, “fuck it — look at me. I’m no more embarassing myself by picking up a little weight than by stepping out in public in the first place.”

  10. #10 Thanny
    January 9, 2010

    The problem with free weights is that you need a spotter.

    A machine that you can use safely by yourself is better than free weights you never pick up.

  11. #11 Leonids11
    January 9, 2010

    Many thanks for the weightlifting suggestions. I’ll definitely add dead lifts to my routine. I appreciate your comments about forgoing getting on the floor to do ab work.

    You’ve certainly started an important discussion and highlighted the need for fitness/diet bloggers on sciblogs. I liked most of Eric’s post, but he made at least two dubious claims:

    “(1) Cool down and stretch! This is supremely important for maintaining flexibility and avoiding injury” and (2) “if your goal is to build muscle, you should be getting a lot more protein than the USRDA says.”

    Stretching and increasing protein ingestion are both controversial and potentially injurious and unhealthy practices. I know this isn’t Eric’s blog. I’m using his fitness claims to highlight the need for a fitness/diet blogger who could speak to the scientific evidence or lack thereof behind such claims.

    You don’t get toned lifting those pink/purple/aqua Tinker Toys. I have a couple of observations about cardio. I don’t find the cardio/weight or aerobic/anearobic dichotomy very useful. Running, for example, is a form of weightlifting — each leg balances the impact of your body weight repeatedly. I think improvement in running performances is gained through repetition, which improves the neuromuscular coordination required for running. If it were simply a matter of “cardio” endurance, there’d be no need to run — rowing would suffice. But you can’t become a good runner by rowing and vice versa.

    I try to exercise regularly. Nowadays, I run, lift weights, and enter road races. I find doing so gives me incentive to eat and sleep sensibly, run, and lift consistently.

    My (lay person’s) recommendation to anyone who wants to get fit or fitter is to start by acknowledging your genetic limitations (some people never exercise yet are in great shape; others seem to live in the gym and break a sweat turning around); practicing sleep hygiene; refrain from overeating; add fruits and veggies to your diet; find ways to get exercise off and on throughout the day (I’m standing on one leg as I type this; and lift heavy weights like ERV.

  12. #12 deep
    January 9, 2010

    I could never do pullups. Not even when an active youngster without the hips of lead. My poor tiny little arms…

    Anyway, you may not have motivated me to go to a gym, but I’ll probably at least try to do something exersizy.

  13. #13 Mike K.
    January 9, 2010

    for those that can’t do pullups (like me), a gym should have an assisted pullup/dip machine. It works the opposite of the other machines though-when you add weight it actually makes it easier because it counterbalances your own weight. That way you can still do pullups, and you work your way to eventually doing them unaided.

  14. #14 the backpacker
    January 9, 2010

    Lifting is great but don’t discount cardio. Besides what good are big muscles if you are not useing them for something fun Cross Country ski rases or Judo matches or climbimng in the high alpine. Fitness is just not worth having if you are not doing somthing fun with it.

  15. #15 Adela
    January 9, 2010

    Alas hypermobility of the joints and too many locations of arthritis means no weight bearing exercise or at least not standard types.

  16. #16 Rosie Redfield
    January 9, 2010

    @Thanny: You only really need a spotter for free weights when you’re pushing yourself very close to your limit (or when you’re just starting and haven’t learned the form yet).

  17. #17 Murray
    January 10, 2010

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been getting bored at the gym, and I’ve definitely got some skinny fat. I’ll make a point of learning to do deadlifts and squats, and spend less time on the machines.

  18. #18 Dr. Matthew
    January 10, 2010

    Thanks… though for all the wrong reasons (as you saw on my facebook page, I had a recent gaybasher issue), I’m trying to get back to the gym, and am never quite sure where to start.

    Assisted pull-up machines make my workouts possible. ;)

  19. #19 Stephanie Z
    January 10, 2010

    Adela, bad knees cut out plenty of options too. Luckily, you can still do a hell of a lot down on the floor (if you can get there and back), and it takes a good while before your own body weight can’t give you enough of a workout.

  20. #20 revatheist
    January 10, 2010

    My wife and I are both heavily overweight, and we were tired of always feeling tired, plus we want to set a good example for our daughter, so we began an exercise program. We live in small town Oklahoma, so there isn’t much in the way of exercise establishments, so we’re starting off at home just using “The Biggest Loser” on the Wii. It’s actually pretty awesome, we’ve gone from not exercising at all to doing at least 30 minutes a day (small steps), and it feels great! I’m going to start posting results on my blog, hoping that being more open and public about it will help to motivate me.

  21. #21 Richard
    January 10, 2010

    This is a really interesting discussion and I’d just like to comment on some of the points being made:

    “The problem with free weights is that you need a spotter.” – As Rosie Redfield said, you don’t always need a spotter. In addition, you can do those exercises where a spotter is safer, like squat and bench, in a power rack and complete eliminate that need.

    “Stretching and increasing protein ingestion are both controversial and potentially injurious and unhealthy practices. I know this isn’t Eric’s blog. I’m using his fitness claims to highlight the need for a fitness/diet blogger who could speak to the scientific evidence or lack thereof behind such claims.”

    The issue of science in exercise is one that really interests me. I feel that the relationship between scientists and coaches is an interesting one, much like the relationship between scientists and engineers. Both coaches and engineers work in the practical world, and regularly fill in the gaps in scientific knowledge with intuition and experience.

    The argument regarding how much protein one should consume is case in point. You won’t find a strength or bodybuilding coach who doesn’t recommend large amounts of protein. I have heard that there is controversy in the scientific community surrounding this. Who should one believe? It is very hard to argue with results, and that is what coaches generate. Personally, I would rather go to coaches like Dave Tate, Jim Wendler or Mark Rippletoe for exercise advice, than to the pages of a journal (figuratively speaking), because there is exhaustive evidence that their “packages” work, even though some of their claims may be disputed.

    Sorry for the essay :-). I’m off to deadlift. It’s my favorite exercise.

  22. #22 Sili
    January 10, 2010

    I don’t have any peer reviewed science, but I suddenly remembered one of the few episodes I’ve seen of an excellent Danish pop science programme:

    (last paragraph)
    Nor is it news that protein increases the effect of working out. But at Bisbebjerg Hospital researchers lead by professor Michael Kjær have discovered that it matters a lot when the protein is ingested, and that is something that Team Danmark and the elite sportstpeople have benefited from.

    That’s one name to search PubMed from at least.

  23. #23 sarah
    January 10, 2010

    I hate weight lifting. The problem is time to do both weights and swimming but now it seems I have slight rotator cuff problem I’m going to have to do something other than swimming for the time being. Now I have all the time in the world to lift weights but I resent it because I would rather be swimming. However, if I was strengthening my rotator cuff muscles while training I probably wouldn’t be in this bind. I could do pull ups when my shoulder was healthy albeit, not very many.

  24. #24 D. C. Sessions
    January 10, 2010

    One qualifier for those too stupid or testosterone-poisoned to figure it out on your own:

    All of the above assumes that your bod is pretty much stock. If you have old injuries or other funky stuff (e.g. off-kilter joints) then make damn sure your trainer (or better yet a PT) knows about your anatomical oddities and knows what to do about them.

    I’ve gotten more than forty years out of what’s left of my right knee in large part because I don’t do things like squats (or bumps) that my orthopod tells me to avoid. I’ll probably have to have it replaced sometime soon, but I’m in no hurry.

  25. #25 Optimus Primate
    January 10, 2010

    Just when I thought you couldn’t get any cooler, you out yourself as a Regular Frankie Fan. Awesome.

    Thanks for this, by the way. I’ve learned a lot of amazing cool shit at this blog, but I think this one is going to end up benefiting me the most personally in exciting ways. “Skinny fat” is the best description I’ve heard yet of what I’m struggling not to be. If I were gay, I would totally be hot for my own legs right now; my belleh, on the other hand, just won’t go away.

    So weightlifting it is! I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t even considered it.

  26. #26 Peter Janiszewski
    January 10, 2010

    Hello ERV,

    Fantastic post! I am the other half of ObesityPanacea.com – I’m loving the discussion of health and fitness type subjects on SciBlogs. It’s about time! Also, thank you sincerely for the shout out and support. We’d love to bring our exercise physiology/lifestyle modification discussions to the SciBlogs network.

    My training is much like yours – I much prefer weights to cardio, although I ensure to balance the two out. My motivation for becoming active over 15 years ago stemmed from being a rake rather than from being overweight, thus weight training was a natural choice at the time. Since then (and a decade of kinesiology education and research) I’ve come to understand that cardio is very important, and should not be overlooked – at least in terms of cardiovascular health, as well as weight management. For a given amount of time, cardio usually burns a much greater amount of calories than weight training (at least the way most people weight train – that is, do a set and then stand around talking for 5 mins before the next set).

    Over the past year or two I have completely revamped my weight training to what many now call “cross-fit” training. The basic premise is that you combine weights with cardio into the same workout, and you race against the clock to complete each workout. This way, you get much more done in a given amount of gym time than in a usual weight training session. The idea is basically to not rest during the whole workout – switch from one muscle group to an opposing muscle group (bench press directly followed by rows, or shoulder press followed by pull-ups, crunches/back extension, etc) and you don’t need to rest as much between sets. Throw in some box jumps, 200 skips of jump rope, run 2 laps on a treadmill, burpees, rows, etc. This in essence is what I currently do at the gym and it is a ton of fun (if you like that type of thing) and a great workout in much less time.

    As a trial workout – try what has become known as the “300 workout” – supposedly the workout the actors in the movie “300″ did before shooting their intense fight scenes (sans shirts, of course). 300 stands for the number of total reps performed.

    25 body weight pull-ups (can use assisted if necessary)
    50 deadlifts @ 135lbs or whatever weight is doable (your favourite!)
    50 regular pushups
    50 box jumps (about knee height – can use a bench if needed)
    50 floor wipers (tough to explain – may need to google or youtube this one – primarily ab exercise)
    50 single arm dumbbell clean/press @ 35lbs (25 per arm)
    25 body weight pull-ups

    The goal is to do the above in under 20 minutes. When you are not used to this type of training, the first time can feel pretty rough so take it easy. First time I did it, I felt quite sick and I’ve been a gym rat for over a decade. I had to teach a lecture directly after – that was not fun!

    If you’re confused about any of the exercises I’ve listed – just YouTube “300 workout” and you’ll get tons of videos.

    Also, I encourage all to try http://www.crossfit.com which actually gives you a new workout each day – like having a personal trainer, but for free. The site also has videos of all the exercises in the workouts. Keep in mind that some of their workouts are a bit too much (i.e. some days are just 1 rep max squats, cleans, and deadlifts) so unless you are training to be an Olympic lifter, better to skip the more injury-prone workouts.

    Hope the above rambling will be of some assistance in spicing up your program.

    Cheers!

  27. #27 maxh
    January 10, 2010

    Good post ERV… but does rather assume one can a)afford the gym and b)afford a personal trainer to help you use the gym!

    I play field hockey twice a week, have a fairly active job (but can be sitting on my butt for days sometimes) BUT have dodgy knees and hips which does stop me doing a lot. AND no money!

    How does one tone and remove the wobbly bits (I don’t care much about my weight, only my muffin top!) with no proper equipment? A gazillion sit ups? Squats? (ouch) Lunges? (ditto)

    Help a girl out!

  28. #28 Adela
    January 10, 2010

    Stephanie,
    I’m all ready at that limit my own weight can do and by the reckoning of my doctors that’s not going to be enough in the long run. Now they are thinking of having me going to a “skinny fat” state on purpose since that will lighten the strain load overall.

    Legs like tree trunks, creaking, split, old tree trunks.
    The irony is increased muscle mass and density will protect the joints once it’s there but getting there damages them. If I had know that as a teen I would have done the weight training then since the damage would recover fast enough and then my adult life would have been about maintaining it. But I was a teen during the marathon running era for P.E. class the impact forces of which was crippling.

  29. #29 muhr
    January 10, 2010

    I have a recurring lower back injury that I suffered from a stupid heavy squat attempt back in highschool so my first interest is to strengthen my lower back an abs to prevent the injury from rearing its head.

    I’ve found that the barbell glute bridge and dumbbell ab rollout have done a good job at keeping the pain at bay.

    The other exercises I do are pushups (bench press hurts my shoulders), barbell lunges (don’t have a squat rack so I use the lunge instead of squats) or barbell step-ups and single leg dumbbell calf-raises.

    I love the deadlift but my shins are beaten up from banging the bar into them too many times.

    If I feel a need for some cardiovascular exercise I usually do 150 or so reverse bodyweight lunges.

    I do all the above 2/week.

    Not really a common workout, but when you’ve been training long enough you usually figure out what works for yourself.

  30. #30 Optimus Primate
    January 10, 2010

    I’m going to assume that this is not the proper way to do deadlifts.

  31. #31 Katherine
    January 10, 2010

    “Fitness is just not worth having if you are not doing somthing fun with it.” This is a really stupid comment. Fitness makes you feel better no matter what you do with the rest of your time. If I was fitter I would feel better at work, have more motivation, sleep better, and it would be easier to be comfy when I play computer games. I’d also possibly have better reaction times for them if I was fitter.

    Thanks for posting this ERV, it is really hard to find information on the basics on the internet. Last time I tried to ask a question all I got was the self-professed experts mocking me.

  32. #32 Tyler DiPietro
    January 10, 2010

    Just browsing Youtube videos, I found out that my favorite exercise is called “the Romanian deadlift”. You learn something new every day.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eZA_QDy9cY&feature=related

    I was advised not to keep my head up like that, though. Too much strain on your neck/upper back area.

  33. #33 Leonids11
    January 10, 2010

    Richard,

    I’ve surprised at the anti-science bias you display in your Jan. 10 post. The scientific method is the best means of acquiring knowledge ever devised. You suggest not that intuition and experience “fill in the gaps” rather when the science conflicts with intuition and experience, the latter trumps science. If intuition and experience trumped science, we would have no need for science and the world would be flat. Yes, one should look for results and exhaustive evidence when trying to determine what to believe — that’s the very reason one should turn to science.

  34. #34 natural cynic
    January 11, 2010

    Richard:

    It is very hard to argue with results, and that is what coaches generate.

    There are many difference between what the scientists do and what the coaches do. Perhaps the most important difference is that scientists control variables as much as possible, looking for specific changes. Coaches throw a number of variables at athletes, most of them work while some may do a little harm or have no effect.

    The subjects are usually different: exercise scientists usually use more “average” subjects and what they find can be applied to an average person in their daily life. Coaches almost always train elite or close-to-elite athletes who may have already developed physiques and probably have much more of a time and emotional commitment to their endeavors.

    You use the example of protein: coaches want to have athletes use a lot more than scientists say is necessary. The scientist will be usually looking at an average person and what is needed to gain a certain amount of muscle and has to live with the constraints on working with human subjects with the idea that jeopardizing long-term health is a no-no. A coach can get away with overkill because he/she is working with a group that has higher expectations and too often has a cavalier attitude about long-term harm, and only looking for short-term maximal gains.

    On the practical side of “How much protein is needed?”, one consideration that should be taken into account is the fact that a healthy diet will provide more protein simply because more total calories need to be consumed. The ratio of carbo-protein-fat does not need to be skewed by large amounts of protein powders or extra chicken breasts because you will be needing more total calories to fuel your exercise. If you increase the helpings of of legumes or whole grains, that will automatically increase your protein intake. A person will naturally need more good-quality carbs to replenish quickly replenish the glycogen lost by intense activity. If there is too much protein, then the excess will be converted to glucose to do the same thing, except that it will take longer and produce more urea. An important key is understanding your needs and knowing what your intake is.

    And besides, those extra legumes will give you an occasional jet assist ;-/

  35. #35 Richard
    January 11, 2010

    Leonids11:
    “I’ve surprised at the anti-science bias you display in your Jan. 10 post. ”

    I see how you got that impression, I was really inarticulate in that post. My apologies. What I had meant to comment on was the difficulty in taking the results in certain studies and extrapolating from them to general recommendations for resistance training. For example, certain studies have found that excessive consumption beyond the recommended 0.8g/kg BM of protein may be harmful in certain situations. Other studies have found that protein intakes of 2g/kg BM (approximately what most coaches recommend) are safe. My point about coaches was that they are often a good filter for this type of conflicting information.

    natural cynic:
    Your post was interesting, thank you.

    “Coaches throw a number of variables at athletes, most of them work while some may do a little harm or have no effect.” – That was exactly what I had meant.

    “A coach … cavalier attitude about long-term harm, and only looking for short-term maximal gains.” – That is very true. I have first hand experience of it with respect to injuries.

  36. #36 Prometheus
    January 11, 2010

    Congrats ERV on the front page doubles.

    This is an awesome opportunity to share anecdotes regarding OUR physical culture with others who need OUR help and advice. You know who I’m talking about, the ugly fat sickies neeeeed US to show them the way.

    My Health! By ME!

    I like to beat the dawn to a pulp by examining myself in a full length mirror with the help of a couple of surgical theater lights.

    Having assured myself there are no blemishes, freckles, signs of age or other flaws (there never are) I exfoliate/shave with a Cyclone model FT3522 Glass Bead Blaster and coat myself liberally with a collection of secret salves, tinctures and unguents.

    With a cinder block under each arm and Gotterdammerung blaring in my ears I kick down the front door and sprint fully nude ten miles to the gym.

    I agree completely with Erv regarding free weights and will only lift weight lifters using free weights. I try and pick people about the same size and carrying the same weight before I swing them around like indian clubs (not going to get disproportionate…..not I) for an hour or so.

    Diet is important and I scout out parks with lots of leaves, bark, squirrels and toddlers to stay on a high fiber all organic regimen. Remember to torch the park and trigger the sprinkler system. Three gallons of charcoal filtered water right out of the storm drains, like nature intended, keeps me hydrated.

    I’m usually about four hours late for work but they are so happy to look at my body that no one says anything. I use my powerful calves to leap from cubicle to cubicle like a panther and berate the physiques of my co-workers. I believe in tough love because I am so tough I could believe in no other kind of love.

    I knock off work a few hours early to see how many of the legendary feats of Paul Bunyan I can top before I swing (literally) by the fire department for my colonic hydrotherapy. I feel sorry for those flabby lumps that still go to the bathroom the filthy primitive way. My plumbing is like a bronze flügelhorn playing “Flight of the Bumblebee”.

    The end of the 13 hour Wagnerian opera signals sleep. The goblins and mere mortals who live in the light of my physical fitness have done my laundry paid my bills and restored the front door to its hinges. I like eleven hours sleep on the ol’cement platform under the chain mail blanky. I shred normal bedding having taught myself through sheer force of will to perform no less than ten different glute toning reps during my sleep cycle.

    My buttocks and I can’t wait for morning. Grrrrrrrrrr.

  37. #37 Darrell E
    January 11, 2010

    It is great to see these posts on fitness, and the discussions they have sparked, on Scienceblogs. I am not a scientist of any type, let alone in a field that is relevant to fitness. But weight training is something that I have done for most of my adult life. There have been a few periods of my life where I have completely let myself go and had to start all over again from scratch. I was initially taught weight lifting in high school by coaches that, in retrospect, knew what they were about. Since then I have made a point to continue to learn by observing others, reading, talking with people that show evidence of having a clue, and trial and error.

    Some opinions and whatnot. If you are starting out new, take it very easy. Your body is not fit enough for a hard weight lifting workout and you can easily strain or injure yourself. Build up slowly. It will be about three months of steady build up before you are ready to really cut loose. Don’t worry though. You will start to see results in two or three weeks.

    Be careful choosing a trainer, if you choose one at all. Many trainers don’t have a clue and will either teach you to use too little weight and too many reps, or they will have you trying to do too much weight and constantly help you with the lifting. That is especially bad because it makes it impossible to learn the proper form and greatly increases your risk of injury. Take a look at a trainers clients before hiring one. If a trainer is typically chatting with their clients while the client is lifting very light weights for twenty plus reps, or sitting around chatting with their clients and every five or ten minutes doing a set of two or three reps at a weight that is very obviously way to heavy and has both of them straining, then steer clear. If you want to learn any of the major free weight lifts such as dead lift, squat, clean, clean and jerk, your best bet is to keep an eye out for other people at the gym doing the lift that are in good shape, appear to be familiar with what they are doing, and make it look easy. Ask them for some pointers. Ask several different people. Proper form is very important for those types of major lifts and you really need someone who knows what is what to teach you, along with lots of careful practive.

    If you are a little older don’t believe for a second that you can’t do it. I am in my forties and I am stronger now than I was in my twenties, and I was pretty strong in my twenties. Just take it slow and easy until you are in good enough shape for a real work out. Your endurance and strength can be as good or better than the young guys. The only real deficit is in injury recovery, so be careful building up. You can no longer work through those minor injuries. They won’t heal if you keep working it hard they just get worse. You have to back off until it is healed.

    Some type of cardio exercise is a big plus. Even if your goal is only strength training, cardio fitness helps big time, escpecially on major lifts like squats. It is very hard to get enough oxygen when you are squating down knees below the hips with a heavy weight on your back. Cardio also helps your muscles recover faster and with less muscle soreness. I like to try and do things that are more like play instead of just exercise, like playing frisbee.

    Drink lots of water while working out. Lack of hydration will affect your endurance and your additude. Overhydration is not really a problem, except that some people seem to be more likely to cramp. Perhaps from pissing out to many electrolytes? If you do a good hard leg work out you might want to eat a banana or some other high potassium snack shortly after to prevent cramps.

    Don’t do the same routine for too long. Try new exercises, rearrange your workout so you are working different muscle groups at different times. One week go through all the muscle groups doing heavy weights, 5 to 6 reps per set, at least 2 or 3 minutes between sets. The next week go through all the muscle groups with lighter weights, 8 to 10 reps per set, and 60 seconds between sets.

    The thing that can make fitness really difficult for many people, especially people that have never been particularly fit ever before, is not learning to exercise or eat differently, or making yourself do it long enough to get fit. The really hard thing is that to change from being unfit to being fit for the rest of your life you have to change your behavior for ever. It is similar to quitting a bad habit like smoking.

  38. #38 Prometheus
    January 11, 2010

    #37 Darrell E

    “If you are a little older don’t believe for a second that you can’t do it. I am in my forties and I am stronger now than I was in my twenties, and I was pretty strong in my twenties.”

    Me too but I run so fast around the equator clockwise, time does not really apply to me.

    I am with you on the subject of trainers Darell E.. They are useless. They just fly off your shoulders during squat thrusts.

    I have taken to festooning my upper torso with towing chains and major appliances instead.

    You’ve just got to do what works for you.

    The Bride maintains upper body strength by throwing cast iron frying pans and retains her svelte figure by throwing up a liberal daily compliment of single malt scotch and Reese’s peanut butter cups.

    She also stays active by murdering people who are described as prettier than she is.

    This gets expensive but how high is too high a price for health.

    Booyah!!

    P.S. Grrrrr.

  39. #39 Pete D
    January 11, 2010

    Awesome that you’re working out but your sample routine seems a little all over the place to me (but if it’s working for you that’s cool).

    Day 1– Deadlifts (heavy), military press, reverse flys (light)
    Day 2– Pull-ups (heavy), lunges, triceps (light)
    Day 3– Squats (heavy), dips, rows (light)
    Day 4– Bench press (heavy), step-ups, biceps (light)

    You’re working legs everyday with heavy squats thrown in right in the middle. How do you give your muscles long enough to recuperate? I’ve been lifting for > 20 yrs now and have always segregated muscle groups to one day. E.g.

    Day 1: legs (quads/hams) – some combination of squats, sissy squats, leg press, lunges, hack squats, extensions, leg curls.
    Day 2: chest and tris – some combination of flat/incline bench, flat/incline flyes, dips, decline bench, cable flyes, tri pushdowns, skullcrushers (love that term!), etc.
    Day 3: Back and bis – some combination of deadlift, pulldowns or weighted pull-ups, upright rows, seated rows, dumbbell rows.
    Day 4: Shoulders, calves, weighted ab movements.
    Day 5: rest

    I’m also surprised that your trainer hasn’t combined pull-ups, rows, and deadlifts on the same day as they are all back exercises. Overtraining can be a problem if your straining the same muscles everyday, particularly with heavy weights. Most of my weight training background comes from years of wrestling and bodybuilding/powerlifting mags. To a person, my trainers and coaches have all stressed recuperation as a key factor in avoiding overtraining and plateauing (sp?). In wrestling we concentrated mostly on explosiveness and endurance, so we did a lot more varied work and movements that you probably wouldn’t want to do in a crowded weight room! But kudos to you for giving lifting a chance…a lot of people find reasons to avoid it.

  40. #40 Pete D
    January 11, 2010

    I guess I forgot to include the bis stuff on Day 3! Oh well…you get the idea.

  41. #41 Darrell E
    January 11, 2010

    Prometheus at #36 & #38

    Not too bad. Good for a few chuckles anyway. I think you need to work on your rhythm a bit though. A good mocking should have a certain rhythm and flow to it.

  42. #42 Interrobang
    January 11, 2010

    I do machines for quite a few things because when you have a motor disability that causes you to occasionally have movements that can only be described as stochastic, you want that extra safety margin.

    I have a real problem doing bench presses because my right leg is 5cm shorter than my left, and I can’t therefore put both my feet flat on the floor on a standard weight bench. On most of the machines, I can just shift my foot position to compensate, and it doesn’t affect me too much when standing, but it can be a problem for other things. I simply don’t use machines with ergonomics that don’t work for me. My general feelings on this are, “It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.”

    I am possibly the most sculpted fat person you’ll ever meet, and I’m unlikely ever to be really thin — I ain’t wired that way, and every so often, my body just craps out on me. C’est la vie. Sure would like it if my gym weren’t quite so able-bodied-centric, considering how useful it is in terms of daily functioning for us gimps to work out even nominally. (ERV, I’ll bet you my traps are bigger than yours!)

    Also, when did it become unacceptable for women to have ~25% body fat?! I thought that was normal for most women! And where the fuck did this sudden horror of getting “bulky” come from again?! I saw that stuff on the XBX programme booklet from the 1960s, but I thought it was as dead as the menstrual belt. Feminist backlash much?!

  43. #43 maxh
    January 11, 2010

    @Interrogang

    First of all, good going! If one of my legs were 5cm shorter than the other that would be my excuse not to exercise for life!
    Aaanyway, I agree about the body fat thing. Women are meant to have more fat than men, aren’t they? I guess it comes down to what you think is the ‘ideal’ shape. For me, those women in Oxygen are a bit bleurgh. Too much muscle – no hips or butt or boobs. I may be making excuses for myself but I would rather be a bit squidgy than all muscly and hard.

    But each to their own I suppose.

  44. #44 Katie
    January 11, 2010

    Thanks for this post, you have no idea how many women have scoffed at me for wanting to do any real strength training whatsoever. These individuals seemed to think that if one day, in a moment of insanity, they were to do a single push up, they would instantly hulk out and be permanently trapped in the body of a male body builder on steroids. Apparently this has already happened to me, although I am still waiting to receive my manly body and hulking muscles.

    On a completely unrelated note, I believe there were some comments earlier on assisted pull-ups (if I scroll up to see where, my sad computer will freeze)… I can’t do a pull-up, and I don’t have a gym membership to use an assisted pull-up machine. What works for me is a pull-up bar and a chair. You can put one foot on the chair to support some of your weight- the farther in front of you the chair is, the harder the pull-up will be. I have a friend who got to the point where she was able to do unassisted pull-ups using that technique. I was less dedicated, and have yet to get there.

  45. #45 Prometheus
    January 11, 2010

    I was/am mocking Zuska’s twice failed attempt at curmudgeonly parody that soured into spiteful complaining while simultaneously mocking Abbie’s youthful enthusiasm.

    I get credit for a double mock with half gainer.

  46. #46 pelican
    January 11, 2010

    “I swear to god, anyone can do this!”

    ERV, I am happy for you that you’ve found something that you enjoy and that gives you the results you want. And, you’re right, most people can do the exercises that you recommend.

    However, you’ve got no data to support that doing what you’ve done will lead to the changes you’ve experienced in anyone but you. There’s no science in what you’re saying here. It’s just your personal story. Your story is compelling and is leading to others sharing their own personal stories and opinions about diet and fitness. Which is all very cool and supportive, but it’s not science.

    Your blog (obviously) and I don’t need to read it if I don’t like it (obviously) but I do want to address this part of your post and doing it in a comment seems to be the best place.

    “HI SCIBLAG OVERLORDS! WHY HAVENT YOU GOTTEN BACK TO ME ON ADDING FITNESS/DIET BLAGGERS, LIKE TONS OF READERS WANTED? KTHXBAI.”

    To any reading SB Overlords, as a long-time SB reader, I don’t think there’s enough actual, good science in the area of diet and exercise in humans to support a blog specific to that topic. And, it’s a really hot topic emotionally- guaranteed to bring out the wingnuts and flamethrowers. I don’t think such a blog would add to the SB community. I’m only one reader, but I don’t want to add a fitness/diet blogger to SB.

  47. #47 ERV
    January 11, 2010

    Pete– Oh I havent had that trainer in forever :) I usually rotate those light exercises every 6 weeks or so, so dont take them as gold. And, I work my legs a lot, cause I love it :P I kick like a mule, man!

    However, you’ve got no data to support that doing what you’ve done will lead to the changes you’ve experienced in anyone but you.
    pelican– Welcome to my blag! If you click around, youll notice that I never said that what I do will ‘work for everyone’. I initially didnt want to write about my workout, but did so in response to a request from Ethan (who also makes a point of mentioning he just exercises for fun). I made a point of saying that I am an amateur, which is why I want professionals here to blag intelligently on this topic, with science, instead of personal anecdotes.

    To any reading SB Overlords, as a long-time SB reader, I don’t think there’s enough actual, good science in the area of diet and exercise in humans to support a blog specific to that topic.
    However, you obviously didnt follow the link you quoted. I just found ‘Obesity Panacea’ recently, and Ive had a wonderful time exploring their blog. I think they do a marvelous job of approaching diet/fitness/supplements from a science/skeptic perspective (random example).

    As I tell Creationists, just because you are personally ignorant of a field of research doesnt mean it doesnt exist.

  48. #48 Tyler DiPietro
    January 11, 2010

    pelican,

    Not to be mean, but you sound really fucking embittered.

    The purpose of getting blogs like those ERV requested is to get the science, I don’t see her claiming that her own personal experience constitutes such science anywhere in her post. And you don’t think that such science exists? Sorry, but that’s arguing from ignorance.

    As for bringing out the whackjobs, how long have you been reading SB? Creationists, HIV deniers, 9/11 truthers, anti-vaxxers, and a thousand other varieties of nutbar routinely descend upon comment threads to spew nonsense. What makes these nutbars so scary that we can’t even have blogs on a particular subject?

  49. #49 ERV
    January 11, 2010

    Prometheus– Sorry about getting caught in the spam filter. ERV blag doesnt like ‘that Z word’. I liked her first ‘parody post’ because it made no sense. I believe my exact quote to a friend was “Oh my god shes fucking mental. ROFL!!!” I appreciate the beauty of insanity and chaos (side effect of studying quasispecies), so I did like the first post.

    The second one made me really mad.

    My mom is one of my ‘reasons’ for getting into fitness. After I was born she had constant, debilitating back pain. For about ten years she went to a chiropractor for it [insert *rolleyes* here]. When my small home town finally got a YMCA, she started going to the gym to strength train. Now, not the power-lifts I mention, but she lifts weights.

    Her back got super strong and she hasnt gone to the chiropractor in over a decade. Shes kept up with exercising right, as my grandmother was literally bent over, huge hump back from osteoperosis.

    Now, my mom did all this while she was taking care of my elderly grandmother. Protected my grandmother from one of my cousins who literally tried to kill my grandma for drug money.

    Mom was also raising two kids at the time, and when one of those kids is me, I count as like, five more kids.

    Mom was also working full time.

    So to see some miserable wretch blaming her miserable life on her age and her parents, pisses me off.

    But the soup thing was delightfully insane!

  50. #50 Travis
    January 12, 2010

    Pelican,

    How much research in the fields of exercise and nutrition are necessary before you would feel that an evidence-based blog is possible? Being a researcher in this area I’m obviously a bit biased, but I’m wondering what specific beefs you have with diet and exercise related research.

    You are right that this is an emotional issue for many, but to me that only reinforces the need for more evidence-based bloggers in the area. From a public health perspective, it’s important to dispel the myths about obesity, fitness and nutrition, and evidence-based blogs on the topic (of which there are several) seem like a good place to start.

  51. #51 Dave
    January 12, 2010

    Im with ERV, I would love to see a respected resource help many of us interested amatures to sort the wheat from the chaff. Like many others I suspect, Ive come up with what works for me, but its probably a collection of valid techniques, half-truths and outright myths. I certainly recall when I was spending time in a “meat-head” gym how much contradictory and somtimes ridiculous advice was passed back and forth.

    On the other hand, while weightlifting can do alot for you, including allowing you to walk 5 miles and bend quarters in your teeth at 103, apparently it cant protect you from being hit by a car: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/nyregion/12ironman.html

  52. #52 Pete D
    January 12, 2010

    Dave – the advice passed back in forth in the gym can get a little ridiculous! The best thing to do (particularly for beginners) is as Abby initially suggested. Focus on basic movements that use multiple muscle groups – deadlift, squat, pull-ups/downs, and bench press. Follow strict form. The basic form for all of these movements is described in detail in many popular weightlifting magazines (Muscle and Fitness, Muscular Development, etc.). You can actually get very good advice on basic training from these, believe it or not!

    1) most of them offer very good beginning weight lifting routines with a variety of movements
    2) try to ignore the big, splashy, multi-page ads for supplements that comprise half of the magazines.
    3) don’t be scared by the huge-ass bodybuilders on the cover. They do the basic lifts for the core of their training regimens, too.

  53. #53 Dave
    January 12, 2010

    Pete, as I said, I have found what works for me. The time that I spent 2-3 hours a day in a meat-head gym is long past, now I mostly do cardio, a heavybag and dumbells, as well as miscellaneous body-weight exercises whenever I can. Not very intense, but Im no longer trying to shed the image of a rake and instead only trying to avoid a swivel-chair gut. (So far sucessfully, although I should do more cardio, my endurance sucks.) Back then, I was fortunate to have a friend whos opinions I trusted as a trainer. He did have a skeptical approach to most of the nonesense. That said, I can always stand to learn a bit more, and would be interested to know if there is any valid science behind what I know now, and what I thought then, which is why I think a skeptical blogger on this topic would be great.

    While I agree that the magazines can be valuable, IMNSHO, the articles usually contain a nugget of truth surrounded by fluff, and its only over time, as you have a chance to compare multiple articles on the same topics, do you start to realize what is the nugget and what is the fluff. Granted, if you stick with the articles on technique, they are usually more nugget than fluff, on the other hand, articles on what constitues a complete workout seem to be all over the place, and those on diet are even worse.

    Although I second your comment about not being scared of the huge-ass bodybuilders, either on the cover of mags or in person. Back when I was (sucessfully) shedding the image of a rake, Id often get odd looks when I walked into a gym (as I said earlier, I went for the meat-head gyms where many of the clients were body builders) but even though I was using 1/3 the weight they were, once they saw I was working my arse off, even the biggest guys counted me as one of them, offering to trade spots and advice.

  54. #54 Pete D
    January 12, 2010

    Cool Dave. Glad you’re current workout is helping you meet your goals. 2 – 3 hrs a day probably wasn’t a great way to weight train (unless you’re using anabolic steroids). So maybe that kind of got you away from lifting. Most days I’m done lifting in 45 – 50 min. 12 – 15 sets for large muscle groups, 6 – 10 sets for smaller groups, 1-2 min rest between sets. You’re right about working your ass off and getting respect in the gym, too. It doesn’t really matter how much weight you’re doing as long as you’re working hard.

    Abby – I hate legs day…but only because I feel like puking afterwards. Actually, putting up the weight feels good! “I kick like a mule, man!” LOL reminds me of a comment Mike Tyson made after he fought Razor Ruddock… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donovan_Ruddock#Tyson_vs_Ruddock

  55. #55 Prometheus
    January 12, 2010

    #49 ERV

    “Shes kept up with exercising right, as my grandmother was literally bent over, huge hump back from osteoperosis.”

    My grandmother told me it was caused by playing too much bridge.

    “So to see some miserable wretch blaming her miserable life on her age and her parents, pisses me off.”

    Ditto.

    My parents are train wrecks: bypass, cancers, kidneys, titanium femur replacement, thrombosis, liver, diabetes, dental implants, massive clotting, massive bleeding, steel umbrellas in the vena cava, physical therapy pet scans yada yada yada…… my sister is busy catching up on soap operas, so I am it.

    They led crazy active healthy lives but nobody beats the actuarial table….nobody. Suck it up.

    What I find hilarious about that little rant about a hurty knee and migraines was thinking ‘Yea okay, now do it with a job.’

    Bwahahahahahahahahah. I can picture her sitting on the couch watching the house burn down and saying “Dammit! This will involve phone calls.”

    “But the soup thing was delightfully insane!”

    I think the The Soup Thing was an attempt to explain how to make Saxon’s new year soup (the worst recipe I have ever seen for it) then her marbles fell out of the bag.

    I have some snazzy food suggestions that take into consideration time and money constraints but they aren’t that funny so I will spare the thread until tonight.

  56. #56 Stephen Wells
    January 12, 2010

    I’ve had great results in terms of feeling stronger and fitter just since installing a pull-up bar across the loft access hatch in the hallway. Every evening I just dangle for a while, do a few pull-ups, some leg raises; nothing very heavy, but just hanging and trying to breath makes your body works in all sorts of ways that it doesn’t do just walking round.

    So, yes to lifting weights, with the proviso that the most important weight you should learn to lift is yourself :)

  57. #57 J. Shmoe
    January 14, 2010

    “Is there anything special about lifting free weights that is lacking in the same exercises done on machines?”

    Yes!
    Sounds like you’re new the weight room. Welcome.*
    As ERV said, free weights do more for your than a machine.
    But there’s more to it.

    Free weights let you feel the exercise and your muscles and bones responding to it. There’s little more than one way to operate the arm-curl machine but there are a dozen ways to do a simple dumbell curl. You, not the machine, move it though and arc, adjusting just so until you get the most work from a particular chunk of iron. It’s you and the weight.
    Free weight use also resembles things you would actually do, like pull yourself back up onto a boat, lift yourself and a backpack etc. Machine use doesn’t resemble anything in life other than a TV show from the ’70s. You don’t want to be ’70s.
    Lift for 6 weeks, use great form, change the workout frequently and ignore how many # you’re moving (or not). After that you’ll forget that it’s “good for you” and wonder how anyone can sit in front of a TV when there’s a room full of iron bars, plates and cages in town.

    For exercise, I mean.

    *An odd thing for me to write, since I can’t hit the gym as things are now. Yeah I miss it!

  58. #58 Murray
    January 15, 2010

    Thanks a lot Abbie. I tried the squats and now, a day later, I can’t walk up stairs.

    Hopefully that will pass soon.

  59. #59 ERV
    January 15, 2010

    Murray– AAAAHAHA! It doesnt go away ‘soon’, it takes several days. heeeehehehehehe *devil grin*

    Though if it makes you feel better, our weights are on the second floor of the gym. Whenever I up my squat weight, I reliably almost kill myself walking down the stairs :P YAY handrails!

  60. #60 OleanderTea
    January 18, 2010

    Sigh.

    When I started working out with weights, I did bulk up, enough that I had to buy all new suits (because there isn’t enough material to ever let out a woman’s suit).

    And I already had big shoulders and arms!

    *headdesk*

    BTW, kudos to Prometheus, whose comments had me laughing like a loon. “Flight of the Bumblebee”, indeed.

  61. #61 Henry
    February 12, 2010

    Ski fitness trainer with a cross trainer. Elliptical trainers target specific muscle groups and can help and benefit you before and after skiing break.

  62. #62 Mark Martinez
    March 28, 2010

    Like how you include the core exercises (Deadlifts, Bench Press…) when you say “Make these four exercises your focus (and variations of these four), and everything else is icing”… I’ll add one which is a variation to the Bench Press; shoulder press. And true enough, as functional as these exercises are, you’ll still see so many gym goers skip these for more fancy machines and isolation exercises!
    Mark Martinez,
    So.. what’s your best creatine for strength gains what brand would you pick?