So you want to make changes but don’t have the courage. You turn to these “experts” and you see pictures of nearly perfect human beings. They tell you that there is a secret formula or work out routine and you will look exactly like those people. Well guess what, there are secrets, but they involve trickery and lies. You may have read my article, Most Fitness Models Use Steroids, but if you haven’t I think you get the point. Protein powders are NOT going to help you gain 40 pounds of muscle. The truth is that nothing will, absolutely nothing that doesn’t involve hard work and a lot of patience. If you put on 40 pounds of muscle total, overall, in the entire time you lift weights, that is an incredible achievement. It might even take you 20 years if you start in your 20’s. I am not trying to undermine the fitness industry because I do sell my own products on GymThings.com, but I do want people to be realistic.
Getting in shape is about believing in yourself and doing the best you can during every session. I admit that sometimes I go into the gym and leave with the feeling that, “well that was for maintenance,” simply because I know I didn’t give it everything I had. In fact, giving it my all is the hardest part. The hardest part is doing reps until I fail or going that extra inch to ground while I am doing squats. Sometimes I just want to do 10 and move on. If you are doing 10 reps than you aren’t trying hard enough. Once you get 10 you need to increase the weight. Your last rep should almost always be the worst form of the set because you are struggling to get it up. Working out is not an exact science and no M.D. knows more than the average gym rat so don’t let titles like trainer or doctor get you confused. YOU and only YOU knows exactly how your physiology works.
If it feels wrong it probably is. Just remember that the “correct form” for one person is not the same as another. Don’t use this suggestion as an excuse to not do the exercise correctly. For me, if I do shoulder presses at a certain angle, I hear clicking in my shoulder joint and it feels uncomfortable. I choose not to go down all the way because it hurts. Most of the time I will do other shoulder exercises because I am afraid to hurt myself, which is a healthy fear. Don’t let your ego and other people’s opinions put you in a place where you feel pressured into doing something that hurts. You are the only person that will know if something is wrong when there are no clear signs.
I capitalized the word learn because it’s difficult to unconditionally love yourself, maybe even impossible. It is not something we are capable of doing all at once, but it is something most of us can learn to do a little bit more as time goes on. I myself, have been learning how to love myself my entire life and continue to learn to do a little more each day. When I began to get into fitness it was because I did not like what I saw in the mirror. Despite popular belief, not liking what you see in the mirror is not entirely a bad thing. This can be your brain’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Let’s face it, heart disease causes more deaths in this country than anything else and obesity is on the rise. How you feel about yourself should not be related to how you look because how you look is not who you are. How you feel about how you look however, can be an indication of how healthy you are.
Separating vanity from the health aspect of fitness can be difficult. How much is too much? Are six pack abs even necessary, let alone healthy. The answer is no. If it feels bad it probably isn’t good for you. Balance is essential to any fitness related goal. Although sometimes you will need to feel excessively hungry, cranky, or tired when you are losing weight during a diet, a person should never feel this way once the weight has come off. Transformations are great but be careful because sometimes the gains(or losses) can be addictive and become synonymous with how you feel about yourself. Just remember that becoming a better you is a good thing, but what is really important is progress, not perfection. Being ripped is actually not good for us but when we become healthier you do begin to see muscles appear through the skin.
Having abs is a bi-product of becoming healthy but should never be your goal from the beginning, unless you intend to be a bodybuilder or fitness model of course. Running 5 miles or doing 10 pull-ups are great goals but shedding all of your body fat, which sustains bodily functions, should never be a goal. Get in shape because it will help you fulfill other goals like climbing Machu Picchu or learning to surf, don’t get in shape just to get in shape because there is no fulfillment in that, and you will never learn to love yourself by attempting to complete an endless task. Just remember there is more to life than sitting in a dark gym trying to get killer abs just to make other people happy to look at you.
If you are a new or intermediate member of the fitness world please be careful. Having realistic expectations is not only important for your health but will help you stay motivated. You may have heard of Jay Cutler or Ronnie Coleman, and definitely Arnold Schwarzenegger. Well guess what, they were and probably still are, on steroids. That’s right! When I was a teenager I remember wanting to be bodybuilder but I was so naive that I thought their bodies were actually obtainable naturally. I tore my body apart trying to bench press over 400 and squat 500. If I had known what I know now I would have never pushed myself to the point of pain.
I would still like to give these guys all the credit in the world because they are still genetically gifted and world class athletes but let’s get real. No protein shake or amino acid in the world is going to make a person look like the guy on the package of the supplements you are buying. That guy on the front of the package is on steroids. It’s not a trick (…okay, maybe a little bit), but instead it’s the competition within the industry and within the business. That is just the way it is and as long as their is money to make, just like professional sports, that is the way it always will be. The industry doesn’t have to change, people should just be educated on what a natural look really is.
What can be done? Be realistic. Putting on 10 lbs. of muscle is a great achievement by any standard. I’m sorry to let you know that few people reach 200 lbs with less than 15% body fat unless you are over 6′ tall and even then it is difficult. Before I get a ton of arguments in the comment section, just remember I wrote few people. I’m 5’9″ and about 180 at around 10% body fat. While I am not a genetic freak I still find that most average people will never achieve these numbers. Just remember though, it’s not about size, it’s about proportion and symmetry. Most women don’t care how big you are but how you look. You don’t need 18″ arms to have a six pack and a great body. Just remember why you started lifting, to be a better you, not the best in the world.
When I go to the gym I’m usually unsure of what muscles I intend to work out. I have an idea but I don’t set days, especially according to the days of the week. Now that I have much more experience, I find this to be ridiculous. When I was younger, Monday was always chest day, because it was easier to be motivated on a Monday if I knew I was doing chest. Today however I try not to anticipate my recovery rate because my chest recovers at a different speed depending on what kind of work out I do, my intensity, and the length of my work out. My muscles all recover at different speeds also, for example, I can work my calves out just about every other day but my quads and hams take about 5 days to recover.
The knowledge of what my muscles respond to is not just about experience but intuition. While years of training has afforded me with the experience to fine tune my routines, some weeks are just completely unpredictable. The foods I eat and the amount of calories I eat, which calories I eat, as well as the amount of sleep I get each night, all affect my recovery speeds. Perhaps this week I got a bad night of sleep after I did chest, that may require me to wait an extra day before I do chest. What’s my point? Feel your body, literally and metaphorically. Close your eyes and stand still. Slowly try to concentrate on each muscle and flex it if you have to. If it feels sore, it’s not ready.
Sometimes I go to the gym with the intention of doing a body part but after arriving I realize that it is still sore and I have to completely change my plans on the spot. I usually do shoulders and chest together and if just my chest is sore, I may still do shoulders and replace chest with lats. This is a push pull routine I do sometimes that I will get into more in another article. Switching up routines is also a great way to surprise your body. Why is it so important not to work out a muscle when it’s sore? …because you are interrupting the growth process. When the muscle is sore, it is growing, not when you are working out. In fact, while you sleep is when you grow the most. Once a muscle is not sore anymore, I mean the very day you wake up and it is no longer sore, you need to work it out. This is because once it is healed, the body will begin to cannibalize this extra muscle since it is not necessary for normal body functions. Knowing when to not work out a muscle and when it is time to hit it again is something that gets easier in time but just remember, it is easier to feel your way to a better work out than to intellectualize it.
Calcium, unlike many other supplements, is on the periodic table of elements. What does that mean? Well….let’s just say it’s pretty important for your body to function. In fact, of all the minerals in your body, calcium is the most abundant. And while most people don’t think of calcium as helpful for building muscle, calcium is necessary for muscle contraction. Muscle contraction is what happens when your muscle is put under a lot of stress which is what one does when they work out and how we make gains toward our fitness goals. On a molecular level, calcium helps to move tropomyosin by binding with another molecule called troponin. Tropomysosin needs to be moved out of the way in order for the muscle to contract.
Calcium is not only stored in the muscle as a necessary agent for moving tropomyosin but is also stored in the bones, which is more commonly known. When strenuous exercise or lifting occurs the levels of calcium stored in muscle is depleted and then necessary calcium is taken from storage in the bones. This can lead to osteoporosis. This is why taking calcium or having the necessary amount of calcium each day is important. It not only helps to prevent some common disorders, it helps to improve performance during exercise. Most individuals need around 1,000 mg a day for ordinary functions so athletes or people who engage in vigorous activity could benefit from a little more because of increased muscle contractions, especially during long sets and lots of reps. Most multi-vitamins only provide between 20-40% of the calcium a person needs throughout the day and unless you are drinking a lot a milk or eating a lot of dairy, taking an extra dose of calcium can be helpful.
Fortunately the body is an amazing machine and can regulate the amount of calcium in one’s body with hormones that simply help the body to either absorb more of the calcium from the food you eat or rejecting it and letting it leave the body as waste. Too much calcium causes excess contraction which can burn up oxygen and glucose(sugar) creating a build up of carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and other things that damage the muscle. Morale of the story? If you exercise often, make sure you are getting enough calcium but don’t take too much by doubling up on vitamins. Make sure you account for the fact that you are also getting it in the food you eat throughout the day. I take one calcium pill each day which has about 60% of the calcium I need throughout the day. My multivitamin covers about 20% and I estimate getting about 20% or more with the food I eat(and the milk in the coffee I drink!). It is also recommended, like with other vitamins or supplements, that you space out your calcium intake. This will not only keep you from having side effects like constipation, but also increase the likelihood of your body absorbing most of it.