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It's getting to be about that time again, the time when all the New Years Resolutioners realize exercise is harder than it looked on the commercial, really interferes with their sofa riding, and my personal favorite, doesn't work for them. They came to the gym in a mad furry of false expectations and unrealistic goals and swarmed over every piece of equipment you needed to do your workouts but they leave in one's and two's, silently sinking back into the pit of donuts and latte grandes they emerged from.
Now they're gone and with that sigh of relief comes an opportunity. Why go back to the same old workout? Why not take this time to explore some new equipment, new training methods or simply to instill a new set of short to medium range goals? After all, summer isn't that far away so there's no time to waste!
It's ever so easy to slip into a rut; to do the same workout (give or take a machine or two) over and over again. Sure, you've read that you need to change it up but who has time create an entirely new workout? Well, you dont have to. Sometimes a new workout can be as easy as swapping out one exercise for another. Here are a few examples of things you can try:
Trade in the Treadmill and Grab the Gauntet!
We've seem them there off to the side of the dainty little treadmills and elliptical, standing like some strange, dark, foreboding exercise mountain. I call them the great equalizer. You can be a jackrabbit on the treadmill and an elliptical goddess but a few flights on the Gauntlet will challenge nearly anyone. If your gym has one of these and you're not using it, shame on you. Next time you're at the gym and you're fixing to just hop onto that treadmill with the rest of the gerbils, dare to be different and climb onto this beasty. You'll be glad you did.
Bye bye Bench Press - hello HAMMER STRENGTH!
Hammer Strength stuff has been around for a while and many gyms have at least a few pieces. Many people feel that it's reserved only for athletes and bodybuilders but thats not the case at all. Hammer Strength's unique iso-lateral technology allows each arm or leg - or, in this case, each side of the chest to work independently, something you can't do with a solid bar or on most other machines. This helps prevent imbalances which is very important for everyone, not just footballers and bodybuilders. Next time you're off to do chest and your gym has one of these sitting there, forgo the regular bench press and hop on the Hammer Strength!
Forget seated rows and do some SEATED ROWING!
There was a time not too long ago that these were in every gym, every where. Now they're a little harder to find but they're out there. Seated rowing machines such as the one pictured are a fantastic way to get in some cardio that uses UPPER body every bit as much as lower - maybe even a tad more. It's a great way to blast rear delts, medial traps, and pretty much the entire back while clobbering your cardio. If you have access to one of these, skip the traditional seated row exercise and try these instead. It'll be fun, a nice new challenge and who knows, you might start a trend!
Thats all for now, folks, but I'll toss some new stuff at you soon! Meanwhile, get your brain and your butt outside the box!
Had this booklet from Men's Health since 2000. Finally just got round to typing it up, so thought I'd share. I'll be going for it, mostly.
YOUR YEAR OF FITNESS GOALS Make 2001 your fittest, fasted, most confident year ever by conquering our monthly physical tests. Think you can handle it?
As you face another year of struggling to find the time and momentum to stay in shape, we thought we'd help you keep your body in motion with a little challenge. Actually 12 little challenges. Each month we lay down a new physical test - a dare, if you will. Then we offer a workout that will help you reach that goal within 30 days. New month, new challenge. "Without a doubt, the best way to maintain interest in a fitness programme over an extended length of time is to diversify your workout," says Jon Bowskill, Men's Health fitness editor. And that's the great thing about the programme we've created over the next 30 pages, you'll never get bored. Each monthly goal builds on the last, until by the end of the year you'll be in the best shape of your life. And isn't that how you want to ring in the next New Year?
JANUARY CHALLENGE Start a running and weight training programme
For the benefit of those who haven't broken into a sweat since watching Steve Redgrave and the lads win Gold in the coxless fours, we'll begin slowly. Starting now and moving through February, you're going to create a foundation of fitness upon which to build. (But first, make sure you get your GP's all clear to start this or any conditioning programme."
Aerobic conditioning The best way to get fit fast is to mix walking with an easy jogging workout, says Sean Fishpool, deputy editor of Runner's World magazine. "Novice runners make two mistakes," he explains. "First, they tend to think in mile increments instead of in minutes of running and, second, they try to run too fast." We've designed a programme that avoids these pitfalls. Don't worry about overlapping with the February and March challenges. This plan fits nicely into the workouts designed for those months. Each week, do your run/walk workout on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, taking the otehr days off. The idea is to gradually increase the number of minutes you run: for example, you start out by running two minutes and walking four, and doing that four more times. Here's the whole plan:
Strength conditioning The goal here is to build some muscle mass and increase strength without spending a lot of time in the gym. You'll lift three days a week for only 30 minutes a session - by doing just one set of each lift. "The latest research suggests that one good set of resistance exercise is as effective as two or three sets for producing significant strength gains," says the YMCA's Wayne Westcott. Do one set of 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise, using 75% of your maximum resistance. In other words, if you can bench press 1000lbs once, do your set with just 75lbs on the bar. Follow the strength workout described in "How to Do It," on page 31.
FEBRUARY CHALLENGE Skip for 15 minutes without stopping
If you've never skipped before, you may think it's easy - school playground stuff. But it's one of the true tests of aerobic endurance. The first thing to do is get a rope that fits. Accordin to champion skipper Ken Solis, author of Ropics (Human Kinetics, "10.95), you test a rope for fit by standing in its middle and checking to see that the handles reach almost to your armpits.
How to skip Stand on a mat or wooden floor with your feet together in front of the rope. Your hands should be just below your waist, your elbows close to your sides. The trick is to use only your wrists and forearms to swing the rope over your head and down in front of you. Try it. As the rope falls in front of you, jump an inch off the floor so it can pass under. Land on the balls of your feet.
Skip for time Once you've got the rhythm, practise endurance, but start slowly. Skipping brings your heart rape up very quickly. If you haven't already received an okay from your doctor to embark on a vigorous plan of exercise, do so before continuing. For the first week, try to skip for about two minutes without missing a step. Focus on technique; stay on the balls of your feet so the impact is absorbed by your calves, rather than your shins and knees. Get in about ten minutes of skipping a couple of times a week. Once you can skip for two minutes without stopping, build to five, then ten, then 15. And keep up your lifting and running routines.
MARCH CHALLENGE Increase the weight you can bench press by 20lbs
It's fair to say there are three measurements that a fit British man knows about himself - his shoe size, the length of his penis, and his "Max" in the bench press. Your goal this month is to increase your maximum bench press by 20lbs. "People think you have to lift for hours, four or five days a week to increase strength," says Greg O'Bryan, a fitness trainer who has worked with Hollywood celebs, including Robin Williams. "Actually, the muscle gets stronger during the rest process rather than the weight-lifting process, so you don't have to overdo it." To give your chest muscles a boost without adding extra sets, do your bench presses in a slow motion. Instead of lowering and raising the weight to counts of four, take four seconds to lower the weight and ten seconds to press it up. You use more muscle fibres more intensely by going slowly, according to Ken Hutchins, author of Super Slow: The Ultimate Exercise Protocol (Super Slow Systems, available for £18 from amazon.com). Studies carried out by the YMCA have shown that men who lifted less weight, but took longer to lift, increased strength faster than men using normal lifting technique. To try the slow method, trim about 30 per cent off the weight you normally lift. Do four to eight repetitions. This is hard to master at first, so make sure you use a spotter. At the end of each week, test your maximum. By following this programme, you should be able to add 5lbs to 7lbs to the bar each week.
APRIL CHALLENGE One hundred miles is a tall order for anyone to train for in a month. So we've decided to go metric - below is a programme that will help you conquer 100km (62 miles), prepared by the blokes at Bicycling magazine. It's a proven proven training schedule that has helped thousands of cyclists just like you meet the challenge.
Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun Weekly Easy* Pace Brisk Pace Pace Pace Distance** 1 6 10 12 Off 10 30 9 77 2 7 11 13 Off 11 34 10 86 3 8 13 15 Off 13 38 11 98 4 8 14 17 Off 14 42 13 108 5 8 14 17 Off 10 5(easy) Century 116
*Easy means a leisurely ride. Pace means matching the speed you hope to maintain during the metric century. (Depending on how hilly the course is, you can expect a 62 mile "century" to take you between four and six hours, so plan your pace accordingly.) Brisk means riding at least two or three miles per hour faster than your century speed. **It's important to ride at least five days per week. If you miss a day, make sure it's not a Saturday, your long mileage day. Covering greater distances each weekend is key. If bad weather, a trip to Homebase or something else derails your Saturday ride, use Sunday as the long day.
MAY CHALLENGE Run your first 10km
Thirty days isn't enough time for the average bloke to prepare for this 6.2-mile race, especially if the course has hills. But if you followed January and April's challenges, you're ready. Increase your running to five days a week, following this four-week schedule:
Week 1 Sunday: Run for 30 to 45 minutes at an easy pace that's slow enough to enable you to carry on a conversation with an imaginary partner. Monday: Rest. Tuesday: Run easily for ten minutes to warm up. Next quicken your pace for five minutes, then jog for five minutes, speed up for another five, then slow down a bit for five minutes. Finally, cool down with ten minutes of easy jogging. Wednesday and Thursday: Run gently for 15 to 30 minutes. Friday: Have a ten minute warm up jog. Then run up a 100 to 200-yard hill at a modest pace five times, and at your race pace five times, recovering with a slow jog on the way down. Finish with a ten-minute cool-down. Saturday: Rest.
Weeks 2 and 3 Repeat the Week 1 workout, but increase your Sunday runs by 15 minutes each week, picking up your pace slightly.
Week 4 (race week) Sunday: Run for 45 to 60 minutes at an easy pace. Monday: Rest. Tuesdsay: Warm up for ten minutes. Alternative two minutes of race-pace running with three minutes of easy jogging for three cycles. Cool down for ten minutes. Wednesday: Rest Thursday and Friday: 15 to 30 minutes of gentle running. Saturday: Rest or jog gently for ten minutes to keep your leg loose.
Sunday: Race Day Some clever racing tipsL above all, don't go off too fast. The idea is to cover the distance, not finish in the top ten. If you're asping for breath, it's ok to walk for a bit; many runners do in a race this long. You can always pick up your pace as you approach the finish. Let's say you only have 200 metres to go and you're feeling strong. Start your kick. To eke more speed out of your body, try this trick: pick a runner 20m in front of you and hunt him down like a greyhound after a rabbit. Zip past him to the finish line. once you cross, grab a victory water and walk for five or ten minutes. you'll find a comprehensive list of 10km races around the country in Runner's world magazine.
JUNE CHALLENGE Learn the Eskimo roll in a kayak
To the uninitiated, white-water kayaking is the stuff of Burt Reynolds movies: rugged men in plastic baots, bobbing and weaving down a boulder-strewn river, going head-to-head with Mother Nature and a few in-bred Appalachian mountain men. But before you can wriggle your way through the whitecaps, you have to learn that crucial tool of self-preservation - the Eskimo roll. This is the method by which ia capsized kayaker rolls his vessel upright by quickly rotating, or snapping, his hips. It seems like a certain way to drown until you learn what goes on beneath the water. The best place to learn is at a kayaking school given by a paddling club or at a commercial kayaking school. To find local contacts, ask the Interational Sea Kayaking Association or the British Canoe Union. Your school will provide a kayak and equipment to begin with. This way you can experience the scariest moment in the sport without leaving a lot of slightly used equipment to your survivors.
The Eskimo Roll You're seated in your kayak, with feet forward and pressed against the internal foot braces. Your spray deck is pulled snug over the cockput to keep the water out. Holding your paddle with two hands, shoulder width apart, place the paddle shaft along one side of the kayak. At the same time, bend forward as far as you can, with your face touching the deck of the kayak. This is the psition you want to be in underwater, not only because it protects your face from the rocks but also because it places your paddle where it can help you. The dunk: From this position, take a deep breath, then lead to the paddle side to capsize the boat. (It won't happen this way on the river of course, but this is a good way to practise.) The paddle sweep: You're upside down now, and there's water up your nose. It stings. But don't think about it. Concentrate on bending forward and reaching with your arms until you can push the paddle blades and shaft above the surface. Rotate the paddle so it's perpendiclar to the bottom of the boat, and mostly above the surface of the water. Thee hip snap: Forget your natural urge to get your head above water as soon as you can. Instead, quickly twist, or snap, your hips to bring the boat back under you. At the same time, pull down on the paddle blade further from the boat, to get more leverage for your hips. Bear in mind that your hips are doing the major work. Keep your head low - ie underwater - until the boat swings upright. Lifting your head too soon will tip you back under. It may take several practise sessions before you get a reliable roll. But once you have it, you'll never forget it.
JULY CHALLENGE Knock five strokes off your golf game
If you're lucky, you get in one or two games of golf each week. Most of us don't, and yet we expect to play skullfully at the company tournament. It doesn't work that way, unless you're an undiscovered Tiger Woods. But there are simple exercises and drills you can do at home, at the driving range and on the course that can help you knock strokes off your game, says golf instructor Jim McLean, author of The Putter's Pocket Companion. At home: Putt in your living room a couple of nights a week. You don't need a green and a cupl just practise keeping your club face aimed correctly. To do this, stick a length of masking tape to the rug and putt balls along the line. If the ball follows the line, you know your club face is steady. Next, hit 25 putts at a bed/table leg that's about three feet away. Concentrate on freezing your knees and accelerating the putter toward the target. On the driving range: Pretend you're on the golf course. This means mimicking everything you do when you swing on the course. After your every ball you hit, change clubs and aim at a different target. "Some players have a range game, and they can't take anything to the course," says McLean. This drill helps you simulate course play in practice. Before you play: Practise putting and chipping before you go to the driving range. "Most people warm up in the opposite order," says McLean. "They go from the practice green straight to the tee, and they're cold and tight - it's been 20 minutes since they've drive a ball." Instead, start at the practice green, using 25 per cent of your pre-play time to work on long and short putts and chipping. Then go to the driving range just before teeing off. During play: "Tension kills the golf swing," says McLean. "You have to relax your shoulders and arms." To loosen up, twist your trunk afew times with the club resting across your shoulders, lift the club far over your head to stretch your shoulders and arms, and take practice swings, working from small ones to full swings.
AUGUST CHALLENGE Swim 1.5km
Assuming you haven't forgotten how to swim, this programme will turn you into a dolphin in 30 days. Find a 25 metre pool: Swim one length and count your strokes. "If you take more than 20 arm strokes, you should improve your stroke efficiency first," says adult swimming instructor Terry Laughlin. "For novices, swimming is at least 80% proper mechanics. It's not swimming faster - it's swimming easier." The important points are to prevent your hips and legs from dragging, and lengthening your stroke. "Try leaning on your chest more so that it feels as if you're swimming downhill," Laughlin says. "That'll keep your hips and legs near the surface so you'll be more streamlined." Two tips for lengthing your stroke: 1. As each arm enters the water, reach - just as you would for something on a high shelf - before starting your pull. 2. Roll your hips from side to side with each stroke. "Your hips, not shoulders, are your engines," Laughlin says. The workout Swim one or two lengths practising the moves mentioned above, then rest. Repeat this routine for 30 to 40 minutes three times a week. When you can swim 100m in 80 strokes or less, you can start building sets of 100m repeats, resting for 15 to 30 seconds between 100m swims. Once you can swim about 18 of these, you're ready to attempt a 1.5km swim. That's 60 lengths of a 25m pool.
SEPTEMBER CHALLENGE Play a 90-minute football match on a full-sized pitch each week
Thanks to the jogging, cycling and skipping you've been doing, you should be able to make it through a full 90 minutes without collapsing in a heap. To improve your game, try the following strength training programme. Superior leg strength enhances your power, speed and acceleration. Good upper body strength makes it easier for you to hold an opponent off the ball. In our chart, "max" means the maximum weight you can lift without losing good form.
Exercise Sets Reps Rest between sets Load Half squat or leg press 3-5 5-9 30 secs-1 minute 80-85% of max Leg curl 3-5 5-9 30 secs-1 minute 80-85% of max Bench press 3-5 5-9 30 secs-1 minute 80-85% of max Lat pull-down 3-5 5-9 30 secs-1 minute 80-85% of max Shoulder press 3-5 5-9 30 secs-1 minute 80-85% of max Ab crunches 3-5 5-9 30 secs-1 minute
To improve running speed and speed off the mark, try the following: Drill 1: Mark two fixed points, 10m apart. practise "exploding" from one point to the other - stopping as quickly as possible when you reach the other point. Then start lengthening the gap between the fixed points and continue the practice. Repeat the sprint 12 times. Keep the maximum distance you run to 40m. Drill 2: Fast, high pick up of knees. Make sharp, fast contact with the ground. Lift the knees and move slowly forward. Concentrate on moving arms and legs in a straight line, do not waste energy with sideways movement. Drill 3: Fast heel kick. As above: sharp contacts with the ground, kicking heels up against your bottom. Tense your stomach so that you lean slightly forward.
OCTOBER CHALLENGE Complete a short-course triathlon
Never considered yourself ironman material? You've been swimming, running and cycling for months. Now's the time to put it all together. A short-course triathlon gives a casual athlete the opportunity to do just that. Generally, short-course events consist of 1km swim, 30km cycle race and 5km run. For information about short-course triathlons near you, call the British Triathlon Association, the sport's governing body. Triatholn training is a delicate blend of workouts and rest. "You don't want to overtrain," warns Ironman champion Scott Tinley. Men who overtrain tend to feel lethargic during the race, he says. In fact, you're better off going into a race slightly undertrained. "It won't hurt you unless you're really underprepared," he says. It's important to practise the individual disciplines separately each week. Never combine them in one workout, says Tinley. Save that for the race. Here's a sample schedule. Exercise for at least 45 minutes each day: Monday - Run Tuesday - Cycle Wednesday - Rest Thursday - Swim Friday - Practise your weakest event Saturday - Your choice Sunday - Rest Whatever you do, make sure you rest twice a week. The day before te triathlon, stay off your feet, and increase your intake of fluids. "Before a race I walk around with a water bottle in my hand to remind myself to drink," says Tinley. On race day, eat a light breakfast, and drink a couple of glasses of water. You'll also need to drink water throughout the race. The order of events is: swim, bike, run. But if you forget, follow the bloke ahead of you. The biggest mistake first time racers make is "getting too excited and going out too hard," says Tinley. "In your first triathlon, all you're trying to do is finish, so go easy." And smile for the cheering crowds. After all, this is supposed to be fun - even if it hurts like hell.
NOVEMBER CHALLENGE Go a few rounds with a heavy bag
A boxing workout is a great cross training tool because it exercises the whole body. Think about it: punching a heavy bag works the shoulders, arms, chest, abdominals and legs, says boxing instructore Tony Fluke, a former sparring partner for Tommy "The Hit Man" Hearns. It's also an extremely rigorous cardiovascular workout. To further boost the aerobic component of this workout, do your exercises in three-minute bursts with one-minute rests in between to simulate the rounds in a boxing match.
Week 1 Warm up by jogging a mile. Then do two sets of 20 crunches and 20 press-ups. Next, work on your stamina and arm strength by skipping in three-minute rounds (to hone your technique, see February's challenge.) Do two sets. Now take some time to practise proper boxing form. Stand in front of a mirror so you can see what you're doing. If you're a left handed southpaw, stand with your right foot slightly forward. Do the opposite if you're right handed. Position your fists about two inches apart with your knuckles facing the ceiling. Your forearms should form a 45-degree angle in front of your chest. From this position, practise some shadow boxing. As you throw a punch, push off your back leg and twist your torso. "Make short punches. Never extend your arm completely and snap the elbow," says Fluke. This can strain ligaments.
Weeks 2 and 3 Start each workout as you did in Week 1. Then move to the speed bag to build hand-eye coordination, rhythm and stamina. Assume your boxing stance far enough away from the bag that you can touch the leather with your arm almost extended. Start with two rights and two lefts to get the feel of the bag. Punch slowly at first. The bag should hit the wood three times before you throw the next punch. With practise you'll develop a rhythm and increase speed. Next, try the heavy bag. Start with some easy jabs to get a feel for it. Then work on some straight punches and hooks. Do a three minute round using each punch.
Week 4 Increase sessions with the skipping rope, speedbag and heavy bag by one to three rounds. Work combination punches into your heavy bag routine. If you want to try your luck in the ring, consider joining a boxing gym or getting some personal training from an instructor to pick up the technical skills. "Boxing is like dancing," Fluke points out. "that's why they call it the sweet science. You wouldn't get on the dance floor if you didn't know all the moves first, would you?"
DECEMBER CHALLENGE Learn to juggle
Every man should be able to juggle, if only to impress women and amuse children at family do's. So give your body a break after a year of hard exercise. Relax and exercise your hand-eye coordination instead. As an extra benefit, juggling is a superb stress-easer.
First get three weighted juggling balls or bean bags. Nothing that will bounce. Now find a spot to practise. Standing in front of a bed is a good idea, you won't have to stoop to pick up dropped balls. Imagine an X that crosses the upper half of your body, with the intersection just above chin level. You'll want to follow this X pattern as you throw the balls. Aim for a point above your opposite shoulder and throw strong enough to reach above forehead height. For starters, practise with only one ball. Toss it back and forth between your hands. Try to make the ball follow the same path each time, a gentle curve. Keep your hands about waist level. Don't reach to catch the ball; let it fall into your hand. Keep your hands relaxed. Let your wrists do the work. Next, try the two ball pattern. Put a ball in each palm. Toss one from the left hand. Just as it reaches its peak and begins to drop, toss the other from the right. Catch ball one with the right hand. Catch ball two with your left. Freeze. Check your position. Do it again. Once you feel comfortable with this toss, try to keep it going for a few minutes. The three ball cascade adds one more step. Start with two balls in one hand and toss one of those to start. As that ball reaches your opposite shoulder point, toss ball two from your other hand, leaving that hand free to catch the first ball. Remember, the next ball you toss is always one underneath the ball in the air. As ball two descends, toss the third ball and catch ball two. Freeze and check your position after every three-toss cycle. After you get the hang of it, try adding more tosses until you can keep the juggling going. With practise, you'll be juggling turkey legs and carving knives by New Year's Day.
At last, your 12 challenges are finished. Now head to the country for a little fishing. You deserve a rest.
HOW TO DO IT
Bench press Lie on your back on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. Hold the barbell at arm's length above you with your hands a few inches wider than your shoulders. Lower the bar to your chest, then push it up to arm's length.
Military press Stand facing a squat rack with a barbell resting on it at shoulder height. With feet shoulder width apart and hands a little wider than that, lift the bar and rest it at the top of your chest, just below shoulder height. Slowly press it overhead.
Front squat Stand facing a barbell on the squat rack, legs shoulder width apart and feet pointing straight. Cross your arms in front of you, palms facing in. With your hands about ten inches apart, step in and lift the bar so it rests across your chest. Keeping your back straight and head up, squat until your upper thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Pause and straight up.
Tricep extension Lie on your back on a bench, with your head resting on it. Hold a barbell with a narrow grip (about six inches wide_, palms facing up. Extend your arms so the bar is above you. This is the starting position. Now slowly bend your elbows, bringing the bar towards your forehead. Press it up, following the same path.
Calf raise Grasp a bar and rest it on the back of your shoudlers. Your feet should be about 12 inches apart, toes pointing straight ahead. Now slowly push up on your toes, raising your heels as far as you can. At the top, pause a second, then slowly lower your heels.
Biceps curl Hold a barbell with palms up, hands about 18 inches apart. Keeping your elbows at your sides, curl the bar until your forearms touch your biceps. Then slowly lower the bar.
Upright row Stand and hold the barbell with your hands 3 to 4 inches apart, palms down. Allow the bar to rest against your thighs. Now pull it straight up until it nearly touches your chin. Keeping the bar close to your body, pause, then lower it to your thighs.
Crunches Lie on your back with your legs bent at a 90 degree angle, feet flat on the floor. Touching your ears lightly with your fingertips, curl up until your shoulders rise 4 to 6 inches off the floor. Do it 15 to 20 repetitions.
I've often said that while gaining muscle can be very difficult, it's also pretty simple -- at the heart of it, you just need to take in more energy than you expend, and use an intelligent program. This is especially true for beginners.
The problem comes in when trying to figure out exactly what that intelligent program IS. You've most likely read a variety of training articles, each of them claiming to have the best formula for muscle growth, and while some are better than others, most of them work reasonably well - at least in the beginning anyway.
There are a thousand books out there outlining methods or providing complete programs, and while some of them are fantastic, the truth is that a lot of what's out there is based on an exciting fad, rather than tried-and-true methods centered on the basics. It only worsens what I call "Fitness A.D.D." - so many choices, so many claims, all testifying to be the cutting edge, the latest, most advanced method of muscle growth and simultaneous fat loss. Infomercials and 5-page long advertisements in magazines bombard us all with new-fangled ways to do what people have been doing successfully for nearly a Century. The one difference between the "new school" methods and the "old school" methods is a simple one really. While these fancy new methods can work, they won't help you build a solid foundation from which you can truly push forward and build upon. For that, you need to go old school. For that, you need to focus first on the basics.
Back to Basics
When it comes to gaining mass, beginners don't have need to focus on things like alternating max effort and dynamic effort training days. The most advanced thing you need to focus on is learning how to appropriately manipulate training volume and frequency to allow for optimal growth and recovery. We'll get to frequency in a bit, but let's start with volume.
In the training context, your total volume is (sets x reps). In order to make changes to your training program, you would then either add or subtract sets, reps, or exercises in order to achieve a higher or lower total volume. This, of course, begs the very obvious question: Which set and rep scheme is best for muscle growth? Well, as mentioned above, most programs work pretty well, and so the simplest answer to that question is: "all of them." Unfortunately, that is also the most complicated answer.
You see, it's like this: Your muscles are made up of various types of fibers, and which rep ranges you respond best to is going to be a factor partially determined by your particular fiber makeup.
Of course, without dissecting you (which, while undoubtedly fun, would not be very efficacious in terms of your training), there really isn't any way to tell you what your general fiber makeup is, or what type of rep and set schemes you're going to respond to. None of which really answers the question, of course.
Thankfully, most people will respond fairly well to various approaches to training volume. Looking at it from a different angle, we can begin to decide on set and rep schemes based on goal -- some are better for pure growth, and others for a mix of both strength and size.
We're going to cover two options below, both of which have a place within the context of a split routine. In such a training schedule, each session is devoted to training just one or two body parts. Speaking generally, workouts will consist of three or four exercises per body part.
With that in mind, we have a general idea of volume, from which we can work in terms of manipulation for various goals.
Option One: Size and Nothing But Size
Let us assume for a moment that the training focus is entirely on growth, and not at all on strength. In that case, your concentration should be on the higher rep ranges: sets of 10-12, 12-15 or even as high as 20 are on the menu. As for the number of sets -- well, that will be determined by the number of exercises you do for a particular body part.
It helps to think of things in terms of total volume. For training programs that utilize sets of higher reps, I would try to limit a specific muscle group to around 150 reps per workout.
Here's an example using chest:
Bench press -- 5 sets × 12 (60 reps)
Incline dumbbell press -- 4 sets × 12 (48 reps)
Dumbbell fly -- 3 sets × 10 (30 reps)
We're looking at a total of 138 reps there, give or take any extras your were able to squeeze out, or reps you were unable to complete.
The reason for the high reps if your focus is primarily on hypertrophy is, once more, fiber makeup. You are training for what is sometimes called "sarcoplasmic hypertrophy" or "fluid hypertrophy" -- a term that is sometimes debated.
Either way, high-rep training is the simplest, fastest, and most visibly obvious way for beginners to pack on mass. The drawback is that the higher-rep schemes used in this type of training necessitate very light (in relative terms, at least) loads to complete the set.
That being the case, strength tends not to increase. In fact, in some cases you may even notice a decrease if you attempt heavier training.
This is typical "bodybuilder" type training -- all show and no go, as they say.
You'll look strong, but you won't necessarily be strong. However, if all you're going for is a good look in a tight shirt, this may sound like something you might be interested in.
In most cases, when new trainees hit the gym, they do some incarnation of this, although in many cases it's as simple as three sets of 10 reps for four exercises. (As an aside, even in this case, they're hitting 120 reps.) They progress a bit, and then stall out. As with all things: When it comes to training everything works, but nothing works forever.
From there, trainees look to change it up, bring us to option two.
Option Two: Size and Strength
On the other hand, if you're looking to get both big and strong, you have a more difficult road ahead of you, but with a greater goal at the end. In this case, we'd be talking about training with heavier loads and lower total volume.
Strength increases are the result of training with heavy weight, which by default will place a pretty stringent limit on the amount of reps you can perform on a given set. Strength-oriented training relies on performing sets using anywhere from 1-6 reps, with the average being 3.
Heavy training is not only optimal for strength gains, but it can also be used to accrue a serious amount of muscle. Training with high weight recruits what are known as type IIb muscle fibers, which are the densest fibers and have the most potential for muscle growth. By lifting heavy, we activate these quickly, which can potentially lead to gaining mass -- and fast.
As you might imagine, it becomes necessary to change things around in a given workout to meet our goals. As we've seen, it's quite possible to increase size without strength, and the reverse is true here: You can get a lot stronger without getting bigger.
Once more, we need to look at things from the perspective of overall volume. In order to allow for the necessary weight, we need to keep the reps per set pretty low. If you followed the same set prescription from option one, the upper limit for sets would be three or four per exercise. With heavy training, this would leave you at about 9-15 total reps; your strength would increase, but for most people, this is just not enough volume to stimulate growth.
So, to bump up the volume to a level that will be optimal for growth, we increase the number of sets. However, because of the heavier weight and the toll such training takes on the body, it is better to aim for just about half the total volume of the previous type of training we discussed. Or, simply put, around 60-75 reps.
Once again, here is an example using chest:
Low-incline bench press -- 6 sets × 5 (30 reps)
Weighted dip -- 6 sets × 4 (24 reps)
Flat dumbbell bench press -- 6 × 3 (18 reps)
While we're topping out at only 72 reps, the heavy weight makes each set pretty draining, and stimulates a lot of muscle.
Training in this way is, in the long run, generally more effective than high-rep training. Not only will you be stimulating type IIb fiber growth, but the constant exposure to heavier weights will lead to much greater strength increases, which in turn will allow you to continue to push out more reps with heavier weight should you ever decide to return to high-rep training.
The main drawbacks here are the effects on your body. Firstly, it must be mentioned that constant use of heavy loads puts you at much greater risk of injury, particularly if you're training any sort of pressing movement in this way.
When you use heavier weight (as in lower reps), the stress on your joints and connective tissue is greater by far. For this reason, it becomes more important to employ proper warm-up techniques and practices nearly every workout, especially as you reach the upper levels of strength work. This is time-consuming and boring sometimes -- multiple warm-up sets with just the bar -- but it is of paramount importance.
In fact, bench press czar Dave Tate stressed the importance of warm-up sets saying, "Don't leave the weight and jump up until you're absolutely ready to. There've been times at Westside where we used the bar for eight sets. These are world-record holders who aren't ready to go to 95 pounds." (And if there is anyone worth listening to with regard to benching, it's Dave Tate.)
Secondly, another consequence of heavier training is how very draining it is -- not only during the workout itself (necessitating longer rest periods and thereby slower-paced workouts), but also after. Training with weight so heavy you can only perform it 3-4 consecutive reps is phenomenally taxing on your body, and so there needs to be more time between training sessions to allow for adequate recovery.
This brings us to our discussion of frequency, or how often you train. As alluded to above, the time between your training sessions is based on how taxing those training sessions are. Both high-volume training (option one) and high-load training (option two) are draining in different ways, and will necessitate different recovery times.
Generally speaking, when you're training with lighter weights and higher daily volume, you can generally perform a given workout every four to five days -- meaning that if you trained chest Monday, you can perform that workout again on Thursday or Friday.
Contrast this with heavier training; this is slightly more taxing, and so I recommend one training session per muscle pairing per week. As an example, if you train chest on Monday, you wouldn't train it again until the following Monday. Because of the less frequent -- albeit more intense -- stimulation, while you certainly stand to gain a significant amount of muscle, it may be a bit longer in coming.
Again, while they are both exceptionally effective, the options discussed above are intended for use as part of split routines, where you train only a few body parts at once. Therefore, you're only hitting those muscles once per week, two at most.
As the old saying goes, however, there's more than one way to skin a cat, and split routines are not the only workouts available to you. In fact, they may not be the most effective for you--some people respond better to higher frequency. For these people, there are other options; There are training methods that allow you to train the same muscle groups three or even four times per week.
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