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April 15 2011 13 Tips for Anyone

By MMG8427
Copyright 2009,

Guys and Gals, here is an article I wrote several years ago that has been revised numerous times since then and now finally broken into 4 parts. Here is part 1 which was recently published on Enjoy!

13 Tips for Anyone Who Wants to Improve Performance and Look Better Naked Part I – Training

If I could go back in time and tell my “beginner self” a few things about training, nutrition, cardio and supplements… what would I want to know? What tips have I learned over the last several years that have contributed most to improvements made in my physique, my performance and my overall health? I have thought about this a lot, and I have come up with 26 golden nuggets of information, split into several parts, that will help you reach your goals more quickly, whatever they may be. Keep in mind that these are in no particular order. Also, I try to get to the point and present you with the “takeaway” information, which is what most of us are concerned about to begin with, right? I hope you enjoy!

1) Focus on strength! Until you can properly squat and deadlift at least your body weight for females and 2x your body weight for males, and bench press at least half your body weight for females and 1x your body weight for males, you have no business doing body part splits. Getting stronger opens up so many doors to so many other types of training, and makes that training infinitely more effective. Think about it, how effective will your metabolic circuit be if you can barely do 5 pushups? How many rounds will you make it through before your upper body gives out on you? And think about doing curls on your “arm day.” How will your results improve if you are doing hammer curls with 30lb DBs instead of 10 lbs? What kind of effect will that have on your hypertrophy training? Astronomical, right? Training for strength will also help improve the strength of joints and ligaments and help prevent injury when you are training explosively, like doing sprints or plyometrics. So the bottom line is: training for strength is the way to go! Once you have built up a decent strength base, you can try other types of training and reap major results. Some great programs to focus on strength for someone new to weight training include but are not limited to: The New Rules of Lifting by Alwyn Cosgrove and Lou Schuler, Maximum Strength by Eric Cressey, Westside for Skinny Bastards by Joe DeFranco.

2) Build upper back strength! This is super important! I have never met a person who was new to training who didn’t desperately need to build their upper back. Hell, most people I know who have been training for years still need to build their upper backs too! We spend hours each day sitting at our desks slumped over a computer with our heads jutted forward looking at the screen. The stronger and more developed your upper back is, the easier it will be for you to sit up straight and have good posture, and the more progress you will make in the gym! It’s a win-win! Some great exercises for building your upper back include inverted rows, chin-ups and pull-ups, one-arm DB rows, face pulls, bent over rows, T-bar rows, chest supported rows and YTWLI raises.

3) Stretching your pecs! This kind of goes hand in hand with the previous tip! Poor posture coupled with “mirror syndrome” (training only the muscles you see in the mirror) often leaves women with pectoral muscles that are overdeveloped in relation to their back, and these muscles shorten and become VERY tight. This can lead to shoulder problems, posture problems and other imbalance issues within the body. Try the doorway stretch:
Also try the Broomstick Pec Mobilization found here:

4) Hamstrings! Hamstrings! Hamstrings! Strong and well developed hamstrings not only make you powerful in the gym, but they help protect your knees from injury and look incredible sexy! I mean seriously, have you ever seen a nice pair of hamstrings on a person that wasn’t incredibly fit everywhere else? I didn’t think so! Don’t forget that primary functions of the hamstring are hip extension and knee flexion, so both functions needs to be trained. Examples of hip extension exercises would be romanian deadlifts and good mornings. Examples of knee flexion exercises would be lying leg curls and glute ham raises. Also note that hamstrings have a higher percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers than other muscle groups and they respond well to very heavy loads.

5) Improve hip mobility! Like the weak upper backs and hamstrings that I ranted about previously, this is another problem I see with almost all my clients. Tight hips can lead to non-firing glutes, low back pain and knee pain which can decrease your performance in the gym, adversely affect the appearance of your glutes and lead to other imbalance issues within the body. If you think your hip flexors might be tight, they probably are. And if you think your hip flexors are not tight, then there is a good chance you are wrong. Here are a couple fantastic exercises that can be done at home or in the gym or anywhere you feel comfortable dropping down into a deep lunge or squat position. Starbucks, anyone? Grocery store? Mall? No judgment here! We are all busy and we all need to improve mobility when we can. Do these exercises almost daily while you are trying to correct the problem and 3-4 days a week for maintenance purposes.

6) Recognize the importance of unilateral work! In other words, include plenty of one-armed and one-legged exercises in your regimen. It’s natural for one side of our body to be more dominant than the other. Almost all of us feel more comfortable writing with one hand or the other, or kicking a ball with one leg or the other. This often leads to one side of the body being much stronger than the other. So when you are performing bilateral exercises like squats, bench presses or military presses your dominant side is probably taking a heavier load than your non-dominant side, which just widens the strength gap between the two sides. Doing unilateral work is also a great way to increase core stability and single leg work can increase awareness of the ankle joint. Some examples of upper body unilateral movements would be single-arm DB rows, single-arm overhead presses, and single-arm bench presses. Some good examples of lower body unilateral movements would be the single leg squat, single leg deadlift, step-ups and lunges.

7) Diligently do your pre-hab work! No one wants to go in the gym and spend half an hour doing dinky-looking exercises that kill their ego because they are impossible to do with more than 5 lbs. Well check your ego at the door and get over yourself! Pre-habilitation exercises are just that…they help prevent injury. To be honest, everything you do in the gym should be helping to prevent injury, but it just doesn’t always work that way. Assess and Correct by Mike Robertson, Eric Cressey and Bill Hartman is a fantastic tool to help you figure out areas of your body that may be tight/weak/unstable/immobile/etc. If you find an area where you need a lot of work, I would do corresponding exercises and/or stretches 4-6 days a week. If you are just trying to maintain an area that’s in good shape, you could do those exercises and/or stretches 2-3 days a week. Bonus: most of these warm-ups, exercises and stretches can be done at home if you have some light DB’s and/or bands. I love my Jump Stretch Bands found here
They are cheap, durable and they have an infinite number of uses.

8) Stick with a diet/routine long enough to get results! Everyone wants results from their routines, like yesterday, and this can cause frustration and “the grass is always greener syndrome.” Any time a new routine or diet comes out that sounds cool, everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon and they end up skipping around from routine to routine and diet to diet without ever really sticking with one and seeing results. There are tons of great routines out there. Pick one, stick with it for 6-8 weeks and see results! This will also help you in the future in knowing how your body responds to certain training/dieting stimulus. Do you feel like you gained a lot of mass incorporating heavy deadlifts into your routine? Awesome! Does the Anabolic Diet give you great energy? Wonderful! Do barbell complexes rip the fat off of you? Great! Did you get some awesome gains from Wendler’s 5/3/1? Fantastic! Sticking with a diet or routine long enough to see results is the best way to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. So quit jumping from one thing to another like a Chihuahua with ADD!

9) Realize that fat loss and muscle and strength gains are rarely linear! Bodies are extremely finicky and they like to do things at their own pace. This includes losing body fat, and gaining muscle and strength. I have heard stories of guys plateauing on their squat for a full year and then BAM! They come in one day and hit a 30 lb PR! So don’t get discouraged if you don’t see daily or even weekly progress. Take progress pictures, take measurements, write down the weights you are using in the gym, and try to look at progress as a long term thing, instead of getting down on yourself if you have a bad workout or two, or the scale won’t budge. It can also be good to acknowledge accomplishments that are not necessarily related your primary goal. For example, if you are looking to lose fat, and you feel like you are stuck, maybe take a look back at your training journal and see how your weights have improved or look at old progress pictures and notice how your shoulders are much fuller and rounder than they were 4 months ago. If you keep working smart and hard, the results will come, and they probably won’t be linear!

10) Recognize that everyone is different! What worked for your best friend, your Dad, or your significant other may not necessarily work for you. This is true with results from different types of diets, calorie levels, training routines, etc. I tend to make the best strength and muscle gains while staying lean if I lift weights 4 days a week, eat a lower carb diet of nearly 3,000 calories a day, and do a decent amount of HIIT and other conditioning work. My 200 lb boyfriend on the other hand, made his best strength gains training once every 7-10 days and doing almost NO interval training, but more low intensity cardio work. My friend Claire resorted to eating pie filling every morning in her oatmeal while trying to gain lean mass because she was having such a hard time doing it with only clean carbs. And she could see her abs the whole time! So see, everyone is different! I found that I made the most progress and had the most fun with my diet and training when I became my own science experiment and figure out what worked for me! Of course, I was careful to stick with each diet/calorie level/training routine/cardio regimen long enough to draw conclusions about how they affected my body. So I encourage you to be open-minded and try new things (and by new things I mean things that make sense! A no-protein diet or a training routine that has you doing single-arm handstand push-ups on a Bosu Ball should probably be avoided no matter what the Guru on the infomercial says!)

11) Give weak areas extra attention! Most of us have heard that we should not train a specific body part more than a couple times a weak, or we will over-train. This is partially true. If you have an area of your body that needs extra work, it’s OK to do exercises for it up to 4 or 5 times a week. However, you probably do not want to hammer that body part with multiple exercises and multiple sets 4-5 days a week unless you are, ahem, assisted (and of course you don’t want to focus on multiple weak areas at once). For example, if you would like to work on upper back strength, doing 2-3 sets of 2-3 exercises on your upper body days is a great idea. Then you can also add another couple sets of 1-2 exercises on your lower body days, and then maybe even do a set or two of an exercise on an off day. The key is to focus on one area at a time and to train the muscle with different exercises, on different planes and with different set and rep schemes. This is a technique often used by some of the strongest powerlifters in the world over at Westside Barbell. I have read and heard stories about them having someone train hamstrings 6 days a week when they are trying to strengthen that body part. Now that may seem a little excessive… and it’s hard to compare the lifters at Westside to your average person, but trust me, I have seen this work many people who are new to lifting. Using the example from earlier, I may have a client train their upper back like this (I will only be detailing the back exercises… not all of the exercises that are done):

Monday: Upper Body (Pullups, 3 sets of 5-6, Seated Cable Row, 3 sets of 12-15)
Tuesday: OFF from lifting (Band Pull-Aparts 2 sets of 25)
Wednesday: Lower Body (Deadlifts 5 sets of 5-6, Face Pulls 2 sets of 8-10)
Thursday: OFF from lifting
Friday: Upper Body (1 Arm DB Rows, 4 sets of 8, Straight Arm Pulldown 2 sets of 12-15)
Saturday: Lower Body Day (YTWLI exercises, 2-3 sets of 10 reps)
Sunday: OFF day from lifting

Also keep in mind that after 4-5 weeks of focusing on this body part, give it a rest and train it “normally” for a while. You can always come back to it in a few months.

12) Let big, compound movements comprise the bulk of your exercises! If it’s been said once, it’s been said a million times - these are the money exercises: squats, deadlifts, pushups, pullups, bench press, rows, overhead presses, lunges and all of their variations. These are the exercises that will make you strong and build muscle in the shortest amount of time. They are also the exercises that create the biggest demand on the body and burn the most calories. Get good at these exercises and do them often if you want to reach your goals! ‘Nuff said.

13) Always use progressions! Our bodies are very smart organisms that adapt quickly to stimuli. That’s why it is so important to always be pushing yourself a little further in the gym. Every time you go in the gym you strive to be a little better than you were last week. You should be able to add weight, or do an extra rep, or an extra set, or be able to do what you did last week with shorter rest periods…. something! You can plan the progression ahead of time if you’d like. For example:

Week 1: Workout as planned
Week 2: Increase weight or reps on exercises
Week 3: Using same weight and reps as week 2, decrease rest periods by 15 seconds
Week 4: Using same weights and reps and rest periods as week 3, add an extra set to each exercise
Week 5: Try to increase weight or reps again.

Or, you can go by how you are feeling or some other external factor like how much time you have. If you are crunched for time, then it may be a good idea to shorten the rest period. If you are feeling extra strong, maybe you want to increase weight or reps. If you have plenty of time and endurance, then maybe it’s a good day to add an extra set to each exercise. You can choose whichever method works for you… but always be progressing! On the other side of the coin, as mentioned previously, gains are not always linear and one bad workout shouldn’t get you down too much. If you have several bad workouts in a row, you should probably examine lifestyle factors such as sleep, stress, and calorie level. It could also be time for a de-load (5-7 days of rest or light workouts to allow for proper recovery).


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