Things have a way of coming full circle. The other day I came across an Instagram account of a girl that trains at my gym. She’s young, in great shape and I’ve watched her evolve over the course of the past several years. I found myself watching a video about the training pitfalls to avoid in the gym. She listed quite a few workouts that I would consider to be “fluff”; stuff you see people doing on social media just to capture the attention and the imagination of both their current audience as well as potential followers. It used to be that this sort of crap was reserved for trainers trying to make it appear as though they possessed the secret sauce when it comes to client transformations. But as you well know, in the current climate, everyone with a tripod, a smartphone and an Instagram account is an expert. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking diet, training, show prep, or the use of supplements or chemicals; sure as shit, there is no shortage of “experts” who know as much about building a serious physique as a virgin knows about sex.
Needless to say, I felt an enormous sense of satisfaction when I saw this girl totally and completely trash all the exotic but worthless movements that people will mimic at the misdirection of their favorite influencers. And it wasn’t long ago that I saw her doing some of the same movements that she was now denouncing. That’s okay. That’s good. She realized fairly quickly what was shit and what was real and she was attempting to save others from the misguided effort and the wasted time she had experienced; THAT is admirable and THAT is what it’s all about. As someone who has already been there, done that, and sifted through all the crap to get to what’s good; allow ME to conduct a brief but helpful 101 on the topic of improving strength and performance. I promise all to be free of fillers.
THE single most important thing to consider is the fact that BEFORE you try to become superhuman, you need to cover the bases. What do I mean by that? Many people will attempt to do extraordinary things when they can barely do ordinary things. Before any of us can hope to get bigger and stronger, there are certain things that I feel are prerequisites. I would consider the following to be fundamental in nature: eating 3 nutritious and home-cooked meals each day, getting 8 hours of quality sleep each night, drinking enough water to consistently be well-hydrated and being free of any impairment that will prevent you from doing what is necessary to make new progress.
Essentially, the real estate that you currently own should be well maintained before you attempt to acquire more; if the goal is to acquire more muscle strength, you need to have the means to do that as well as the ability to keep up with it. Makes sense, right? Right. Although I may feel this shouldn’t need to be said, I know that it most certainly DOES need to be said.
So now that we have established that you are meeting the minimum requirements for being a well-functioning ordinary individual, let's talk about being extraordinary. The hub, the center, the most vital piece of the “getting bigger and stronger” puzzle is training. Many will say that it is food but my firm belief is that training is what makes it all happen. If your goal is to get bigger and stronger, you go to the gym for two reasons. First, you go to the gym to create the demand for more food. Food may be the building blocks of new muscle but it is the strength training that increases the demand FOR those materials. If you don’t train, you don’t create the demand. If you don’t train hard enough, you don’t create a large enough demand. Training with enough intensity will create a requirement for enough food to build new muscle. Second, you go to the gym to create an adaptive response. What does that mean? Subject the body to enough stress while simultaneously giving it the ability to recover from that stress and it will create a physiological adaptation where it is better able to handle that stress in the future. How does the body equip itself to better deal with the stresses of training? With more size, strength and stamina. What’s the takeaway here? You need to train hard. Not work out; TRAIN. And you need to train HARD. You shouldn’t enjoy training unless you are a masochist. It should be uncomfortable. The thought of it should create anxiety. The burning and cramping in your muscles, the pain in your lungs and the overwhelming sense of nausea in your stomach all need to be present if you’re to know that you’re on the right track. It doesn’t matter what strength training style you adopt or what your form looks like; if the above indicators aren’t present, you’re not going to get where you want to go.
To give some guidelines, the frequency with which you train and how often you train each muscle group (your split) should take into account your strengths, weaknesses and your overall recuperative ability. While I always made my best progress by training no fewer than 3 days per week and no more than 5, everyone is different. Generally speaking, I believe that 3 days are the fewest number of days upon which a successful strength training regimen can be built. In order to train the body most adequately and efficiently, chest, back and legs must be the foundation. Train these three muscle groups to full capacity and size and strength will increase across the board. Compound free weight movements should make up at least 50% of the exercises you do; sitting on or in a machine is always easier than doing the free-weight/ barbell or dumbbell version. Again, when size and strength are the goals, discomfort is a vital part of the equation.
Outside of the gym, recovery is oftentimes a limiting factor. Recovery is a two-part equation; eating and sleeping. Sleep may seem self-explanatory and quite simple but the reality is that most people do not get enough hours of sleep and the quality of that sleep is poor. Get your last meal in, watch 30 minutes of TV to unwind or do some reading and then head to bed. If you’re staying up all hours of the night, you’re doing yourself a disservice. And if you have a sleep issue, address it! Have sleep apnea? Take care of it! You’re never going to look, feel or perform your best when you are failing to fulfill this most basic requirement. As far as eating goes, it’s going to require planning and preparation and it’s going to be work! Instead of looking for shortcuts and hacks, resign yourself to the fact that you should WANT to do everything you can to support your goal to build muscle strength. It’s my personal belief that you should cook your own food; it creates a greater connection to and conviction for what you’re doing. It also eliminates the possibility of error; food prep companies are notorious for using extra ingredients that might improve taste but negatively affect the nutrition facts. Put together a sound diet that addresses your nutritional requirements using whole foods as the foundation and supplements to do just that. You need to be prepared. If you think you’re going to just wing it and find something to eat whenever you’re out someplace, you will fail. Just accept that no matter where you go, you need to have food with you; if you don’t, you’re not going to eat or you’re going to eat something other than what is optimal. Suck it up and have your food available to you wherever you go.
Lastly, stop making excuses and stop with the gimmicks. The easy shit doesn’t work and change doesn’t occur without considerable discomfort. There’s nothing new and there is no magic. What worked 30 years ago still works today. Hard strength training combined with proper nutrition and adequate rest always has and always will work. If somebody tries to sell you some magic, go the other way and if something sounds too good to be true; it probably is.
Life is happening; it’s busy, it’s hectic and it’s not stopping for you or me. You’re either going to do what you need to do to improve or you’re not. But be honest with yourself. IF you’re giving a 50% effort don’t pretend that you’re giving your best; you simply won’t get anywhere that way. You need to be ticking ALL of the boxes and you need to do it day in and day out. It’s like riding a bicycle; it’s easy to pedal on flat ground but if you don’t build momentum, you’re fucked when you come to a hill. Stop coasting; go like hell ALL THE TIME and not only will you get there, you’ll get there a whole lot faster.