Having started a lot of new clients in the last couple of weeks, I thought it’d be useful to put together some answers to the most frequent questions I’ve been getting.
Some of this stuff might not be useful to more seasoned lifters, but, like with anything, going back to basics might help even the best lifters to re-learn some old lessons.
How do I warm up?
Warming up is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not, contrary to Fitness Lore, about “bringing up your core temperature”. If we did that too effectively, you’d be dead – so we don’t want to do that. If you hear that, run a mile. No-one needs that kind of advice.
Warming up is activity-specific. About to squat? Let’s make sure your legs are working. About to bench? Let’s make sure your pecs aren’t as tight as a snare drum. Warming up is about preparing the body to do what’s expected of it.
For the vast, vast majority of people, here is what is NOT needed: half an hour on a foam roller or massage ball, 15 different stretches and aggressive dynamic stretching between sets. If you are genuinely incapable of squatting without an extensive warm up that a boxer preparing for a prize fight would wince at, then you should *probably* be seeing a physio. Either that, and at first this is a FAR better idea, following a sensible programme that takes into account your restrictions, and works towards slowly fixing them.
For the vast majority of people, here’s what IS needed: for example, for squatting, some “air squats”, i.e bodyweight squats, maybe sitting in the lowest position for a second or two. Couple of sets of 8 or so. Then, some reps with the lightest weight you can find. Then, depending on your strength level, look at about half your first working weight, and do a couple of sets with that. Again, the vast majority of people should now be ready to rumble.
Of course, a warm up depends on your sport and your activity. There’s little point warming up your legs for bench press day, and there’s little point a cyclist warming up their pecs for a sprint trial. It’s all specific to the movements you’re about to do, and it’s all individual!
Is it better to lift more often and do less, or less often and do more?
Often presented as the “full body vs splits” argument, in reality there is little argument. For most people, a full body approach is better. But what does that mean?
Well, splitting your body up into body parts *should* work. Having a tough arm day, or a dreaded leg day, should work. Trouble is, hitting every leg movement in one day only means one thing – pain for days afterwards. It takes a while to recover from, and is thoroughly unpleasant. You also miss the strength curve. Generally speaking, a muscle is recovered, repaired and at it’s strongest around 3-4 days after a training session.
But with a split programme, it’s unlikely you’ll hit legs again for 7 days. In reality, you’re at best back to where you started, and at worst? A bit weaker.
Experienced trainers that want to maintain their strength and size can probably get away with it. Newer lifters can’t, if they want to progress.
What’s the solution? Well, the full body approach. This way, you’ll train all of your body in 5-6 movements each time you train. Even if you only train twice a week, you’re still training every part twice in seven days, rather than once. You might not do as much overall volume, but you’re hitting the thing that works for most people: frequency.
(and, spoiler alert, you ARE ‘most people’)
So, for general training, a full body approach is (a) less painful to recover from and (b) works better.
What’s not to like?
How heavy should I be lifting?
Please also see: how long is a piece of string?
Heavy is just a concept. It has no relevance outside of competition, or comparison to other lifters. It’s also an absolute concept – to your body, it can either be done, or it can’t. How “heavy” it is, is kinda irrelevant.
So, what we’re really after is: whatever rep range you’re doing (let’s say 8 reps), you should be getting uncomfortable by rep 6, re-evaluating life choices by rep 8. You should still have a “if I had a gun to my head” rep left in you.
It really doesn’t matter what Bob is lifting on the other side of the gym. You are not Bob. You are simply trying to be a stronger YOU than when you did that exercise last time.
If I miss a session, what should I do?
Obviously, you should double up on the next session and spend two hours in the gym doing everything you missed, right? Nope. That way lies injury.
As long as it’s not happening every week, it really doesn’t matter. Your training should be measured over months and years, not the odd week that work/illness/kids get in the way. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just do the session next time you’re in the gym – and don’t let skipping sessions become a habit.
How quickly should I move up a weight?
Did you complete all the sets and reps of that exercise? Were they all done with decent form? Did the last rep look pretty much like the first, but just need more effort? Did you have a rep left “in the tank”? If yes to all that, then go for it: put the weight up a little the next time.
Remember, you don’t have to do every set at a new higher weight. It’s perfectly OK to “only” put the weight up on one set, and then go back down again if it’s too much. There’s one thing that’s usually certain though: staying at one weight until it’s easy/perfect is a flawed strategy. Getting really good at 100kg squats will never get you a 200kg squat. Sometimes, you’ve just got to try and lift more weight, even if it’s just a single kilo more than last week or last month. Don’t stagnate. If you really, really can’t go up a weight, it’s time for a programme change, or at the very least a rep/set change for that exercise.
There’s some basics that people often forget, or make way too complicated for their own good. We’re all guilty of some of them, but the real way to make progress is to drill back down to basics every now and then.