Updated: Jun 1
Part 1 of 4
I get asked all the time. “I’m going to the gym 5 times a week, why aren’t I getting results”?
You can read many articles and opinions, you can watch a lot of YouTube videos about weigh training and what it takes to get "big". I’d say 99% are mostly BS for Mr Average with average goals and average genetics. They are created with little consideration for the basics of weight training, ignoring the fundamentals, or making them up to suit themselves.. They also come from guys who are in the genetically gifted category for training who find it easy to put on muscle mass and get lean. Then they either want to hype up their ideas for the average guy, promising huge gains if they follow their advise, or talk as if every guy wants to stand on a stage and compete. It's no wonder to me why that when I go to a gym I'm horrified by what I see guys doing in the weight room and the crap coming out of their mouths.
The BS stops here. In this four piece series I’ll break weight training results down into four key areas you need to ensure you maximise if you want to approach or reach your maximum genetically predisposed results in the area of muscle development and/or strength.
To start with however, let’s just look at something I’ve mentioned already. “Genetically predisposed”. Or you can say your genetic “potential”.
Some guys go to the gym and it wouldn’t matter what they did, they would get some kind of results. As in muscle growth. I’d say that most guys who regularly attend the gym for weight training are somewhat genetically gifted. Like anything in life, if we get results we are more likely to keep doing it. Weight training is no different. The trouble is, the guys who should be weight training (or doing any type of exercise) aren’t, because results don’t seem to be happening. Sure they may never be able to have the killer arms they dream of but they can always improve. As we get older results are even harder to come by, but as we get older we really should be lifting heavy things.
Genetics has so much to do with muscle development. In fact your total potential is dictated by it. For example. Watch a video on “how to get boulder shoulders”. These are usually presented by guys with, big perfectly shaped shoulders. Genetically blessed to have an even spread of deltoid around the shoulder joint. None of what they say works for me. Why? I’m a big guy with a big shoulder joint. My deltoid has three distinct and seperate heads. They develop totally separately. Add to that that my rear deltoid, like a lot of people’s lags behind, so needs lots of extra work. Add to that, my muscles require a huge amount of work volume to grow. I have a tailored program to my specific muscle development needs. I do have to accept that I simply am not genetically equiped to have a boulder shoulder shape. No matter what I do. So “promises” of “the perfect routine” for any body part are nothing more that “click bait” and are total and complete BS.
I’ll smash a few egos now. 90% of guys in a gym have no idea what they’re doing. They go to the gym and do “stuff”. They will say they have a “program” but they have developed it from a position of generally zero real knowledge. I’m sure some guys get their exercises off the back of a cereal box. Don’t get me started on the way people actually do exercises. That’s about as hilarious as what they do.
Ok, now we’ve got that out of the way. The first thing that guys need to do in the weight room is…
I know. I know. Every single guy will say they train hard. But I think that comes from a position of never having been taught what “train hard” actually means. They really don't train with enough intensity. How do I know? 1) no growth 2) oh wait, it stops at #1. Oh I can hear the egos screaming from here. One day I was at the gym, halfway through a workout. I was already smashed. A guy next to me who really “plays” at it said “don’t you just feel so good when you finish”. No. I feel crap. I’ve got no energy left to feel anything. But this is the problem. This guy would say he trains hard, but his body never changes.
The number one reason people don’t get results from weight training is they don’t train with enough intensity. Not that training hard is a requirement at the gym. Unless your goal is to get results of course. There is one place that results don't come easy. The weight room.
I can’t believe the amount of times I see and speak with guys at the gym and through work who all say they train hard. Easily doing a set of 10 reps isn’t training hard. Standing around talking for 5 minutes between sets talking to your mates isn’t training hard. Texting or talking on the phone while doing a set ISN’T training hard. I don’t care what exercises you do or how you do them (ok, I do really), if you train with maximum intensity you’ll get better results, no matter what genetics you possess. I even see bigger guys who have not changed in 5 years. They get to a point through easy work then plateau.
Weight training is supposed to hurt. Whether your goal is to get as big as you can or just improve muscle mass for health and wellbeing, you have to train hard to get any changes in muscles. Muscles don’t grow if they aren’t pushed hard. Doing a set easily because you pick weight and do 10 reps isn’t stressing the muscle enough to grow, get stronger, or anything. No, it’s not a matter of making the muscles work because they’re moving.
Whatever your goal, just go to the gym and train hard. Get the results you’re genetically and hormonally (this applies more to older guys and I’ll cover this in another piece) predisposed to get.
Of course it’s good to know why you’re actually training. I think people get all messed up with goals, which doesn’t make it any easier. Or they’re making excuses for not putting the effort in. Hard to believe but I actually hear guys saying “oh I don’t want to get too big”. Don’t worry, most guys are in no danger of getting “too” big. I think it’s a bit of a cop out actually. Excuse to be lazy.
To aid in being able to get your head around training hard, I mean as hard as it takes to get meaningful results, you need to set your goals. I don’t care whether that’s to be bigger, stronger, whatever and to know why. You need a clear picture of why. For me, I want to stay as functional as possible for as long as possible. I train hard and I will get as big as I get. My overarching goal is to be as functional as possible for as long as possible. I know that takes going to the gym regularly and training HARD. It’s part of my lifestyle, not just a nice idea when it’s convenient.
Without a clear goal and a drive to achieve it, you won’t be motivated to tolerate the pain that’s required to drive muscle growth. That’s the bottom line. Oh, please make your goals realistic. The weight room is very much a place where egos get smashed. Despite the way guys will talk. Everyone can build muscle mass and get lean. HOWEVER, remember that "genetic predisposition"? If you're a "hard gainer" you may never be able to compete in Mr Universe. You will probably never be one of the biggest guys in your gym. Set your goals around you, not the results of other people. Reality is a cruel mistress, but she will not be lied to.
How do I know if I'm training with enough intensity?
Good question right. How do you know if you’re training with enough intensity?
Let’s look at a typical exercise. I’m going to assume we all know the basic terminology.
A bench press with a bar. Simple. Right.
Most people will do 4 sets of 10 reps. Ok, I’ll go along with that.
This approach will never get you the required intensity.
What 99.99% of people do is they’ll put a weight on a bar and do 10 reps. Add weight and do 10 reps. Add more weight and do 10 reps. Maybe the last one is getting hard. Add still more weight. Still get 10 but the last couple are hard. What they’ve done is effectively mostly warm up sets, wasting energy, wasting the 4 sets and not getting the true benefits of the work.
Now lets’ look at the same exercise but performed to get maximum intensity and results.
Assuming you’ve warmed up.
Rather than worry about 10 reps. Pick a weight for your first set you are pushing it to get 8 reps done. Still do 10, but the last 2 are a real struggle. It will take a bit of practice to get use to how this feels so you can self monitor. You can always repack the bar if you can’t do the last rep.
Your goal is 8-12 reps, with the last couple being damn hard. I mean a struggle hard, not just hurting a little. If you get the weight wrong and it’s too light so you end up doing 15, do the 15. Next time you’l know you need more weight.
If you managed 10 or more reps, keep the same weight for the next set. You’ll probably get 8 reps. The last couple should still be a real struggle.
If you get 8 reps, drop a little weight for the next set. Get between 8 and 12. If it’s on the high side use the same weight for the next set. If it’s on the los side drop a little weight.
For the rest of the sets use the same principle. Put your ego aside, it’s not about how mush weight. It’s about the right weight.
Oh, only a two minute break between sets. It’s not only better for your workout, results, and getting it over and done with, it’s also courteous to other people who are waiting for you to finish using a piece of equipment.
Now, you’ve done 4 hard sets with the correct intensity. I know, it’s counter to what everyone else in your gym may be doing, but it’s the correct way. I’m not even sure where the whole, start of light and get heavier” came from. Stop listening to people with no training at the gym. Do you want to listen to them and think you’re right or do you want results? I’ll assume it’s results.
So. Let’s not listen to every bit of “advise” we get from people who are genetically gifted in the muscle development area. Certainly don’t listen to people, or trainers, who don’t look like they train. I haven’t even touched on programs here but as long as you are generally covering all the muscle groups, simply lifting your intensity will produce marked results.
Oh, remember. This is a big one. Weight training and muscle development are about patience. Any change you make to your program today (and keep doing) will not show significant results for 3 months. In today’s world of instant gratification, muscle development is one area you’re going to just have to be patient.
Next time. Part 2. Yet another contentious issue.