Once upon a time, in an age without mobile phones, without the internet, without the knowledge there is now, I began lifting weights, as a clueless 15 year old. I had watched Rambo, Commando, Terminator, Cobra and Predator. I noticed that Arnie and Sly had huge muscles and they always seemed to beat everyone in fights so I wanted those big muscles so I could be a great fighter too. I got my parents to buy me a weights bench and a set of plastic, sand filled weights as well as membership to the local leisure centre and I set upon my journey to get SWOLE!!!
I succeeded…. in building more imbalances than muscle. I concentrated on benching, some biceps, bit of shrugging and more benching. Tried squatting a few times as well but it hurt too much and its Ireland, so no one really sees your legs. (actually I played water polo 5 times a week so everyone seen my legs but at 15 you don’t think straight).
The thing is, even today with all the knowledge at your finger tips young men and a lot of older men, are making the same mistakes over and over again. So as a way of trying to prevent another generation of t-shirt muscle chasers here is the PM Strength & Movement idiots guide to building a better body.
MOBILISE. Yes I accept it’s boring and I understand it won’t get the female attention as much as your bulging pecs in a t-shirt two sizes too small but believe me, in the long run it will benefit you so much more. You will help keep your muscles loose, your range of motion will improve and with that your ability to lift more weight. If I could go back in time and give my 15 year old self some advise, this would be in the top three.
PULL. Benching or pressing a shit load of weight may impress your friends but you need to be making sure you counter it with some retraction exercises. You need to keep muscle balance, so aim to do at least two pulling exercises for every one pushing. As a side note, if you have a look at the really explosive guys in sports like Olympic Lifting, MMA, Rugby you will notice they all have one thing in common, a HUGE posterior (the muscles you will see from behind, traps, lats, glutes, hamstrings, calfs). Never fear the guys with the big chests and rounded shoulders, the most powerful people all have well developed posteriors.
DEADLIFT. Now you know about the posterior chain whats the best way to develop it? The deadlift! As exercises go its one of the best bang for buck movements you can do. There is barely a muscle in your body it doesn’t hit but for back, traps, glutes and hamstrings there isn’t much better. Make it a staple in your exercise menu and reap the rewards.
DON’T SKIP LEG DAY. Squats hurt, there is no denying it. Putting heavy weight on your back and getting your ass to the grass then standing back up again and repeating is hell. In Dan Johns “mass made simple” (a must read if you want to gain serious growth) in six weeks he builds you up to squatting your bodyweight 50 times in one set. I have watched grown men reduced to blubbering wrecks afterwards but I also watched their legs grow and grow. More than one of my clients have ripped a pair or two of trousers sitting down due to the growth. Something else that seems very common is their increased level of fitness. Try this program and watch how you end up breathing through your arse by the end of it.
EAT. You want to grow? You need to eat. Its a simple as that. Well actually its not. You see a calorie is not simply a calorie. In a simplified version you need protein, fats and carbs but you need to earn your carbs. Try and limit their intake to after a training session and that evening. Protein will help in muscle repair and fats help in testosterone production. By the way, battered fish does not count as a serving of fat and protein.
If you want serious gains, choose your foods wisely. Healthy fats and proteins from natural sources, organic veg if possible. If it comes in a packet or you can’t pronounce the ingredients leave it on the shelf. I would also add take a good quality fish oil into your diet
>DRINK LOTS OF WATER. It’s really self-explanatory.
SLEEP. One of the most underestimated but one of the most crucial components of building a better body. Your body heals itself during this time and when we fall into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep it produces HGH (human growth hormone). REM usually occurs within 40-70 minutes of falling asleep but if we are restless or waking up through the night this REM state doesn’t happen. Among other things it is responsible for keeping muscles from wasting away and helps with fat loss/control. We produce a lot more of this in our adolescent years and unfortunately as we get older the production drops significantly. To increase your chances of productive sleep, use a black out blind, try using magnesium supplements, ditch technology in the bed room and allow yourself to wind down at least 30 minutes before bed so no TV or Xbox.
SET A GOAL. If you want to improve your chances of success, give yourself an achievable goal. It doesn’t have to be crazy, just something that will keep you focused. It could be to fit into a smaller pair of jeans, achieve a muscle up, deadlift twice your bodyweight. As long as its achievable within a reasonable time frame and will motivate you.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. Have an idea in your head about what it is you want to achieve. There is no point in starting a spin class if you want to be a bodybuilder (side note, if you want to do spin then why are you reading this?) Likewise training like a powerlifter when your aim is to achieve a handstand or muscle up isn’t exactly optimal.
KISS. No this isn’t some homoerotic bodybuilding idea, it means Keep It Simple Stupid. Don’t get caught up with 3 x 10 sets of squats followed by a giant set of 12/10/8 back and shoulders followed by a pyramid set of bi’s and tri’s before finishing with a super set of lat raises, front raises. If you are starting out or advanced you will always get the best from keeping everything so simple it shouldn’t work. Hinge, squat, push, pull, carry. Thats all thats needed to build a better body.
STICK TO A PROGRAM. Almost any program [hint, refer to point above for an idea] will get results as long as you keep doing it(as long as its not one your 15 year old best friend dreamed up). If you are a beginner training twice a week will illicit change. If you want to improve on this move up to three times a week, after a while make it four, then five. Once here, try adding two more reps a week, or add a few kg to the bar. These simple small changes are all thats needed.
HAVE PATIENCE. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your body be. Accept that to build strength and muscle requires time, sacrifice and effort. Pulling double your bodyweight in a deadlift 6 weeks after starting weight training for the first time isn’t a smart idea, even if your friends are trying it and think you should. Improving your shape and strength is a journey and should be enjoyed. Its not how fast you get there but making sure you get there safely. Trust me, give it time and use intelligent weight increases and you will get that double body weight deadlift and you will look like a pro doing it.
So there you have it, my idiot proof guide to gaining strength and a building a better body. As you can see it isn’t really rocket science. If you are serious about making a change and have absolutely no idea where to start, seek out a reputable gym/PT studio and pay for a few 1:1 sessions with the best PT you can find as it will pay off massively in the end.