(as previously published in the Merrimack Journal)
Squats. Maybe you have heard of them. Maybe you have heard some of the myths about them like, “squats are bad for your knees”, or “squats are bad for your back”. I especially enjoy encountering someone in the gym who rationalizes to me why they “don’t need to do squats”. It’s funny to hear that because we ALL squat. Every day. It’s part of basic human function.
Do you doubt that you squat every day? Go into the bathroom and perform another basic human function. When you’re finished, stand up. You just performed a “Box Squat”. Sit back down. Stand back up. Now you have done 2 repetitions in the Box Squat (you initially sat down to the toilet, stood up, sat down, stood up… that’s 2 repetitions). See how easy and convenient resistance training is? Another example? Go sit down at the table for breakfast. Stand up. Sit back down. Stand up. Sit back down. Stand up again. Congratulations. You just performed 3 repetitions in the Box Squat. That’s a 50% increase from your last set. You’re progressing nicely!
I think you get the point. Squatting is totally necessary for basic human function and your day to day living. So now let’s talk more specifically about the Box Squat as a part of your regular exercise program. Anytime you squat to a toilet, chair, hassock, milk crate, or anything else that will safely support your weight, you are squatting to a “box”. A “box” just represents a platform of specific height. In general, the lower the box, the more difficult the box squat. Squatting lower means you need to move a given weight (your own bodyweight, in these examples) over a larger distance. An important, little known fact about squatting – the lower you squat, the BETTER it is for your knees. A critical point of advice for box squatting is SIT GENTLY TO THE BOX. Sit down as if you were sitting on an egg (don’t break the egg!). Land gently. Then stand back up. Make sure that the feet are placed in a way so they look like mirror images of each other. Your feet should be planted firmly about shoulder width apart and your heels should NOT raise from the floor as you descend to the box. Descend slowly, sit gently, and stand up. Control your body.
Do you want to continue to be mobile, functional, and pain free as you grow older? Yes? Then don’t lose your ability to squat. Here is a small challenge for those readers out there interested enough to humor me. Find a chair or hassock in your house that will safely support your body weight. Take a medium sized blanket or towel and fold it a couple times so you end up with a neat square that will fit nicely on the “box” you have chosen. Making sure you have given yourself ample room to squat, sit down gently to the box, allow your body weight to momentarily transfer to the box, then stand back up. Repeat this process 9 more times in a row. You have just performed 1 set of 10 repetitions in the Box Squat. Rest 1 minute (watch a clock). Perform 5 more sets of 10 repetitions. Rest 1 minute between each set.
I would enjoy hearing about your experiences and results.
Warning: if you have never done this before, expect some Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
I first wrote out The ABC Routine in the mid-90’s. It is meant to be a quick and easy reference guide for anybody just returning to the gym for the first time in years, or interested in getting started with some light weight training for the first time ever. The ABC Routine is an excellent general weight training program that will help you “get your feet wet”. However, learning how to weight train properly from a book or article is not a good replacement for good personal training instruction from a qualified coach or expert personal trainer.
Everybody reading this blog has likely seen the movie, “The Karate Kid”. In the beginning of the movie, Daniel attempts to practice his Karate, taking lessons from a book, but it is not until Mr Myagi adopts him as a student that Daniel’s Karate really begins to develop. Also, in the beginning of his learning process, Daniel questions the seemingly simple and pointless menial tasks My Myagi forces Daniel to perform, but we find out later that these tasks were not so pointless – they were laying the foundation for future learning. You may not yet have access to your own weight training Mr Myagi, expert personal trainer, or qualified coach, so, until then, consider using this ABC routine as a beginner’s guide. INSTRUCTIONS
1) Pick 2 of the four exercises under each underlined heading. (You will perform 4 exercises total each workout day)
2) Perform 4-5 sets per exercise. (More sets may be required for practice and/or warming up)
3) Do 8-12 reps per set. (Challenge yourself… safely)
4) Use a repetition tempo of 4-1-1
(Lower the weight in 4 seconds, pause at the bottom (or top) of the range for 1 second, lift/raise the weight in 1 second).
5) Rest 1 minute or less between each set. (Stretching between sets is a good idea)
WORKOUT A : “PUSH and PULL” Push exercises*
Flat bench Dumbbell press
Incline bench Dumbbell press
Decline bench Dumbbell press
Seated Military Dumbbell press
Bilateral (two handles) pull-downs
Bilateral (two handles) seated cable row
Standing Rope Rows from hi cable
Standing Rope Rows from lo cable
WORKOUT B : “SQUATS and ABS”
Decline Board Sit-ups
Roman Chair Knee ups
Bent knee crunches
Hanging leg raises
*If you are unfamiliar with any, or all, of these exercises… Google them! The Internet is a tremendous resource… use it! You will be able to find videos on each and every one of these exercises on YouTube!
Perform 20-30 minutes continuous activity on bike, elliptical, treadmill, jumping rope, or any combination of these options totaling 20-30 minutes.
Using an inexpensive sports watch with a built-in timer is an extremely convenient and productive way to time not only your rest time between sets, but also the duration of your set, also known as the “time under tension”. Using the guidelines detailed in The ABC Routine (above), a set of 10 reps should take exactly 60 seconds. Using a watch with a simple timer function will help you immensely. DISCLAIMER: This routine is followed at your own risk. This routine is not meant to replace the advice of a qualified coach or expert personal trainer. The information contained or implied here is not intended to diagnose or cure any specific illness or condition. Paul Newt, New Energy & Weight-loss Training Systems, EDGE 24 Hour Private Fitness, its employees, associates, and/or affiliated parties are in no way responsible or liable for any injuries, conditions, or maladies suffered as a result of the information given here. Always consult your physician before beginning any eating or exercise program.
As a trusted coach and personal trainer, I assign my personal training clients workouts to complete on their own, in addition to the primary workouts that I instruct them through beginning to end. When prescribing this “homework exercise”, a client may ask, “how many sets shall I do for that”, or, “how many reps“. Well, the best personal trainers and best coaches DO NOT simply give static answers and cookie cutter workouts. The best answer will depend mostly on the person asking the question. As a qualified, experienced coach, you must train the person standing in front of you. In addition, the best personal trainer or best coach will teach the client concepts and strategies that can be used in the long term and in the coach’s absence.
“How many reps?”, and “how many sets?” have been important questions since the beginning of weight training. The answers in this subject area are a product of the work of thousands of athletes and hundreds of coaches. More specifically, the questions are, “At a given number of repetitions, what is the OPTIMAL number of sets?”. And, “at a given intensity level, what is the expected, or optimal, number of repetitions?”. And, lastly, “what is the training effect of a specific number of repetitions (per set)”.
Fortunately, some very intelligent minds have taken on the task of providing concrete answers to these important questions. I have provided a brief overview of the most important work on this subject by 2 outstanding coaches; Prilepin and Poliquin.
Before I present a synopsis of the work of these 2 great coaches, I would like to point out the simple (and obvious) short answer to, “what is the relationship between reps and sets?”. The answer is, the number of sets/exercise and the number of repetitions/set are INVERSELY related. Meaning that, as the number of reps per set goes up, the corresponding number of (optimal) sets must fall. And, conversely, as the number of reps per set goes down, the corresponding number of (optimal) sets must rise. For example, if I am performing 10 repetitions per set, then I should probably only perform 3 sets. If I choose to do 15 reps/set, I only need to do 2 sets. If I choose to do only 2 reps/set, I should probably do about 12-15 sets.
Repetitions and Sets represent 2 of the 6 loading parameters in strength training. All 6 loading parameters are mathematically related.
So, now let’s present more detailed information on the subject –
1. PRILEPIN’S TABLE:
In the 1970’s A.S. Prilepin found a set of guidelines for how elite Olympic weightlifters trained to develop maximum strength. The results of his study are below.
We can see from the chart that when the athlete is working with loads that represent roughly 55-65% of his/her maximum lift weight, that the number of repetitions for that exercise ideally falls in the range of 18-30 total reps, with the optimal total number of reps being 24. Three examples: 5 sets of 5 reps, 4 sets of 6 reps, or 9 sets of 3 reps. Additionally, I would suggest that 3 sets of 10 reps would also be a good choice for working at this 55-65% load level, even though repetitions above 6 are not addressed in this chart.
From the next line we can see that when the athlete is working with loads that represent roughly 70-80% of his/her 1RM (1 Repetition Max), that the number of repetitions falls in the range of 12-24 total reps, with the optimal total of reps being 18. Three examples: 6 sets of 4 reps, 4 sets of 6-6-4-4, or 8 sets of 3 reps.
Now, 99% of people working out in the best gyms that are using primarily free weights will use loads that represent 55-80% – so we can concern ourselves, for the basis of this article, with just these first 2 lines of Prilepin’s Table. If you are a strength athlete, or advanced gym trainee, you are probably lifting loads more regularly in the area of 80%+ and have a decent understanding of the relationship between sets and reps already. Despite that, I guarantee you that I can take you to the next level. More than likely, you have only a faint idea of how strong you can actually be with the right training.
Optimal compromise of maximal strength and hypertrophy gains: 6 reps = 83.1% duration of set(s): 20-40 seconds
7 = 80.7
8 = 78.6
Best hypertrophy gains leading to increased max strength:
9 reps = 76.5% duration of set(s): 40-70 seconds
10 = 74.4
11 = 72.3
12 = 70.3
Strength-endurance gains and lower hypertrophy gains: 13-20 reps = 68.8-60.6% (roughly 1.2/1.3% lower per rep) duration of set(s): greater than 70 seconds
This chart does a really effective job of illustrating what you are getting from your strength training efforts in regards to how your body is adapting to the stimulus (weight training). It also points out an important fact that I tend to stress often to PT clients: the body doesn’t really “see” reps, it sees, or responds to, the duration of the set.
If you look at the rep ranges and the corresponding duration of set, you can see that each rep range (and duration of set) delivers a specific message to the body. In the rep range of 1-5 reps, and a duration of set between 0-20 seconds, you can see that the body will respond to this stimulus with mostly neurological changes (relative strength increases through enhanced neural drive) – aka, the body is learning to use, more efficiently, the capability (muscle) it already has.
If we look down to the rep ranges of 9-12 repetitions (per set), with a duration of roughly 40-70 seconds per set, we can see that the body responds to this stimulus primarily through changes to the muscular system – aka the body is encouraged to build more muscle. At this point, inexperienced personal trainers might jump to the conclusion that “this is the only rep range I need for almost all my clients!”. And these inexperienced personal trainers would be wrong.
Thirdly, sets of 6-8 reps, or 20-40 seconds, is giving us a somewhat balanced blend of some neural AND some muscular adaptations (GAINS!).
Lastly, sets that last over 70 seconds per set are… wait for it… CARDIO. And, that is a subject for a future article. Unfortunately, you see many inexperienced personal trainers having clients perform, almost exclusively, 15-20 reps per set. This is also an extremely naive approach. When these sets of 15-20 are performed on machines, it is just plain dumb.
An expert personal trainer or experienced, qualified coach will have his clients learning how to effectively employ ALL the repetition ranges (1-5, 6-8, 9-12, and 13-20) as part of a comprehensive program.
Thank you for reading. Best of luck in your gym efforts.
I lift weights. Every day. Actually, I lift weights twice a day, Monday through Friday. I take it easy on the weekends- I only lift once per day, Saturday and Sunday. I must be young, right? That’s the only way somebody would be able to do that. No… I’m not so young. How do I possibly find the time to exercise so often? I make time. Even though I spend an average of 60 hours each week working, I still make exercise a priority. Of course, it DOES HELP that I do not subscribe to cable television, so I do not waste ANY time watching garbage like reality TV. Never turning on the “idiot box” definitely frees up some time. Whatever the case, the fact remains that I lift weights about 7-12 times every week. And I am even thinking about increasing that. I “olympic” squat, which means that I squat real LOW. To the point where my hamstrings cover my calves, almost like I am trying to touch my butt to my heels. I squat like this every day. With weights. And my knees, hips, and lower back are ALL still in perfect health. Why does it matter what I do? Because. What one man can do, another can do.
Back in the 90s, one the many self-proclaimed gurus I chose to learn from was Mike Mentzer. Mike was preaching a low-volume training system he dubbed Heavy Duty Training. The premise was pretty simple – do only as much in the gym as you need to, to come back STRONGER the next time. His workout prescriptions frequently featured doing only 1-2 sets per body part. Under Mike’s tutelage, your workouts might last as little as 20 minutes per session (including warm-ups). He based the philosophical foundation of this training system partly on the teachings of Ayn Rand and frequently referenced her works, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Basically, Mike was out of his tree. A can or two short of a six-pack. NUTS. But, he could logically argue all day long why YOU and everyone else should only spend about 2-4 hours PER WEEK in the gym, no matter who you were. Like I expect all great teachers to be, Mike was a fanatic. I am glad that I devoted a significant time period seriously exploring his methods and the value of low volume training. I learned a lot. The concept of low volume training has its place in the larger picture of successful weight training, but it is just a small, small, SMALL sliver of the picture. These types of low volume training gurus come and go. A more contemporary version of the Mike Mentzer type (Mike is dead now), is a guy like Jim Wendler, who is, you guessed it, promoting a low-volume training system. Ironically, Jim Wendler was, at one time, a student of Louie Simmons. Simmons, the most innovative GENIUS in the history of powerlifting, generally believes in four “core” workouts per week and 3-9 “mini-sessions” per week, equaling approximately 7-13 workouts per week. Personally, when I am asked about Mentzer-Wendler types that are preaching low volume routines, I have the same general answer. “These guys are preaching low volume training so you can RATIONALIZE being LAZY and have more time to lay around and read their lame articles and/or buy their crappy products”.
At the other end of the spectrum of training advice from Mike Mentzer, we have an Olympic weightlifting coach like John Broz, who is an advocate of a high frequency, high volume training system. This is sometimes referred to as a “Bulgarian” style training system. I have a lot of respect for what guys like John Broz are trying to accomplish. And, although it may seem like I am now a student of John Broz and other promoters of high frequency training systems, I have been saying things like, “there is NO SUCH THING as overtraining, only under-eating, and under-sleeping”, for over 10 years BEFORE I ever heard of John. I also assert, as a product of my own now nearly 30 years of weight training experience, that there is an inherent harm and benefit in EVERY training system that must be considered. In the short term, you will notice the benefits of a given system rather quickly, but in the long term, the harm will become evident. A “perfect” training system DOES NOT EXIST. Training is much more dynamic than that. As soon as you take the time to write it down, there are going to be some subtle changes that need to be edited into it. It may seem that I am arguing against low volume training systems. It may seem that I am advocating high frequency training because that is similar to what I currently do. What I really want to say to you is – TRAIN AS MUCH AS YOU NEED TO TO SUCCEED.
I grew up in the 80s. What I mean by that is that the core years of my adolescence occurred in the 80s. In 1985, I was a freshman in high school. One of the things that I believe was particularly unique about this time in our American popular culture was the social pressure put on boys of my age to lift weights. Popular films of the time starred action heroes such as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Back then, these men were viewed, somewhat, as pinnacles of masculinity. I believe a whole generation of young men were directly influenced in a very powerful way by characters like Rocky, Rambo, Conan The Barbarian, and The Terminator. I know I was. And so were my friends.
Almost every guy I knew lifted weights back then. Many of the workouts performed by my friends and I were, initially, virtual imitations of the workouts we saw performed in the Rocky movies. We jumped rope. Every day. We hit the speed bag as a warm-up to virtually every workout. And, of course, we lifted weights, nearly every day, always trying to out do each other. An unfortunate aspect of this time, I believe now, was the irrational emphasis put on chest and arm development. Looking at the chest of Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator and the 20-something-inch “guns” of 80s personalities such as Hulk Hogan, I’m sure you can understand where the basis of this emphasis came from.
Unfortunately, for a generation of young men who also put high value on their ability to perform in various sports, excessive chest and arm training was, at best, irrelevant, and was, at worse, compromising athletic performance. It has taken me significant time to “get over” the idea of weight training being about building “respectable” chest and arms. Some of the deprogramming was difficult to accept, but my training, of myself and others, has continued to evolve in a better, more productive, direction.
Looking at chest and arms, and let’s throw shoulders (deltoids) in there too, one can easily see that we are talking about only about one third of the body’s total muscle mass. The vast majority of the body’s muscle mass, about two thirds (about 67%), lies in the quadriceps, hamstrings, “glutes”, and “lats”. Assuming you are looking for balanced development, your weight training programs should reflect those percentages. Ideally, one would be spending two thirds of his/her time in the gym training quadriceps, hamstrings, “glutes”, and “lats”. My training, until about 10 years ago, was about two thirds chest, shoulders, and arm training. I suspect many of the men I grew up with would also be inclined to design their weight training program with this somewhat irrational emphasis on chest and arms.
Ten years ago, I started putting more appropriate emphasis on each muscle group. Instead on doing some sort of upper body work every 3 days out of 4, I began having about 50% my workout time dominated by lower body, performing a squat type movement as often as every 3 days. Squatting every 3 days?!? Many men in my peer group would call this crazy. I call it extremely productive and effective. Personally, my physique, performance, and health all responded in a very positive way after making this physical, and philosophical, adjustment.
Much more recently, about 3 months ago, I began a program design which incorporates the Olympic Snatch as a “centerpiece” lift. I discovered that building the exercises that improve the Olympic Snatch can dramatically increase your flexibility, mobility, and overall physical prowess in a very real, “feel-able” way. Because this type of training is more comprehensive in a real-world, functional sense, you immediately start noticing that you can perform better physically, in your day-to-day living, in ways that are truly remarkable. Lifts like front squats, dead-lifts, high pulls, seated cable rows, pull-ups, shrugs, snatch swings, snatch squats, and decline sit-ups are much more translatable to your everyday living and general physical performance levels than the bench press and barbell curl. I have integrated these concepts into my personal training methods as well – the results have been spectacular.
Are you finding your clothes don’t fit you like they used to? Maybe they’re a little snug around the waist or tight in the rear. As adults age their metabolism slows down- mostly due to muscle mass loss, and weight gain commonly occurs. However, more women are discovering how to rev up their metabolism; weight training.
Weight training is a great way to give your metabolism a boost, burning more fat than any other exercise venue. When you combine weight training with a small amount of cardiovascular training (walking, cycling, or aerobics) and a goal-specific diet, you might change your body so fast that your friends and family no longer recognize you!
WHY WEIGHT TRAINING? Weight training helps you build muscle which burns more calories than fat. Your body continues to burn calories after lifting weights. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. The more muscle you have, the easier it is to burn fat. The more fat you carry, the easier it is to get fatter. Cardiovascular exercise may burn calories, but cardio DOES NOT build muscle. Sure, you may “tone up” the first few weeks you begin doing “cardio”, but it is a limited response. Women who do ONLY cardio may end up a size or so smaller, but usually FLABBIER too: they gain the weight back because the lack of stimulation to the muscle leads to a lowered metabolism. The idea is this: build some muscle by lifting weights. Then, when you do cardio, you will burn even more calories than before you had that extra muscle. One more thing to remember; TOO MUCH CARDIO BURNS MUSCLE. Most experienced physique athletes know that performing more than two 30-45 minute sessions of cardio per week can start eating away muscle after only 6-8 weeks. For more specific details, please read “Why Resistance Training“.
GENERAL WEIGHT TRAINING To drop bodyfat using free weights, it is generally recommended to lift 4-6 times per week, for 30-75 minutes per session, using weights that are 60-85% of your 1 rep max, with each set lasting 40-70 seconds (try the ABC Routine, or the XFL Program). If you are lifting properly, you should notice steady improvements in your body continually over time. The longer you commit to this form of exercise, the more you will benefit. And the changes you make will be longer lasting. Cardio can be added, but it IS NOT ALWAYS NECESSARY and can actually impede progress in many situations. If you MUST have cardio in your program (because you are psychologically addicted to it or you are routinely tested for cardiovascular fitness), try using cardio as a form of active recovery; a way to recover more quickly from your weight training sessions. Do 15-20 minutes of low intensity cardio on non-weight training days or in a separate training session, 2-3 times per week. Remember, when it comes to losing body fat, aerobic activity is a second rate activity. Weight training is number one. And, combining weight training and cardio in one 60 minute workout is a very common beginner mistake.
BEWARE THE SCALE! It is only ONE of many TOOLS… The biggest challenge for many will be not to be dismayed by what the scale tells you in the short term. The scale is only ONE tool for assessing progress. You must also assess your total body fat, your strength levels, your waist size, and your general appearance (look in the mirror). When you weigh yourself, you must remember muscle weighs more than fat. Fat takes up ALOT more room than muscle. Women training with weights have been known to weigh the same as when they started, even while dropping from a size 12 to a size 6. Going by just the scale can be very deceiving. A woman who loses 10 lbs of fat and gains 10 lbs of muscle in the same training period will look DRAMATICALLY different. No need to worry about “bulking up” either; it just doesn’t happen to females who don’t use steroids. So forget about the excuse, “I don’t want to get too big.” If your arms are still big, it is because you still have a lot of fat to lose, not because you are curling 25 lbs. Bottom line: Use the a tailor’s tape to measure waist circumference – combining that information with your scale weight will give you a clearer picture of whether you are losing fat or not.
ADDITIONAL BENEFITS OF WEIGHT TRAINING In addition to boosting the metabolism, giving you more energy, and dropping your body fat, weight training delivers many other health benefits. It helps prevent osteoporosis, a bone disease that affects many females after menopause, that results in bones becoming porous and fragile. Women who weight train build denser bones. This helps prevent osteoporosis and even reverses the earlier stages of the disease. Also, weight training done properly (not on MACHINES!) will help promote flexibility, mobility, and coordination; these qualities are crucial keeping a person injury free, healthy, and happy. Weight training has the potential to increase both the quantity and quality of life.
YOU CAN GET STARTED RIGHT NOW! Even if you don’t belong to a gym, you can start weight training now. Start with simple exercises done with just the body; sit-ups, leg raises, pushups, chinups, bodyweight squats, split squats, calf raises. This is resistance training in its most basic form. If this is too difficult, improvise, or substitute with similar exercises using dumbbells. Become familiar with basic body movements and postures. Tai Chi and Power Yoga are innovative activities that can help you gain this kind of familiarity with your body. There are also many books and videos on weight training available to help you learn the various exercises. Get recommendations on which ones to buy. Next, you might start building your own small home gym (learn to avoid common home gym mistakes) by purchasing metal or chrome dumbbells readily available at most sporting goods stores or a great online retailer. Start with 5 lb dumbbells. Then purchase another pair of dumbbells as your strength progresses, adding a pair of 10’s, 15’s, 20’s, 25’s, 30’s, etc. Eventually you will have collected a full set of dumbbells and drastically improved your body in the process. Round out this collection with a simple adjustable bench, squat racks, and a pull-down attachment. But I must warn you: PLEASE! DO NOT BUY ANY of this gimmicky gym equipment advertised on television infomercials. These “technological breakthroughs” are nothing but a clever way to separate you from your money. Despite their claims, no one ever got in shape by using only the scam product(s) they are promoting.
THE MODERN FITNESS SHAM, AKA “$9.99 FITNESS” (read more about what I call “$9.99 FITNESS” HERE) Eventually you will “outgrow” your basic home gym, but try to avoid wasting your time, energy, and money on bad gym memberships and unqualified personal trainers. As a beginner, you are the perfect prey for the salesmen of the $10 a month fitness clubs. They will use your lack of experience against you to sell you a membership to a warehouse-sized “family fitness center” filled with the cheapest, lowest quality strength and cardio equipment money can buy. They will probably fail to mention that they have also sold memberships to absolutely EVERYONE they could get their hands on. Typically, gyms like these get SO CROWDED that you will often have to wait in line to use your favorite piece of cardio or strength station. Despite what they pitch you, you DO NOT need to use their “cutting edge” machines such as the hip adduction/abduction station or the butt blaster: most machines are a total waste of your time. In fact, using machines, as a beginner, is the most common and pervasive MISTAKE still perpetuated by the fitness and personal training industry.
All you really NEED to get in shape is your own body and, some free weights, the right space, and some proper instruction (for more details, go HERE). Of course, a PROPERLY EQUIPPED gym (whose owner(s) truly understand effective exercise) will have been built with proper introduction to the basics in mind and lots of extra goodies that can take your exercise program to a whole new level. CrossFit gyms are an example of this more sensible direction in fitness. Gymnast rings, kettle bells, and bumper plates are MUCH more useful and effective, for beginners, AND in the long term, than the Gravitron, Hammer Strength Stations, and Elliptical Cardio-Trainers.
“CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINERS” You definitely do NOT need one of those often “free”, gym-employed, “personal trainers” who think that coaching someone properly means having you perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps/set, with 3-4 exercises/bodypart on a circuit of shiny, toy-like, pin-selectorized machines. This is a VERY UNPRODUCTIVE use of your time. It is important for you to realize that starting off with improper instruction from a “certified personal trainer” could be the worst mistake of your exercise career. Choose a personal trainer or coach VERY carefully. A good coach, like anything else, costs money. Many “certified personal trainers” do NOT know what proper training is, despite looking in shape, and despite their multiple paper “certifications”. Look for other ways to assess their competency, such as the success rate of their current or past clients.
BE PROACTIVE Take an active role in your exercise and diet program. Beware – everybody is claiming to be a “fitness expert” these days, mostly so they can swindle you out of your hard-earned money. TEACH YOURSELF the basics using a simple, common sense approach; you’ll be happy you did. This is a life-long process. Remember, the only one standing between you and your goals is YOU! Everybody has a right to have a healthy, fit body. It doesn’t cost alot of money and it doesn’t happen over night. Take your time, learn, have confidence in what you’re doing; it will happen.
The most important thing I would like you to remember from this article is: if you want to efficiently and consistently burn fat, you must include some sort of resistance exercise (weight training) in your exercise program.
(As previously published in the Merrimack Journal)
“Well, yes… I like to lift weights. Thank you for noticing. What do you like to do?”
Yoga. Tai Chi. Weight Training. At first, these activities may seem unrelated, but, in fact, they are very much alike. When we break these forms of exercise down to their basic elements of posture and movement, many similarities become clear.
The postures that you do in yoga are actually a series of stretches, and by doing these regularly and trying to stretch just a little bit further each workout, you will soon find that you are much more flexible than ever before. And with the improved flexibility comes improved balance and posture. We are all born with flexibility, and lose it throughout the years. Yoga can keep that from happening and will help you to maintain healthy muscles and joints. Many senior citizens find that when they practice yoga, they feel less pain in their joints and are able to move around much better. Yes, yoga is being practiced by more and more seniors every day, so if they can do it, so can you. Yoga is an exercise for everyone, and one that is going to improve the overall health of all who practice it.
If you’re looking for another way to reduce stress, consider tai chi (TIE-chee). Tai chi is sometimes described as “meditation in motion” because it promotes serenity through gentle movements — connecting the mind and body. Originally developed in ancient China for self-defense, tai chi evolved into a graceful form of exercise that’s now used for stress reduction and to help with a variety of other health conditions.
Tai chi, also called tai chi chuan, is a noncompetitive, self-paced system of gentle physical exercise and stretching. To do tai chi, you perform a series of postures or movements in a slow, graceful manner. Each posture flows into the next without pause, ensuring that your body is in constant motion.
Like Yoga and Tai Chi, there are many different types of Weight Training. Relying primarily on the use of dumbbell and barbells, Free Weight Training is the purest form of this type of exercise. A relatively new discipline popularized mainly in the United States, Free Weight Training employs a substantial variety of “exercises” grouped, organized, and programmed based on which muscle group(s) are being “worked out”. A “weight trainee” performs exercises for the specific muscle groups he/she would like to target for a pre-determined number of repetitions and sets corresponding with specific, preconceived goals. For example, a weight trainee interested in rehabilitation, and restoration of pain-free mobility, will concentrate a large portion of the work in his/her “training routine” on performing sets that include enough repetitions for the duration of the set to last a minimum of 40 seconds (with a maximum of 70 seconds).
In Yoga, Tai Chi, and Free Weight Training, proper posture and specific movement is critical to mastering the discipline and achieving significant results. Yoga and Tai-Chi are elegant in their similar approaches of utilizing only bodyweight and position to deliver a effective training effect. Free Weight Training employs the use of specialized implements (dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells, safety squat bars, etc) and adds the variable of selecting the magnitude of the resistance, making it even more sophisticated in its art and execution.
A proper introduction to Yoga, Tai-Chi, or Free Weight Training is critical to your success in any one of those endeavors.
UPDATE December 2016: It’s hard to believe that I wrote this program over 20 years ago. It’s still stands as a terrific option for anyone who wants a weight training program that will cause significant and reliable fat loss – while preserving, or increasing, muscle. Clients, past and present, will recognize it as “the 1 minute time under tension routine”.
In any case, with the New Year just around the corner, many of you might find this post very useful. Enjoy.
(This Program is also known as “The XFL Program”) “Congratulations! You have found your way to one of the fastest and best ways to lose fat and/or bodyweight. You are in good company. MANY men and women have tried this program and been quite impressed with the results. I love it when a good plan comes together. Read on and enjoy!” – Paul Newt
WELCOME to The EXTREME Fat Loss Program… I will NOT waste much time here trying to explain why it is a FACT that lifting free weights is the superior method for getting the body you want. I will NOT try convincing the aerobic and cardio addicts out there that you are ultimately wasting your time, painting yourself into a corner. What I will do is relate to you a weight training system that can help you get much LEANER (lose fat and keep your muscle!). This weight training program is quick, efficient, and reliable. If bodyfat loss is your goal, then using The Extreme Fat Loss Program is one of the most effective ways to spend your time at the gym.
REMOVING YOUR SUBJECTIVE OBJECTIONS
Let us imagine for a second that using FREE WEIGHTS ONLY in a specific format will allow you to achieve the lowest bodyfat percentage in the shortest amount of time with the highest degree of retention (you will stay lean). You might ask, “What would such a format look like?” After I begin to tell you, you might be tempted to ask questions like: “Shouldn’t I do at least SOME cardio? You need cardio for fat loss, right?”, “I heard that if you want lose weight you should only do high reps – because low reps are for only for bulking up… Right?”, “You just have to eat more protein, right? My cousin is a bodybuilder, he said…”
And ON and ON it goes. Let me tell you something- the older I get, the more I realize that most people have NO IDEA what they are talking about. People say lots of things and 99% of it is just hot air. “They” do this. “They” do that… If I had a nickel for every person’s FAILED THEORIES of how to lose weight…
“WHO CARES WHAT “THEY” DO!?!”
What are YOU doing? IS IT WORKING? Because if it isn’t working, what is the point of dedicating all that time to it? Are you happy with your body? Are you confident that you know how to take off any extra bodyfat anytime you want to? Or have you become frustrated or even depressed because your body is a complete mystery to you? You think you just need MORE cardio and LESS food, and then, finally, you will get that flab off. You are dead wrong. You exercise “all the time” and hardly cheat on your diet at at all and you still have that extra flab you can’t get rid of. Why isn’t it working? I happen to know WHY and I am here to offer you one possible solution to your problem. But, first you have to do me a favor…
FORGET WHAT YOU MAY HAVE HEARD AND WHAT YOU THINK YOU KNOW!
You are getting the truth right here for FREE so pay attention. And, hey, let’s face it… if you had the answers, you would be lean already and you wouldn’t be reading this article.
The following program flat out WORKS like nothing you have seen before. It works better than your 1 hour of cardio everyday. It works better than the Atkin’s diet. It works better than trying to quickly lose 30 pounds by cutting off your arm. Okay, well maybe YOUR ARM doesnt weight 30 pounds, but you get my point…
With that said… let’s get down to outlining this weight training program so you can start ripping the fat off fast!
Here is The XFL PROGRAM SHORT VERSION first: 1.4-6 weight training sessions per week. 2.Each session lasts 60 minutes.** 3.You will do 30 sets per session. 4.Each set will take about 60 seconds to complete. 5.You will rest a maximum of 60 seconds between each set. 6.Cardio is NOT recommended and can actually reduce the effectiveness of this training program.
**Why does each weight training session last almost exactly 60 minutes? Because, (30 sets x 1 minute per set) + (30 rest periods between each set x 1 minute per rest period) = 60 minutes.
This general format was first presented to me by Charles Poliquin in a Canadian Strength Seminar in 1997. Charles refers to this system as “Body Composition Training”. In recent years, this system has been copied, renamed, and promoted by various individuals under new names such as “Meltdown Training” and “Fat to Fire”. These systems seek the same goals and utilize the same general loading parameters.
I will provide a similar version here that I have developed through trial and error. Although many incarnations of this training format are possible, I extend credit to Charles Poliquin to being the first to introduce “Body Composition Training”.
This kind of weight training can take a woman from 20% bodyfat to 12% bodyfat in 12 weeks when properly applied to a motivated trainee.
Personally, for body composition training, I like to use a 3-day split routine (the whole body is worked in 3 training days). This is the specific 3-Day Split we will use with The Extreme Fat Loss Program:
3-DAY SPLIT Routine
Day 1 – Legs and Triceps
Day 2 – Chest and Biceps
Day 3 – Back and Shoulders
So, just to clarify, The XFL Program is just ONE version of many of Body Composition Training. It is a well-organized template that is easy to implement and most clients seem to enjoy it. I have other, more sophicated versions, that I will save for another article or blog post.
So, training 2 bodyparts per day means you need to perform: • 15 sets per bodypart (15 x 2 = 30 sets per workout).
• Using 3 exercises per bodypart, with 5 sets per exercise gives us the desired 15 sets.
However, you may decide you would like to do more exercises and less sets per exercise- (5 exercises of 3 sets each), or more sets and fewer exercises per bodypart (one exercise for 15 sets), but that one could get a little monotonous.
There is an optimal combination here, based on the desired training effect within body composition training parameters, and the trainee’s personal disposition and psychology. Feel free to experiment as long as you maintain the 15 sets lasting 60 seconds each per bodypart.
I am sure you can begin to see that there are quite a few ways to arrange this system. Let’s say I want to train 3 bodyparts per session; that would give me 10 sets per bodypart. But, let’s say that I need more work on one of the muscles; maybe I do 20 sets for that bodypart and 5 sets each on the other two. Get the idea?
With that in mind, I provide the following version as an EXAMPLE. You can use it, I have. I like it, but I have created other versions as well.
Here they are- the SAMPLE WORKOUTS of The Extreme Fat Loss Program:
DAY 1 – Legs and Triceps
A) Full Squats (all the way down!) :warmup, then 2 sets x 10 reps.
B) Split Squats 3 sets x 6 reps EACH LEG.
C) Extra-Wide-Stance Box Squats 3×15 or Hack Squats 3×8
D) Bent-legged Deadlifts 1×20
E) Standing Calf Raises 3×15
F) Pullovers 2×10
G) Closegrip Bench Press 4×6
H) Lying Triceps Dumbbell Extensions 3×8
I) Overhead Triceps Extensions with EZ-Curl Bar 3×8
J) Rope Pushdowns 3×10
Not familiar with these exercises?
Learning new exercises is like learning new words. When you learn new words, you can communicate more precisely to the people around you. When you learn new exercises, you can communicate more specifically with your body. One of the most complete collections of bodybuilding exercises I have ever had the pleasure of holding in my hands was the age-old classic, Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding
DAY 2 – Chest and Biceps
A) Incline DB Press :warmup, then 4 sets x 6 reps
B) Flat Dumbell Flyes 5×5
C) Flat Barbell Press 4 sets x 6 reps
D) Incline Dumbbell Flyes 2×12
E) Standing Barbell Curls 4×6
F) Reverse Curls 4×6
G) Incline Dumbbell Curls 3×8
H) Standing Hammer Curls 4×8
DAY 3 – Back and Shoulders
A) Wide-Grip Overhand Pulldowns:warmup, then 4 sets x 6 reps (squeeze/pause at chest for 2 seconds each rep)
B) Medium-Grip Overhand or Crescent Bar Seated Cable Rows 3×8
C) Rear Lateral Raises 3×8
D) Underhand grip Pulldowns 3×8
E) Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows 1×8 EACH ARM
F) Single-Arm Side Lateral Raises 2×10 EACH ARM
G) Upright Rows 3×10
H) Rope Rows to Chin 2×12
I) Overhand Closegrip Pulldowns 3×8
J) Seated Dumbell Military Press 3×8
By the way, if you still are skeptical about the FACT that you can get ripped without doing cardio, try this routine for just a week and let me know if you change your mind.
Remember… Make each set last 60 seconds. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to complete 6 reps or 20 reps; make the set last 60 seconds using the most weight you can handle: •FEMALE TRANSLATION – If you can complete EVERY rep of every set, then the weights are TOO LIGHT! Safely challenge yourself and USE MORE WEIGHT. It is okay if you don’t complete every rep of every set. Make adjustments to keep challenging your strength. • MALE TRANSLATION – If you cannot complete ANY of the sets to the 60 second mark, then the weights are TOO HEAVY! Lighten the weight a little. Using a challenging weight and completely the 60 seconds are of equal importance. It is okay if you CAN (barely) complete almost every rep of every set. Move up next time. If it is too easy make the form harder and stricter.
There you have it! Try this routine for the next 4 weeks. Three or four weeks is a reasonable time frame for evaluating almost any training program. Keep in mind that there is NO PERFECT ROUTINE. This means you CAN’T stay on this or any other routine FOREVER. In the short term, you will feel the benefit of any routine. In the long term, you will feel the shortcomings of any routine. Think “new stimulus, new adaptation”. Coach Charles Poliquin has said, “a training routine is only as good as the time it takes your body to ADAPT to it”, and, “the only constant in your routine should be CHANGE”. Think carefully about these statements.
I noticed the similarities between working out and investing in stocks a long time ago. I have been investing and learning about investing ALMOST as long as I have been lifting weights. I had the benefit of a very intelligent grandfather who had the foresight to teach me some basics about investing and helped me get my feet wet by looking up the current daily closing share prices of the various stocks that he held, beginning when I was in high school. The dividends he earned on his investments single-handedly paid my tuition through college.
Exercising and Investing share many common principles. Financial Advisors generally like to begin with the whole “what type of investor are you?” method of helping you decide which investment vehicle to put your money in. Similarly, the question “what type of athlete or fitness enthusiast are you?” will generally be asked by a Personal Trainer and will help determine which type of exercise you might want to invest your time and energy in. You INVEST your time and energy in a particular type of exercise and activity and hope for a return on that investment of time and energy, just like you invest money in a stock and hope that you will see a return on that money.
Choose wisely. Those of us who have even limited experience of investing in stocks have almost definitely had the experience of receiving a “hot tip”. A “hot tip” in investing is the advice to buy a particular stock because the brother’s cousin’s mother’s sister of that person you are talking to supposedly has an inside track on a company or stock that is about to explode in value. Nine times out of ten, you will LOSE money on a “hot tip”. “Hot tips” are not a great way to build your investment portfolio. Exercise is a lot like this too, you “hear” information from this person or that person who appears to have the inside track on the secret training tips and super diet methods that will make you fit and lean. But this type of information does not work out so well either. “Hearing” what you should do for exercises and activities at the gym is not a great way to develop your training program.
How you spend your time in the gym should be determined by what your needs are and by what types of returns you are expecting. If you invest in a dividend bearing stock, you can reasonably expect to receive quarterly dividend payments. Even better if the stock price goes up (appreciates) during the same period! If you leave your money in cash on the sidelines, that’s pretty safe, but you are probably only going to earn a return of 5% of your principal or less during that time. If you go to the gym and lift weights, you can reasonably expect to gain some strength. Even better if that strength gaining activity stimulates new muscle growth and helps remove some body fat. If you do not invest any of your time weight training, but instead play it safe by just, “getting started with cardio”, you will still get a health effect, but you will not significantly improve your body composition with this “safe” investment alone. And remember- not all investments are guaranteed. Just like you need to do your research and pick the best stocks, you need to do your research and pick the best format for your exercise. In investments, we generally have 3 majors classes of investment: stocks, bonds, and commodities. Although investors in stocks, bonds, or commodities are all looking for the same thing (profits), each one of these investment vehicles has a specific nature and serve a particular function.
Each investor will choose one, or a combination of, investment(s) that best suit his/her financial needs and goals. Investing in bonds is quite different that investing in stocks. Investing in stocks is quite different from investing in commodities. Depending on the type of investment vehicle, or vehicles, you choose, you will have a particular experience specific to those investments. Hopefully, you enjoy the ride and you arrive at the financial outcome you had envisioned. In exercise and training, we have 3 primary concerns: anaerobic conditioning (weights), aerobic conditioning (cardio), and the nutrition program. How you invest your time and energy in each of these compartments will specifically determine your fitness and health outcome. For example, if you invest all your time and energy on only food preparation and meal construction, you will receive a specific type of return from that investment of time and energy. Just as you would expect a different, specific type of return from investing all your time and energy in weight training, and none invested in cardio or food prep and meal construction.
In exercise, as in investing, spend your time and energy in a way that maximizes your return on investment in the long term and make it specific to your own unique needs.