Weight-lifting will help us add both strength and size, and combined with a healthy eating and hydration regime, plenty of rest, appropriate mobility, core strength, and plenty of sleep it will support us towards better health, stronger bones, greater self confidence, improved concentration and alertness, and a more athletic and agile physique – perfect for those summer days and looking confident in the park or on the beach.
It can be easy to be seduced by the latest body builder cover on a fitness magazine, the ‘get these abs in 6 weeks,’ or the latest routine or supplement that will allegedly get you there – reality though is this isn’t the case; and the models used will certainly not have achieved their physique by just the routine or supplement they are promoting.
We do not suddenly achieve the physique we desire – we move closer to it day by day by doing the things that are consistent with the goals that we want to achieve. Conversely, if we have lost the physique we desire, it has not just happened – it’s the result of actions that have slowly but consistently moved us away from our ideal.
The successful change to your physique comes from consistency with your training, eating, sleep and rest – as well as some less obvious factors that can also have a profound impact – your stress levels, your lifestyle, as well as your digestive and gut health.
For me, once I have decided my goals and what I understand what I need to do to get there, there are 3 main rules that keep me on track – Consistency, Compounds and Consumption – think of it as the 3 Cs.
Consistency is a weekly and daily plan for nutrition,training, and rest/sleep – what are your planned meals and at what time,same for your training routine, and same for your rest and sleep. We also need to think about preparation here.
- Food – having the ingredients to hand, and making the time to prepare and cook. It’s about making sure your meals are appropriate to your goals and your body type, using good quality fresh ingredients whenever possible, eating a moderate combination of protein, carbohydrate and fats – and at least 7 or 8 portions of fruits and vegetables over the course of the day – 2 to 3 fruits, the rest veg.
- Training – it is to visualise what you will be doing – begin to mentally prepare for your workout en route to the gym – visualise what you will be doing and put your mind in training mode – own your workout, and visualise ‘smashing it’. Make sure too that your warm-up is appropriate to your goals – a 15/20 minute warm up or cardio session that depletes your energy levels is not going to be appropriate for a strength training session.
- Sleep – it is allocating a minimum of 7 hours of sleep, and ditching the phone, iPad, laptop and anything else that emits blue light at least an hour before bed. Sleep is the time our body repairs, protein synthesis takes place, and growth hormone is released; all absolutely critical if we are aiming to for muscle and strength.Research also shows the importance of a dark room, a quiet room, a cool room, a clean room and a comfortable mattress in helping to achieve this.
It is only relatively recently that science has confirmed the importance of sleep – proper training, proper nutrition and proper sleep are now viewed as the triumvirate of athletic success
And finally – it will be beneficial to track your consistency and progress – have a notebook or journal to hand to track these things, and be willing to praise and criticise yourself.
- Compound moves with the barbell and will be the foundation of your strength and size – strength builds size; squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows and overhead press will be fundamental to your routine It is also important to remember that your core strength and mobility are an integral part of this – and so is your rest.
- For each of the exercises, you need to have goals – what is it you are trying to achieve – strength and size will come from lifting heavier weights – not unless repetition of light weights for small muscle groups. We have a team of experts here at the YMCA – check let them help you achieve your goals.
- And for that core strength and mobility – Try Yoga, Supple Strength, Primal Patterns
This may well mean re-evaluating some of the core beliefs that we have been fed over the years regarding supplementation, eating, calories, fat and carbohydrates – and ditching the processed low fat options we have previously gone for, or the lunchtime sandwich, meal deal or ready meal that has offered convenience and a calorie count.
- Reality is you probably need to be eating more on your training days – and eating more carbohydrates and fat – both things that we previously thought we should avoid to achieve that fit healthy physique.
- Another reality is that you may put on scale weight as you become stronger and healthier! This is because muscle is heavier than fat – just ask a few of our members – their body-weight has gone up and they finally have the physique that they want – with a higher percentage of lean muscle, and a lower percentage of body-fat. You can track your own progress with our Body Composition Analysis – speak to a member of our gym team for more details.
As much as I dislike counting calories (we are all slightly different so have different energy requirements), it is worth noting that the sometimes quoted 2500 calories per day for men will not be enough on your lifting days. You would need to be consuming around 2800-3000, maybe more depending on your body-type and particularly if you are doing squats and dead-lifts – and a large part of this needs to come from carbohydrates, which gives you the energy and strength to power through your routine, and then support the replenishment of energy and recovery for yournext lifting session.
You will also need SOME more protein than the average male – though don’t be swayed by the advertising that tells you that you need excessive amounts of protein.You don’t – you just need a consistent amount throughout the day, and a little more in the period after your training. For most, a range of 1.8 to 2 per kilo of bodyweight will provide sufficient – and some good nutrition planning, and healthy meals with real food is all that is needed to meet these requirements.
Remember too that these are complex moves – very different from pushing a ‘pec deck’ or ‘leg press’. For example, the dead-lift engages more muscles than any other lift, and your timing is crucial for every part. You can only get the timing right if your neuro-muscular pathways are fuelled to their optimum. To fuel your brain and body, think eggs, deep leafy greens, fish and nuts,and make sure you don’t go low fat!
The dead-lift and squat require more energy and fuel than any other move you can do in the gym. This means that you need to eat a large snack or meal around 1.5 to 2 hours before – with plenty of carbohydrates for intense lifting, as well as fuelling properly immediately afterwards. You have a 2 hour window of opportunity to refuel to get the best results from your training. You should ensure that your meal is at a ratio of 4:1 carbohydrate to protein – aim for around 25 grams of protein,100 grams of meat or fish will give you just over 20 grams of protein, 400g of cooked quinoa or mixed beans will give similar and so will 3 eggs. So don’t forget to the add the carbohydrate!
Post-workout, your body is in a state of damage and you need to provide it with the nutrients to repair. You have depleted your energy stores, broken down your muscles, elevated your cortisol levels (your body’s stress hormone), and generated free radicals – this is how weight training works. You will also have placed a huge workload on your neuromuscular system, far more than any cardiovascular workout.
Your diet should encourage repair and growth, not hinder it. Protein and carbohydrate are critical – fail on the carbohydrate, and your body won’t synthesize the protein or vitamins and minerals effectively. You need plenty of vitamins and minerals too – these support our neuromuscular system as well as numerous other functions such as our metabolism. So, after your workout you need the obvious macro nutrients, but also the necessary micro nutrients – better known as vitamins and minerals – failure to get these, and slowly you will be eroding your health.
For you to get the best from your weight training, your diet needs to be rich in all nutrients – missing out food groups will be detrimental unless a medical need. Grains are a wonderful source of carbohydrate, energy and fibre; dairy a great source of calcium; and eggs (white & yolk) are a great source of iron and fat soluble vitamins. Finally your diet needs to be rich in vegetables, with a little fruit – aim for the colours of the rainbow every day. The recent advice that we up our consumption to 8-10 is spot on, and again I would make this primarily a selection of different coloured veggies with a little fruit, and don’t forget the likes of ginger, garlic and turmeric and their potential anti-inflammatory benefits.
And following the above, with a real food diet from primarily plant based sources will also have a huge beneficial impact on our digestive system and gut health,which means that we will be getting the most out of our foods to achieve the optimum mental and physical well-being we require.We can train hard, but if we don’t have a healthy digestive system and gut, we will not be getting optimum results from our training because our food intake will not be metabolised to support the energy, repair and growth we desire.
And keeping the theme of our internal health – it is Prostate Awareness month, and a primarily plant based diet is a great way to support our prostate health (if you want to know more check out the article included below by Harvard Health) – so remember too, that the idea of chowing down lots of meat protein in search of that muscle growth has some pretty serious potential downsides.
So here’s to great lifting, great eating, great energy and a great physique – and as an addendum, below is some additional knowledge that I think it worth sharing. It really brings home to me that success comes from consistency, and looking at everything as part of a bigger picture:
Prepare for the Lift:
Mentally prepare for the moves and lift being undertaken; a dynamic warm up to raise body temp and specifically get blood flow to the muscles to be used. Map out the movement mentally with a relevant warm up – for squats, air squats, lunges, crab walk etc. 5 minutes walking on a treadmill, or a 5 minute jog is not sufficient
Rest Between Sets:
Take appropriate rest between sets – if lifting heavy it should be at least 2 minutes; this is not an aerobic/cardio workout – so it is counter productive to go into the next set too soon or breathless. Make sure you also do warm up sets – say for squats with an empty bar – again, this helps map out the move – though don’t exhaust yourself with the warm up sets.
Stretching & Soft Tissue Work:
Focus on ten minutes stretching after the workout – quads, hams, gluten, piriformis – static holds of 30 seconds, and utilise bands, rollers, lacross balls. Plan regular soft tissue sessions into your programming. Without the necessary mobility you won’t progress significantly – look at ideas such as Ido Portal’s 30 minute squat challenge. You might also want to put a Primal Patterns or Yoga class into your weekly programming – again, this will help hugely in building your body’s strength to its true capability
Rest & Sleep:
A strength training workout is more taxing on our body and mind than an aerobic/cardio workout – we may not think so as we are probably not as sweaty or as breathless – but rest assured you have taxed your body and neuromuscular system significantly, and need to programme rest and recovery days into your training as well as making sure you are getting at least 7 hours sleep per night.
Harvard health article: http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/10-diet-and-exercise-tips-for-p…