Christopher R. Mohr, PhD, RD
How many of you have heard from your clients or friends, “I am a hard gainer and no matter how much I eat, I can’t gain weight”? Maybe that is how you feel yourself. Or I’m sure many of you want to lose fat and maybe build a little muscle too. Even if your weight training goals are just to remain healthy and maintain your current physique, there are certain “rules” you should follow. Therefore, I thought I would compile a list of what I’ll call the “Ten Commandments of Training.”
1. Eat a balanced diet. Some of you may think I am a bit biased since I’m a dietitian; however, training is at best half the battle. If your goal is to pack on slabs of muscle, you can lift until the gym staff has to scrape you off the floor with the trash, but without refueling those muscles, your efforts are futile. It is actually after training, when you allow your muscles to rest, that they will grow. The best way to refuel and recover your muscles is by eating a sufficient amount of calories, high quality carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Similarly, if fat loss is your goal, it will be next to impossible to be successful if you change nothing about your eating habits and only increase your exercise. Not monitoring your food intake while training hard is like riding a bicycle with one flat tire; sure, you may get to your destination, but there will be ton of wasted effort.
2. Keep a food log. This may be a barrier for many of you, but how do you plan to monitor your changes without writing them down and seeing what can be altered? This journal does not have to be detailed; record the portion sizes and foods you eat and beverages you drink, the calories, carbohydrate, protein and fats each contain. This will allow you to see what foods or food groups you may be missing or limited in, what foods you can eliminate or reduce if your goal is to lose weight, or just closely monitor your intake if you are trying to gain muscle and limit fat gain.
3. Keep a training log. Similar to the above recommendation, you can’t effectively track your progress if you don’t know what you’re doing. You may learn from recording and watching your physique that a particular exercise or series of exercise is effective and maybe some that is not. Similarly, it will help you track your progress to ensure you are on track.
4. Vary your routine. To be ultimately successful in the gym, you need to vary your workouts. In fact, there is no other aspect of your life that is stagnant—why should the gym be any different? However, this probably describes many of you: Monday is chest day, in which you start with 3 sets of 10 reps on flat bench, followed by 3 sets of 10 on incline press, and maybe 3 sets of 10 for dumbbell fly’s. You then move to triceps, where you do pushdowns and maybe lying tricep extension. The rest of the week follows suit. You always pair back and biceps together, legs are granted their own day, and shoulders fit somewhere in the mix. Mix it up-do a different body part(s) on Monday’s, do dips instead of flat bench, pushups on a stability ball, 4 sets of 5, whatever. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
5. Rest!!! When was the last time you took some time off from training? Go ahead, get out of the weight room for a week. I’ll rarely tell you to be a couch potato, but here’s your opportunity. OK, fine, don’t undo what you’ve worked so hard at by sitting with the remote in hand and a bag of chips at your side for a week straight, but being active doesn’t mean you must live in the weight room. Remember, growth happens during recovery, not when you’re in the gym. If you hit the weights day in a day out, you are never giving your body a chance to recover. A week off now and then is great for the body and I bet you’ll come back stronger.
6. Stretch. I bet there are a lot of you out there who do not stretch at all or if you do, stretch the muscle you’re going to work for about 5 seconds. Stretching helps muscles recover, increases muscle elasticity and decreases the chance of injury. Make sure you leave plenty of time to stretch after your workout, do a number of stretches for the body parts you just worked, and hold each stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds. I’m not asking you to mimic Gumbi, just do some basic stretches. Heck, try a yoga class for a change of pace.
7. Lift heavy weights. If I had a nickel for every time I heard “I don’t want to lift too heavy because I will get bulky,” I would be giving Trump a run for his money. Yes, I’m picking on the women here because they are usually the group who is afraid of looking like Hercules. But flapping your arms with 1 lb dumbbells like you are trying to take off will do nothing more than bore you to tears while you claim that weight lifting is useless. Challenge the muscle and lift heavier weights within your comfort zone.
8. Use proper form. I know I was guilty of this the first day I stepped into my high school weight room. I was trying with all my might to bench press 135 lbs since I saw someone else using that weight. Any ounce of “coolness” I had as a gawky freshman left my body faster than the weight falling straight to my chest. I would have rather been injured than suffer through the embarrassment of an upperclassmen “rescuing” me from underneath the bar between his laughing in the corner. I looked like I was having a seizure as a squirmed and twisted to get that weight up. Save yourself from the embarrassment and more importantly a potential injury. If you can’t lift the weight in a controlled manner, it is too much weight. Take it from me; it is not pretty when you let the weight “control” you.
9. Cross train. Weight training is a great form of exercise, but you will ultimately be much better off health wise if you try different activities (both aerobic and anaerobic in nature). Hit your local high school and run some bleachers, ask a friend or spouse to play tennis, swim, do some sprints at the local track, pull together a group of friends for some flag football, mountain bike, etc. The list can go on forever, but cross-training will not only make you stronger, it will help your body recovery by hitting it with varied movements, and will also decrease your chance of injury.
10. Drink like a fish. My college days are over; I’m talking about non-alcoholic beverages. Keep in mind that if you are thirsty, mild dehydration has already set in. This may not sound very important, but even mild dehydration will be a decrement to your performance. It’s not only important to carry a water bottle with you to the gym, but you should be consuming fluids regularly all day. Shoot for 8 cups of water for every 1000 calories you consume (that is ½ gallon for every 1000 calories). Of course this is most important during the summer months when the mercury is nearing triple digits, but should not be negated during the colder months too.
Keep these “rules” in mind to help keep you healthy, strong, and injury free.
About the Author:
Dr. Chris Mohr RD, PhD is a health nutrition consultant to a number of media outlets and corporations including Discovery Health Channel, Clif Bar, Waterfront Media, and Fit Fuel. He has authored and co-authored several textbooks and textbook chapters, including consulting with LL Cool J on “LL Cool J’s Platinum Workout” (Rodale Press, 2006). He is also co-creator of Meal Plans 101 nutrition software. For more information on how you can utilize Chris’s expertise go to www.mealplans101.com