Being a rookie is the gym is exciting, but tough. You have so much potential to fulfil but the pitfalls are all to easy to fall down on. Here's three of the biggest mistakes I see beginners making (not to mention three I made for years too!).
Whilst what goes on in the kitchen does have a big impact on what state your mid section is in, it's not truly where you're abs are built.
Your abs are like any other muscle group in the sense they can contract and stretch, they can get DOMS and they can become stronger/grow.
Assuming you have average genetics, the key thing where carving out a sixpack is concerned is two things:
1. YOU NEED LOW ENOUGH BODY FAT - This is only to happen by burning more calories than you take in, to then get into a position where your body can utilise some of that excess belly fat as fuel.
2. YOU NEED TO BUILD A STRONG MID SECTION - If you want a well defined sixpack your abdominal wall and deeper abdominal muscles need to be strong and conditioned. Crunches and sit ups aren't the answer. Again, like many good answers to common gym questions, the answer is to get stronger and progress on your big compound lifts that heavily tax your core strength and stability. Deadlift and squat variations are fantastic for this.
So yes, the kitchen does have a huge impact on you showing off a lean torso, but you can't show off well what hasn't been built well.
Revisiting an old blog here, but as I see many guys getting disgruntled with their lack of progress so far in 2017, I wanted to put this out again to give some perspective if you're starting to wonder whether steroids are the answer...
There's two ends of the spectrum here.
On one end, you might make bit of a meh decision to to jump on a quick cycle of gear. You think popping a few pills and a handful of semi structured, mediocre workouts are going to do the trick and have you ripped for ibiza in a few months. Nothing much happens in the first few weeks so you fob the idea off and think no more of it.
You decide to do it 'properly', but just one cycle right? What harm can that do.. You're willing to use whatever drug it takes but you're going to follow the recommended doses right? You train like an animal and weigh your white fish and oats to the gram. You see some results.
But you want more. And because more is better you up your dosage, perhaps you bring in another drug to help 'get rid of that last bit of fat' or 'give you that hard 3D shouldered, Instagram filtered look'.
So you go on holiday and look/feel better than ever have before. You thrive on the compliments and love the attention. You figure you've done a great job and decide when you get home you'll come off the gear and just maintain your shape. Cool.
But a few weeks down the line you feel small, weak and soft. F*&k it, jumping on one more cycle should do the trick.
That right there is the slippery slope of steroid use.
If you get the desired result from taking something, you will go back to it to regain the results you lose coming off it and the further down the path you get, the harder it is to find your way back..
You've not just built a physique with drugs, your mind is now at the mercy of them too.
It's now a part of who you are. You feel the desire to keep up this reputation of being the guy everyone looks at in the gym and asks for advice.
Dysmorphia kicks in. You become increasingly dissatisfied with where your physique is at. Thus more drugs. More drastic measures.
The negative physiological effects have now hit really hard. Unbeknown to you your natural testosterone production is shutting down. Your liver is starting to wane and your nuts are shrinking.
So where does it stop?
Worst case scenario... Your body says enough is enough. Heart attack. Done. You're out. Dead.
Still worth cracking on with a quick course for your holiday?
If you want a physique like the guy in this picture, please believe me that you DO NOT need to take drugs. Is that kind of physique easy to achieve? No. But is it achievable.. For absolute sure.
If you want to be Mr Olympia then yes, at some point drugs will have to come into the equation. But if like most of us guys you're after that lean, men's heathesque kind of look you really do not need to be anywhere near drugs.
Gyms this day and age are littered with guys using performance enhancers and that's their body and their choice, no judgement on them.
But it pains me to see so many young guys resorting to such drastic measures because they feel it's the only way to get the results they want or the easier/quicker way to make it happen.
I urge you to look at the bigger picture and consider your decision on this kind of stuff very, very seriously.
Lets cut to the chase. It's YOU. You genuinely are the only person stopping yourself from achieving fantastic results. You're also the only person that can make it happen. Powerful position right?
Truth is many people would sooner create 100 excuses than find a single solution. What I want to get at in this post is that getting results requires you to take action. You'll have to do some stuff you're not doing currently and probably cut out/adapt some stuff you are doing.
This inevitably means you're going to have to change some habits, which often isn't easy or comfortable. But I can promise you that this is where your results are hiding.
I'm going to give you a couple of case studies from just today coaching my 121 clients:
0900am My first clients walk in the door. A Husband and wife ready to crush a leg session. Husband has been out of training for the last 6 weeks and Wife originally came to me post stomach op a couple of years back and has been working closely with me or my co-trainer ever since. Husband knows he's going to struggle to keep up with her but gives it 110% to keep the pace giving an awesome account of himself showing some real grit in his first leg session of 2017. Wife is also a Mum and juggles a hectic homelife with coming to see me x 3 a week. Coming to me originally post op with apprehension and plenty of work to she has now carved out an envied physique that 95% of women would kill for.
1000am My next guy rolls up as he does every Saturday morning with a smile on his face and ready for action. This guy's a city boy with a demanding career as well as a happy home and social life. Despite this he's managed to adapt his weekly routine in a way that he gets his 3-4 training sessions in which has seen him progress every single month. To the point we even worked towards a successful photoshoot a couple of months back to showcase his fantastic results so far.
1130am It's time for one of my newest recruits to get involved. Heading into week 3 of working together and I'm starting to see the first glimmers of progress. He has been willing to strip back the weight on a lot of movements and start from scratch to relearn techniques with superior execution than previous. He has also made conscious decisions nutritionally detailing to me how his day pans out and the new informed choices he is making rather than just opting for what is easy and convenient. I'm excited to see where he is in a few months time.
All three of those above have the same thing in common. They haven't just voiced their desire to change, they've consciously made decisions followed by positive actions and a willingness to learn and embrace feeling uncomfortable.
Research as much as you want, spend as much money as you can and take all the most cutting edge 'fat loss' supplements you can, but I promise you NOTHING will change until you start acting in a way thats conducive to change. Thoughts are great, but they don't change anything. Actions do.
Something a lot of us guys want when it comes to physique goals is to fill out our tshirts with a thick chest, round shoulders and dense arms that hug our sleeves. Classic superheroesque kinda torso. Whilst some guys can be more genetically predisposed to slapping on muscle tissue quicker, many struggle adding that extra size. Typically known in the industry as hard gainers! Is this you? If so, read on for my five commandments to bring even the skinniest of you the best results possible...
1/ DECIDE WHAT BODY COMPOSITION YOU WANT - If you just want size, size and more size and body fat isn't really something you're bothered about (within reason) then congratulations you can get bigger, quicker. On the other hand if you want to keep body fat gain to a minimum, then you're going to have to play the longer more gradual game of making 'lean gains'. Although this longer more steady process requires more patience, in my eyes it is the superior approach. It's better news for you hormonally (the fatter you get the worse your hormonal profile will become). It's also going to reduce the chance of you developing any physiological and psychological food issues from over eating/bingeing on junk, which is typically what happens when people go on a no holes barred, aggressive bulk.
2/ GET STRONGER - Getting stronger on all your big compound lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift, lunge, pull up etc) is going to help massively when it comes to laying down new muscle tissue. The process of getting stronger requires you to get better at essentially 'turning on' muscle fibres and the better you get at this, the better you can break them down to allow them to adapt and grow back bigger and thicker.
3/ BE PROGRESSIVE - Don't keep doing the same workouts with the same weight, exercises, sets, reps etc and expect drastic change. Your body responds to changes of stimulus so be sure to track your training shooting for progression week in week out. Try to change up your program every 4-6 weeks as a general rule.
4/ CALORIE DENSE FOODS - If you struggle to get in enough calories because of a modest appetite 1. I'm very jealous of you! (closet fat boy) and 2. You need to be wise with your food choices opting for foods that contain a lot of calories without being too much of a chore to get down your neck. Snack on nuts/nut butters, use a little oil in your cooking and incorporate fruit juice and full fat milk into your diet if you're looking for some easy calories. Making your own mass building shake is a great idea in between meals. 1/2 pint full fat milk, 1/2 pint coconut milk, 2 tbsp peanut butter, 40g whey, 1 banana, 50g oats. Blend. Done.
5/ ARE YOU WORKING AS HARD AS YOU THINK? - Adding muscle takes intensity. I drone on about this all the time, but if you aren't training hard enough, you simply will not build muscle. Period. A great training partner or a well equipped personal trainer should take your training to the next level. Having someone else there allows you to really get stuck in and leave nothing on the table. You can start throwing in techniques like negatives, forced reps and AMRAP sets much more effectively when your right hand man is there to make sure you don't squash/decapitate yourself.
Address those five points, be patient, and you will grow!
For anyone who is at the start of their health and fitness journey I can completely understand if you're a little puzzled as to what direction to turn when it comes to building muscle. Just google "how to build muscle" and you'll be bombarded with over 8 million search results! So here's a couple of key things that in hindsight I wish I had got to grips with sooner when I made my start.
1/ CALORIE SURPLUS - Without this you won't build muscle. It's as simple as that. What this means is you need to be eating more calories than you are burning for a sustained period of time. It works a little like this... Imagine a house (your body right now) and it's made of a certain amount of bricks (calories). If you want to build a bigger house, you're going to need more bricks right? Very simplistic analogy but you get the picture.
2/ MUSCULAR DAMAGE - This is something you're looking to create through training. Not in the same way that you would tear a muscle and end up with an injury, we're talking about tiny micro tears within the muscle tissue. Causing these microscopic tears is one of the goals of weight training when trying to build muscle. Again, lets use the above analogy... If you're going to build your bigger house, you're going to need to chip away a few bricks and cement (muscle damage) to be able to add on more bricks (new lean muscle tissue).
3/ PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD - This is crucial for making progress in whatever the aspect of fitness and building muscle is no exception. The term progressive overload simply means progressing your training over time. This might mean adding extra weight on certain movements or maybe more total reps and sets of specific exercises. The key is to log your training so you know your numbers to then push forward on as the weeks move on.
4/ PROTEIN - Being in a calorie surplus is important but if you don't have an adequate amount of protein in your diet then it's all for a lost cause. Aiming for 2/2.5g protein per kg of bodyweight puts you in a great position. If you don't want to get lost in the maths of it, another good gauge is to include a palm sized protein source in every meal (based on three meals a day) and then supplement with a standard whey protein shake once a day too.
5/ FEEL THE BURN - If it ain't hurting it ain't working. You need to understand that the dull ache you get towards the end of an exercise, that's important! I'm not saying you need to yourself into the ground killing yourself 7 days a week, especially in the early days, but you do need to get your game face on and get comfortable being uncomfortable. It isn't a social event and it will require effort.
6/ IT TAKES TIME - Building muscle is a long steady process. There is absolutely zero chance of you waking up and seeing superman's torso after a week of bench pressing. If only it were that simple! One week you might notice your a couple of pounds up on the scales, the next month you might notice your t-shirt sleeves getting a little snug and next year you might be looking back at holiday pictures and getting some clean cut perspective of the gains you have made over the year.
Building muscle isn't easy, if it was everyone would be walking round looking enviably good! But the benefits of carrying a little extra muscle mass than the average guy or girl definitely make it worthwhile. In fact, they deserve a post all of their own, so i'll leave this one here for now!
1/ ARE YOUR REST PERIODS TIMED? - Speaking generally, anything more than 90 seconds rest isn't doing you any favours for building muscle.
2/ DO YOU HAVE A PLAN? - If you go into the session without a plan, odds are you'll lean towards the exercises you want to do but chances are there's a lot of gains being left on the table in the stuff you don't like doing!
3/ ARE YOU PROGRESSING? - Aiming to improve your numbers week in week out is vital to laying down new muscle tissue. Be it more reps, more weight, more sets.. there must be a step up in stimulus. We've all seen the guy that trains the same way with the same routine, week in week out. Cool if he's maintaining where he's at, not if he wants to keep progressing.
4/ DO YOU FEEL LIKE AN IPHONE BATTERY? - You want to be coming into the session fully charged but training at an intensity that cuts into your battery pretty damn quick. Don't turn power save mode on when it starts getting tough and pussy out of reps. Don't take extra rest unnecessarily. You should be finishing the session well and truly in the red.
5/ HAVE YOU GOT SOMEONE IN YOUR CORNER? - Be it a coach or a training partner, that person will be the difference in getting the extra 10% out of you. For myself I have just started getting put through my paces by another trainer once a week and train with a partner on average twice a week. It will also allow you to utilise advanced training techniques like negatives, forced reps etc.
6/ CHILL OUT WITH THE FRILLY STUFF - Mobility, warming up, intra-set stretching.. All cool but don't let it take over your session. Yes it should be involved where required but if you spend 5 minutes or 50 minutes on a foam roller, it's not making the world of difference to slapping on another 10lb of muscle.
7/ FOCUS - If you are to attack a session with some serious intensity your focus needs to be on point. Use your phone strictly for timing, music or following a program. Leave the 9 that's squatting alone, if she wants a spot she'll ask. Try to train outside of peak hours, you're far less likely to get caught in convo and have your rhythm disrupted
For anyone wanting to get the most from their workouts, resting and recovering is as important as training itself. A few key points...
YOU NEED THEM: If you train intensely day in and day out, not only will your body not thank you for it, but you'll likely become disinterested at the monotony of the weights room. Having a few days away from the gym will do wonders for your physical recovery and motivation.
ADJUSTING YOUR DIET: My personal preference is to drop carbohydrates down slightly on rest days and replace those calories with healthy fats instead. You won't need the influx of carbohydrates given your reduced activity and the healthy fats have fantastic anti inflammatory properties which will further aid your recovery. So out with the potatoes and rice, in with the steak, salmon and nuts.
ACTIVE RECOVERY: If like me you struggle to take your down time, think about using your rest days as days you can get involved in other activities that will benefit your training goals. Yoga, pilates or just doing your own mobility and stretching work are all great options.
WHEN TO TAKE A REST DAY: If you feel your workout intensity lagging after several days straight training; maybe your strength is down or you are struggling to concentrate on your workout, it could be worth thinking about taking a rest day. Another common scenario you should put your feet up is if you are going to be going out to consume alcohol (in relatively large/free amounts) later that night. Being hungover and trying to recover from a workout is pretty tough on the body and both processes of recovery will slow down when combined!