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7 Nuggets of Workout Wisdom

Over the past twenty-five plus years I’ve spent a large portion of my life inside the four walls of some gym. What started as a hobby turned into a life-long passion and along the way I’ve learned my fair share of lessons.

Many through trail and error, more than a few through doing things wrong, and dozens from mentors who unselfishly shared their knowledge with me. I’m grateful for all the lessons, even the tough ones, as nobody wakes up one day and becomes an expert at something.

In all humbleness I’ve got a lot to learn yet. But what insight and wisdom I have picked up to this point I try to freely share with others.

In today’s post I want to share with you 7 nuggets of workout wisdom.

More after the jump…

#1: Sitting down is NOT a human movement pattern!

If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that exercise should mimic basic human movement patterns. Whether you’re nine or ninety, the body moves in the same way. Only the intensity of these movements change.

Think about it…if you’re mobile you still squat, reach, rotate, change levels, push and pull something in some way. Your exercise, regardless of age, should reflect these movement patterns.

However, walk into your typical health club and what do you see? Rows and rows of exercise equipment designed to isolate muscle groups while sitting down! For the life of me I don’t get this. Somehow sitting down to exercise is going to help me perform better with everyday activities that I’m likely to do on my feet.

This is not a knock on exercise that isolates muscle groups as there’s a place for that, but for the most part the human body moves with muscles integrating with one another. Exercise that way.

Yes, that means squatting, even if it’s just with your bodyweight, and not sitting down in some machine to do leg extensions. I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the point.

Most of us sit down enough during the day as it is, we don’t need to be sitting down while we workout out.

#2: Less is more with exercise selection!

Years ago I fell into the trap of believing I had to do a large number of exercises and sets to see results in the gym. A lot of us coming up following traditional body building routines make the same mistake.

I remember being in my early twenties and training with a guy who was in his late thirties at the time. He was very muscular, strong as all get out, and didn’t waste much time in the gym. Instead of doing 6-8 exercises for chest, we’d do 3-4 main “push” movements.

Maybe only 3-4 sets of each exercise, but each one was full out effort. No fluff and the workouts were very simplistic in nature, I’m talking 5-8 exercises total.

We did basic stuff like bench presses, over-head presses, rows, squats, deadlifts, and the such. 10 minutes warming-up, stretching, and prepping for the high intensity effort, then about 30-40 minutes of “work” time.

Mind you, I was suspect of all this at first because I’d be conditioned to doing a multitude of exercises and sets that would typically take 60-90 minutes to get through.

All I can tell you is I saw significantly better results training with fewer movements that took half the time to complete.

That lesson has always stuck with me. Stop trying to follow some routine you picked out of a bodybuilding magazine and get back to the basics. You don’t need to spend hours in the gym doing every kind of concentration curl or chest fly imaginable. Pick a few compound weight training movements and get after it.

Today, I spend a little more time with functional exercise and dynamic stretching prior to getting under the weights, but I’m still not doing 8 exercises for chest either.

The reason for more time spent on prep work with functional exercise, soft tissue work on a foam roller, stretching, etc, is because well I’m getting older now. I’ve learned my body isn’t the same at forty as it was when I was in my twenties.

That brings me to workout wisdom tidbit #3…

#3: Without mobility strength is worthless!

Yeah, I’ll be the first to admit that this was a lesson learned the hard way. At one point in my twenties I scaled in at over 260 pounds. Getting big was the primary goal and this was accomplished at the expense of flexibility and mobility. When it gets tough to bend down to tie your shoes, you know you’ve got a problem.

I can distinctly remember going to a seminar that was being conducted by bodyweight fitness guru, Matt Furey. At the time I could bench press over 400 pounds, but when I tried doing a particular form of push-up’s that Furey advocates called “Hindu push-up’s,” I fell flat on my my face after about eight reps.

It was a wake up call. I can honestly say it made me mad that I couldn’t even do ten of these push-up’s. The one thing about Furey’s teachings that has always stuck with me is, “what good is all that strength if you can’t use it?”

In the real world it doesn’t matter how much you can bench press. Strength is relative to whether or not the force can be applied. Whether it’s on the athletic field, in a street fight, doing physical labor, etc, it doesn’t matter what the activity is.

Mobility must come before strength and remain a priority as strength increases. Muscle bound might look good at the beach, but it means jack when you need to use that muscle.

You can either have muscle for “go” or muscle for “show.” I choose the former after my embarrassment with not being able to do even ten Hindu push-up’s and never looked back.

Today I practice and preach mobility and function as essential components of a fitness program. Regardless of your goals in the gym, you don’t want to neglect your ability to move!

#4: Sit-up’s don’t create six-packs!

Oh, if there ever was a fitness myth it’s that sit-up’s and crunches are the way to six-pack abs. It’s not that these exercise are “worthless” per say, but they’re certainly way over-rated. If you want to see a six pack you’re going to have to get down to around 10 percent body fat.

You do that and you’re going to see your abdominals, period.

You could have the best set of abs on the planet but if they’re covered up by a layer of fat ain’t nobody going to see them.

I’ve seen drug addicts with six pack abs and I’m pretty sure they weren’t doing sets of crunches during the time when they weren’t high.

You want to throw some sit-up variations and crunches in your workout, go ahead, but just know you don’t need them. The primary objective should be to develop a strong and stable core, not wasting precious time in the gym isolating your abs.

The best movements for developing a strong and stable core are things like planks, chops, leg lifts, and compound weight training movements like squats, rows, deadlifts, and overhead presses.

Trust me if you can squat or press a decent amount of weight over your head, you’re going to develop a strong core. There’s no getting around that.

If you want to see those abs, you’re going to have to simply cut the body fat. No amount of crunches or sit-up’s will help you there. These exercises are terrible for removing belly fat.

Tis the gospel truth.

#5: If your workout doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you!

This pretty much speaks for itself, but it bears repeating so it sinks in. Spend any amount of time in a health club and you’ll see hordes of people half-assing their way through workouts. Doing a set and then walking to the water cooler, socializing with the bros in the corner, watching the “tee-vee,” and basically wasting time.

You don’t get a hard body without hard work, and yes this means it will be discomforting. If it’s not, you’re not getting much out of it. If you have a hard time pushing yourself, get a workout partner or hire a personal trainer.

Any way you go about it, just don’t think you’re going to see results by simply showing up at the gym and putting time in.

#6: Light weights do NOT tone and firm!

For heaven’s sake can we please put this one to rest. Ladies do yourself a favor, put down those cute little vinyl colored dumbbells and start lifting some real weight. All that crap you read in Cosmo isn’t going to give you the body you want.

You’re not going to get big and bulky I promise! If you want to get lean and defined, you’ve got to work the muscle and burn some fat. Mindlessly doing sets of 15-2o reps with light weights isn’t going to magically make you toned!

I don’t know who came up with this idea that light weights are best for toning and firming, but they don’t know squat about physiology.

Sure you can do more repetitions, but the weight or load should always be challenging. The idea of “lightening” the load is to simply allow for more repetitions. If you’re not struggling with the weight at some point, it’s not doing anything to promote a change in body composition.

The reality is you want to be switching up between heavier weight and lower reps, and more moderate weight and higher reps. Notice I didn’t use the word “light.”

In order to avoid reaching a plateau you simply have to change the overload stimulus you provide your muscles. Mix it up and follow a clean diet and you’ll have no problem getting toned and firm.

#7: The chain is only as strong as its weakest link

In the real world you emphasize on your strengths instead of always focusing on your weaknesses. You do what you do well and get better at it, leaving the stuff that you’re not good at to others.

However, in the gym you don’t want to turn a blind eye to your weaknesses. I’ve seen this for years, guys who blamed some ailment on their inability to squat, so they spend all their time bench pressing and doing curls. The end result is often the comical look of a bowling ball on toothpicks. Don’t be that guy.

Seriously, if you’ve got a weak point or an area that needs addressed, by all means attack it. Remember the human body works as several pieces moving together as one big kinetic chain.

You’re only as strong as your weakest link.

This doesn’t mean you can’t pick exercises that best fit your body type. Let’s face it, people are built differently. Some people have longer arms, longer legs, shorter arms, etc, etc.

A guy with longer legs and shorter torso may find that a sumo stance deadlift is more “fitting” than a traditional deadlift. There are countless examples, but the point is to find exercise variations that fit you.

You can’t change the anatomical position of your body, that’s not a weakness. When I refer to weaknesses, I’m talking about something in your movement that’s compromised.

Perhaps you’ve got limited range of motion in your shoulders. Instead of simply avoiding a certain set of exercises, how about working on improving the range of motion in your shoulders. Sometimes this is possible, sometimes it’s not.

My point is to look for areas in which you can improve movement when possible. Sometimes a small improvement in an area of weakness, can provide a much bigger improvement with a seemingly unrelated exercise.

Wrapping up…

I hope you’ve enjoyed these 7 nuggets of workout wisdom and picked up a few helpful tips. I’ll look to add to this list sometime in the future. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to let me know if I can help in any way.

Feel free to leave any comments. Always love to hear from my readers. Take care- Shane

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts, a Charleston personal fitness training studio that specializes in weight loss and body transformation. See our success stories from numerous Lowcountry residents then sign up for a no-obligations consultation today.

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