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Weight Training

Mark Works Out at Goofy's Gym


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Okay. True confessions. I'm a gym rat. Maybe you'd guess the rat part from the Ernest picture. I've been a pretty avid/rabid weight trainer since I was 12 years old. There have been several long stretches of time in my life when I've been very dedicated, spending a couple of hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week, in the gym. The past 9 years have been one of them. I'd like to think that it shows. Can't tell from the Ernest picture.

I really enjoy the challenge of lifting and the complex biomechanics, nutrition, and psychology required to do it right. I also enjoy the gym atmosphere. The people that I've encountered have been almost uniformly friendly and encouraging, especially at the university, laying aside whatever roles and titles they have in the outside world, offering help when needed, and generally looking out for each other. I guess that there is a scene but it's mostly confined to certain times of the day and a minority of the diligent liberators of sweat.

I've made a lot of friends when working out along with the skeleto-muscular and cardio-vascular benefits. It has given me a place of stability when all hell has broken loose in other aspects of my life and it has given me a point of focus, helping me learn dedication. I'm not the strongest or the prettiest or the anything-est but I truly value the time I've put in challenging and improving myself. I would heartily recommend that everyone find something that physically challenges them and pursue it in whatever measure that they find pleasurable and sustainable. It could be 10 minute walks at sunset or yoga or cycling or triathlons or ..., as long as you enjoy it and it doesn't cross the boundary from fun into driving, excruciating toil. It's important to experience one's physicality and let the playful animality out in some way that is constructive and fun.

Books and Magazines

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I guess there's no single reference that I would recommend as containing all of the information that someone might need. Some references that you might find useful are

Useful References
Book Author Publisher/Year Notes
Winning Bodybuilding Franco Columbu and George Fels Contemporary Books, Incorporated 1977 This is the book that I started with. It is short (I believe less than 100 pages) and to the point and might be good for a beginner. It's also out-of-print.
Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Dobbins Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1985 This book describes a gajillion exercises and chronicles interesting bodybuilding history. It is a good reference, particularly if you're having trouble finding a large enough variety of exercises, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend the routines it outlines. This is probably the thickest book on the fitness shelves at any bookstore and you shouldn't have any trouble finding it.
Optimum Sports Nutrition Michael Colgan Advanced Research Press 1993 As the title indicates, this is a guide to nutrition. It's rather unorthodox in various ways but the author knows what he's talking about. Also, it's written in Dr. Colgan's outrageous humorous style and includes fun cartoons that Dr. Colgan has drawn himself.

Dr. Colgan founded the Colgan Institute, which is a sports nutrition and longevity consulting firm. All of his books are available through your favorite online book seller. I found my copy of Optimum Sports Nutrition at GNC. You might also try the library if you'd like to look before you buy.

The Poliquin Principles Charles Poliquin Mile High Publishing 1997 This is a very good training guide that bases its advice on a wealth of research and practical experience. The book is oriented toward bodybuilders and lays out principles for solid strength and size increasing routines. It also provides sample routines for beginning, intermediate, and advanced trainees. The book debunks many long-standing training myths and derides many bodybuilding and weight training icons for promoting them. It is fairly short (151 pages) with lots of pictures, diagrams, and tables.

Although Poliquin has an ego the size of Texas, I found the book to be amusing, entertaining, and very useful. It's most likely to appeal to those who've been around weight training a while and might leave beginners scratching their heads. However, it's never too early to begin using proper techniques.

The book is only available directly from the publisher. See Poliquin's web site for more information.

Sorry if I sound like an advertizement. I don't benefit in any way from promoting this book. I searched book stores for this book for months hoping to take a look at it before buying it. I just thought I might save others who might be interested the trouble that I went through.

Spontaneous Healing Andrew Weil, M.D. Ballantine Books 1996 I recommend any of Dr. Weil's books for nutritional information and perspective. His books concern general health and don't have anything specific to do with weight training.

Most bodybuilding books are either too basic or describe tactics that only the chemically-enhanced can survive. Most of them proclaim the same basic information with the most recent bodybuilding celebrity's face attached.

It's important to get some guidance when beginning from a personal trainer, an instructor at a health club, or from a good book. One thing to keep in mind is that there is a lot of disagreement about what is THE best way to train. As it happens, there is no one best way to train because everyone is physiologically and biochemically unique and no routine works the same for everyone. So, everyone needs to discover is what works best for them. Most anything will give a beginner results. It's later, after your body has begun adapting to the training that you need to begin more specifically tayloring your workout.

One often referred to source of information about lifting is muscle magazines. Unfortunately, most of them are hype and empty claims designed to sell products. I used to recommend Muscle Media. It may still be a reasonable place for beginners to start but is no longer much use to those of us who have been around for a while. They have tried to become more of a mainstream magazine and mostly try to provide motivation. Most, if not all, of the muscle magazines are owned by supplement companies. Of course, this may not be too different from the fact that drug companies fund the publishing of medical journals.


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An item that it's important to be cautious about before spending scarce funds is supplements. I advise a minimalistic approach to supplementation. When investing in supplements, it's important to buy the basic nutrients that you need and possibly a few supplements that are backed by solid research. Be very cautious about unsubstantiated miracle claims.

I have witnessed several supplement scams on the pages of muscle magazines. For example, I remember one supplementation system that guaranteed results and had the pictures to prove it. They only guaranteed results if you followed their exercise and nutritional program and they used every photographic trick imaginable in their before and after shots. It seemed to me that it was strict nutritional and exercise programs that produced the results and not the snake oil concoction they were marketing. Another feature of that particular program was that the nutritional and exercise programs were so strict that almost no one could adhere to them. (If you've been around awhile, maybe you know which scam I'm referring to.)

Serious athletes need better nutrition than the average person and supplements are a necessary part of that. It is impossible to eat enough food to get the amounts of some nutrients that you will need and athletes are prone to being deficient due to the exertion we put ourselves under.

The approach that I follow is to take a good multi-vitamin and additional anti-oxidants such as vitamins C and E and minerals such as calcium and zinc. Certain nutrients need to be taken in certain ratios and, as Dr. Colgan points out, many vitamins can't possibly contain the amounts that they claim. It's important to look carefully at the contents of what you're buying so that you don't throw your money away. Please refer to a good nutrition book or a nutritionist for the details.

I also supplement my diet with one serving of high quality whey protein each day. Sufficient protein is necessary for proper recovery. It is also necessary for proper immune response and training taxes the immune system. However, too much protein is hard on your kidneys so it is possible to go overboard. Be conservative.

Beyond what I've listed above, I take a couple of carefully chosen bodybuilding-specific nutrients and a few herbs. Creatine monohydrate does exactly what people claim it does. It promotes lean mass and, to some degree, strength.

I also used to take GKG from EAS. GKG contains alpha-ketoglutarate and the amino acid taurine. These nutrients promote tissue regeneration after a hard workout. The evidence supporting the use of them is indirect. They have been seen to speed healing in burn victims. Nonetheless, GKG seemed to work for me.

Ginsing also seems to have a very beneficial effect for me. I always thought that claims regarding herbs were ridiculous and unfounded until I tried ginsing. Other herbs that you might want to try that are not directly related to weight training are ginko biloba and ginger. Ginko biloba is thought to enhance cognition and circulation and ginger is a good anti-inflamatory.

What I've listed is all I take. Some supplements are important but they are expensive so carefully scrutinize information about a particular supplement before getting out your credit card. Do your homework before rushing out to buy something and remember that you don't have to buy something every time you set foot in a nutrition store. Also, keep in mind that any nutritional change will take in the neighborhood of 6 weeks to have an effect.

My Program

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As I mentioned above, no single training program works for everyone. However, I'm willing to put mine out there just to give an example. I do what's called a three-way split. This means that I divide my exercizes into 3 groups that work different body parts, which I do on different days. I usually work out 6 days a week, which means that I work out my entire body twice each week.

This would be excessive for most trainees (and might be for me) since most people require more recovery time during the week. I've found 3 days between exercizing the same body part to be nearly ideal for me but another person might determine that they improve best when they work out only 3 days or less each week. It's necessary to experiment to determine what works best for you.

Here's a typical week's schedule

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Legs, Light Aerobics Chest, Back, Aerobics (Shoulders), Arms, Aerobics Legs, Light Aerobics Chest, Back, Aerobics (Shoulders), Arms, Aerobics

Aerobics usually means Stairmaster for 30 minutes and Light Aerobics means some easy aerobic activity like recumbent bike on a low setting for 20-25 minutes. I also do abdominal work every other day or so. The reason shoulders are in parentheses in the table is because I've found that it is very easy for me to overtrain my shoulders. Therefore, I usually do not do any exercizes that specifically work the shoulders. The front deltoids (front part of the shoulder) get plenty of work when I do bench press and the rear deltoids are worked when I exercize my back. This is another example of one of my individual quirks.

When first beginning, you might only work each body part ONCE a week, working out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for example. Furthermore, a beginning routine should focus mostly on multiple-joint exercizes such as squats or leg presses, bench press, and deadlifts.

I work opposing muscles on the same day. An example is biceps and triceps. A more common approach is to do all pulling exercizes on one day and all pushing exercizes the next.

Many people don't include legs in the pushing-pulling scheme of things. Legs usually occupy their own day. Leg work is very demanding, which is why people often try to avoid it. Sustaining a leg routine requires focus and discipline but also sensitivity to what you can and can't tolerate over the long run.

I usually do no more than 2 or 3 exercises per body part and no more than 4 or 5 sets per exercise. I progressively increase the weight I use in the sets, starting with a light weight that I can do 10-15 reps with and ending with a weight that I can only do 3-6 reps with. All of these are training variables that shouldn't stay static over long periods of time. Sets should be done with enough weight and focus to make them intense and your workout shouldn't be an excruciating marathon. Probably no more than an hour per day on weights and approximately a half an hour a day on aerobic activity is required. Your mileage will vary.

One more brief comment. Both aerobic activity and weight training are integral to fat loss. Muscles are rather inefficient in converting fuel into mechanical energy. Only 20% of the calories burned when contracting a muscle are converted to useful force. The other 80% are dissipated as heat. The more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn in your day-to-day activities and in the gym. If you need to loose fat, just doing aerobics is not enough. Of course, if you're sedentary enough, any activity will help. Another nice aspect of building muscle is that it makes your other day-to-day tasks easier. Just more motivation.

By this point, you probably have split ends from all of the hot air on this page. I hope you've gleaned something relevent and I hope to add more substance in the future.

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Mark A. Martin <mark@mark-a-martin.us>

Last modified: Tue Jul 25 17:24:14 CDT 2000