Hey NextGame Nation!
My name is Morgan, and I’m currently a student at Georgetown University. I grew up in Hong Kong, and played four sports for my high school.
As with many teens going through varsity sports, when I had injuries or fatigue/illnesses, I’d try to play through them. (Note: it’s always best for your future if you stop once you feel like you’re injured. It really isn’t worth it.) Little did I know though, that many of my injuries and fatigue/illnesses were very preventable with just a simple but effective training program. Unfortunately, no such program existed at my school, and as a result I’ve spent many hours reading articles and experimenting with different programs (it must be noted that you must be flexible with your programs, since research is showing new things every single day). As a result of my many hours of personal research (along with some close friends), I have found a few basic rules that are good to follow when trying to get back in shape through weight training.
Note: it’s always best for your future if you stop once you feel like you’re injured. It really isn’t worth it.
So here are just some basic tips for lifting:
Form and Routine:
If you’re a beginner, I highly suggest starting off with a trainer. They should help you learn how to lift as well as helping you to focus on your form. I can’t stress enough how important it is that you perform your lifts with proper form, as people constantly get injured when performing lifts with improper form, and it’s also a huge eyesore if you’re doing it with horrendous form.
For routine, do try and keep a log of your workouts so you can see your improvements and also so you can push yourself.
Regardless of your age, warming up is vital in injury prevention and improved performance. The good news is that the younger you are, the easier it is to get warmed up sufficiently.
There are many ways to warm up, but basically anything that gets your heart rate up will do – I say this because people tend to do unnecessary amounts of cardio before lifting, and it’s important to note that not only is this not efficient, but it doesn’t necessarily get you properly warmed up and prepared for shifting weight.
A simple warm up could be skipping rope for 5 sets of 50 skips, then doing a quick array of body weight exercises such as 2 sets of 15 push-ups and 15 incline push-ups (feet elevated), 10 pull-ups/chin-ups (assisted if required and work up to adding weight), clockwork lunges (lunging forward, to the side, and backwards) or body weight squats.
(photo credit: Men’s Health)
Just make sure you’re not jumping into trying to shift heavy weights, because there is a high chance that you will injure yourself.
I always see people performing static stretches before a workout (where you stretch and hold). It must be stressed that this isn’t something that you should do, because static stretching before lifting actually reduces the ability for your muscle fibers to contract as forcefully as you would want (in Layman’s terms, you won’t be able to lift as much). Static stretching should be performed after a warm-down, and it is important that you NEVER bounce (it creates micro tears that you don’t want in your muscles). Static stretching after lifting will help you recover faster, reduce the DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) and will actually also help your muscles grow.
Before/while performing lifts, you should dynamically stretch. I won’t go into details here, but dynamic stretches include leg swings (forward/back, side to side), arm swings, bicycles, eagles, calf bounces etc.
(image credit: Runner’s World)
Make sure the swings are controlled and not wild.
This always really bothers me, but if you’ve ever asked a friend if they’ve been working out recently, those who haven’t been doing so will always make excuses. The number one excuse? I just don’t have any time.
Now look, if you are working as a first/second year investment banker or some highly demanding industry and you’re someone’s b*tch and basically constantly being summoned in at 3 am, I can understand why it would be really difficult to get into a rhythm with working out. Other than that though, I can honestly call bullshit. You’re telling me that you work 9-5 and you can’t bring yourself to go for as little as 30 minutes even for a run?! You probably spend more time on Facebook, on the toilet, in the shower, looking pretty or something. Just do yourself a favor and don’t lie to yourself. If my dad, a lawyer running his own company at the age of 56, can still find the time to keep his 6 pack going, then what excuse do you have?
Note: for a routine that only takes 2.5 hrs per week (for the “busy” people), check out http://www.defrancostraining.com/articles/38-articles/56-training-economy-how-to-maximize-efficiency-in-the-gym.html
Maybe you’re not a health freak, maybe you just don’t have the motivation to do all that, but what you should be motivated to do is stay HEALTHY. Physical health is and always will be part of your mental well-being.
The important part is just getting into a rhythm and making yourself go when you should, because we’ve all been there, when you lose motivation because you’re just not feeling up to it, and it starts with one day, then another, then another and before you know it, you haven’t gone in weeks.
I’m not saying be a gym rat, I’m just saying that you should get your mind in the right place if you do want to start.
(photo credit: Animal Pak)
Always bring your iPod with you to the gym, and please, don’t use it to play Angry Birds (unless you’re taking a toilet break). Everyone has their own favorite workout music, but I suggest creating a “gym playlist” where the songs are fast and make you feel like breaking something, and a “warm down playlist” where the songs are slower and soothing. This has proven to increase/decrease your heart rate accordingly.
Music has also been shown to reduce the amount of effort you feel like you’re giving, and when you’re lifting heavy, even a 2% reduction in stress makes you feel like you can do 20% more.
I’ve found that music also allows me to keep track of my rest periods, as you should be careful to keep this in mind.
There have been countless articles dedicated to the amount of rest you should be giving your muscles between sets, but I’ve found these methods work best:
If you are working on power (lifting very heavy, above 85% of your 1 rep-max and fewer than 6 reps), increase your rest periods to at least 2 minutes between sets.
If you are working on strength (hovering around 70-80% of your 1RM and between 6-12 reps), you should rest between 60-90 seconds between sets.
If you are working on endurance (below 65% of your 1RM and more than 12 reps), you should rest between 30-60 seconds between sets.
Of course, these rest periods don’t apply if you’re working on a circuit, or you are using a plan where it calls for less/more rest. Do remember that no matter how you feel at that exact moment, your muscles do need rest, and if you go too hard, too quickly, you won’t be able to perform as well for the rest of the session.
Also, don’t spend hours upon hours in the gym. Be prepared to get your workout done within 45-60 minutes, and leave the rest of your time to stretch.
I understand if you’re trying to get results fast, but you must realize that working out is not a miracle cure. It will take time, but if you do it right, it won’t take as long.
Depending on how you lift, you should still aim to have days off from the gym.
My general rules are:
If I’m doing 3 days of full body lifts, I’ll spread them out at least 48 hrs apart, and make sure that I have at least one full day of no strenuous physical activity, and the other days, I will perform cardio workouts (such as playing basketball).
If I’m doing splits of upper- and lower-body lifts, I’ll do for example, Monday Upper, Tuesday Lower, Wednesday rest/cardio, Thursday Upper, Friday Lower, Saturday rest/cardio, Sunday rest.
You must remember that no matter how hard you lift, your body gets better through recovery, and this is when your muscles rebuild and your nervous system gets to take a break so you can perform well again. So make sure you sleep and eat. A good rule to follow is if you’re around the age of 20, you should be sleeping at least 7 hours a night, and add on 45 minutes of sleep for every hour of exercise.
It doesn’t matter if your metabolism is incredibly fast, if you’re eating like crap, you’re going to slowly start looking like crap. I know this because I go to school in the US, and God help me, our cafeteria’s food was literally the worst thing ever. It was hard to eat healthy, and it crept up on me. But now I’ve been eating much healthier. In 5 weeks, I had dropped 15 pounds of unnecessary weight during one of my breaks when I was back home.
Vital parts of your diet:
- lots of water (you sweat more than you think when you exercise, and you need to replace the water you lose)
- multivitamins if you’re not literally eating every color of the rainbow at every meal (but don’t overdo this)
- vegetables – all kinds! Stay away from too much of the starchy stuff, and the more color, the better chance of getting the nutrients your body needs
- Fruits – watermelon is one of the best you can get for the summer, papayas, cherries, all kinds of berries…you get the point. Again, more color = better. Don’t go too crazy on fruit as they do contain lots of fructose, but you should get a couple of healthy servings a day.
- lean meats and fish – by lean meat, I mean white meat on chicken and turkey, and by fish, you can’t go wrong with salmon and tuna, but again, variety is important – for example, oysters will give you lots of zinc, which equals more testosterone production, which is great for lean muscle mass
- Good carbs – stay away from sugar/high fructose corn syrup/soft drinks/fruit juices/sugary cereals (you lose the fiber from the fruit and instead you’re basically drinking flavored sugar water) – aim for the good stuff like brown rice, quinoa, oats, wholegrain, sweet potatoes. Be wary of granolas as well because they tend to contain lots of high fructose corn syrup to bind the granola.
- red meat – stay away from the really fatty cuts, but you should aim for at least a couple of servings per week (vital for iron, creatine)
- Nuts and dairy – nuts for healthy fats, protein and fiber (olive oil and avocados will also give you healthy fats), and dairy for calcium, potassium, protein and aiding the digestive system (skim/low-fat varieties are actually better for you) – don’t have too much of these, though.
Remember to keep the portion sizes normal, and by this I mean you don’t need to have a giant bowl of pasta, but instead a small bowl will suffice, and a small fistful of nuts, or a baseball sized serving of meat. You can go nuts with the non-starchy veggies though.
STAY AWAY FROM FAST FOOD/CHIPS/ICE CREAM AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. You can allow yourself a cheat day where you eat unhealthy crap, but munching on that stuff will not be good for you.
Do it. You should definitely get checked out by a doctor first if you have any history of congenital diseases or whatnot, but supplements will help you recover faster.
What should you buy?
- Multivitamin – for women, you should definitely look for one that includes iron
- Protein – whey protein isolate is your best bet for whey (fast-digesting protein), and casein (slower-digesting protein) you can get from skim/low-fat milk. Or you can buy a whey/casein blend. Just make sure the powder you decide to buy isn’t full of fillers (random stuff that has no real nutritional value but companies add it to the product to increase profit margins) by checking the protein per serving – you want a 50g serving to have much more than just 25g of protein. You also don’t want large amounts of sugars or saturated fat – fewer than 3g of each in each serving. I recommend mixing 100% Gold Standard Whey with low-fat/skim milk.
- green tea extract – antioxidant and speeds up metabolism
- CoQ10 – cardiovascular antioxidant
- CLA – helps with fat loss
- Vitamin D – helps with bone maintenance
- Fish Oil/Omega 3 with EPA/DHA – shown to help reduce inflammation (i.e. reducing muscle inflammation so there’s less unwanted damage/soreness and hence aids recovery)
- pre-workout NO (Nitric Oxide)/creatine/caffeine – these products will help to improve your performance, but make sure to always follow the instructions carefully. Caffeine will also help to reduce your muscle soreness. I recommend jack3d (seriously, no more than 3 scoops in 24 hrs and stay away from stimulants like coffee, tea, or nicotine).
When should you take your supplements?
I’m sure I’m missing some things, but I hope this helps. If you have any questions, e-mail me at: Morgan@NextGameNation.com