Weight training: where to go from here?
May 2, 2009 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Weight training: where to go from here?

I had a few sessions with a personal trainer and he showed me some basics. Now I feel I've got those down, and ready for something new (but can't afford him again right now). What should be my next step? I'm still pretty new to weights, and not looking to body build, just increase muscle tonality and strength. Here's where I'm at now:

Day 1: triceps and chest
Tricep cable: v-bar, ez curl, and rope
tricep kick back
chest press
chest fly
incline chest

Day 2: legs
leg press, lunges, leg curl and leg extension

day 3: back and biceps
bicep curl on cable with ez curl bar
assisted pull up
lat pullup
seated cable row

day 4: shoulers
reverse fly
lateral raises
alternating front raises
incline shoulder press

usually do abs exercises between sets

It's my understanding that I should introduce new exercises into the mix, so as not to keep doing the same thing for months. many thanks
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Increasing muscle "tone" is BS: you increase muscle mass and/or lose fat, nothing else. I don't know if your exercises are listed in chronological order, but do heavy compounds lifts first to reap the maximum benefit from them.

Body part splits ("back and biceps") are unlikely to be the best way to spend your time. If I had to pick from roughly that selection of exercises, here's what I'd do:

Day 1
Squat, 5x5 at a weight I can do 8 reps per set with
Stiff-leg deadlifts, 3x6
Lunges, 4x8
Ab work (weighted leg raises, rope pulldown, etc.)
Shrugs with barbell out of mid-thigh height power rack if I'm not going to deadlift heavy later in the week

Day 2
Bench press, 5x5 or 3x3 for the most part
Bent over-rows, go as heavy as you want. Swap with cable rows and dumbbell rows every few weeks.
Military press or seated shoulder press
Tricep extensions, prone dumbbell or rope
External rotations (light)

Day 3
Off, cardio or something. Front/side raises, possibly.

Day 4
Deadlifts, not too heavy (deadlift heavy some weeks, squat heavy on others)
Leg press, full range, something like 4x8, moderate weight
Leg curls or other hamstring work
Abs (weighted twist-ups), maybe some further spinal erectors/glutes work if I'm not shot from the deadlifts

Day 5
DB Chest press, 4x10, focused on speed and range of motion, moderate weight
Face pulls with rope, 3x16
Dips with weight belt, 3x8 or 4x10
External rotations
EZ-bar or DB curls, misc tricep work if I'm not burnt from the dips
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:07 AM on May 2, 2009

The general principles I go by are 1) lift as much weight as possible without hurting myself 2) eat a lot of protein.
posted by The Straightener at 9:18 AM on May 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your trainer didn't show you the basics at all. That's a really poor beginner strength program. You don't need nearly that many exercises and you don't need to isolate. You'll get the most out of doing heavy sets of 5 three times a week with the basic compound lifts. A beginner strength program will look something like this:

Workout A
Deadlift/power clean

Workout B
Bench press
Back extensions

Alternate these workouts three times a week, start light, and increase the weight each workout. As always, check out Starting Strength, the book and wiki, and Stronglifts.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:48 AM on May 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

First, I hope you're not doing the lifts in the order that you presented them. The conventional wisdom (especially for beginning lifters) is to start with compound exercises and perform isolated lifts at the end. Day 1, for example, is almost in perfect reverse order.

My personal philosophy is that the big four compound exercises really matter: bench presses, squats, deadlifts, and shoulder/overhead presses. Unless I'm getting to the gym more than 3x/week, I try to do two of these four every session. If you do them right, they'll kick your ass.

Most of all, I can't believe that you're doing tricep kickbacks but you're not doing squats.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:54 AM on May 2, 2009

Increasing muscle "tone" is BS
Well not precisely (sorry). Muscle tone is the same thing as residual muscle tension, which is your muscles contracting a little bit continually throughout the day. This is why you can stand up without falling over. To increase muscle tone, you could get cerebral palsy or dementia. Alternatively, there's a little bit of evidence that muscle tonus is increased immediately post-workout, but this effect wears off too quickly for you to notice. I could try to dig up that paper if you're interested.

What you're probably interested, though, in is building muscle and losing fat. Lifting extremely heavy things is a wonderful way to do that.

Since you're a beginner, you're going to progress as such a rate that us folks that have been doing this for a while can only dream of (or take drugs to achieve). So please enjoy it while it lasts. And eat a ton of protein to support those gains. Worry about tweaking your diet after you have at least six months of lifting extremely heavy things. For now, just eat everything that isn't nailed down.

Like the above folks, I highly recommend Starting Strength or The New Rules of Lifting. Go buy one of those two books. Now. All of the authors involved in those books are incredibly gifted at explaining the basic lifts, because you should indeed be focusing on the basic lifts (some sort of squat, some sort of press, some sort of deadlift, pullups). You are wasting your time if you are doing bodypart splits at this point in your training career. (so no more "legs" or "shoulders" days for a year or two, at least).

I'd highly recommend getting a notebook to note what weights you were able to use on a given day. They should go up -- especially now -- quite rapidly, every time you train.

At some point, you're going to want to figure out why you're training. Do you want to be really, really lean and muscular? You'll want to start bodybuilding. Do you want to lift awe-inspiringly heavy things, slowly? That's powerlifting. Do you want to lift heavy things from the floor to overhead? That's olympic weightlifting. Do you want to lift sorta heavy things a bunch of times, quickly, be a well-rounded athlete, and train like Special Operations folks? That's Crossfit. I do the last two. They're fun.

But that comes later (maybe a year later, maybe more). For now, just buy one of those two books, get really good at squatting, deadlifting, pressing, and doing pullups. And eat all the dead animal your can stomach.

And, fwiw, most "personal trainers" are a complete waste of money. If yours has you on that routine, he definitely is.
posted by oostevo at 10:24 AM on May 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Alternatively, there's a little bit of evidence that muscle tonus is increased immediately post-workout, but this effect wears off too quickly for you to notice. I could try to dig up that paper if you're interested.

Yeah, I'm talking about "toning" in the sense that some people think doing 8 reps of 20 with 5 pounds will get them "toned". I should have been more precise.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:02 AM on May 2, 2009

Response by poster: i love you guys. thank you!
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 11:19 AM on May 2, 2009

Starting Strength is going to be a great way to get strong and build muscle mass. It is definitely worth picking the book up and also following the gallon of milk a day diet,

I made HUGE gains this winter following both the program and diet.
posted by moochoo at 12:24 PM on May 2, 2009

Something you need to keep in mind early on which will save you the problem of plateauing early with your gains and getting discouraged. Focus on your form, not simply moving weight. Isolate the muscle you are training no matter what exercise it is, go slow, not a snails pace of course but not super fast, because fast reps are ways to cheat the weight and use momentum help you get it up. It's ok to do that for the last couple reps if you've been going heavy but you don't want to do your whole sets that way, you're only cheating yourself and effectively wasting your time. Good Luck!
posted by mi6op at 5:17 PM on May 2, 2009

Isolate the muscle you are training no matter what exercise it is, go slow, not a snails pace of course but not super fast, because fast reps are ways to cheat the weight and use momentum help you get it up.

There is nothing wrong with a fast concentric on any of the basic lifts. The eccentric phase should be taken slowly on lifts like the squat or the bench press in order to maintain tightness, and the eccentric should be done quickly possible. Momentum is not an issue unless you start doing kipping chinups or push presses or something which would be cheating if the idea was to do them strict. The other way to cheat would be to not use a full range of motion, e.g. by not squatting deep enough or not bringing the bar all the way down the shoulders on the press.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:54 PM on May 2, 2009

go slow ... you're only cheating yourself and effectively wasting your time

No. [1,2]

[1] Effect of Explosive versus Slow Contractions and Exercise Intensity on Energy Expenditure. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Aug;39(8):1291-301.

[2] Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, William J. Kraemer. Science and practice of strength training. 2ed. 2006. p 45-6
posted by oostevo at 6:43 PM on May 2, 2009

As a beginner, just make sure you are doing the exercises correctly. Don't worry about speed so much as not doing the exercises all herky-jerky. Drop the shoulder day and include an overhead press(or maybe just some lateral flys) on chest day. It's ridiculous to have a shoulder day, as they get plenty of work on other days. There should be more than enough info on the internet about exercise to not have to pick up a book. Have fun. If you really want to learn a lot, start reading articles here.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:29 AM on May 3, 2009

To echo the others: definitely learn the compound exercises and incorporate them as staples in your programs, at least in the beginning; really focus on form and getting the exercises right; seconding T-Nation -- it is an excellent resource.

You could try a variation of this program. (An explanation of the "tempo" listed in that article can be found a dozen or so paragraphs down in this article.) Substitute some of the exercises for ones you are more comfortable. If that isn't what you're looking for there are a ton of weight training programs to choose from.

I wouldn't worry about plateauing anytime soon. But for later on, if you do a different program every 1 - 3 months, that'll be more than enough variety for your body.

A note about program planning: depending on how busy your gym is, you may want to note down a backup exercise in case it's in use so that you can adhere to the rest periods. When I used to go to a gym, I'd take a scrap piece of paper with the session's planned workout and a golf pencil and note down what I actually did.

Finally, once you're comfortable with the compound lifts, with a good spotter try to find your 1RM (one rep max) in those lifts. Note them down. A few months down the road, test yourself again. It's a great motivator. Ditto with photos.
posted by lmm at 8:58 PM on May 4, 2009

You could try a variation of this program.

That's not a beginner program. Beginners do not need the training complexity that advanced trainees require, and you will not be well served by doing an advanced program as a beginner.

Finally, once you're comfortable with the compound lifts, with a good spotter try to find your 1RM (one rep max) in those lifts.

Additionally, you shouldn't be worrying about your 1RM while you're still a beginner. See the explanation here.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:17 AM on May 5, 2009

I'm seconding Stronglifts and Crossfit - but good lord not at the same time.
posted by jopreacher at 2:53 PM on May 5, 2009

Oops, you're right ludwig_van.

Anyway, I'd start an initial program with a high rep range (12-15), slow tempo, and low rest periods inbetween sets. Key here is developing comfort and reinforcing form with the lifts. I wouldn't recommend doing lifts such as squats or deadlifts with significant weight to start off with.
posted by lmm at 2:14 AM on May 8, 2009

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