Weightlifting for the mentally lazy
December 2, 2014 9:43 PM   Subscribe

Please give me a simple weight training routine that is 1) simple 2) not overly time consuming 3) doesn't progress so fast that I punk out

I feel like questions about weight training are posted here all the time, but searching around I glaze over with the bazillions of answers, links, programs, etc. I really just want someone to recommend a simple routine I can easily follow without reading an entire book or pages and pages of online forums full of conflicting advice from pseudo-science bros. (Rock on pseudo-science bros, I support you, I just personally don't feel inspired by you.)

I am looking for a simple weight training routine that I can do in the 2-3 (occasionally 4) days a week I have time to go to the gym.

I like lifting heavy weight and want to keep doing that.

I have the 5x5 app and basically do that but adding 5 lbs every session is just way too fast for me and I get discouraged when I fail so frequently. (Possibly related, I punked out of Couch to 5K and 100 push ups for similar reasons). Also, the doing squats 2-4 days a week is just too much for me. I end up skipping squats every other session because when I go to start them I just feel like, ugh, no.

I also ride my bike a lot and go to yoga occasionally. I have been doing those things consistently for a while and like doing them and want to keep doing them. And maybe I'm going to start BJJ but that's probably stretching the limits of what I have time for.

I am a woman. I am great with getting big and don't need a plan that is specifically for women, I just wonder if some weight training routines are more effective for more women's bodies? Like maybe these super-rapidly progressing programs like 5x5 or 100 pushups are just designed to be effective for the metabolism and muscle distribution more common in men? Or maybe they don't actually work for anybody?

My goal is to be stronger, to feel powerful, to get that nice, mindless meditative feeling of mindless physical exertion.
posted by latkes to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Notice how I say mindless twice in a sentence? And simple twice in a sentence? That's how mindless and simple I'm looking for!
posted by latkes at 9:45 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

What if you don't add 5lbs every time?

Orthogonal to what you describe but possibly a fit: L-sit and/or planche progressions.
posted by rhizome at 9:55 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might find stumtous good reading for these kinds of questions!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:11 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

The guy that popularized the Stronglifts program says that his girlfriend progressed with 2lb fractional plates instead of 5lb (http://stronglifts.com/5x5/). Most gyms may not have fractional plates and you may have to bring your own, but you can get a pair for maybe like $10~20.

Also perhaps when you start getting super exhausted just deload and stick with your limit for a while?
posted by xtine at 10:18 PM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Here is what I have done that's worked well for me when I've applied it diligently. Typically I don't, these days, but whenever I get properly motivated, I can get right back into it because it's so simple.

Whatever resistance exercise you're doing, when you start, find a weight where you can do 3 sets of 10 (with about a minute break in between sets) to reasonable exhaustion. Like, the final rep doesn't need to be a desperate struggle, but should make you feel like "yeah, I can't really do any more." Stay at this same weight and try to add reps each session until you're doing 3 sets of 12.

When you reach that point, add 2.5 or 5 lbs, and do however many you can for 3 sets. It will probably be in the 6-8 reps per set range. (If it's still like 11 reps per set, add more weight). Then, repeat the process - increase reps each session until you're at 3x12.

You can keep this up basically forever; you might plateau and need to add teeny-tiny amounts of weight at some points, but the general pattern applies. If you're like me, you'll get off track for weeks (or months...) at a time and then take a few steps back, and it ends up being a big cycle.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:20 PM on December 2, 2014 [11 favorites]

I just wonder if some weight training routines are more effective for more women's bodies

Nope. Total women's magazine bullshit. Ovaries have nothing to do with push-ups
posted by BadgerDoctor at 12:29 AM on December 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

I do something similar to what joey does. It works. Increasing 5 lbs every session is mostly for 20 year old guys who can down 5k calories a day.
posted by MillMan at 12:44 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, there's interest in how hormones affect women at different points in our cycles (like for e.g. relaxin kicking in during ovulation, making us a little more prone to knee injuries then). In terms of popular fitness programs, it's been a while since I've looked at it, but Rachel Cosgrove's the only one I know of who talks about how to work the menstrual cycle into your workouts (though not sure if the rest of the program aligns with what you want).

I kind of think your body should be the authority, not whatever training regime (although obviously structure is helpful). If you're tired and can't do the last rep properly, you just can't, and it's unsafe to do it, really, so might as well stay at that weight until you can. As long as you're driven to push yourself every time in some way (repetitions or weight or form, form is fine), you'll continue to make progress (broadly defined) over the long run.

There are different approaches, obviously, but some think it's ideal to hit muscle groups twice a week. That could be any full-body workout - 2nd stumptuous for those. If you're over 40, it might be an idea to do break them up into one lower rep workout and the other higher rep, so you're nice and fresh and recovered and most importantly not injured or on the verge of it.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:56 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I am looking for a simple weight training routine that I can do in the 2-3 (occasionally 4) days a week I have time to go to the gym.

If you already know how to do the lifts, then this part is easy. Do the same 5x5 squat/bench/deadlift/overhead press program you've been doing, except only add 2.5 pounds every two sessions, or even every three. A slower progression is doubly necessary if you're doing a bunch of other physical activity like yoga and biking, because a 5x5 add-weight-every-session program is only designed to work when you're not tiring yourself out with other stuff.

5x5 programs work, and they work for women. But you're right that many or even most women don't do well adding 5 pounds to their lifts in every session for much more than a couple weeks. Other than that, unless you have specific bodybuilding (or mobility, or gymnastic, or sportive) goals, I wouldn't mess with the program much. I think you're having trouble with squats because you're constantly failing. If so, good for you—that's hard both physically and psychologically. Consider dropping the weight by 10%, adopting a slower progression, and promising yourself No More Skipping Squats.

I don't think switching programs is really called for. In fact, switching programs will require more of the research and learning that you seem to resistant to. Stick with what you're doing—assuming that means squat deep, deadlift with a straight back, press and pull with the upper body—except advance more slowly.

Maybe I'm going to start BJJ but that's probably stretching the limits of what I have time for.

As someone who trains BJJ in addition to lifting and other physical activity, let me say that it doesn't go well as the icing on top of 4 days of lifting plus a bunch of other stuff. BJJ is both physically demanding and requires motor skill development to get better. Making it a low priority next to a bunch of recovery-resource-draining activities is asking to be smashed and choked while making no improvement for an indefinite period of time. If you can't devote at least two or three days of hard training days to BJJ then you're better off not going.

Think of it like this: for every "strike" against your lifting, reduce the progression rate. A hormonally average young male focusing on lifting would start with 5 pounds a session. You're hormonally handicapped with regards to strength, so bump it to 2.5 pounds a session. If you do other sports vigorously, bump it again to 2.5 pounds every other session. You're over 30 or 35, maybe bump it a third time to 2.5 pounds every three sessions. You add another couple training days (e.g. BJJ) to your regimen, well, at that point you should stop entertaining dreams of adding weight and focus on maintaining strength with one or two weekly strength sessions where you don't add poundage unless you've been nailing a given weight for a few weeks straight and you really have it in the bag.

I understand you're not interested in learning much more about this topic, but if you have questions, I'm a big nerd on the subject and would enjoy (m)email correspondence.
posted by daveliepmann at 1:42 AM on December 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

I'm doing New Rules of Lifting for Women and I like it. It has you alternate two routines for about eight weeks, then alternate two different routines for about eight weeks. You decide how much weight to use and how much to go up from one workout to the next. Here is an example (these are the first two routines):
Workout 1: Squat, alternating sets of pushups and seated rows, alternating sets of step-up and prone jackknife
Workout 2: Deadlift, alternating sets of dumbbell shoulder press and lat pull-down, alternating sets of lunges and swiss ball crunch

There is a whole book, but for your purposes all you would need is chapter 10 which describes the workouts and exercises and tells you how many reps to do. You can check it out at the library if you don't want to buy the book.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:10 AM on December 3, 2014

I end up skipping squats every other session because when I go to start them I just feel like, ugh, no.

Respectfully, part of maintaining a productive weightlifting routine for me is that probably 1/3 of the time I feel like "ugh, no" after my first warmup set. The overwhelming majority of the time, once I've finished warming up I feel OK about doing what is prescribed for the day. In the small percentage of time when I still feel "ugh, no" after warming up, I lower my expectations for the day (in terms of weight, sets, or reps) and still perform the exercise that is prescribed.

Weightlifting often feels hardest right at the beginning of the workout, which is certainly counterintuitive and off-putting for a lot of people, especially seasoned exercisers. I hate that my advice pretty much boils down to, "just do it," but seriously, just do it. Your ability to progress to higher weights will benefit immensely from squatting more often. You just can't stimulate a significant adaptation by only squatting once or twice per week. Unless "ugh, no" for you means that you are literally failing when you try to squat the bar, this is something you can push through, and that is where victory lies.
posted by telegraph at 8:22 AM on December 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

So I've been working on getting stronger and more in shape over the last year, and for my money the 5 x 5 approach to an exercise is the stupid simplest one I've found. So I'll second the recommendation to stick with that but slightly modify it to suit your needs. To recap, that approach to an exercise is:

*Do your best to do 5 sets of 5 reps
*If you do all 5 sets of five, add weight next time
*If you spend 3 times not doing all 5 - reduce the weight 10% next time

The exception in the standard program is deadlift, which is only 1 set of 5.

Some notes:
Adding weight for the exercises is adding 5 pounds total, not 5 pound plates on each side of the barbell. That would be 10 pounds. There seems to be some confusion about that in the thread. Once again the exception is the deadlift, where the standard program recommends 10 pounds (2 five pound plate). If that seems like too much, trust your instincts. It's really easy to hurt your back with the deadlift, so be careful and take it easy, and make certain you've got the form down really well.

Moving down in weight is not failing the program, it is a normal and expected part of the program. No matter how naturally gifted you are at building strength, at some point you're going hit a plateau, or build up to a point where you start going slower. This approach to going slower adapts to your body's needs - you go slow when you need to - and keeps you feeling like you're building up with a minor setback, instead of slamming your head into a wall repeatedly, so to speak. And it's not even a setback, you're still building strength, even if you're doing a slightly lower weight. Don't worry about the number being smaller, your goal is to build your body, not your ego.

And if you want to do the squat every other time rather than every time, that's perfectly fine. Adding squats in every session when all the other exercises are every other session can definitely be a bit much. And if you are often going 4 times a week rather than the routine's 3 and bike a lot on top of that? I'm going to say that it is really, really OK to only do squats every other time. I half expect that the only reason the base routine includes so many squats just to keep people who only lift from getting too top-heavy.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:52 AM on December 3, 2014

I'm on a 3x5 program but for Reasons I only do the deadlift, the squat, and the OH press - lifting is to supplement training for bike racing, which is my priority, so my weight progress is much slower.

It's simple: I have a medium day, a heavy day, and a light day. I make weight progress every week, not every workout.

Medium: DL (@ working weight) & Squat (~80% of squat working weight) & OH Press
Heavy: Squat (100% of working weight) and OH press
Light: Squat (~80% of squat working weight) & OH Press

This means that I make weight progress every week, not every workout - this affords me enough steady time to build without stalling. I also have a lighter day that allows me more time for recovery and more ability to integrate cycling-specific workouts. And, importantly, there's enough variation to keep me engaged.

Give it a shot - or some similar modification to your own program.
posted by entropone at 10:22 AM on December 3, 2014

Lift enough weight that you can only do 6-10 reps in a set max. If you can do 10 reps, increase weight. Using some standardized schedule for this seems nuts to me.

ExRx has a bunch of good beginner information, this seems most relevant:
posted by momus_window at 6:27 PM on December 3, 2014

OK, if I actually had 3 days a week with a fully loaded gym and as much time as I needed (and no pre-existing injuries), what would I do?

One day would be deadlifts. Only deadlifts. Only this day. Scheduled before at least one if not 2 full days of rest. There are lots of ways to do deadlift workouts, but that is a whole day. Nothing else is needed on deadlift day. Find 3 deadlift workouts that you like. Here's one:
If you know or can guess your 1rm, after warmup (some deadlifts with just the bar or the bar + appropriately lifting plates)
Every minute on the minute for, say, 6 minutes, start at 70% of your 1RM and lift, adding weight (5-10lb) each minute, or just do 80-85% of your 1RM each minute.
OR 3 sets of 5 at 75-80% of your 1RM,
OR some sets of 3 closer to 85% with good rest in between
If you are not very, very tired the night of then you aren't trying to lift heavy enough on deadlift day

One day is squats day. I haven't done squats in years thanks to injury but squats day is more straightforward than DL day. You're gonna squat. You're gonna do 5 rep sets, probably, 3 or 5 of them. You're gonna rest. Sometimes you'll do front squats, or overhead squats, to mix it up. On squats day, you can do some running if you want, or some other little things to kill time at the gym.

One day is overhead presses, or pull-ups, or bench presses. Maybe jerks or even power clean + jerks or even power snatches if you're feeling feisty. This is also a good day to get in a little cardio. Maybe some rowing! I know, you don't want to think too much. Just pick one or two of these and do it a little. It's just arms, arms are easy. If your shoulders hurt, stop.

And, that's it. You'll get bored as hell of this in about 3-6 months, but it is plenty to keep you very strong assuming you pay a lot of attention to your form, diligently attempt to increase your weight, eat plenty, and sleep enough.

I will say my piece, though, which is: In my experience there is no way to have a brain dead simple routine where you are actively getting significantly stronger quickly and/or easily. Especially as a relative newbie to training. When I was training effectively I thought about training a lot for YEARS. Weight lifting is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one. You have to mentally prepare to do a heavy lift. You have to pay close attention to your body at all times, to make sure you aren't putting yourself at risk for injury. You have to push through those "squats, ugh" days. There's a reason that classes, running, biking, the elliptical are so popular, because if you don't want to think, that's what you do.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:38 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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