After one year of personal training, where to next?
July 16, 2017 9:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm a man in his early 20s who's just finished up a year's worth of weight training with a personal trainer. I want to put the money towards something completely different now, so I'm looking to go solo at the gym. But I still really want the structure having a trainer provided me: in particular, I really want to know what I'm going to do before I walk into the gym. My trainer was very good in some respects, but I don't have much of a clue how to put a routine together. Can you help?

If I'm being honest with myself, I probably could have made much more progress: I didn't have the money to go for more than two sessions with my personal trainer per week, and was way too anxious at the outset to train by myself—also, I'm terrible at making time for it. That got better towards the end, I came in by myself a couple times, and I'm feeling okay about attending a new gym now, just so long as I can know what I'm going to do before I get in there.

I started at 56.5kg and got as high as 66.5 before dropping back down and plateauing at around 63, because I just wasn't putting enough effort into my diet. (I'm 173cm/5'8".) From what I can remember of the numbers, my gains were about 1/3 fat and 2/3 muscle. I should have tracked my lifts more closely throughout, but I'm probably presently able to hit 3x12 @ 35kg/75lb bench press, 3x10 @ 35kg/75lb squats and 3x12 @ 50kg/110lb leg press, just to give you some idea.

I don't really have any solid goals, to be honest. I'd say my motivation for working out is mainly a desire to feel secure and confident in my body, something I've long lacked (I do already see a therapist), with a good spoonful of vanity in there as well. I also want to be stronger for softball season in a couple months. I'm not interested in getting massive or ridiculously cut, but I do have an idea of what I want to look like, and I'm not there yet: I want to be bigger and leaner (probably hovering around 14% body fat at the moment).

I can't really be arsed to spend more than 3 hours at the gym a week, and preferably it would be in the form of 3x1hr sessions, but I could try and push myself to 4x45min or even more total time if it's necessary—which I really don't have much of a clue about.

I also have done virtually no cardio, but I'm willing to if it would help more and be more convenient for getting leaner over/in conjunction with eating low-fat foods and training consistently at a small calorie deficit. Also if you guys think warming up/down with some cardio is worth it.

I don't have any idea where all these details put me in terms of finding a program that's going to help me get closer to my goals (as un-solid as they are). 7kg worth of gains (and less of muscle) doesn't seem like that much to me, so I'm sure a program like Starting Strength or StrongLifts 5x5 would still be helpful. But is there anything that would fit me better than that? Should I even bother with a premade program at all? Is there any other advice you would give me? There are so many programs and so much advice out there, and it's really hard making sense of it all. Thanks so much!
posted by Panthalassa to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I strongly recommend Starting Strength, which you seem to already be aware of. I'm a very skinny cis-lady who did a routine based on info from there that involved a set schedule of lifting and drinking large amounts of milk to achieve my protein consumption goals. Even with less than ideal compliance, I gained 10 lbs of muscle in about 7 months, and I squatted and dead lifted above my body weight.

I think it's good you've been working with a trainer up until now... with any luck you've got your form down and can now do what you need to do to make the progress you want.

Good luck!
posted by Temeraria at 10:09 PM on July 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Check out the wiki at /r/fitness, there's lots of good advice there. You can pick any decent beginner program -- it seems like you still have lots of beginner gains left to get.
posted by phoenixy at 10:39 PM on July 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would suggest hiring a personal trainer for the specific purpose of designing an exercise routine that you could do on your own. I've done this several times. The way it worked for me was that I'd meet with the trainer maybe three times--enough for them to go through all the exercises with me several times and make sure my form is good, and for me to make sure that I'd have it sufficiently documented/memorized to perform unsupervised. Once that's done you can exercise on your own until you feel that the routine is getting old, or you're not making much progress. At that point you can ask a personal trainer for a new routine. After going through this cycle several times (preferably with different trainers), you can build up a bank of different exercise programs, which you can then rotate. Also, by then you get a better understanding of the basic ingredients and possibilities, as well as your own preferences, and then you can start improvising.
posted by epimorph at 11:10 PM on July 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

I asked this question, which may have some good resources for you.
posted by Fig at 1:55 AM on July 17, 2017

Seconding working with a personal trainer to come up with a routine you can do on your own, especially if you like your current trainer. I see my trainer once every 2-3 weeks for this (once a month is not uncommon a request, either); not only is it more affordable, but it's easier for me to keep track of my progress when I work out on my own. I've learned enough to go it alone, but I really like having those regular updates in case I get bored or feel like I need to work on something specific for a while.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:03 AM on July 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Depending on your gym, another alternative is to do 1-2 classes a week as part of your routine; mine has a strength-based one that is solid. For me, the benefit of all the classes I do is that I just have to show up and then manage my own intensity and the class provides the thinking. The downside is they aren't personalized so progress can be a bit less linear (it's core week and your core is good) but for me the trade off is worth it.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:31 AM on July 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you want to get leaner and sticking to a consistent food plan has been an issue, you should book some time with a registered dietitian. The same reasons (lack of understanding, lack of consensus, accountability) that people succeed with personal trainers is true with diet. Getting not only a bunch of numbers and targets to hit, but also check-ins and recipes, is very helpful.

On training, you will get a million different plans and strategies going buckshot like this. All of them depend on some level of personal drive, goal setting, tracking your progress and adjusting when you aren't getting results which is very challenging for a lot of people - myself included. The right program is only right if you can commit to lifting heavier weights with good form and tracking your progress over time. This is difficult on your own.

8 months ago I bit the bullet, walked into an olympic lifting gym (it was intimidating at first, but you realize EVERYONE there started just like you did), and now I have a circle of friends at a gym where I squat 1.75x my body weight with other people cheering me on, giving me pointers, and keeping me accountable. It's about 2.5x as expensive as a solo gym but I've made more progress in the last year than the last 5.
posted by notorious medium at 7:02 AM on July 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you don't have any solid goals beyond wanting to feel secure and confident in your body, and getting stronger for softball season, then I'd begin with Starting Strength. It will help you get stronger, and does what it says on the tin. It's simple: you only do three lifts. It's not a huge time commitment, and you can fit it into your time restrictions. You see constant progress — and since you're a relative beginner, you WILL see progress, quickly — and that's very motivating.

If you want to know what a solid foundation of strength looks like for your age, gender, and bodyweight, take a look at Symmetric Strength's standards. You can plug in your most recent PRs, and get an assessment of where you're at, and where you need to progress. If your numbers seem low, don't despair — we all started somewhere. Take a look at the standards for an intermediate lifter at your age/gender/bodyweight, and that should give you some concrete and specific goals to help you narrow down what 'stronger' looks like for you.

Once you've built a solid foundation of strength, then you can start tinkering with more complicated programs. You should be able to run Starting Strength's linear progression for quite some time, though. By then, you'll have a better idea of what you like and don't like.
posted by culfinglin at 9:47 AM on July 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks guys, lots of great advice so far. I'm leaning towards Starting Strength at this point unless there's any particularly compelling reason not to; it's coming recommended from a lot of places at the moment.
posted by Panthalassa at 11:52 PM on July 17, 2017

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