Every guy dreams of attaining chiseled abs and arms, which usually leads to lots of hours at the gym. Putting in the time will definitely set you on the right path, but it might not be enough to get the results you want. Tons of elements go into a well-rounded strength routine, and the little details really do matter. You may be greatat maximizing your effort for individual lifts, but slacking on recovery or consistency.
Fitness can be a tricky puzzle to put together, so it’s time to clear up some of the confusion. We asked six leading weight-lifting experts to share the advice that had the greatest impact on their own training, which they’ve since passed on to others. Read on to hear what they had to say.
1. Don’t shy away from intensity
Working out | Source: iStock
‘Go to failure.’ That’s the best weight-lifting advice I received when I was a young man. Now that I’m a professional trainer, I witness the power of it often, and still in my own life.
After my wife’s second pregnancy and the joy of bringing a second little girl into the world, I reprioritized my workouts. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of backing off my intensity in the gym. That meant less resistance, ending before failure, and longer rest periods. The result? I saw a 10% increase in my body fat.
When I realized how I’d drifted, I repurposed my workouts and increased my intensity again. I used several resistance training methods to do it. With a change in diet, I dropped to below 4% body fat.
Joe Cross, CPT, and founder of Cross Fitness in Minneapolis
2. Remember to take time for recovery
‘Fatigue masks fitness.’ If you’re always doing a high volume of work, you’ll never give yourself an opportunity to realize or demonstrate your fitness gains. Short-term overreaching is a good thing, and part of the training process, whereas long-term overtraining is a huge problem.
The most important advice anyone can take with regards to strength training isn’t something I was ever given explicitly, but something that was reinforced over my years as a weightlifter by my coaches. And that is hard work and consistency are the keys to success. There are no magic tricks. And thinking, reading, talking, and arguing about every new thing you hear of is wasting time and energy you should be putting into training and recovery. Or, as I like to tell my lifters, “shut up and get back to work.”
Maintain a strength balance between anterior, front, and posterior, rear, chains. Things usually go wrong when the strength ratio is far off between the two. The biggest areas to prioritize are the shoulder girdle, the middle to lower torso and trunk, and finally, the upper legs. All of these need a balanced, though not necessarily equal, strength ratio to perform optimally and prevent or stave off injury for as long as possible.
The best advice I’ve ever received, and now give to my clients, would be stick to your programming. All too often I see people either, A: write elaborate training programs just to follow them on and off for a while, and get no real results, or B: jump from program to program after 3 to 4 weeks of not seeing the results they want. Stick to a program for 8 to 10 weeks, and assess where you are and where you want to be. Then change to a different program, if needed. Simple is better if it means you’ll be consistent!
Brody Maves, CrossFit Level 1 coach and director of training at goCrossFit in Nashville, Tenn.
Today started out like any other Saturday; the house was quiet, still full of sleepy heads, and two hungry pups. I laid in bed for a brief moment before I propelled myself out of the comforts of the warm covers and into the chill of the air conditioned room.
I glanced briefly down at my Fitbit and it stated “0930, SA 13.” The pups wagged their tails excitedly waiting for their breakfast and as they chowed down I retrieved my standard weekend breakfast of protein bar and cup of hot tea. Something about the date drew me to tap on the Fitbit again and I read “0947, SA 13.” Then it suddenly dawned on me, Aug 13 is the day. The day that I reach my goal weight three years ago from years of being overweight.
This is what unhealthy looks like
This was me in 2000. I was 30 years old, 163 lbs at 4’10”, had a BMI of 34.1 (obese), hated photographs of myself, hated shopping for clothes, was the heaviest I have ever been in my entire life, and had accepted that this is how a mother is suppose to look. It wasn’t until 12 years later at an annual physical when my blood work came back declaring that I was pre-diabetic that I finally was scared enough to actually skip all the quick fix diets or miracle diet supplements and just settle down to put in the work.
Weight loss compared to was a breeze. The first two years of maintenance blew by with very little hiccup largely due to my fear of falling prey to the statistics regaining. I remained hyper vigilant on nutrition and gymming regularly. The only time I skipped gym was for a child’s sporting event. My weight remained constant within +/- 1-2 lbs and life was good.
This third year however, has been a series of challenges and it was the first time my weight fluxed back over 100 lbs. I was horrified, frustrated, and was in borderline panic mode. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong or what has changed or why is that stupid fucking number on the scale going in the wrong direction?!
Of course I knew all the answers but just became quite comfortable with what I am calling the ‘maintenance blinders’ squarely over my eyes. And that is exactly why I religiously log everything and anything other than water pass my little devil lips into MyFitnessPal. It is an incredible source of data to find the self-sabotaging pattern of eating. I can summarize my top pitfalls which has made my 3rd year of maintenance a bit of a roller coaster.
I looked at my daily caloric allotment and felt it was time to increase it from what has made me successful in the previous two years. Instead of 1230 I increased it to 1450 – regardless if I gymmed or not, often eating over it, and abandoned my TDEE #s.
I increased my strength training and reduced my cardio drastically.
Due to increased strength training I was more hungry so I ate more. I became a huge fan of Peanut Butter … on everything!
I associated the consistent weight gain to gaining muscle and rationalized that my pants were getting tight around my waist due to muscle – yes I really did quite an excellent job convincing myself of this one.
A few days before my cycle I have always been famished but since I was doing more ‘strength training’ to ‘build more muscle’ which naturally ‘burns more fat’ I quenched my insatiable appetite with everything and anything with little regard to the quality of what I was consuming. The power of self rationalization is incredibly powerful.
Thanks to my MFP pals and a mishap on the elliptical severely injuring my wrist, I refocused on getting back on track.
I have NO idea why I veered away from TDEE. I think subconsciously I reflected how easy the previous 2 years of maintaining was and just got a little cocky. I thought ‘hey maybe I can’t get fat again!’ I was sadly mistaken. LOL I dialed my daily baseline caloric allotment to a reasonable 1350, did not eat over it except for once a week on family pizza night, and I have strictly adhered to eating on plan during the workweek and loosening the reigns on the weekend (80/20 Rule).
I did a bit of research and apparently there are studies which alludes that some people are physically built to respond better to cardio and some to strength training when it comes to weight loss. So I have tweaked my physical routine to strength training to be half of my cardio 5 days a week. While on the weekends I bump up the cardio and the strength training to a 60:40 ratio in favor of cardio.
I have made peace with that peanut butter can be addictive for me, so I have tapper off on it and magically I no longer crave it on everything. lol
I have also had to face the hard truth that if my weight is creeping up and my clothes are getting tight around the waist, it is NOT muscle weight but F-A-T. That was a very difficult truth to acknowledge because I no longer could use strength training/more muscle as an excuse to eat like a crazy person. Cuz let’s face it, eating like a crazy person with zero regard to outcome sometimes is just flat out enjoyable. But too much ‘enjoying’ resulted in a reality that I did not like. SO instead having ice cream 4 days a night I limit it to 1 on a non-pizza night. Instead of drowning my protein bar in PB I put it in the fridge so that it doesn’t need ‘something extra’ to make it more palatable.
I still feed my insatiable appetite days before my cycle, but now I do so with the least amount of carbs & sugar with the most nutritional value. This little standard allowed me to make much better choices to satisfy without falling into the carbs & sugar addictive cycle.
Purrty colors no?
Oddly enough the horrific wrist injury refocused me on nutrition because I knew my physical activities had to be highly curtail to accommodate my lack of mobility. I literally could not even walk on the treadmill because the vibration sent sharp shooting pain up my arm. Therefore without the reliance to ‘out-gym’ poor eating choices I was inadvertently forced back on track. As my wrist healed and I was able to slowly incorporate strength training again back into my cardio while being more proactive about my nutrition – not only did I not gain weight but lost. It was the first time this 3rd year of maintenance that I have regularly included strength training without gaining and I am elated.
I am back under 100 and 1.8 lbs from goal. I have been focusing on my shoulders and triceps and with the continued reduction in fat, I am finally seeing results.
Happy 3rd Maintenance Anniversary to Me!
So thanks universe for my mishap on the elliptical to get back on track. hahaha
Simone Pretscherer – Read about her amazing story HERE
You did it. You logged the woman-hours at the gym and stocked your fridge with enough kale and Greek yogurt to slenderize an elephant. Or maybe you went under the knife and are now putting in major effort to maintain. Regardless, the numbers on the scale are at super-satisfying lows. There’s just one teensy, tiny (ahem, giant, looming) issue: Your skin didn’t get the “I’ve got a new body now” memo.
Kelly Coffey’s skin sure didn’t. Coffey, a personal trainer, wound up with some serious excess after losing 170 pounds from gastric bypass surgery. “It happened very quickly; I was sort of shocked at how much there was,” she says.
For her own body, Coffey went the tummy-tuck route for extra skin around her midsection and amped up her weight-lifting routine for her arms, legs, and back. (Looking for a total-body toning workout that will fit into your busy schedule? How does 10 minutes a day sound? Try Prevention’s Fit in 10 DVD today!) But which route is right for you? Here are 5 ways to deal with loose skin—surgical and not—after a serious drop in pounds.
Embrace the Weights
(Photo: Getty Images)
Sadly, gaining muscle isn’t going to actually remove any extra skin. But toning up could help you appear more taut after weight loss. The heavier the weights you lift, the better, suggests Coffey. (Here are 10 of the best strength-training moves for women over 50.) “Don’t be afraid to lift heavy weights; it takes a lot less time to achieve the same degree of muscle with heavier weights, and the quicker I built muscle, the faster I toned up,” says Coffey. To make sure you’re doing it correctly and safely, enlist a professional’s guidance when you’re first starting out.
Update Your Support System
(Photo: Getty Images)
Don’t worry; we don’t want you to get new friends. (Unless they’re totally toxic—butthat’s another story.) A great bra and panties can go a long way, suggests Claudine DeSola, a stylist at Caravan Stylist Studios in New York. “Good intimates are a great way of helping conceal excess skin in the belly area,” says DeSola. Opt for bras with front closures and thicker bands, which give a cleaner, smoother look to your back. Trade in your bikini-cut panties for some high-cut briefs while you’re at it, and don’t shy away from Spanx—they’ll make everything feel a bit more secure, says DeSola. (Thanks, Tina Fey, for showing we don’t have to be ashamed to enlist a little Lycra every now and then.)
Come Out of Hiding
Don’t you want to congratulate yourself with an updated wardrobe? Have fun with form-fitting layers, suggests DeSola. “A slightly fitted tee with a sweater on top and a thick belt is a great way to cinch your waist,” says DeSola. Mid-rise jeans are another great option—ones that hit right below the belly button are the sweet spot for a perfect fit. Looking for something a bit more fun? Try a wrap dress in a bold color like red. It should hit at (or just below) the knee, and pairing it with heels will make your legs look longer and leaner.
Ditch the Negativity
(Photo: Getty Images)
Fact: Losing a ton of weight won’t automatically reserve you a spot on the Victoria’s Secret runway (and let’s be real—would you want to perpetuate that skinny ideal anyway?). “When we lose weight, we’re not headed toward a different body; we’re headed toward a smaller body,” Coffey says. Instead of hating on that extra skin, wear it as a badge of honor—you made a commitment to living a healthier, more active life, and loose skin is just proof that you did what so many other people have trouble doing. “Excess skin isn’t the terrible tragedy that so many of us think it will be; it’s just another one of the details about your body that makes you you,” says Coffey. It’s a symbol of your journey—and that’s something to be proud of.
Make Like a Snake
When it comes to excess skin after weight loss, the hard, cold truth is that going under the knife is the only surefire way to totally get rid of it. And if you’ve tried everything else and still aren’t even remotely satisfied with your appearance (or if your extra skin is getting irritated), it’s probably time to talk with a plastic surgeon about your options. Extra stuff around the midsection can be removed through an abdominoplasty—also known as a tummy tuck—according to Raul Rosenthal, MD, president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. “Because the skin has stretched over so many years, it’s very difficult for that skin to go back to where it was before; it will not return to its natural consistency or elasticity,” says Rosenthal. According to him, patients who undergo plastic surgery following extreme weight loss not only experience a better quality of life, but they’re also more likely to keep the weight off. One last note: Before you choose to shed your skin for good, make sure you talk to your insurance provider, as most don’t cover such procedures.
PERSONAL NOTE: Like many things there are very different school of thoughts in regards to weight loss & excess skin. Some believe that the rate of weight loss maybe the culprit to excess skin (HERE). Others believe that perhaps the ‘excess skin’ is not excess skin at all but body fat because they lost more muscle than fat during weight loss phase (HERE). Yet, there are those who believe that the human skin elasticity has a definitive limit and the rate of weight loss has very little bearing (HERE). Regardless which camp one may believe in, I think there is some truth to all the schools of thought and we just have to decide which makes more sense to us individually based on how overweight we were, age, and method of weight loss (ie. crash diet, heavy cardio, surgery etc).
For me personally, I lost a total of 39 lbs over 18 months give or take. When I reached my first goal weight within 8 months doing strictly long stretches of cardio, I had a fair amount of ‘excess skin’ in the abdomen area. I reached my second goal within the following year and started to dial down the cardio and incorporated strength training. My weight have relatively remained with 1-2 lbs for the last 2 yrs but my ‘excess skin’ has dissipated significantly and overall I look ‘thinner.’ After reading the various school of thought (above) I do see some validity to perhaps that some of the 39 lbs I lost included a fair amount of muscle. Since I really didn’t get serious about strength training to tone & define until within the last 18 mths or so, the theory that building muscle helps ‘fill in’ to make the skin look more taut is very plausible in my case. Again, this is just my own personal thought based on my own experience and it can be very different for someone else.
“A big part of tightening loose skin is building muscle. The reason for this is simple.
There are two layers of tissue underneath your skin: fat and muscle, both of which press up against your skin and keep it from sagging loosely.
When you gain a large amount of weight, your skin must expand quite a bit to accommodate the increase in body size. When you lose the fat, however, and especially when you lose it quickly, your skin doesn’t necessarily shrink at the same rate as your fat cells. This imbalance can lead to loose skin.
Furthermore, many people use various forms of starvation dieting as well as large amounts of cardio to lose fat, which also causes significant muscle loss, further expanding the void between the skin and the underlying tissue.
The end result is a reduced body fat percentage but a small, soft physique with sagging skin. The “skinny fat” look, as it’s called.
Building muscle is the solution to all these woes because it literally fills in the looseness in the skin, creating a visibly tighter, healthier look.”
Add a little spice to your boring squats. (GIFs: Demand Media)
Without a doubt, squats are the best exercise to build lower-body strength and establish functional movement patterns. When done properly, they target your glutes, hamstrings and quads and incorporate core stability. And there’s no exercise that will make you look as good from behind as squats will. But squats – just like any other exercise – can get repetitive, and if you don’t vary the way you’re doing them by adding weight, changing your leg position, adding additional movements, etc., your body will adapt to that movement pattern and you’ll stop seeing results.
To prevent that, here are six essential squat variations you can incorporate into your strength-training routine. Master proper form on the basic body-weight squat first, then move on to more challenging variations as you build your strength. Your quads and glutes might be burning by the end (not to mention the potential soreness the next day), but your posterior will thank you.
1. Pistol Squat As one of the most advanced squat variations, you’ll need to make sure you’ve built up enough single-leg strength and core stability to master the pistol squat. It’s even more advanced than the single-leg squat, since you’ll bend deeper as you hold one leg out in front of you. Start with the single-leg squat and build up to the pistol squat.
HOW TO DO THEM: Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Slowly shift your weight to your right leg as you extend your left leg out in front of you. Raise your arms in front of you at chest level to help you balance. Engage your core and hinge from your hips to squat down, maintaining your balance on your right leg. Go as low as you can without touching the floor. Then drive through your heel to stand back up.
2. Plie Squats
Channel your inner ballet dancer for a more challenging squat. This variation changes your footing and widens your stance to target more of the muscles along your inner and outer thighs while still recruiting glutes, quads and hamstrings.
HOW TO DO THEM: Stand with your feet several inches wider than hip distance and your toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle. You can either place your hands on your hips, raise and lower your arms like a standard squat or hold your hands in a fist in the middle of your chest. Bend your knees and your hips to lower toward the floor. This time your back will stay perpendicular to the floor instead of bending slightly forward. Drive through your feet to return to standing.
3. Jump Squats
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that squatting can improve your jump height. So why not take that a step further and incorporate jumping into your squat routine? This plyometric variation is a bit more advanced, so make sure you’ve completely mastered basic squats and have healthy knees before attempting.
HOW TO DO THEM: Assume the same stance as a regular squat – feet slightly wider than hip distance and feet turned slightly out. Squat back and down from your hips and bring your arms back behind you for momentum. Really drive through your feet and jump straight up into the air from the bottom of your squat, arms swinging up overhead as you do. Land with knees bent to absorb the shock and go straight into your next squat jump.
4. Split Squat
A split squat may look more like a lunge than a squat, but the principles of the squat still apply here. For an added stability challenge and more single-leg work, you can elevate your back foot on a box or a bench as you go through the range of motion.
HOW TO DO THEM: Begin holding a barbell across the back of your shoulders and your feet several feet apart, one in front of the other. Keeping the barbell in place and your back straight, bend both knees and lower down until your back knee almost touches the ground. Both knees should be at 90 degrees and your front knee shouldn’t extend over your front toes. Hold for a moment before returning to standing. Complete your reps on one leg before switching legs.
5. Dumbbell Sumo Squat
The trick here is to recruit abdominal and back muscles to keep your chest from being pulled forward by your dumbbells. HOW TO DO THEM: Start standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and your feet turned out at 45 degrees. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, let your arms hang directly in front of you between your legs. Bend both of your knees and lower yourself down so that the weights almost touch the floor (without bending your chest forward). You’ll look (and probably feel) a bit like a sumo wrestler. Drive through your heels and return to standing.
6. Single-Leg Squat
Single-leg work can be very challenging for most people, but it’s also very beneficial because it can correct any imbalances you might have. For example, if your right leg is stronger than your left leg, your right leg might compensate for the left in a traditional squat. But in a single-leg squat, you’re balancing on only one leg at a time, so that leg must do all the work.
HOW TO DO THEM: Start standing with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointed forward. Slowly shift your weight to your right foot until your left foot is completely off the ground. You can let your left foot hover there or extend your left leg slightly out in front of you. Hinge at your hips and bend your knees to squat down, keeping all your weight in your right leg. Keep your arms in front of you for balance. Press through your right foot and return to standing. Make sure you do the same number of reps on both sides.
I apologize for my absence in posting these but life as it is has been dominating my every waking moment. And when it’s not I rejuvenate at the gym so that I refrain from committing a felony (I kid) … (sorta) … (no, seriously just kidding) … (kinda).
Anywho I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my top NSVs 1120 days in:
NSV #1 – After 3 plus years of reducing my sugar intake I can proudly & finally say that I 100% free from drinking added sugar regularly.
Over the weekend I was finally able to bid farewell my psychological spoonful of sugar in my tea (the smallest one “DASH”) . I now drink tea with just a dash of organic skim milk and am proud to say that I do not drink any additional sugar. YAY!
NSV #2 – Remember this? Hanging leg raises – hardcore abs burner.
What I managed …
The first time I tried a hanging leg raise I just hung there … like grandma underwear on the clothes line. Not only did I not have the physical strength to do anything without risking falling but I was also too afraid to move for fear of failling. SO I literally started the hanging leg lifts by hanging there … like an idiot. I was SO embarrassed that I actually took it out of my routine until I felt stronger. A few months later when I tried it again I was pleasantly surprised with my watered down version: It’s a far cry from the full version but it is a mark improvement from just imitating laundry, no?
NSV #3 – I am finally loosening my death grip on that little number on the scale because my focus has changed. I will still weigh in every 4-6 weeks but my focus now is more on increase muscle. Parting ways emotionally with the scale has been & remains one of my biggest hurdles in maintenance because for over 3 years now weight has been my one & only marker for progress / continued success. And although it has served me well, in maintenance I have found it to be more of a nuisance and not all that helpful in some cases.
SO for now I will be focusing more on the tape measure and this little guy (body fat pincher). I am chosing to focus on building muscles (not bulking) because unfortunately muscle deterioration is a part of aging. However it is not an inevitable phenomena which cannot be undone. On the contrary science has shown that at the very minimum the erosion can be halted if not somewhat reversed. As I have mentioned many times before, I think many are still stuck on the thought that “strength training” = “weight lifting / bodybuilding” and it does not. There are a multitude of ways to strength train, from isometric holds, to body weight (resistance), to yes, outright weight lifting. The choice is largely dependent on the individual goals, time, and lifestyle. So I think of my choices as this: I can either continue to decrease my caloric intake to compensate for less muscles to burn calories with OR I can maintain or increase the muscles I have in order to maximize the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. I choose the ladder. I will still do my BBWOB resistance cardio but I will continue incorporate additional body weight strength training in order to continue to transition away from ‘weight’ as holy grail of continued success.
Some articles on the benefits / importance of strength training: HERE , HERE , or HERE
Some sample strength training routines to get you started: