MOST GYM RATS despise it when their turf is suddenly invaded by hordes of fitness freshmen who wouldn’t know the difference between a Romanian deadlift and a Bulgarian squat if they’d grown up in Eastern Europe.
The gym can be a jungle, and we don’t want any of you antelopes getting eaten up by the hulking hyenas at the squat rack. That’s why we’ve put together this training cheat sheet. We’ve got textbook answers—as given by the world’s foremost experts—to all your questions so you can reach your goals sooner and with more dignity.
But this guide isn’t only for rookies looking to gain a foothold in their quest to get in shape. It can also be of service to workout veterans. Remember, many of you gym know-it-alls can still use a pointer or two. So unless you’re a personal trainer or an Olympian, our guide will help you make the grade.
How do I get started?
A: Whether you want to get big arms and ripped abs, or you just want to be able to see your toes when you stand on a scale, achieving your goals is dependent upon taking the right steps. According to Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S., here’s what to do (in order):
1. Get a complete physical if you’re sedentary, or were active but have been warming the bench for the past few months. If you’re over 30, obese, or have any pre-existing medical conditions (such as high cholesterol or blood pressure), get Doc’s approval before starting any program.
2. Talk to a trainer, preferably a C.S.C.S, or certified personal trainer. Get a fitness assessment and discuss your goals, then have the trainer design a program that addresses them.
3. Record your current food intake in a notebook, or an app like MyFitnessMap or Fitbit. Get a sense of how much you’re already eating before determining how many calories to add or subtract.
4. Base your diet on protein (such as lean beef, chicken, and fish) and high-fiber/low-sugar foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains). Each meal should have a high nutrient-to-calorie ratio—talk to a nutritionist for specific recommendations. Readjust your eating schedule so you consume around six small meals per day, rather than three large ones—this raises your metabolism and lessens the chance of your body storing calories as fat.
Do I have to warm up?
A: You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. But consider this: “Not warming up guarantees you won’t perform as well, and increases your risk for injury,” says Alwyn Cosgrove, C.S.C.S. We call that a no-brainer, especially since it requires only about 10 minutes of your workout time. To warm up for a cardio workout, you simply perform the activity you’ll be doing at a lighter intensity, going just hard enough that you begin to break a sweat within 10 minutes. For a weight workout, the best approach is a “dynamic” warmup, accomplished by performing two sets of five repetitions for five or six large-muscle exercises in a circuit, using only an empty bar. For instance, you might do one set of squats, pushups, good mornings, lunges, and rows in succession, rest just long enough to catch your breath, and repeat one time. You’re then ready to move on to the first exercise in your workout, where you should begin by performing a specific warmup for that movement. Simply do one warmup set of 2-3 reps for every 50lbs you plan on lifting for your upper body, and one set for every 100lbs you lift for your lower body. So, if you’re going to perform the bench press with 135lbs, you should do 2-3 reps with 50lbs and another 2-3 reps with 100lbs before starting your “real” sets.
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