I’ve been going to the gym regularly for the last seven years, so I thought I would take the time to share some of what I’ve learned in that time.
Why you Should Lift Weights
Besides the obvious benefits, better health, longer life, and better looks, weight lifting has a number of ancillary benefits. Primarily, lifting weights will make you more confident in yourself, which will in turn improve a number of areas of your life. Increased confidence absolutely helps in your sales process, whatever it is that you may be selling. If you are selling yourself to a potential mate, selling yourself to a potential client or hiring manager, or selling some product or service, increased confidence is outwardly apparent. It’s not something that can be faked, it must be built.
In addition to increased confidence, I’ve found that the physical activity that is inherent to weight lifting helps me think significantly better. I generally wait until I encounter a difficult problem in my work, then head to the gym. By the time I am done lifting, I’ve worked through the problem from several approaches, usually solved the initial problem, and worked through the next several issues that would have arisen if I sat at my desk and just tried to power through it. Evidence would suggest that this is caused by the increased blood flow to the brain, which brings me to the next benefit.
I’ve found that weight lifting gives me an energy and alertness spike equivalent to drinking two or three cups of coffee, without the jitters. If I’m feeling tired or irritable, I’ll go the the gym and after twenty minutes or so, I’ll feel much more lively. The extra energy is matched with reduced stress. I strongly believe that my workouts turn stress and tiredness into relaxed raw energy, it’s kind of unintuitive, but it works.
I also learn something while I lift weights. I signed up for a free Audible.com trial and ended up renewing because it’s the cheapest way to regularly get audiobooks. I get a lot from listening to books while working out because of the increased alertness, and I am a big fan of expanding my mind while I work on my body. In particular, the Freakonomics audio books are quite good as they are ready by the author, as is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.
Finally, it delivers a positive message about me to other people. I went to meet with a potential client, and when he recognized me from the gym, he remarked that he already knew that I was motivated and dedicated, and that those are the hardest attributes to gauge. Another client asks every time I see him if I still lift weights. We haven’t gone to the same gym in five years. It’s immediately obvious from outward appearance alone who puts in the time and effort necessary to take care of themselves.
How You Should Exercise
So you’re sold on weight lifting and are ready to put a little pride in your stride, a little strut in your stuff, but you don’t know where to get started. When I first started lifting weights, I had a number of preconceived notions about the whole thing that are well worth dispelling. The primary problem I had with it initially is that I was self-conscious about the amount of weight I was capable of lifting. I didn’t feel strong, and I didn’t want to be embarrassed. I didn’t want the bigger guys to look down on me. Now that I am capable of lifting heavier weights, I realize that these fears are unfounded. The only people I notice or care about are the guys that are doing more than I am. I don’t notice anyone else.
I was also under the impression that the people that routinely lift weights are stupid and unfriendly. Neither of these things are true. They knew much more than me about weight lifting, and often other things as well. In addition, the vast majority are willing to give free advice, and spot you if ask. The guys that have been at it a while know tons of information, and can be a great resource. Don’t start lifting weights in January though, there are a huge influx of people every year at this time that don’t know what they’re doing, and get in the way. They’re mostly all gone by February, so the people that have been around a while assume that these newcomers won’t stick around.
The most important thing as a beginning weight lifter is form. Focus on perfecting the technique, and everything else will follow. Every gym I’ve ever been in has been full of mirrors so you can easily observe your form, so take advantage of this. You can get videos of every lift you would ever want to do online, so you can check them out for an initial reference.
In general, I recommend a few basic things that seem to produce the best results. First, emphasize the lowering of the weights, the negative portion of the exercise. When bench pressing, this would be lowering the weight to your chest. When performing arm curls, this would be lowering the dumbbells from your shoulders to your hips. I try to take two full seconds to lower the weights. This helps strengthen the inverse muscle, your triceps for arm curls, and improves your overall control.
When the weight is fully lowered, explode. Give it all you’ve got. This will empathize the development of your fast twitch muscles. Having said that, never lock out (fully extend) any of your joints. You’re unlikely to hurt yourself locking out with the lighter weights that you’ll start with, but if you get in the habit of it early, you will hurt yourself when you move on to heavier weights. So explode, then purposefully slow down and stop the lift before you lock out.
I always recommend free weights over machines as free weights demand proper form. I feel that the machines can force you into improper positions, and can ultimately lead to injury. In addition, free weights limit your ability to overcompensate with one side of your body, so should result in more symmetric muscle growth.
I perform each lift the following number of times:
15 times at 45% of One-Rep Max 7 times at 60% of One-Rep Max 5 times at 75% of One-Rep Max 3 times at 85% of One-Rep Max 2 times at 90% of One-Rep Max
Your one-rep max is the maximum amount of weight that you can perform one full repetition with. This isn’t something I would suggest measuring, instead calculate it with the following formula:
weight / ( 1.0278 - ( 0.0278 * reps ))
To use the formula, you’ll want to pick a weight that you believe you’ll be able to lift between two and ten times. Lift the weight as many times as you can, then plug the weight and number of repetitions you were able to perform into the formula, and you’ll get your calculated one rep max. From there, calculate the weights you should be able to lift with the table. I usually round down to the nearest five pounds. For example, if you were able to lift 135lbs seven times, the formula would be 135 / ( 1.0278 - ( 0.0278 * 7 )), returning 162lbs. Multiply this by .45 and you’ll get 72.9lbs, suggesting that your first set of 15 repetitions should be performed at 70lbs.
The magic number for mental fatigue and physical growth seems to be 3 weeks, so I would recommend picking different lifts and recalculating your one-rep max every three weeks. I usually only lift weights three times a week, although I perform cardiovascular exercise every day. I always recommend changing what you’re doing at least every three weeks, it’s very easy to get bored and stop lifting all together if you don’t.
If you are just starting out, you should focus on a core set of exercises three times a week. I’d initially focus on the bench press, squats, arm curls, dead lifts, and shoulder presses. As you gain experience, you can add additional exercises, and focus on specific muscle groups for specific days. Just starting, you will gain muscle relatively quickly, so you should get the best initial results this way.
If you own a lawnmower and start it and run it every day, it’s never going to get stronger. Fortunately, you aren’t a lawnmower, if you lift weights and exercise every day you will get stronger. If you lift weights as I have described, you will achieve tangible results within 9 weeks.