I’m about to say some rather nasty things so I want to preface all this by admitting that I’ve personally made just about every mistake a person can make when learning how to get strong and build muscle. I even remember being a teenager and telling friends “high reps build definition and low reps build mass.” Another young parrot of the unproven. From where does the garbage come? Personally, I see it almost everywhere.
I’ve mentioned before my disgust at the blizzard of women’s style and fitness magazines that feature a flawlessly beautiful model holding a pink one-pound dumbbell or pressing her fingertips against a desktop demonstrating an exercise. Does anyone seriously believe that will transform a person’s physique?
And once you understand that progressive overload is absolutely indispensable to making strength improvement you know that those pink dumbbells are good for only one workout. The next workout requires heavier weight, and so on up to hundreds of pounds. Have you ever seen a women’s magazine showing the model hoisting a heavy barbell? Women are easily capable of that but you almost never see it. Pressing on a desktop? I like the fact it’s isometric, but how do you measure your output? How do you know that next time you are pressing harder? These workouts are useless garbage.
I sympathized with magazines editors. It’s a tough job coming up with grabber headlines that make people want to buy this month’s issue. Take abdominal workouts as an example. How many magazine covers have you seen that tout “flat abs in four weeks” “washboard abs for the beach” “six-pack ab workout”? Please.
Can there really be a new, improved, tested-to-work-better abdominal workout every month for every men’s magazine? Ditto for shoulders, chest and so on. C’mon, these are just the same, tired “3 sets of 12 reps on Monday, Wednesday and Friday” that were being sold 10, 20 and 30 years ago. And ask yourself how many of the exercises deliver more intensity than a heavy barbell.
The claims of superiority are never backed up with measurements and numbers you can hang your hat on. Forcing muscle hypertrophy requires a high intensity of output that can and should be measured. Does anyone ever prove that twisting your torso while holding a broom handle requires more muscular intensity than doing a cable crunch with 200 pounds? Nope. They just hype the useless workout.
There are many problems with the advice you get in gyms but the #1 problem is the likely source. Statistically, you’re most likely to get advice from a guy who is in the gym often. And I mean really often! Like 4 or 5 hours every day of the week.
Those are the guys who lift weights as a hobby. And the last thing they are interested in is efficiency or time savings. So they do garbage workouts that aren’t too taxing and that way they aren’t too tired to come back tomorrow. (And if they get too tired they resort to the needle to keep up their training frequency.) Out of a social necessity they favor frequent and therefore unproductive workouts. These guys never counsel extended recovery time or exact measurement. If they did they’d have to miss their next 10 workouts.
Be Smart, Avoid the Garbage
The principles of productive training are very easy to understand. Lift a really heavy weight so you stimulate muscle growth, give your body time to recover and to add the new muscle, then return to the gym and lift a heavier weight . . . repeat.