A Bit of Workout Advice

Knowing why you're training is the first step!

Jared, a friend of mine at work is getting himself back into shape.  He comes to me now and again for tips and to answer any questions he might have.  I consider it a privilege and obligation to be as helpful as I can.  This morning, he walked into my office and told me that, after a few weeks of working out, he was no longer getting tired, or at least not as tired as when he first started.  Well, first I chuckled and told him that he was probably bullshittin’ (anybody who knows me, knows that’s one of my patented sayings; in fact, I’ve reserved the domain stopbullshittin.com for later use!), After that, I gave him my thoughts.

I first asked him to give me an idea of what his workouts were like.  He said he was trying to get toned (then ripped, but first things first) and that he typically did about 15 reps (repetitions) for each set he did.  After hearing him talk for a few minutes, I realized this was something that I’ve heard–in one shape or form–several, several times in the 20+ years I’ve been working out.  I feel blessed to be able to have kept in shape for this long, both for the physical ability to work out and also for the inner drive God has given me.  And as is the purpose of this site/blog, I am here to share those gifts with others.

First, there are several misconceptions I addressed with him:

  1. To get big and strong, you have to go heavy on weights– While I believe this to generally be true, it is certainly not always the case.  Some people, especially those who are endomorphs (one of three body types characterized by a round and soft body), lifting moderately heavy or even light weights can produce outstanding results. (Contrary to popular belief, by the way, I’m an ectomorph!)
  2. “If I lift heavy, I’ll get too big.”– Again, this is not always the case.  More importantly, though, let me be very, very clear, because I’m of hearing skinny guys or soft girls tell me “I don’t want to get all muscular like those guys you see on T.V. and in the magazines.”  Please.  Trust me; people who are saying this are not the ones in jeopardy of getting too “big”.  I’m 110% sure of that.  Because those who are gung-ho about fitness DO want to get muscular (notice I didn’t say big; I said muscular).  And those who are not gung-ho, who just want to be fit or lose a few pounds, will not work out often enough to get to that point.  And, back to the difference between “muscular” and “big”, how big you get is determined by your body type and matching that type to the right reps/weight combinations.  For most people, lifting heavy will result in size.  But, if you lift in the range of 12-15 reps, for example, your body will typically respond with more lean muscles, not bigger and more compacted ones.
  3. “I’m doing light weights, 12-15 reps, and I don’t feel any change.”– This might be the biggest oversight for beginners.  While the rep range of 12-15 is probably appropriate for someone who is trying to get lean or just fitter, it is important that the rep range be challenging.  This applies to any workout program, really.  If you are trying to get big or strong and are doing 6-8 reps, again, the rep range should be challenging.  This bears some repeating and summation.  If you are doing 12-15 reps, then reps 14 and 15 should be difficult.  The same is true when you are working in the 6-8 rep range.  If you can only do 3 reps before you make the poor guy in the gym spot you (then ask “how much did you help?” expecting him to apply a percentage), then it’s too heavy; if you can do 10 or 12, it’s too light.  It’s really that simple

After explaining the most common misconceptions, at least that I hear, I explained to my friend that there are several different reasons to work out, all requiring their own unique approach.  Identifying (honestly) what your reason is can go a long way, along with knowing your body type, towards determining your the most effective workout for you.  Below are the reasons and a general approach to working out.

  1. For Health Reasons– Obviously the most important of all reasons is to live a long and healthy life.  Those who want to stay in shape and be healthy (which should be all of us) should perform cardio-vascular activity (getting your heart rate up) at least 3 times per week for 20 mins.  We should all also do resistance training to increase lean muscle mass and strengthen our body’s infrastructure, its skeletal and muscular system.
  2. To get fitter or look better– The next step up from working out for health reasons, this level focuses more on specific areas of the body–abs, arms, shoulders, calves–that people want to improve, usually aesthetically.  Adding to the base level of fitness, people at this level should perform more sets and exercises,  increasing the intensity of both their weight lifting (more body types and exercises incorporated) and their cardio (sprints, hills, spinning class).
  3. Get “Muscular”– Whether you’re trying to get “Bodybuilder” big or “Women’s Health Cover” sexy will determine the rep range.  But the intensity at this level is possibly the highest of all the different reasons.
  4. Get Strong- Because you are trying to apply the maximum level or load to your muscles, those trying to get strong will lift much heavier weights, often going as low as 4,3, or even 2 reps.  They’ll also frequently test their strength, performing a one time max to see exactly where they are (usually so they can tell the girl at work how much they bench).  Because of this, a lot of rest is needed.  Naturally, these people burn fewer calories and are less lean.  In most instances, though, they don’t care; they are not trying to look good on the beach.  They want to be the one who can carry the keg down to the beach.
  5. Get Ready for a Sport or Competition– Getting muscular requires a certain type of workout and mindset.  Getting strong takes application of a different approach.  More times than not, those training for a sport will apply a combination of these two.  For example, when I was training for football (some would say I still am for some reason; to them I answer “there may be an NFL lockout and I want to be ready in case they need replacement players for a few weeks!”), I certainly wanted to get bigger.  An ectomorph who found it hard to gain weight, I strove to gain size and muscle mass, like a lot of football players do.  I also played cornerback, however, and needed to remain (I use the word ‘remain’ very loosely) explosive and strong, not to mention able to quickly recover aerobically between plays.  As a result, my off-season, when you do most of your training, consisted of a healthy mix of high-weight/low-reps and medium-weight/higher reps workouts.
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About bbluford
I am an executive finance professional with a love for process and application development (MS Access, Excel, Quickbooks), mostly as it relates to Accounting and Business Functions. I also love to write and share ideas with other people in this world. I'm an admitted Gym Rat who works out excessively. The best summation of me is that I love to teach and to learn.

3 Responses to A Bit of Workout Advice

  1. Bobby, great reminders and general information. We all need to “check in” once in awhile. Just want to say that while all of your workout tips are great for all the different body types out there, success comes much easier when we have our diet in check….whole foods, clean proteins, plenty of water, minimal processed food, etc.

  2. bbluford says:

    Great point. Especially as we get older. When I was younger, I could eat anything I wanted. Partly out of necessity, partly out of a desire just to gain and keep weight, and partly out of laziness; I ate all kinds of junk. But as I get older and want to maintain a good physique, I realize how important diet is. But more critically, I see the HUGE impact it has on my energy and mood levels, along with rest and recuperation.

  3. Samm I Amm says:

    Great post! There’s a lot of misconceptions about working out and people don’t realize there are so many healthy ways to do it! Women especially tend to fall into the trap of getting big versus just being fit and strong. Overall, the earthy lifestyle is most important!

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