I’ve been solidly engaged in weight training for around 3 months now, first with the YMCA Fitstart program, and now with my own home-grown variety. I am by no means an expert in the field, but I wanted to take a moment to jot down some of the conventional wisdom I’ve gained from several sources on weight training. So here (for my own reference mostly) are the nuggets of wisdom I’ve gained so far.
- Do something. Seriously. Most of the benefits of any exercise program start the moment you get off the couch. Don’t let yourself get mired in the details. Start with something basic, and if you feel like it, move to something a little less basic later. But as much as possible, keep doing something.
- Don’t do too much. You have to let your body recover, so it is generally accepted that you shouldn’t do the same thing two days in a row. For people like me (still at the beginning) that means exercising three days a week. Some people get fancy and work different stuff on different days. I don’t have that much time or dedication yet.
- Eat healthy foods. If you are going to take positive steps to improving your health and fitness, do the best you can at getting rid of the bad stuff.
- Stop when it hurts. Don’t stop at a little discomfort, but if it hurts, stop doing it. Where that level of pain is for you will depend on you. But don’t ever push past the point where you think “Ouch, that hurts.”
- Change the routine. Your body gets used to doing something, and eventually gets the best that it can at doing that task. If you start to get bored, or find you aren’t making improvements, then you need to change things up. There are so many ways to change a routine: with new exercises, a new order, new grips, different speed, etc. Its amazing how small changes (overhand to underhand grip, for example) completely change the challenge level of an exercise.
- Take time off. All the sources I’ve read have said that you can take a week or two off and not backslide significantly, if at all. In my three months so far, I’ve taken one week off. I needed the break mentally at the time, and physically it didn’t hurt me at all. I came back the following week, able to lift the same weight for the same total reps.
- Vary the routine intensity. In the more advanced programs, this is called undulation and is very closely calculated for maximum effect. I think for most people it is another way to change the routine a little without a lot of thought: some weeks, push yourself really hard, and take it easy on others. Let your body be your guide.
- Genetics control a lot. You cannot control the shape of your nose, or the length of your tibia. Likewise, you cannot control the number of muscle fibers in your body. But you can have some influence on the ability of those muscle fibers to do work. Some people will have way more of those fibers than you, some people will have way less. Therefore some people will be stronger, some weaker. Exercising should be about you, and you alone, not about how you compare to other people. I know this is tough to remember for a vain race. But an exercise program has to be about internal goals, not external ideologies.
- Get enough sleep. This is hard for me since my current schedule is best suited for a morning workout and an evening with my wife and kids. Either I skimp on time with my family, get a little less sleep than I should, or skip a workout. So far, I haven’t skipped a workout, except for one week off. The other way for me to balance it is to exercise in the early morning twice a week (e.g. Tuesday and Thursday) and then late morning or mid-day on Saturday or Sunday.
There you have it. My current conventional wisdom about exercising, gained through a beginning weight training program. I think my brother-in-law put it best as the Exercise Trifecta: exercise hard, sleep well, and eat right. Don’t just pick two–go for the complete Happy Meal!