Like many working people with families who frequent the gym, I have limited time for it. So I make damned sure that my top priority is to use the time I have there as efficiently as possible. I spend no more that one hour at the gym on any given day (on weekdays, that’s even pushing it a little). With less than an hour a day, six days per week, getting into amazing shape is easy. Here are the things I never do because they help weakness grow.
1. Engage in structured cardio
As a former cardio addict, this idea and especially the practice was tough to get used to. But once I did it, everything began to make sense and my body composition started to change like magic. After years and years of exercise and doing the wrong things, I now know what’s right. I believe that structured cardio is not only unnecessary, but also counterproductive for losing fat. It made me hungry and it also made me weak. It did absolutely nothing for my strength and size and zilch for functional ability. Replacing structured cardio with heavy weight lifting was one of the most productive things I’ve ever done in my life. I very strongly believe that cutting calories from the diet is far more effective than cardio for dropping fat. Don’t get me wrong–I’m still a proponent of activity, and I always make sure to get 10,000 steps per day (according to the FitBit in my pocket). That’s around 500 calories worth of stepping spread over the day during the process of living and working. I almost always go out for a walk mid-day. I take the stairs up eight flights to my office, I bike to and from work. That’s plenty. The body can only divert so much energy to repairing itself; I’d rather that energy go into lifting and fixing the damage I do to my muscles during my lifting sessions (getting stronger and bigger) than be wasted just for the sake of it. Here’s an analogy: an hour on the elliptical is like dumping a gallon of kerosene onto the street and igniting it, while an hour of heavy lifting is like using that same gallon of kerosene to heat water that spins a steam turbine that powers a machine that builds muscles (I think the analogy fell apart at the end there). This is no knock on people training for sports and marathons and the like–it’s a statement that [in my opinion] for the average person like me, doing cardio to get a cut/ toned/ strong body is fantastically unproductive and a waste of precious time.
2. Engage in bullshit lifts
Compound lifts are where it’s at. All forms of barbell squatting (back, front, Bulgarian split, hack), all forms of deadlifts (American, Romanian, stiff-legged), good mornings, barbell (and a little dumbbell) pressing (i.e. flat & incline bench, overhead), and big pulls (Pendlay rows, t-Bar rows, dumbbell rows, weighted pullups, cable rows [alternatively, deadlifts can fit in here as well]). That’s it. They get more of the muscles and joints working in the way they’re supposed to move and contract in relation to one another than any other crap lifts. Isolation lifts are for champion bodybuilders who are already extremely low on body fat (like 4%) and are looking to extract supernatural definition from very specific muscles. My only exception to the rule is six to ten WEEKLY sets of assistance work for the triceps and six to eight WEEKLY sets of assistance biceps work. Zero direct abdominal work because none of the muscles that are part of the abdominal/ core complex are meant to contract eccentrically as their primary function, which is what happens during a crunch or sit-up or whatever other useless “exercise” is touted as being a great ab stimulator. If you don’t believe me, look at my abs on the home page. I haven’t performed a single direct repetition for my abs in years, yet I still have a strong, defined core. It’s simply a combination of low body fat % and performing the big lifts. They all require very powerful isometric core contraction, which is exactly how our abdominal muscles are built to work.
3. Lose focus
I do my best before each set to focus on making it an all-out animalistic effort with the knowledge that the second it’s over I can completely relax for a couple of minutes. That’s the reward. I think about it this way: an hour-long lifting session probably boils down to around 20 or 25 minutes of very intense effort and that I won’t have to generate even 10% of that effort for any of the remaining 1,415 minutes [of the day] outside of those 25 minutes.
4. Rush lifts
I mentioned earlier that my lifting sessions last an hour. Sometimes a lift might be so taxing that I need extra time to recover between sets. That’s fine. That’s good. It means the set was tough and my body will respond by adapting to it providing I give it the rest it’s asking for. Inevitably, as a result, there are some sessions during which I realize I’m running out of time to complete all sets of all lifts that I set out to take on. The constant is that I must be out of the gym on time. The variable is how I choose to use my remaining time. I could do one of two things: 1) rush to complete the remaining sets, or 2) continue to take my time, but not complete the remaining sets. I choose #2 every time. Rushing and lifting stand in diametric opposition to one another. I’d rather eat a pint of ice cream before rushing a lift. Ice cream feels better going down. If I have six minutes left in the gym and I still have, say, four sets of a lift to complete, I’ll simply continue on my pace, putting every ounce of effort I have into the sets I’m able to complete in that time and forget about any sets I might have missed. Intensity is way more important than getting everything done.
5. Ignore the importance of tracking progress
Could there be a correlation between the number of people who lift without recording their progress and the number of people who make little progress? I think so. Journals are good. When my goal isn’t losing fat, I aim to improve every lift every session. If it means one more rep at the same weight or the same number of reps at a greater weight, or the same number of reps at the same weight but at a faster pace, it’s all good to me. That virtually impossible to track without a journal.