Make Progress Anywhere, Even at Pla…

When I think about the advice that I like to give people, I feel like I’m playing with both ends of the bell curve.  I tell the people that don’t regularly exercise to go into a weight room, pick up heavy things, and realize that it’s incredibly effective at improving your health and appearance.  At the same time, I find that I tell the people who are always in the weight room to try out some things that they’re not used to.  If you bench on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and you think that the Smith machine and leg presses are appropriate ways to train the lower body, you might want to break out of your rut and try some new things.  This could be as simple as squatting without the smith machine, or learning how to deadlift, or trying out split squats for the first time.  If you’re already there, you’re rear foot elevated split squatting with a barbell, you’re doing split stance Paloff Presses, and you can do every push-up variation known to man.  Guess what?  Not everyone is there.  In fact, very few people are.  For every person in the gym, there are 9 other people who never go to the gym, eat fast food on a regular basis, and sit so much that they should be wearing the same pants as Sponge Bob.

People who are just starting to train are the most important people to educate and instruct.  They have the motivation and desire to exercise, and seldom the education or know how to figure out programs for themselves.  Most magazines and websites leave people with bicep-blasting curl routines, and forget to reinforce the importance of the rhomboids, lower traps, or biceps…femoris! I honestly love helping people out when their starting to train for the first time, and I like it even more when they’re my friends.

As it turns out, one of the brothers from Phi Mu Alpha recently asked me about an exercise program.  He has a ton of motivation and he’s a hard worker, but there are a few problems that he’s having.  His goal is to put on muscle mass, but he’s a stereotypical ‘hard gainer’, so it’s going to take more calories then he can fathom eating.  He works in the Neural ICU at a prestigious hospital, with shifts running from 7pm to 7:30am.  These days usually come in groups of 2 or 3, with the same amount of time between shifts.  He drives an hour and a half both to and from work, and seldom gets a chance to eat while on the job.  If you think things couldn’t get any worse, he goes to Planet Fitness, which is practically poison to any ‘real’ fitness program.

Sure, he has some things working against him, but I have faith in his motivation, and I think you can get results no matter what.  With a solid training program and an abundance of calories, he’ll achieve his goals, and he’ll most definitely out grow and out lift Planet Fitness.  Let’s get down to the advice I’ve given him to help him reach his goal(s).

1.)  Find a new gym.  His particular Planet Fitness has 3 Smith machines, no power racks, and no free barbells to use for deadlifts or bent over rows.  To make matters worse, the dumbbells only go up to 60lbs, meaning he’s going to run out of weight to use very quickly.  This is no bueno, to say the least, and I’m hoping he finds a new gym as soon as possible.  It’s not about fancy equipment and luxurious amenities, it’s about having the simple yet effective equipment that has worked for decades.  (I mean free weights people, come on!)

2.)  Eat more.  Eat more protein.  Eat more fat.  Eat more carbohydrates.  You can have the best programming in the world, and without the related nutrition, it won’t do anything.  In this case, it means he has to eat a lot more.  Considering that the majority of people are overweight, they need to replace the junk food with real food, and probably eat less of that too.  In my friends case, we’re fighting a schedule that ignores our natural Circadian rhythm, long periods of time with no food, and an irregular training schedule.  Scheduling his eating might not be convenient, but he must eat.  Small, nutritious snacks are going to have to have to be scheduled at work, and foods like hardboiled eggs, Greek Yogurt, mixed nuts, and meals should include as much dead animal and fruits and vegetables in the world.  (The dead animals should be cooked well, and preferably chicken, fish, steak, and related animals.)

3.)  Train correctly.  Beginners usually decide that strength training is something that they should try, then read on some bogus website that they really need to hit their pec from every angle, three times a week, using as much variation as possible.  This leads to flat, incline, and decline bench in one day, followed by flies from every angle you can figure out on the cable crossover station.  Enough of that crap!  I’m giving my friend some liberty with the training, so he can toss in a few (2-3) sets of curls or calve raises if he really needs to, but based on his reactions thus far, he won’t want to.  We’ll be playing around with upper/lower workouts and fullbody training sessions, and it’s really going to vary based on his schedule.  For example, he had two back-to-back days to train this weekend, so I gave him an upper body day on Sunday and a lower body day on Monday.  Why?  Because everybody else benches on Monday, and it’s therefore easier to find equipment, and he’s immediately smarter than everyone else.

Let me show you the exercises and workouts used in these past two workouts, and explain what tomorrow’s full body day is going to look like.  Here’s a look at Sunday:

Warm Up with:
Face Pulls and Push-Ups
Then, these ‘pairings’ are going to be your strength exercises, and they’re broken into movement patterns that help you hit every muscle in your body.  As an example, you’ll perform a set of chin ups, then a set of the overhead press, then back to the chin ups.  Do that until all sets are over, then move on to the next superset, in this case the bench press and body weight row.
A1. Chin-Ups, 4 sets of 8, 1 set to failure
A2. Standing Dumbbell Overhead Press, 5 x 8 (Pick a weight that you can use for a set of 10, so that you don’t go to failure on these.)

B1. Dumbbell Bench Press, 5 sets of 8 (Same rules as above)
B2.  Smith Machine Body Weight Row, 5 x 12 (The bench might be too hard, try keeping your feet on the ground first, and make sure you pause at the top of each rep!)

C1. DB Deadstop Row, 4×12
C2. Push-Ups, 4xWhatever you want, get effing huge! (AKA, as many reps as possible.)

If you want, you can throw in a few reps of other stuff, but you prob won’t need to.  If you do chest flies though, make sure you do them for you back as well.!  After you’re done, pound some protein, and then have more food with protein an hour and a half later, then two hours after that….

It was a simple upper body workout, but he was exhausted when he finished.  Great!  After following the protoypical body part split for a few months now, this is definitely something that he’s going to feel more, and not in the squeeeeezeeee that muscle kind of sense.  The big compound movements take a lot out of you; can anyone disagree with that? Unfortunately because of the equipment selection, I can’t put a barbell in his hands for either pressing exercise or rows.  As it turns out, the same thing applies to lower body exercises.  I like to live in the power rack at any gym I go to, but you don’t need a barbell to get a great lower body workout.  This is what was on Monday’s Menu:

Happy to hear that yesterday was unexpectingly exhausting!  That’s the way to get it done my man.  Now, for tomorrow’s workout, check this out:  You’ve got a lower body day, and I’m going to include some ‘core’ work in the mix.  Overall, you’re going to have a knee dominant movement that hits your quads, a hip dominant movement that works your glutes and hamstrOngs, and a basic single leg movement that hits your hip stabilizers and lets you get a sweet dirty nasty pump in your entire legs.  You’ll also have 3 core exercises that force you to stabilize in all three planes of motion, meaning that you work every muscle in your core!  PERFECT!
A1.  Goblet Squat, 4×8
A2.  Plank, 4 x 1 minute
B1.  Dumbbell Deadlift, 4×10
B2.  Side Plank, 4 x 30 seconds per side.

Do this superset for 10 minutes, without stopping.  Don’t hate me, it’s cardio, abz and strength training at the same time!
C1.  Dumbbell Split Squat, 8 reps per leg,
C2.  Roman Chair/Leg Raise, 12-15 reps total.  Hopefully there girls from that video are there.


REALLY simple.  Is there anything extremely complex about that?  Nope.  Is it hard, when you focus on proper form, full range of motion, and moving appreciable weights?  Yes.  Also, based on his feedback, split squats are one of the best exercises ever, and that’s absolutely correct.  As he figures out what he likes and doesn’t like, we can tweak things, and he’ll hopefully get to a gym with barbells and heavier dumbbells so he can get (much) stronger.  It’s not a big deal that he doesn’t have access to that stuff right now, because I think those are some good exercises, but he’ll eventually grow out of the gym he’s at now.

His busy schedule gives him one day to workout in the next 4 days, and he’s had 2 days off already.  That means he’s going to have a full body lift tomorrow, where he doesn’t need to worry about having recovered from his previous workout, OR recovering for an upcoming workout.  Instead of just killing him with a huge workout, I’ve simply mix-and-matched exercises from the past two days, so he can continue to get better at them.  Remember, you don’t learn an exercise overnight, and you certainly need a ton of time to get better at any given exercise, so consistency is going to help you get the most out of any given exercise before you move on to any progressions.

Thursday, 6/2/11
A1. Chin-Ups, 4 sets of 8, 1 set to failure
A2. Goblet Squat, 5×8B1. Dumbbell Bench Press, 4 sets of 8
B2.  Dumbbell Deadlift, 4×10
C1.  Body Weight Row, 5 x 10
C2. Dumbbell Split Squat, 5 x 8 reps per leg
C3. Push-Ups, 5 x 8EAT PROTEIN.

While it’s not a lot, I think it’s a lot better than many of the mirror monkeys that spend their time super setting lateral raises, front raises, upright rows, and shurgs, and calling it a shoulder day.  Workouts such as these focus on basic, integrated movement, and prepare the body for more difficult exercises in the future.  Honest assessments of each exercise and attention to detail on his part, and constant communication, feedback, and tweaking on my part, will help him reach his goals, and that’s going to make both of us happy.

Exercise equipment and setting play an important role in the success of a fitness program.  They’re significant, but it’s possible to make progress anywhere you go, with any piece of equipment possible.  From hand made cinderblock dumbbells and wooden barbells rigged up in developing countries, to TRX’s used by our troops overseas, to your local Planet Fitness, anybody can make progress.  All you need is motivation and the right resources, and you’re ready to roll.

4 Replies to “Make Progress Anywhere, Even at Pla…”

    1. Jonathan, it always amazes me how many people forget the ‘big’ compound exercises and start with/focus on all the isolation work. I’m not quite sure where all of the crappy information comes from, but it makes me chuckle when I hear, “Well, I just never thought about working out like that.” Things are slowly changing, and people are moving away from that body building model, but there will always be the 130lb ‘ectomorphs’ who complain that they can’t grow no matter how many curls, calve raises, and cable flies they do. Uphill battle for sure, but well worth it despite the daily facepalms.

  1. Dude, nice as always. I am so stealing your split to use in the future as a ‘base’ program for some folks I train. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks, Steve! I tried to keep it super simple and focus on basic patterns, but it turns out it was one of the hardest leg workouts my friend had ever done, and that his “legs felt like jello!” I guess that’s what happens when leg training is bi-weekly hamstring curls and knee extensions!

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