A Guide to Strength Training and Positive Lifestyle Changes
· To provide an insight into my own training lifestyle.
· To provide information on what could be beneficial to improve your overall strength and fitness.
The aim of this article to provide some informal information on why I train, how I train and the benefits that I draw from it. I will also relay what works for me and what doesn’t, along with information on how you can sustainably introduce training into your life, for the obvious health benefits.
To commence the article please note some brief background information on myself. I am a young adult male (early 30’s), married, with a family and have trained in one discipline or another, for an enduring portion of my life. Throughout my early years I played sports almost obsessively, with football, golf and boxing all being enjoyable vocal points. Upon leaving secondary school I immediately started working full time at the age of 16. I originate from a typical working-class family in the North East of England, and therefore money was not an easy “commodity” to come by.
I subsequently enrolled at the local gym, which was basically a rotten old hut on the side of a school playground. It seemed like in every crevasse of the gym that there was a cluster of cobwebs, and it stunk to “high heaven” of years of old sweat. If you can picture the typical conception of an old “spit and sawdust” gym, this was it. The old cast iron weights had been present from what appeared to have been the dawn of man! The subscription fee for gym was £100.00 per year and this was basically used to pay rent and keep the lights on. I would note that for strength training, this gym triumphs any large-scale commercial gym that I have attended since. For cardio, there was a treadmill and a boxing bag. The majority of the gym’s members were big “alpha” males with a clear intent on gaining strength. The environment quickly influenced my training approach and I become engrossed in strength training, with a particular interest in gaining strength to relation to my bodyweight, achieved through compound exercises.
My life remains as hectic as ever, though I have never used this as an excuse not to train. Furthermore, I have gauged how training can fit into my life over a period of time and adopted it as a lifestyle choice. This point will be discussed further in the article, though I hope my providing a brief insight into a typical working man’s life, that you can realise how you can adopt your desired fitness goals into your life as a lifestyle choice. There are no quick fix solutions for gaining sustainable strength.
For anyone new to training that is reading this article, weight training can be used across a plethora of sporting disciplines. It is usually adapted to become sport specific through the type of exercise carried out, the weight involved in the exercise and the number of repetitions performed in the exercise.
This article is focused on how I train, and this needs to be considered that it will no work for everyone.
We will now review the following key points, which I believe form part of a training lifestyle:
· Forming a training plan
Forming a training plan
The first and most obvious point to address is forming a training plan. What is it that you are desiring to achieve? How are you going to achieve this goal?
To recap my personal experience as a guide, I principally train for strength. I am now at a stage where I am aiming to increase my strength in relation to my body weight, though also staying in healthy shape from a cardio perspective. I have a loose aim at competing in a British Powerlifting National Competition, though I am not fully decided on this just yet.
I previously mentioned that I have family commitments and I work full time, therefore when I hear fitness gurus preaching “you must train twice a day, for 6 days a week”, this would clearly be unsustainable for myself. Firstly, it would unsustainable in my life due to time restrictions, and secondly, I would be unable to recover from the heavy type of weight training that I undertake. I am aware that anabolic steroids decrease recovery periods, however I have zero in consuming these.
I find that the flexibility of being able to go to a gym at a time convenient for me, fits appropriately into my life. For example, I would be unable to maintain a regular attendance of participating in sports, such as joining a football team or taking up boxing again, as I would be unable to guarantee my availability at consistent times every week.
With reference to the term “training lifestyle” mentioned earlier in the article, this is how I mentally approach the thought of training. It is not a training session to me; it is a lifestyle choice. It has been adopted as being as critical as going to work or seeing my family. I train every week of the year, with no weeks off or rest periods. I also rarely have “de-load weeks” in my training, as I ensure that I get appropriate recovery on a consistent basis. In order to be able to adopt this mindset for yourself, you must have tour own clear aims and how they will fit into your life. This will subsequently become sustainable and become embraced into your life.
The follow statement may be bold statement but, do not prescriptively follow someone else’s guide for your own training, as you are more likely on being destined to fail. Conversely, look to see out training methods that are relevant to your aims, and adjust these so they fit into your lifestyle. If you can simply implement these into your life, you have a greater prospect of forming these into an everyday lifestyle choice.
My training aims are:
· To live an overall healthy and satisfying life.
· To maximise my strength in relation to my bodyweight, as I approach my own peak age bracket (30’s — 40’s) for gaining strength.
Below is an old training guide that I previously worked close to for a period of time. This is focused on building strength, staying in shape and embracing a healthy lifestyle for an everyday, typical person.
The guide consists of four weight training session per week, that are performed on two consecutive days. There is also two cardio days per week that are performed on none weight training days. These days focus on increasing my heart rate, which I find effective for overall fitness. I also sometimes perform recovery cardio after hard weight training sessions, should I feel it is necessary.
The weight training sessions are focused on compound movements, in particular those are employed in powerlifting. These being the back squat, the bench press and the deadlift. Additionally, I further focus on the military press, as I find this excellent for building all round upper body strength. I greatly value these four compounds movements and believe that they should have a place in any strength building programme. There is no need to over complicate strength training, simple has always worked best for me.
I have often commented to other strength enthusiasts on social media, that you can satisfy almost all of your strength training needs with a barbell, weighted plates, a bench and a squat rack. There is a whole host of extravagant equipment and exercise machines in today’s commercial gyms, and in all honesty, I find most of it insignificant in building a suitable foundation of strength.
I continue to train closely to above training schedule example, though I now often do two compound exercises in a session. I now often train military press and bench press together and twice a week, though I am not able to back squat and deadlift more than once per week. The intensity of the back squat and deadlift means the recovery period for these exercises is greater than most other exercises. If I am not performing these two exercises in the same session, I always aim to space these out by three days to allow suitable recovery of the glutes, hamstrings and lower back.
I execute isolation moves to burn out my muscles, once I have completed the compound movement work that I have set out to do. It is dependent on the exercise, however I typically prefer to perform isolation movements to failure on every set. If you have a training partner (which I would always recommend) a useful tip is to get an assisted two — three reps past failure. This was a training method employed by the ex-leading bodybuilder Dorian Yates, and I found this tactic extremely effective.
So, now you know the exercises key to me. What is the best way to perform such exercises? Let’s find out.
Form and Tension
What many gym enthusiasts fail to understand is, if they have been consistently training for a reasonable period of time, then they will probably have a practical standard of strength. The main problem is understanding how to set up on these key whole-body movements, and how to create tension in the body, to not only protect one’s self against injury, but also to incorporate key secondary muscles into the lift to maximise your gains in strength. I will use the deadlift as an example.
Step 1 — The Set Up
Firstly, set up with the bar just off your shins. Grab the bar and tilt back to remove any slack from your arms, this is incredibly significant for a number of reasons. I grip the bar using a mixed grip, which has a higher chance of injuring your bicep if your arms are relaxed and not compact, with all the “slack” removed. If you are compact from commencing the move, it also prevents you from further emphasising undesirable movements in key areas such as the back during the lift, which can also cause injury.
I prefer to deadlift using the conventional method as opposed to sumo deadlifts, as they are a lot more effective in overall strength building in my opinion. My stance is moderately narrow (maybe just inside shoulder width), as I find this assists my leg drive.
Step 2 — Engaging the Core and Preparing for the Leg Drive
In relation to the image above and below, I begin raise my glutes and lower them picking up speed each time, while keeping my arms taught throughout. This is preparing my body for driving my legs.
I find a comfortable point to both engage my core with a strong breath, and drive with my legs after building momentum. The start of this lift must come from the leg drive in order to maximise power and distribute the load effectively throughout the exercise.
Step 3 — The Lock Out
The most difficult part of the deadlift is getting the bar moving from the ground. Upon creating the bar to leave the ground, you can begin to build momentum. I find an effective bar position to be around an inch from your body. The bar now begins to pass your shins and should continue at the same distance from your body as it moves past your knees and quadriceps. I have read multiple fitness professionals stating the bar should be scarping your shins, however this is not only uncomfortable, but also upon reaching your lower quadriceps, there is a risk that you can create fiction against your body and slow your momentum. If you are aiming for a personal best lift, you will realise that this can make or break your lift.
Upon locking out, your arms and back should have remain completely taut for the entirety of the lift, for avoidance of injury and to solidify your body position to complete the lift. This should be assisted with a final squeeze of the glutes and a controlled thrust into an upright position.
Step 4 — Returning the bar safely to the ground
This step may sound like a formality, but it is surprising on how many people lose concentration after locking out, thinking that they have completed the lift. The lift is actually complete when the bar has been returned to the ground. The commencement of lowering the bar should again always begin with the legs. Firstly, unlock your knees and begin to lower the bar down your quadriceps. As you knees begin to bend, your back should pivot in harmony, keeping the bar close to your body at all times. Continue with this controlled motion, sliding the bar past your shins, before finally placing it onto the ground.
To carry out heavy lifting on a continued and consistent basis, you must obviously have a suitable level of strength, however further apply consideration to overlooked areas such as the correct form and set up, as well as creating tension in key areas of your body, to assist in the lift.
It will probably come of little surprise to other strength enthusiasts, that my diet is heavy on protein. I also eat a healthy portion of “good” fats and I try to eat keep my carbohydrates intake to be scheduled around training times. This is typically just before or just after I perform my training session.
I eat around five to six meals a day and have been doing so for a number of years. These meal times were initially scheduled, however they are now in total harmony with my “body clock” and I eat at these times almost automatically.
A brief overview of my diet plan is as below:
Breakfast — (6.30am)
Prior to eating, I start everyday with drinking a protein shaker full of water.
My breakfast meal is the most important of the day for me, as upon waking I am always very hungry. I eat 3 whole eggs for breakfast. I do not believe in separating the egg yolks and only consuming egg whites, as some fitness publications advise. All of the key nutrients are contained within the egg yolks. I will also have a coffee, and I never exceed more than two cups per day.
Mid-morning — (9.45am)
My favourite mid-morning snack is Greek yogurt, mixed with berries, nuts and a spoonful of honey. The Greek yogurt is an excellent source of protein and calcium, while berries are great for supplying nutrients and for aiding recovery. Nuts are rich in heart–healthy polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. Honey is also great for recovery and heart health, plus I think it tastes great!
Dinner — (12.15pm)
If I am working in the office, my dinner typically consists of chicken, vegetables and a side of fruit. This is usually melon (a low-glycemic food that improves blood sugar and insulin control and helps manage cholesterol levels) and pineapple, which is great for defending your body from harmful free radicals and aiding your digestive system.
Pre training / afternoon — (3.30pm)
My pre-training snack is simply two bananas. Bananas are an excellent source of carbohydrates, potassium and vitamin B6, all of which can help boost energy levels in your body. I further choose bananas as pre-training snack, as they release energy into your body in a controlled, slow manner, that I find ideal for training.
Post training / tea — (6.30pm)
I consider my post-training meal to be very standard in terms of an advised post exercise meal. This is meat based (usually steak), with a large portion of cruciferous green vegetables and a carbohydrate source from either rice or sweet potato.
Evening snack — (8.00pm)
It is probably 50/50 on whether I eat this meal / snack. This would be a protein based and low-calorie snack such as cottage cheese or quark, aimed at releasing a slow and sustained amount of amino acids into the blood and muscles during the night. This is often reported as being helpful against muscle breakdown.
My diet is washed down with around four litres of water every day. I started drinking water many years ago and after getting through the first few days, I immediately recognised the benefits of being probably hydrated. I feel much fresher in my thought processing and have increased motivation when I feel sufficiently hydrated.
In the past I have counted calories when trying to achieve a peak aesthetic look, though now I do not have the time or patience to do this. I find this does not fit in with my current training goals or with how busy I am with everyday life. My meals are almost always healthy, although I allow myself a treat meal on a weekend. This is usually a couple of beers, as I do not typically enjoy junk food such as burger and chips or the like, and find it usually upsets my stomach anyway.
I also do not count macros as I again do not have the time for this, though I certainly wouldn’t condone it. I just try to apply healthy eating practices, scheduled at realistic times, that are well portioned. I have my energy-sourced food scheduled around training times, and my recovery food consumed while resting. Once again, simple works best for me.
Recovery is possibly the one of the most overlooked elements of most people’s lives, whether they are physically active or not. Physical and mental recuperation allows body and mind to heal, and fuels enthusiasm and motivation for further progression. I aim to sleep 8 hours per night, though this is often disturbed, with courtesy of my children!
I further aim to recover from workouts through slow cardio to warm down. I also stretch and foam roll post workout to assist recovery.
To conclude this article, I realise that these training methods and dieting habits are not suitable for everyone, though I do hope some of the fundamental messages can be adopted your own training programmes. If you want to improve your strength training, I would strongly advise that you adopt it as a lifestyle choice. If this is just a gimmick that is carried out for two weeks then missed for two months, you are not going to progress any further. Consistency is king!
I would further advise that you to keep training simple. The exercises that people often described as being too difficult to perform, are usually the best exercises for you (I am thinking of squats, deadlifts and heavy presses). This will often lead people away from these exercises and onto exercise assisted machines, which aren’t necessarily bad for you, but they will limit yourself to the amount of strength that you can gain. My mindset has always been simple, “old-school”, free-ranging compound movements to gain strength.
Diet needs to be kept realistic if you are going to employ this sustainably into your life. If you start of making this too extreme, to a point where you are not enjoying your food, you are less likely to make this a lifestyle choice. Food is supposed to be enjoyed, as well as consumed! Good food consumed often, fuels your body for these gruelling workouts.
Simple works best!
Closing Statement by The Author
My work is totally free and is to provide credible sources to help others. If you appreciate the time I have spent and would like to make a gesture of goodwill donation, please see my cryptocurrency wallet addresses below:
If you would like to continue to follow my work, please follow my Twitter Account @StrongWriters.
Thank you for your time and I hope that you gained something valuable from this article.