You’re an average Joe or Jane.
You have no desire to ever train for a bodybuilding show or play sports at a highly competitive level.
You have lots of competing demands in your life such as work, family, and social obligations.
You’ve tried following the advice from all the popular health and fitness magazines, and nothing has worked for you.
In other words, you’re among the 99 percent of the population that just wants to lean up, build some muscle, and get stronger.
Now, designing a program for yourself is hard because much of the information you read targets high-level athletes and competitive bodybuilders who are the genetic freaks of the world.
Simply put, you need a different set of rules.
Here are the five laws of training all genetically average lifters must follow and a program that will benefit all beginner lifters.
1. You must choose the best program for your goals and lifestyle
At the beginning of every year, millions of people aim to better their lives by setting New Year’s Resolutions.
In fact, two-thirds of Americans who make these resolutions have fitness-related goals.
But despite every intention to change their lives and bodies for the better, 73 percent quit prior to reaching their goal (Harris Interactive, 2012). And almost half give up in six weeks or less. So where do they go wrong?
Forty-two percent say they quit because it’s “too difficult to follow a diet or workout regimen,” 38 percent stop because “it’s too hard to get back on track once they fall off” and 36 percent think “it’s hard to find time."
If you can’t follow a program for an extended period of time, you’ll never reach your goals. So when you’re choosing a workout plan, find one that’s suitable for you and your lifestyle. If you’re a father of three young kids, you probably don’t want to pick a program requiring you to train six days per week for two hours a day.
Instead, you’re better off working out two days per week, which is something you’ll be able to sustain months or even years from now. Then, once you prove to yourself you can follow that program for a couple of months, you may consider adding in a third day.
Adherence is the name of the game.
2. You must find the minimum effective dose
Spending hours on end in a gym each week isn’t for you. Training isn’t your No. 1 priority, because you’ve got too many other stresses in your life. Since time is of the essence, you’ve got to find a program that will get you the fastest results with the lowest time commitment.
You need efficiency.
So why not start with the minimum amount of training volume you can get away with while still progressing? Your body composition improves and strength increases when you create a great enough stress on your body to disrupt homeostasis to force a positive adaptation.
So to continue to make progress, you’ll need to increase the stimulus you place on your body over time. Let’s say you started training six days per week for 90 minutes each workout. Once your progress stalls, you can’t do less and hope to continue to see results.
So now, you have to add more sets and reps to your workout, which means your workouts are going to get even longer. Not a good idea for average Joe or Jane.
Start with a minimalist approach like training only a couple of days per week for 45 minutes at a time. Continue doing this program until you stop getting results. When progress halts, add just a little bit more. Simple, but effective.
3. You must follow nutrition habits, not meal plans
Adherence is important for not only a training program, but also your diet. If you’re already struggling with things like emotional eating and not getting enough protein, what makes you think a restrictive meal plan will solve your problems? Sure, a diet template may work well for a few days, but it’s not going to be sustainable long-term.
According to a former professor at Stanford, the best way to help people make progress is to make small changes in things we do often (McKeown, 2014). Repeat the same seemingly minor tasks every day, and they'll add up in the grand scheme of things.
Find one thing you can change right now that will have the biggest impact on your ability to lose weight. Getting into a negative energy balance - burning off more calories than you consume - is the most important factor in losing weight. So choose a habit that will help you take in fewer calories.
Eating undistracted and taking at least 15 minutes to eat each of your meals is a good place to start. If you don’t inhale your food and take your time eating, you’ll be more likely to take in fewer overall calories during a meal. Plus, you can do that habit whether you’re home, at work, or on a tropical vacation with the family.
4. You must focus on progression
What’s the best way to tell if you’ve had a good workout? If you ask the majority of the population, they’ll probably tell you it’s all about getting tired and "feeling the burn." While how sweaty and exhausted you feel may seem like good ways to measure whether you had a successful workout, they’re simply not.
In a strength training program, progressive overload is arguably most important variable to drive results. Over time, you must elicit a systemic stress greater than what you typically encounter (Ivy and Portman, 2004). For this reason, you can determine whether you had a good workout by figuring out whether your workout got you closer to your long-term goal.
You’ll have certain days you need to lower the intensity to allow your body to recover for adaptation to occur. You may not sweat during these workouts, but you still had a successful day because backing off a bit will allow you to recover enough to continue to push hard moving forward. Start small and do a little bit more every single time you’re in the weight room.
Don’t load up the bench press with 135 pounds and perform it for four sets of eight reps every single time. You’ll never make any progress because your body has no reason to change if you never increase the stimulus. For this reason, it’s highly important to keep a training journal.
If you can see you lifted 135 pounds last workout, go up to 140 pounds this workout. Then, progress up to 145 pounds the following workout.
It’s simple and efficient - exactly what you need!
5. You must master a few basic movements
The concepts of "muscle confusion” and rotating exercises to prevent boredom have become popular in mainstream fitness circles. But as an average Joe or Jane, you don’t want to spend too much time learning different exercises every week. You’ve got too many other things to worry about.
Instead, focus on mastering a few basic exercises that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Compound lifts like the back squat, bench press, deadlift, and military press should be mainstays in all of your programming - and for good reason.
These exercises stimulate more muscle mass than isolation lifts like calf raises, bicep curls, and lateral raises. Because each of these compound lifts involves the use of a barbell, you can continue to overload your neuromuscular system longer than any isolation exercise.
For example, you can only increase the weight on lateral raises to maybe 15 or 20 pounds before form breaks down and you can no longer perform the exercise. With a barbell exercise like the military press, you can handle a substantially heavier load, which means you’ll be able to progress for a longer period of time.
A good place to start is a 5x5 program.
|1. Back Squat
|2. Bench Press
|1. Back Squat
|2. Military Press
|3. Bent-Over Row
Perform five sets of five reps of each of these exercises. Train three days per week, and alternate between the “A” and “B” programs. Start with really light weights on each of the exercises to work on form, and add five pounds to the bar each workout.
It’s easy to follow and wickedly effective for the average Joe or Jane because you need to learn only five exercises and the only variable you’ll change is the load.
By adding weight every time, you’ll ensure progressive overload. Plus, you’ll gain lean muscle mass and get stronger.
A win-win situation.
- Harris Interactive. “New Study Finds 73% Of People Who Set Fitness Goals As New Year’s Resolutions Give Them Up – Bodybuilding.com.”Bodybuilding.com. Bodybuilding.com, 28 Dec. 2012. Web.
- Ivy, John, and Robert Portman. Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition. N.p.: Basic Health Publications, Inc., 2004. Print.
- McKeown, Greg. “Progress.” Essentialism. New York: Crown Business, 2014. Print.