You learn a lot from coaching people and I've been doing this for the past 4 years. Mostly what I've learned is - there is no one right answer, no matter how badly I want there to be one.
Almost nothing is black and white in fitness. Some respond well to certain things, while other respond horribly to the same thing. It can be quite frustrating at times, but there are some lessons I've learned from my experience in coaching.
Here they are:
1. There is no such thing as perfect form. That doesn’t mean do a hack job with your form, just that it’ll never be perfect. So go easy on yourself.
2. Very rarely do two people perform an exercise the same. Everyone has different skeletal structures, ranges of motion, and abilities. Don’t try to make someone do what you’re doing just because it’s working for you. That might be working for them.
3. You don’t have to beat yourself up in the gym to get results. In fact, it’s not recommended. Train intelligently.
4. You should work out at the intensity that allows you to work out again in a day or two. If you’re too sore to work out all the time, you’re going to have a hard time being consistent and therefore have a hard time getting results.
5. Full body workouts are a great way to build muscle, lose weight, and improve athletic performance.
6. Body part splits are also a great way to build muscle, lose weight, and improve athletic performance. You just have to decide which one you enjoy more and go with it.
7. You can also alternate between full body workouts, upper/lower body splits, and body part splits.
8. There is no one way to train. Everyone has individual needs. Every training plan can work to some degree if you can stick to it.
9. For the love of God, train your glutes. They’re not just there because they look nice. Well, I mean, they do look nice, but they have a lot more to do with producing power, preventing injuries, and making saturday night activities more fun.
10. Women: don’t believe the hype about getting bulky if you lift anything over 3lbs. Tracy Anderson is full of shit and wants your money.
11. Men: Get your ego out of the picture. Lift smart. Train hard too, but mostly train smart. You don’t NEED to crush a new PR every time you walk into the gym. Here’s proof that you can build muscle without going balls to the wall every time you walk in the gym.
12. Speaking of money, most people ABSOLUTELY do not need supplements to get in shape. They need to:
Eat nutritionally dense food (I.e. not burger king)
Sleep enough (7-9 hours is usually recommended)
Drink plenty of water (probably more than you’re drinking now)
Exercise regularly (a mix of strength training and cardiovascular work)
Relax (We’re all about 70% stress and about 25% water and 5% other stuff)
13. You can’t change everything overnight. Pick one habit to work until it gets better. Then another and another until you can see changes in your lifestyle.
14. Trainers have trainers. Even your expert trainer sometimes need a little help, so don’t feel bad if you can’t “motivate yourself” to work out consistently. We're all human and need someone to guide us.
15. Find a support system. People with support systems usually stick to their goals better than people who go it alone.
16. There is no perfect nutrition “plan”. Find things you enjoy eating, eat them, and try to get in a lot of nutrient dense food (Ie. meat, vegetables, fruits, starches, some sugar, some drugs...wait, what?).
Yes, it’s not the end of the world if you had McDonald’s last week. Just don’t make it your entire meal plan.
17. If you had a “cheat meal” and feel like your whole diet is ruined - it’s not. Take a step back, acknowledge that it was just a meal, and move on towards your goal.
18. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with having some “junk food” in your diet. A healthy balance of nutrient dense foods and chocolate is sometimes necessary to keep you sane. Also, chocolate is good - especially dark chocolate (lots of antioxidants).
19. When trying to get strong, work on training your nervous system. The Central Nervous Systems responds to a lot of different training methods, but you’re best off with a bout of heavy, low volume training and some high volume training. Think 4x4, 5x3, 5x5, 6x2, 7x1 (low volume) and 4-6x8-20 kind of work.
20. When doing the work listed above, you don’t need 100% of your max weight. Stick to 50-80% of your perceived 1RM and you’ll get stronger. Stick to the lower to moderate range for high volume work and the higher range for low volume work.
21. When trying to build lots of muscle mass, include some strength based work (see above), but stick with relatively high volume workouts as volume is biggest predictor of muscle growth we currently know of.
22. Don’t forget to listen to what your body is telling you. If your body's demanding a day off, take a damn day off. The gym will be there tomorrow. There’s no sense in getting hurt for your ego.
23. It’s important that you enjoy what you do. If you hate it, you won’t stick with it and consistency is the most important factor of results - that and a lot of hard work.
24. Don’t just take advice in the gym at face value. Most people unfortunately don’t really know what they’re talking about. Here’s a list of reputable websites you can check out for good training information:
25. Don't take your training too seriously if you're just in the gym to get active. A lot of people are under the impression you're either a powerlifting, bodybuilder, cross fitter, or triathlete. You can be in the gym just to be active and healthy. Don't let anyone tell you differently.
26. Take most of the advice given to you in the gym with a grain of salt - even when you hear it from a trainer. A lot of it is hearsay. Look it up yourself and ask a couple different trainers about it to get a more accurate reading on the subject.
27. Stay hungry. Motivation comes and goes, but discipline is what gets you results. Just like a marathon, you won’t always feel your best on the way to the finish line, but that doesn’t stop you from pushing forward.
James Harris is the founder of Titanium Strength Systems, as well as the head writer and coach. He trains online and in person in Chilliwack, BC. You can find his writing around the internet on websites such as Muscle & Strength, The PTDC, Fitness Pollenator, PTBIZ, and Deansomerset.com.