A lady at my gym does everything wrong…
Here, a list of the mistakes that offended my deep sense of structure, movement, and applied stress:
- Sole focus on isolation exercises.
- Weights selected were far too light.
- Angles of many exercises were incorrect (could not activate muscles targeted effectively).
- Majority focus was on resistance training (error listed above), and almost no aerobic training.
I could go into great detail dissecting each of these errors, but I’ve done that, and done that, and if they don’t resonate, check out the chapter ‘From Businessman to Beast’ and ‘The Austrian Actress and the Shaolin Imperative’ in In Pursuit of Weightlessness, where I go into great detail about exercise selection, programming, and principles of applied stress.
But if you’ve read that, or get these, then consider this a refresher… the reasons this woman will not see the results she’s after, and what you must always keep in mind:
- Almost nobody needs isolation work. It’s a modern myth of training, only appropriate for bodybuilders, sport specialists, and those otherwise crushing foundational work and looking for specific physique enhancements. Despite this, even many trainers don’t understand this, and have their clients wasting time (and money) with ineffective prescriptions. If you’re doing leg extensions and ignoring weighted squats and lunges - ya busted. If you’re doing bicep curls and ignoring pull-downs or heavy rows - ya busted. And I don’t mean 10 light rows when you could manage 30 with a gun to your head. I mean 5. 5 rows that tax your body and make your brain explode. 5 squats (free, machine, or otherwise) that make you question if you can even continue the workout (this does not mean that 5 is the only rep range that matters, it means if you don’t know how to design progressive programs, 5 reps will ensure you don’t get distracted by rep count and fail to go all in). DO NOT GO TO THE GYM TO EXERCISE. Go to train. Go to test your capacities and get stronger. Every. Workout. That’s what moves the needle (for both men AND women, for both athletes and the average gym goer).
- 3 Vectors must govern your training: Push, Pull, and Squat. These cover 80 to 90% of your training needs and can (should) be covered in less than 30 minutes per session, and ideally less than 20 (to signify sufficient intensity) for beginners (4 to 5 sets per vector). Ideal pushing exercises are pushups and bench / machine presses. Ideal pulling includes rowing and pullup related movements. And ideal squatting includes squats, lunges, and dead lift. One exercise per vector per workout is sufficient. Set the weight / resistance per set to where 6 or 7 reps wouldn’t be possible if your life depended on it. Advanced trainees may need to periodize these movement vectors over several workouts, but beginner to intermediate trainees, or those carrying more than 20-30 lbs of extra body fat, should hit them every workout, three times per week. Secondary considerations are the press vector (ideally shoulder press) and twist vector (any of the key core abdominal exercises, with emphasis on crunches (weighted or otherwise) and / or leg raises (but these do require technical training for most people)).
- Aerobic conditioning matters. There are many ways to skin a cat, from steady state cardio to HITT workouts to sport for fun. If you’re strength training with intensity, steady state cardio can be a great supplement. If not, HITT kills two birds with one stone. It’s very difficult to do both strength training and HITT within the same weekly program due to neural fatigue and prolonged recovery time, but if you’ve got appropriate program design, it can be done. But make no mistake, you gotta give some attention to sustained output (aerobic exercise / cardio), both to strengthen the heart and to support fat mobilization / fat burning in the body (among other reasons). This can be done independently of your strength regime on another day, or after it within the same workout. It should be both challenging and sustainable, for fifteen to thirty minutes. Many things can accommodate this, but my preference is always for those things that allow for clear measurement and incremental adjustment. WARNING: You must strength train! It’s first and foremost, regardless of your personal objectives. Whether you want to build size or trim down and get super lean, strength training builds the structure and stability required to make aerobic exercise safe.
If those workout guidelines make conceptual sense but you’re not sure of your form, please, I beg you, don’t just ignore them and go back to bicep curls. Angels literally lose their wings over that shit.
I’ll leave you with an old anecdote to put that investment in perspective.
The man, shocked, said, “That only took fifteen minutes, why the exorbitant price?”
The artist corrected, “Twenty years and fifteen minutes, to be precise.”
And when you walk in that door and see coach sizing you up, let him know that Tom Fazio sent you, that you’re not just there for a workout, and that you’re ready to fucking party.