Weightlifting has many benefits. It helps increase both strength and size. Combined with a healthy eating and hydration regime, plenty of rest, mobility, core strength and plenty of sleep, it also strengthens bones, boosts self-confidence, improves concentration and creates a more athletic and agile physique - perfect for those summer days in the park or on the beach.
It can be easy to be seduced by the latest body building cover on a fitness magazine - ‘How to get perfect abs in 6 weeks!’ or the latest supplement that will allegedly get you there. Realistically, the models certainly would not have achieved their physique by just the routine or supplement they are promoting.
We do not suddenly achieve the physique we desire - we move closer to it day by day by doing the things that are consistent with the goals that we want to achieve. Conversely, if we have lost the physique we desire, it hasn't just happened - it's the result of actions that have slowly moved us away from our ideal.
Change to your physique comes from consistent training, eating, sleep and rest. Some less obvious factors can also have a profound impact, like your stress levels, lifestyle and your digestive and gut health.
There are 3 rules to help you keep on track - Consistency, Compounds and Consumption.
Consistency is a daily plan for nutrition, training, and sleep. What are you eating at what time? When are you training and sleeping?
- Food - have the right ingredients to hand and make time to cook. Make sure that your meals are appropriate to your goals and your body type. Use good quality, fresh ingredients whenever possible. Eat a combination of protein, carbohydrate and fats and at least 7 or 8 portions of fruit and vegetables every day (2 to 3 fruits and vegetables for the remaining portions).
- Training - mentally prepare for your workout en route to the gym. Visualise what you will be doing and put your mind in training mode - own your workout and visualise 'smashing it'. Ensure that your warm-up is appropriate to your goals - a 15 minute warm up or cardio session that depletes your energy is not going to be appropriate for weightlifting.
- Sleep - allocate yourself a minimum of 7 hours of sleep and ditch your phone, iPad, laptop and anything else that emits blue light an hour before bed. Sleep is the time our body repairs, when protein synthesis takes place and when growth hormones are released. These are all critical for building muscle and strength. Research shows the importance of a dark, quiet, cool and clean room with a comfortable mattress to help us sleep.
Science has confirmed the importance of sleep, proper training, nutrition and sleep for athletic success. It's also beneficial to note these down to track your consistency and progress and be willing to praise and criticise yourself.
- Compound moves with the barbell will be the foundation of your strength and size. Strength builds size and squats, deadlifts, bench presses, rows and overhead presses will be fundamental to your routine. It's important to remember that your core strength, mobility and rest are an integral part of this.
- For each exercise, you need to have goals - what are you trying to achieve? Strength and size will come from lifting heavier weights. Repetition of light weights works for smaller muscle groups. We have a team of experts here at the YMCA Club who will help you achieve your goals.
- For core strength and mobility, try Yoga, Supple Strength and Primal Patterns.
This might mean re-evaluating some core beliefs that we have been fed over the years regarding supplements, diet, calories, fat and carbohydrates. Ditch the processed, low fat options we have previously gone for or the lunchtime sandwich, meal deal or ready meal that has offered convenience.
- You probably need to eat more on your training days including more carbohydrates and fat - you may have previously thought that you should avoid eating these to achieve that healthy physique.
- You may put on weight as you become stronger and healthier - this is because muscle is heavier than fat. Your body-weight might go up, but you'll have the physique you want with a higher percentage of lean muscle and a lower percentage of body-fat. You can track your progress with our Body Composition Analysis - speak to a member of our gym team for more details.
It is worth noting that 2,500 calories per day for men will not be enough on a weightlifting day. You would need to consume around 3,000 calories, maybe more, depending on your body-type and particularly if you are doing squats and dead-lifts. A large part of this needs to come from carbohydrates, which give you the energy and strength to power through your routine and replenish your energy to help you recover for your next lifting session.
You will also need some more protein than the average male, but don't be swayed by advertising that claims you need excessive amounts of protein.You just need a consistent amount of protein throughout the day and a little more in the period after your weightlifting. For most men, a range of 1.8 to 2 per kilo of bodyweight will be sufficient. Some good nutrition planning and healthy meals with real food is all that is needed to meet these requirements.
Remember that these are complex moves - very different from pushing a 'pec deck' or 'leg press'. For example, the dead-lift engages more muscles than any other lift and your timing is crucial for every part. You can only get the timing right if your neuro-muscular pathways are fuelled to their optimum. To fuel your brain and body, think eggs, deep leafy greens, fish and nuts,and make sure you don't go low fat!
The dead-lift and squat require more energy and fuel than any other move in the gym. This means that you need to eat a large snack or meal around 1.5 to 2 hours beforehand with plenty of carbohydrates for intense lifting, as well as fuelling properly immediately afterwards. You have a 2 hour window of opportunity to refuel to get the best results from your training. You should ensure that your meal is at a ratio of 4:1 carbohydrate to protein – aim for around 25 grams of protein,100 grams of meat or fish will give you just over 20 grams of protein, 400g of cooked quinoa or mixed beans will give similar and so will 3 eggs. So don't forget to the add the carbohydrates!
Your body is in a state of damage, so you need to provide it with nutrients for repair. You have depleted your energy stores, broken down your muscles, elevated your cortisol levels (your body’s stress hormone) and generated free radicals - this is how weight training works. You will also have placed a huge workload on your neuromuscular system - far more than any cardiovascular workout.
Your diet should encourage repair and growth, not hinder it. Protein and carbohydrate are critical – fail on the carbohydrate and your body won't synthesize the protein or vitamins and minerals effectively. You need plenty of vitamins and minerals too - these support our neuromuscular system, as well as numerous other functions such as our metabolism. After your workout, you need the obvious macro nutrients, but also the necessary micro nutrients - better known as vitamins and minerals. Failure to get these slowly, will erode your health.
To get the best from your weight training, your diet needs to be rich in all nutrients. Missing out food groups will be detrimental unless this is a medical requirement. Grains are a wonderful source of carbohydrate, energy and fibre; dairy a great source of calcium; and eggs (white & yolk) are a great source of iron and fat soluble vitamins. Finally, your diet needs to be rich in vegetables with a little fruit - aim for the colours of the rainbow every day. Upping our consumption to 8-10 every day is spot on - select different coloured vegetables with a little fruit and don't forget the likes of ginger, garlic and turmeric which have anti-inflammatory benefits.
A real food diet from primarily plant based sources will be hugely beneficial to your digestive system and gut health, which means that we will be getting the most out of our food to achieve our optimum mental and physical well-being. We can train hard, but if we don't have a healthy digestive system and gut, we will not be getting optimum results from our training because our food intake will not be metabolised to support our energy, repair and growth.
Prepare for the lift
Mentally prepare for the moves and lifts being undertaken. A dynamic warm up raises the body temperature and gets the blood flowing to the muscles which need to be used. Map out the movement mentally with a warm up for squats, air squats, lunges, crab walk etc. 5 minutes walking on a treadmill or a 5 minute jog is not sufficient
Rest between sets
Take appropriate rest between sets - if you're lifting heavy weights, you should rest for at least 2 minutes. This is not an aerobic/cardio workout, so it's counter productive to go into the next set too soon or breathless. Make sure you also do warm up sets for squats with an empty bar - again, this helps to map out the move, though don't exhaust yourself with the warm up sets.
Stretching and soft tissue work
Focus on ten minutes of stretching after the workout - quads, hams, gluten, piriformis - static holds of 30 seconds and utilise bands, rollers and lacross balls. Plan regular soft tissue sessions into your programming. Without the necessary mobility, you won't progress significantly - look at ideas such as Ido Portal's 30 minute squat challenge. You might also want to put a Primal Patterns or Yoga class into your weekly programming - again, this will help to build your body's strength to its true capability.
Rest and sleep
A strength training workout is more taxing on our body and mind than an aerobic/cardio workout. We may not think so, as we're probably not as sweaty or as breathless, but rest assured, you have taxed your body and neuromuscular system significantly and need to programme rest and recovery days into your training as well as making sure you are getting at least 7 hours sleep per night.
So here's to great lifting, great eating, great energy and a great physique. Success comes from consistency and looking at everything as part of the bigger picture.