Updated: Aug 23
For anyone who's been working out for an extended period of time, you've likely learned a lot along the way.
Most of that learning has likely been painful, or at very least frustrating; and as I'm dealing with a slightly achy lower back at the moment it's reminded me of a time when I could train like a maniac and not feel that way.
Gone are the days where I could show up, bang out a few warmup sets at 600 and 800 pounds, work up to 1000 for 4 crappy reps and then walk out.
So long uncontrolled bench presses at "as much weight as I could not kill myself with".
See you never swinging bicep curls and spine shattering deadlifts.
These are just things that my body used to let me do, that now it's simply had enough of. And frankly, it's for the best. While those things are fun for the ego of a 16 year old kid, they're about as effective for getting properly strong as a hammer is for driving screws.
Yes, it can be done. But if you have an appropriate tool, why not use it?
So, I'm going to lay out 10 of my biggest mistakes, and offer some simple alternatives that will honestly make your life and your body about a million times better.
The best part? Follow this advice, and you'll never even know it helped. You just won't be screwed up, you'll be strong as hell, and you'll save a pile of money over the course of your life.
Sound ok? Cool. Thanks for reading this far.
Rest Days Matter
Don't train more than 3 days in a row. I get it. Sometimes you're sad and working out helps with that, but here's the thing, talk about your feelings, and take a day off. I get the theory that if I just work out harder than I won't have to think about what's bothering me, but inevitably, you will face the thing that's bothering you. Be brave. Ask for help.
Want some more explanation? Cool. Every time you train you're putting stress on your body, your immune system, your digestive tract, your endocrine system and your mental health. Exercise is good for us, absolutely! You know what else is good for us? Sleep. Rest. Relaxation. Other interests- even if they're fitness related. Spend a day reading at least every fourth day.
I'd recommend at least 2 out of every 7 days you have no scheduled/structured training. This gives your body a chance to recover, get stronger, and perform better.
It also helps in terms of longevity. Which brings me to my next point.
Train As Though You're Building Something Massive
What do I mean by that? Well, massive things take time to build. They take patience to build. They typically have layers, a strong foundation, solid footings, are built with GOOD MATERIALS (more on this later), and require a little bit of thought and a methodical approach. What do I mean by this?
Well, if you try to put up a skyscraper with a crappy foundation, you're pretty likely going to end up with a ground scraper. Building a solid foundation of well functioning joints, strong ligaments and tendons, and great movements will set you up for success in the long run.
"But Calum, that sounds like it's going to take time, and I want to be jacked now!"
Well, I'm sorry to say it, but yes, doing things well takes time. But, stay tuned for #3, because what I'm going to say next will surprise you.
You Can Get Jacked and Do Things Properly AT THE SAME TIME!
Yup, you heard it here first. You don't have to choose between being safe and being jacked, because done correctly, you can do both!
Here's the thing, a well structured exercise routine (more on this later), executed well can both help you move and feel better, AND get jacked. In fact, doing things properly is usually MORE taxing on the body, and thus you'll actually get MORE jacked.
Understanding "good form" is as simple as getting good coaching. Yes, you'll probably have to get a coach if you want to really understand how this works.
"But Calum, isn't personal training expensive?"
Well, yea. Expensive personal training is expensive. But I don't understand why more people don't ask for help. I do a TON of stuff for free. I just want to see people move better, and if you're broke AF, and just want to move a little better so you can get the most out of you $10/ month at Planet Fitness;
Why don't you just ask?
Why Don't You Just Ask?
Everybody has questions all the time. Fucking ask them. Be brave. Be willing to be wrong. Be willing to get rejected. But be willing to ask for what you need.
I spent so much time wanting to be right that I didn't ask questions when I had them and I got injured because I thought I knew better.
If you need help with ANYTHING email me/DM me and I'll do everything I can to get back to you. I'm constantly trying to find ways to help more people out for free, so reach out and ask a question if you have it, or sign up when we run free classes. You're not "taking advantage" if you need a little help. I SAID IT WAS FREE, not you. Show up and if you want to feel less guilty refer every friend you have to come work with us 😉
Trust me, you're going to help me more than I could ever help you.
Alright, I think that's good enough for the mental side of this, let's get into the practical stuff.
Most supplements are garbage
Yup. Don't bother spending the money. And if you do spend the money here are the things probably everybody should take and I'll save you the trouble of asking. Yes. They're fucking expensive if they're worth taking. So get a job, get a roommate, get a side hustle, find a way to make some money (on this note, if you need help on this front also email me and I'll do anything I can to help hook you up with work).
What I'd recommend. The company is called ATPLab, they're based in Quebec, the guy who formulates the supplements is named Dwayne Jackson, you can follow him on Instagram @drdnjackson and he answers all his DM's. If you have a specific question; ask him! Cool guy.
What I think everyone should take if you want to get the most out of your training.
Yes I'm biased. Yes we sell all these products at the gym. Yes you can buy them from us. Yes you can also buy them on amazon. Yes you can find them cheaper. No they will not do the same thing.
Have a question? Ask me or Dr. Jackson. We both love to help.
There is no best program, but there are better ones.
A good coach is worth their weight in gold. But if you insist on doing this on your own, here's a good rule of thumb:
Write down your program and stick to it. Repeating a workout a few times with gradually increasing loads, reps, sets etc. Will give you much better results than training at random. Try to repeat a workout 3-4 times (3-4 weeks) and then change the program.
Even a not great program done with consistency will yield pretty good results. You got this.
For beginners, emphasize technique and repetition. A big part of training for beginners is just making your body more coordinated, and this is best done by repeating and learning basic patterns.
If ever you're going to spend money on a coach, the beginning is where you'll get the most bang for your buck. You'll get the most out of the time spent because you won't have to unlearn years of bad training habits.
When you're writing a program think "less is more".
Pick one or two main movements to focus on, preferably one or two of the following:
Pulldown or chinup
Pushups, dips or bench press
If you're training more frequently (more times per week) try to alternate between upper and lower body each day, but if you're only training 3 times per week I'd encourage you to train the full body each time you train.
Once you've selected your main exercises, you can pick a few complimentary exercises. If it's lower body day I'd encourage you to add in some stuff like hamstring curls, back/hip extensions, step ups, calf raises etc. If you're training upper body you can add things like rows, arm exercises (curls and extension), shoulder exercises, and definitely shoulder external rotation exercises.
If you pick 3-5 exercises to focus on in each workout, and get sweaty and out of breath by the end of it; you'll get the results you want.
Nothing matters if you don't sleep
Last thing: You won't get the results you want if you don't sleep.
Yes looking at your phone is more interesting than reading for some of us.
Great. Put it down and read and then sleep.
Yes, night time can be lonely. But it's not less lonely with your phone, you're just less aware of it.
Put it down, read, and then sleep.
You need to sleep. I've been there. But here's the issue: sleep issues get worse as time passes, not better. You need to start yesterday to address them, and if you can't start yesterday then today will do but they need to be addressed.
If you need to talk to someone, you can look up an app called betterhelp. I use it myself. Yes it costs money. But spending money on your mental health is always worth it. No they don't pay me, I just want you to get help if you need it.
Thanks for reading!
This concludes my list of things I wish I knew when I started working out. If you've got a great tip to add or just have a thought to share I ALWAYS want to hear from you, so send it over any way you like.
And of course, if I can help you or a loved one get out of pain and in shape, let's talk.
Love as always,