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Everything You Know About Fitness is a Lie (2011) (mensjournal.com)
708 points by dave1619 on Dec 26, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 331 comments

I went to a "big box" type gym in January 2012 and hired a staff trainer. I told her that I wanted to lose about 20 lb, get stronger, and start running in mud runs. She started me off with basic body circuit training, working with her once a week and doing 3-5 more workouts the rest of the days. During this period I also watched my calorie intake. By May, I reached my goal on all three accounts, so she switched me to a routine more focused on free weights. Around October, she signed me up with a "specialist": a USAW certified coach that worked outside the "big box" gym, to do some Olympic weightlifting. This was a great experience. Not only did I get a lot stronger, leaner and got a lot more endurance, but I also learned a lot. The best part for me was that I did not have to focus on any one type of exercise: I did not gain 50 lb of muscle and lose all my flexibility, and I did not lose all my muscle mass by focusing solely on cardio. I learned the proper form for doing back squats, clean & jerks, and snatches, and as of a month ago, I can run a 6 minute mile.

My point with all that is that a traditional gym and a staff trainer can work, provided the trainer knows what she is doing. Everybody is different. I have no particular athletic talent; my only advantage is that I am relatively young. However, what I have is time. There are 168 hours in a week. Devoting 5 of them to fitness is not a big deal. For me, finally getting a professional to train me was what I needed. This may work for others as well.

Edit: by the way, getting a trainer to work with you once a week is fairly expensive. I got a raise at the beginning of 2012 and thought that getting a trainer would be a wise way to spend that money. I do not regret a penny I spent. Looking back, the alternatives I considered (getting a loan on a new car, a new computer, etc.) would not have made me as happy as getting more fit than I ever was in my life up to this point.

Congratulations. You got lucky, and got a great trainer. The sad reality is this is the exception. I take my office gym for example - I don't go there, but a colleague does. We've discussed fitness over lunch a few times, he gets it.

Guess what the trainers in the gym think about him? They personally do his workouts. They take his advice. They are happy for him to go up to other gym users and coach them, because he knows more than they do about free weights.

They are professional coaches. He's a parts logistics troubleshooter. See the problem there? (And he said that the trainers we have are actually pretty good compared to those at the many commercial gyms he's used).

Thanks. Yes, I did get lucky. Same way I got lucky with the English teacher I had when I only knew Russian and was getting ready to come to the United States. I honestly had no idea how to tell a good trainer from a bad one, and got paired up with a person that knew what she was doing and also was passionate about her job.

However, that was the situation I envisioned as well. I knew how to run and how to bench press, but I didn't know when to do it. I am a software engineer, not a fitness expert. I pretended to be a fitness expert for too long, so I decided to hire someone whose job it was to teach me instead.

One small addition to my story is that my gym had a training coordinator who talked to me about my goals and evaluated my fitness level before pairing me with a trainer. So, you could say that it wasn't completely random that I got paired with my trainer, but a result of a deliberate process. Of course that would depend on how good the coordinator is, so the chain of random events goes on.

"Congratulations. You got lucky, and got a great trainer. The sad reality is this is the exception."

Ain't that the truth! My wife thought that personal training would get her motivated to lose weight and get in shape. Unfortunately the trainer was a complete jerk. He was inconsistent with making his appointments, to his credit though, he must have the unluckiest family ever because just about ever Saturday was a "family emergency" eye roll. But anyway, since he wasn't consistent with showing up and he didn't do much except count and look at his phone, my wife wasn't getting results. That's when he suggested taking weight loss pills. Actually he didn't suggest, he kept pushing them on her. She actually thought about it (to which I convinced her it isn't a good idea). There has been one good trainer at that place since then but he left for a better job (go figure).

I feel that if you go a big box gym, you are walking in to a personal trainer revolving door and that the trainers are sales people in disguise. I have notice that at the gym in my office building (which is an independently owned gym) the trainers seem much more knowledgeable and nobody I have talked to has had any complaints.

You may like the concept of a personal training studio. They are typically a bit more expensive, but the atmosphere is very different from what I hear.

You're much better off finding a gym which specializes in training for strength or power sports (e.g.: powerlifting, Oly lifting, even a better Crossfit box) and signing on with a team. This isn't a group class, it's a team sport.

The cost-effectiveness is much higher than one-on-one training, the emphasis is on measurable results (higher totals, Crossfit games, etc.), and the group itself is competitive but supportive.

One-on-one fitness studios can be good, but it's a high-cost niche.

As of now, my wife is just going workout with me and skip the personal training. She has had better results in the past by working out on her own, so we are going to revisit that. As for me, if I'm going to spend money on training it will definitely be with a USAW certified coach as I would just want to learn the Olympic lifts. Thank you for the advice though, if my wife does decide to get back in to see a trainer I'll definitely keep that in mind.

And among the bright points of the original essay: it details the perverse incentives which lead to specifically this problem.

Quite the market failure IMO.

Yes, trainers in a "Globo" gym are incentivized on membership sales, repeat personal sessions, and importantly: running classes. The more classes they are "trained" to run, the more valuable they are as an employee.

They are professional coaches. He's a parts logistics troubleshooter. See the problem there?

While your story is both anecdotal and second-hand, what you describe doesn't sound that remarkable: Information is largely free now. It is entirely possible if not probable that someone with an interest in a niche will learn more about specific subject matter than generalists who have to know about the whole field.

It isnt as though they were upset that their divorce attorney couldnt answer complex questions about patent law. Free weights should not be considered a niche for a personal trainer in a gym. Even just walking around a gym should show you that primarily you have 3 types of equipment, cardio, weight machines, and free weights, so it isnt as though there is simply too much to learn and understand for somebody whose job it is to be knowledgeable.

The issue with many personal trainers (and people you discuss fitness with in general) is that, for the most part, if your diet is good, doing pretty much anything in the gym will get you results. Many trainers have desirable figures and they know it and they constantly have people asking them for advice in their private lives and are paid to give it at their jobs. This causes many to simply assume that what they did is the "correct" way to workout when the truth is that had they dont most any routine with that devotion for many years, they would have gotten similar results.

This is much more similar to investing in the sense that the experts often give worse recommendations than you could find yourself with a few hours research. Im sorry this is too anecdotal for you, but if you walk into most gyms, talk to most people who have a clue about training, etc, then this is what you hear; people simply arent properly educated on personal fitness even when that is their job

> This causes many to simply assume that what they did is the "correct" way to workout when the truth is that had they dont most any routine with that devotion for many years, they would have gotten similar results.

This. A great example of this is Tim Ferris and The 4 Hour Body. That guy basically says "well, here is what I did, and here's what I look like now. Do exactly as I say and you will too." His "research" has a sample size of 1, yet he claims that his method will work for anyone in the world, from a skinny teenager to his overweight mother. True, it will work for some, further muddying the waters.

This is one anecdote of many.

The thing is, if you work in a gym daily, I'd expect you to have intermediate knowledge of a lot of things: cycling, running, rowing, free weights, warm up exercises, safe stretching techniques, nutrition. The ability to perform assessments of form, fitness, give advice about contra-indicated exercises based on disclosed medical histories, and more.

It's when I see people completely incorrectly adjust their gym bikes, start stretching before they touch any equipment, etc. because their "trainer" told them. When I personally get "corrected" on my "bad" form by a gym trainer (at the time I was attending twice weekly sessions with a qualified amateur lifting trainer instructor), telling me to do the exact opposite of what I was taught. When I see trainers get on the rowing machine and demonstrate poor technique that could lead to repetitive strain back injuries... the list goes on, and it's depressing.

The danger for me was thinking that I knew more than the professional did. Yes, you can be more knowledgeable than the trainer, but would you expect them to know more about, say Ruby, than you do if they dabble in it in addition to their full time job? Seems to me like you can (and probably should) always find a professional who knows her trade better than you do. Otherwise, yes it's a waste of your money, time, and health.

I would absolutely expect to find people in other fields who know specific areas of my field better than me. This is the story of every single person "in computers" since the origin of the career, everyone who dabbles desperate to show that they know some specific better than you.

Sounds great. The only unsolicited advice I would offer is that if it ever gets boring, I would look into doing some sport half of the time. It will give you social, technical and mental elements that weight training just can't.

Sports are great but don't offer the easy progression in fitness that weight/fitness training offers.

For example you can make yourself steadily stronger by gradually increasing the amount you're squatting each week or by running longer distances. You don't have this level of control when playing competitive sports.

That said I agree with the social elements. Sports are great fun and joining a team sport would be worth it for the camaraderie alone.

Meh, really depends.

One characteristic of aerobic athletics is that most individuals peak in their mid 20s to late 30s, after which raw capabilities typically decline (albeit gradually, less than 1% per year). There's some exception for endurance activities, in which maturity, pacing, training, and nutrition can provide gains until later years (highly competitive 40, 50, and 60-something ultramarathoners aren't uncommon). And for activities involving fine motor control or finesse, skills may be developed over a lifetime, though injuries can also accumulate: gymnasts, dancers, and football players often peak out young.

For strength sports, progress is cumulative over years, meaning peak strength may not occur until the mid 30s or early 40s.

In competitive sports, you're looking at a mix of skills and abilities. Individual progress is harder to measure as it's team results that are most evident, not that stats aren't available (how meaningful they are is another matter). High-contact sports tend to be games of youth, but this isn't always the case.

And for anyone, coming to an activity fresh means a lot of latent potential to unleash: you'll likely improve dramatically over the first few years of participation.

Yes, though the social aspect was fulfilled for me by a few coworkers running with me after work and doing a couple of mud runs.

Sports are great. Just make sure you stretch beforehand and only play with folks who take safety seriously - it can suck to lose a skiing season because your basketball teammate caused you to roll your ankle.

you mean warm up, not stretch, right ?

Stretching happens after if ever, not before :)

The philosophy of stretching changes every couple of years. One year, stretching before is the way to go. Then, stretching after sport. Then, no stretching at all.

From what I know: Stretching after doing a workout is bad, because it tenses muscles even more, stopping the flow of blood in the muscle and thus, making muscles more sore. But maybe that opinion is just the current trend.

The science on this one seems clear, stretching is only useful for increasing range of motion. It doesn't prevent injury ( in the studied contexts), it doesn't prevent DOMS, and it doesn't lengthen muscles.

on phone, but sources are a quick search away.

The solid science has been pretty consistent for about 20 years: dynamic stretching can be helpful, static stretching much less so, and the best warm-up for an activity is doing the activity at a lower rate for a few minutes.

Re: your last paragraph(the edit), I agree completely. I can think of few things that make me feel as good about myself as when I have a few-month-long streak going of consistently spending time doing physical activities. Gives me such a natural rush of happiness and confidence all day everyday.

How much are you paying for having a staff trainer?

I paid about $25-30 per session. The difference was that at first I signed up for one plan, then switched. I also had to pay for the gym membership, another $40/mo or so.

That is not expensive at all.

I just picked up a couple of brochures of yoga and taekwondo classes near my home - each go for 150$ per hour (individual) and 100$ per hour(group) !! And crossfit is 200/month.

Yeah, martial arts are expensive. I was looking at the price per year for this, which works out to be quite a lot.

I am not a fan of CrossFit for many reasons. At best, you simply don't get your money's worth. At worst, it's a one-size-fits-all system with no structure to it. From personal experience, and word of mouth, it's also really easy to get injured doing it.

Thought about competing in the olypmic lifts for fun? FYI there's an oly lifting subreddit http://www.reddit.com/r/weightlifting Great job!

I have, but I am not at that level yet, and trying to keep an even profile would likely prevent me from doing, say a 250 lb clean & jerk. Thanks, I didn't know about the subreddit.

I'm curious how often you worked in runs to this workout? Did you ever go to 2-a-days or did you just run on your lifting off days?

I started with two days of cardio and three days of body circuits. Each workout was about 30 minutes long, though cardio sometimes would go to 40 or so. I kept doing two cardio days throughout, switching from circuits to lifting and back as the trainer told me.

Can you tell us where (city) you are based?

Raleigh, NC

You really only devoted 5 hours per week?

Most of my workouts were 30 minutes long, and most weeks I did 5 workouts. The other part of the time was spent on commuting to the gym (10 minutes) or getting ready, etc. This is an important point, as most of my weight loss did not come from the exercise: I burnt about 400 calories at a time and immediately replenished them after. The weight loss came from the calorie restricted diet (not overly so, I did create a deficit), which included lots of vegetables and fruit.

I have tried doing dieting alone but it never worked: I could lose weight, but then would gain it back within a year. Combining diet and exercise completed the feedback loop. Eating like crap meant feeling like I was going to die when working out. Conversely, eating well meant performing well. This clicked for me.

For most people, that doesn't really account for the travel time, fueling time, cooling off, and general gym fooling around, which there inevitably will be.

I still agree with his point that it's one of the best ways to spend that extra time, but I think it's important to acknowledge it and plan for it. The commitment of a one hour workout is quite different than one that's twice as long because you have to deal with after-work traffic. There's also the matter of which 5 hours, as not all hours are equal in value.

If you have running shoes and a weight bench that's really enough. In the city you can live close to the gym and that keeps the time down, for example I can leave my apartment, return, shower, and dress in under 1:15.

What do you need the bench for? If you only get one piece of equipment, make it a barbell (with some weights).

(Next you buy a squat rack. Or skipping rope, or pull up bars, or olympic rings. If you feel you need to use your triceps, buy olympic rings and do dips on them.)

For a bench press?

Just don't bother with bench pressing, if you don't have a spotter or no bench. You can work on your pressing muscles in different, non-scary ways.

You can press off the floor. It's much better for your shoulders, and far safer if you're training alone.

Oly bar, plates, rack stand or power cage, adjustable dumbbells, chinning bar, dips bar / captain's chair, C2 indoor rower, pulley system, bumper plates & platform, ropes, kettlebells, would make up my essential gym. It's a lot cheaper (and more convenient) to pay someone else a monthly fee to manage and store all that than keep it on premises than accumulate and store it myself. Hence: a good gym is a solid investment.

I bought a Rogue S2, the matching bench and dip accessory, a set of bumpers, Pendlay Bearing Bar, and some rubber mats from the Tractor Store. Put it in my basement. Sure beats having to run to the gym or wondering if it will be open on certain days or the hours. I don't know why you would need or want all those other accessories you mentioned. I like to keep it simple though. It doesn't take up much storage either. Before I bought my current home, I rented out a climate controlled U-Haul to use it.

A bar stand is good, but (if you've got the space and budget for it) a full power cage is going to offer you additional benefits and flexibility. Most of my list actually attaches to that or is proximate to it, so it's not like you'd have a huge pile of equipment spread all over the place.

The cage itself is good for squats, rack pulls, shrugs, high-racked overhead press (as opposed to cleaned presses), and bench press, among others. The safety pins can be used for additional protection where the bar might put you at risk, especially in squats and bench press. Most cages will have a high bar suitable for chin-ups, if not one can generally be added. Similarly a dips attachment. An adjustable pulley gives you the added flexibility of a cable station allowing for pulls with resistance at different orientations (high, low, mid). With front racks, you can work outside the cage while still racking the bar onto it, much as you would with your bar stand. Bumper plates and a platform allow for Oly lifts, which are great for developing not just power but strength (you can do Oly lifts without these, but it's safer and easier on your equipment if you do have them).

You can also set up a rack for use with bands, chains, or both, to change and target your training. A rack generally offers anchor points for bands (chains just get draped over the bar): http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_trai...

Something like this offers most of what I'm talking about, many other cages do as well: http://www.texasstrengthsystems.com/powerracks.html

An adjustable DB is just a bar, a set of plates, and a locking ring that you can set up for a wide range of weights, it's cheaper than buying a full set of DBs over the same range, and the manual ones will give more range than the adjustable DBs you can typically buy (usually 5-50# or so, not enough for the serious lifter).

A rope hanging from the ceiling for climbing is pretty minimal equipment. Kettelbells (even just 2-4 of a few weights) offer some increased variety to a workout, though most KB moves can be done with DBs.

A Concept2 erg is something I happen to like, and if I had my own gym it's what I'd want.

Total space budget isn't all that huge

I could have gotten the cage, but it's larger, heavier, and takes up more space. Also, it's all I need. I didn't want to buy more than I wanted or needed. I don't need a cage to squat, clean, press, and chin. I went back and forth for a while, but those are essentially the only exercises I do. I have no interest in chains, bands, etc. This is fine and works for me. It's also cheaper, easier to take apart/together, and move to a different location if needed.

Yep. Starting from a just a bar, a stand is your first best additional purchase. Just sayin' what all y'all can do with a cage on top of that.

Yes. When I was at my strongest (max DL was 525lbs, sadly I'm only in the 400s now) I spent only that in the gym. Lifting weights is both a physical and mental exercise that most people can only continue for ~45 minutes. Anymore than that and it's often useless work because it's not at a level that's still challenging.

Powerlifting tends to make for longer workouts because I would take more rest between sets. When I would do BB or cut workouts I would be in the gym ~30 minutes. Keep in mind that this 30 minutes was full on balls to the wall intensity. It's the intensity that matters and not the time. Also, many people do not know true intensity. I know I didn't learn it until I started doing BJJ training and puking multiple times during 1.5 hour sessions. Protecting yourself and competition has a way of drawing people out to the very edge of what they are capable of.

There was an article recently in Outdoor magazine where even amateur marathon runners are training differently. Instead of slogging out many many miles, they have cut miles and are doing less work but at maximum intensity.

What are your squat/bench/press PRs?

Bench was 325# Squat was 380# Weight at the time was 205#

My goals were 500/400/300 DL/Squat/Bench, but I could never get the squat. My legs are long and I do true ATG squats. My quarter and half squats were into the 400s though. My other problem with squats was that I tore my ACL wakeboarding and have had it surgically repaired. It feels great now, but the timing set me back on my squatting.

Benching in the 300s hurt my elbows too much so once I hit that number I backed way off. I rarely bench over 250# during a workout now.

Nice bench, congratulations.

What's the surprise?

Most people would be surprised at "how little" bodybuilders work out. Sure, they work out much more compared to the average person, but less than let's say your olympic swimmer, volleyball player, etc

It's still a "full time job" but training is not a lot of time compared to other activities (mainly eating)

bodybuilders spend a lot more time on their workout routine than power lifters.

A power lifter might spend 3-5 hours a week, but a bodybuilder likely spends up to ten or more.

That's 3 good workouts per week.

What are you lift PRs now?

This is a great article especially because it:

1. explains the supercompensation period and how to time your workouts.

2. champions free weights and resistance exercise.

3. explains injuries and gives some practical exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff (frequent injury among bodybuilders)

However, I'm not sure if I agree with the "Fundamental Four" and him saying muscular endurance (low weights, high reps) "is great for endurance sports but tends to undermine the first three, shrinking your strength, power, and muscle size."

There's a recent paper refuting this theory, http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/pdf/10.1139/h2012-022 . It basically says that low weights, high rep actually builds as much muscle mass as high weights, low reps... but both need to be done to the points of exhaustion, and that's they key.

Edit: Just wanted to give some more background on my thoughts on low weight, high rep. I became interested in this after I visited a trainer who suggested high reps (ie., 50+) with low weights. He demonstrated on me and made me do 25 reps of low weight bench press. At around 20 reps I couldn't do any more but helped me barely finish the remaining 5. His point was that you can do low weights, high reps but you need to work past what your mind is capable (and thus he suggests a personal trainer to push those limits). He also said with lower weights, high reps I could gain muscle mass and it's healthier (ie., less injuries) but if I wanted to be huge like a bodybuilder that lower reps, higher weights is better.

So, I've been trying this out on myself recently - doing low weights (30-40% of usual) and high reps (25-50), and doing each rep until the point of exhaustion (not able to lift any more). And then I take a short break (15-30 seconds) and do it again. Break, repeat, etc... until I do about 10 sets. Each set is to the point of exhaustion and I can't lift any more. The results is I'm super sore and it feels great. Prior I tried the StrongLifts 5x5 program (5 reps, 5 set) and also the typical 6-12 reps per set. But with heavier weights, I'm more scared of injury and it's harder to go to the point of exhaustion by myself. With lower weights, I don't fear injury as much.

I'm not trying to become a bodybuilder- rather just trying to bulk up a bit, lose fat and get fit.

Note that the paper you cited measured protein byproducts, not strength. Running six miles a day will not radically improve your 100m dash time. Low intensity, high rep walking 15 miles a day isn't likely to help either.

If you want to get better at something, do the something you want to get better at.

Exactly this. What most people fail to understand about fitness is that over time, your body adapts to whatever you make it do. Whatever you want to get better at, just do that thing over and over, and you will get better at it. There is no shortcut or "hack," it's just practice and adaptation over time.

"It basically says that low weights, high rep actually builds as much muscle mass as high weights, low reps.."

Interesting. But I would still be skeptical because of one thing: bone/tendon resistance

Not sure small weights/high reps can create the kind of bone changes (and tendon resistance) that bigger weights do. And this may be critical in some situations.

I would agree with that. I have daughters in gymnastics and they are all much more muscular than their non-gymnastics friends. That said, they tend to get injuries when they do high-impact gymnastics skills. They do not do weight-training, which, from my experience, I suspect would help minimize the injuries.

That's an interesting paper. I'd like to see more research done on this as I think being able to minimize injuries (which I suspect are more common when you're lifting 80+% of your max) while still gaining muscle mass would be the holy grail for those of us in middle age. :-)

Focussing on good form and slowly increasing the weight are the ways to minimize injuries, whether you're young or old.

Take a video with your phone and either check your form yourself or ask online for a form check.

Except many gyms have strict "no video" policies because of pervs. Quite frustrating to not be able to video yourself.

I requested an exception once at a 24 hour gym and they had the most inane excuse. They said "there may be witness protection people here that could be compromised". I really had no response to that one...

You highlighted the key point of going to exhaustion. No matter how much weight you lift you need to lift it to exhaustion to get the best results. You will get results no matter if it's light or heavy weight.

Yeah, bang for your buck (and by buck, I mean time)... go with lower reps, higher reps... to failure.

"There's a recent paper refuting this theory..."

One academic study of 18 untrained athletes.

Mark Rippetoe (author of the Starting Strength book recommended by the original article) actually says that an untrained subject will improve their performance by doing any exercise.

That same Rippetoe reccommends high reps if your goal is hypertrophy and you are past the novice stage. Check his book Practical Programming for Strength Training for more.

Higher reps for hypertrophy is around 8-12 I believe, not 50+.

The problem with reps at that level for me personally is that its very difficult to know where your limit is. With failure around 5 reps it's very obvious which is your last possible rep.

Also 50 reps is just much more pain for the same (or less) gain as I see it. I can do 60-70 press ups which would be in that range, but it's significantly harder work than 5 reps near my max bench.

Agreed. The problem with 50+ is that the weight is so low that depending on how you pace yourself, and your pain threshold, and how mentally prepared you are, you might end up at 50 or 200 on different sets, and you pretty much always can force through one more rep...

A while ago someone posted an article on Reddit about a group of 5 people who had tried a 1000 kettlebell swings per day for 10 days challenge, and about the outcomes. The discussion turned to whether it'd be possible to get close to that with squats or various other execises. So I figured I'd see how close I'd get with squats.

I didn't finish a full 10 days, and I didn't reach 1000, but I did ~400 bodyweight squats a day for 5-6 days in sets ranging from 20 to 100 at the time. It'd not be that hard to do more if you have time, after the first few days of soreness.

What I learned (apart from how funny you'll walk the day after 400 squats) was that the difference for me between 20 and a 100 squats was whether or not I drew my focus away from the burn, and how I counted, coupled with pacing. When I counted towards 20 and then at 15 said to myself that I'm halfway to 30, so I might as well continue, and kept going like that, meeting 100 was "easy" and I probably could do more. But I'd slow down substantially towards the end, and I'd get more done in less time by confining myself to sets around 5 0 reps.

But I could just as well reach 20 and feel my legs were on fire and I needed a break, if I didn't pace myself properly or didn't "tricky" myself into moving the goalpost.

I honestly don't know what my actual failure limit is for bodyweight squats. I just know that it's somewhere beyond 50 and likely beyond 100 depending on what restrictions I were to set on pace. I thus also don't know, without experimentation, how many reps I'd need to see growth that way... Too much hassle to try to find out.

That is pretty much the same technique I would use to get through long pieces on the Erg (rowing machine). Continually breaking down what I had done, how far through I was, % left, how many strokes left at 24 rating etc.

The mental maths helped block out the discomfort!

If I remember right he specifically mentions the insane hypertrophy bike riders get in their quads due to going well-beyond 50 'reps' in pedalling sprints, etc.

I was all ready to come on here and trash this article. The headline and the first few paragraphs had me rolling my eyes. But I kept reading and changed my mind. I've now bookmarked this article.

People seem eager to find some magic, half-hearted shortcut to reaching certain goals. There really aren't any. The best advice is often the kind you don't want to hear. To really improve, look at the people who are the best in their field and mimic them. Why would you blindly trust a magazine written by someone trying to sell you a product?

Look at any college gym to see how well the article's conclusion is supported. Women generally stick to cardio machines. The skinny guys trying to get strong are all on the weight machines, and the big guys are all using free weights.

Having recently switched from distance running to weight-lifting because of an injury, I've had a rapid improvement in a few months. The exercises recommended to me from a guy that benches 400 lbs (180 kg) include: squats, deadlifts, bench press, dips, chin-ups, flys, and ab-crunch machine (only machine he mentioned). Dips and chin-ups should have weight added when body-weight becomes too easy.

Also, since I've very paranoid about injuries now, I've been watching and reading as much as I can on proper lifting form. In this case, I would recommend against copying the strongest guys. I see some very strong people with bad form. All that means is that they've been lucky so far.

    Women generally stick to cardio machines. The skinny
    guys trying to get strong are all on the weight machines,
    and the big guys are all using free weights.
I'm more interested in what exercises decagenarians performed.

Probably bodyweight exercises if they had done any training, but I guess they've just done more manual labor and walked around a lot.

> People seem eager to find some magic, half-hearted shortcut to reaching certain goals. There really aren't any. The best advice is often the kind you don't want to hear.

Often yes, and in this case probably especially so, but I'd like to make a general comment here as I hear this sentiment repeated in many other situations: in general, this is not true. The entire technological progress of humanity is based on this simple assumption: there must be a better / faster / magic way to do this, even a half-hearted shortcut, so that we do not have to work much to get what we want. That's why we invented... pretty much everything. We can call it "looking for half-hearted shortcuts" or "optimization", but it's the same process.

You might want to check out http://reddit.com/r/fitness

I read this article around the time it was first published, and it has changed my life. I know it sounds corny and cliched, but it's true. This article was the first seed in my head that I needed to change the way I was doing things.

It took me about 18 months after reading it to actually buckle down and start lifting, but it's no doubt that the journey started here. I ended up reading "Starting Strength" and started up on the program. It's been about 6 months now and I'm stronger than I've ever been in my entire life- by a significant margin. I've gained 40 pounds of muscle. I feel confident, capable, and strong.

The only downside is that I cannot fit into regular clothes anymore- I have to buy clothes made for fat people and just deal with the extra room in the midsection. I also eat an incredible amount of food, which can get tiring and expensive (I eat $40 a week in steak alone). Overall, though, I'm thoroughly satisfied with the path that I'm on, and wish I had started years earlier.

Congrats and I concur. I wasted 2 years at the gym before I stumbled over "Starting Strength". I just decided to go for it, because I had the feeling that most people, including me, are just messing around wasting time at the gym.

And here's why. _Proper_ squats and deadlifts are hard. You breathe heavily, your whole body (as opposed to just certain muscles) exhausts itself in just a few movements. In the beginning you go to bed with every muscle sore. But I figured: It's pointless to go to the gym and avoid strain and exhaustion. So I might just as well aim for it.

And I did the Ripptoe program, and my life changed for the better.

My posture, ruined by years of computer programming, was fixed in less than two months. People started asking me if I've grown recently. I was just standing and walking properly.

My mood nowadays is good 99% of the time. It's just hard to be depressed or care about the little annoyances (or the whining of some people) when your body is strong. I don't know why exactly, but the mood improvement is significant, lasting and one of the best benefits of weightlifting. I can still enjoy every good thing that happens, but I don't sweat the bad stuff as much. I just shrug it off. A wonderful feeling to be able to do that consistently.

People react differently to me. Women, as you would expect, initiate flirting and so forth, but also I get the feeling that other men, children and the elderly, just look at me in a kinder way. Perhaps increasing strength also makes one seem more reliable. Or maybe they think I am used to hard work. Well, I guess they are right. Building strength is hard work.

There's one downside to all that.

When I started to follow the Ripptoe program, the barbell area at my gym was mostly deserted. After a year or so it's almost always busy. Perhaps I inspired the others or it's a general fitness trend of "less BS" and "back to the fundamentals". But if they don't expand that barbell area and install a few more chin-up bars this year, I'll have to find a new gym where I don't have to wait up to 30 minutes to start lifting.

"My posture, ruined by years of computer programming, was fixed in less than two months."

Would you mind sharing the 80/20 gist of what aspect mainly contributed to that? I'm sure the best method would be to follow the program totally, but if one wanted just to see gains in that area with the least possible investment, what would you recommend?

Posterior chain exercise. Between general posture, sitting, slouching, and the tendency for many people to emphasize "mirror / beach muscles" -- chest and biceps, as well as age-related sarcopenia (muscle loss at the rate of about 0.5 lb/year past your mid/late 20s), most people are losing muscle, including the "posterior chain" (calves, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, traps, lats, rhomboids) which support the body and spine.

You strengthen the posterior chain by training it: squats, deadlifts, rows, chins, power cleans.

The best way to get the gains you're looking for with the least possible investment is to do the program. Get the book. Do the program. Three workouts per week. Squats, deads, bench, press, power cleans, chins. Six to nine months will change your life.


As for your questions, I'd strongly recommend looking over the Wit and Wisdom of Mark Rippetoe page as well, I believe you'd benefit from it, particularly the entry beginning "Responding to someone who wanted the book".


Thanks, I appreciate it.

The single-best exercise for my back was doing squats. Those, probably mixed with deadlifts, build up my back muscles and my posture corrected itself. (I was slouching a lot.) I just can't think of anything more effective than those two exercises. (Perhaps swimming, though.)

I also recommend proper warmups. e.g. start with no or very little weight, and then keep adding until you reach your maximum, then do 3 sets at the maximum. I usually do 5 - 8 reps each set.

As for time investment: 2 - 3 times a week (doesn't matter if I was tired or lazy, I knew I would feel fantastic at or after the gym), 60 - 90 minutes each time. (no time-wasting, breaks only as long as necessary.)

As for 80/20: After doing the squats and the deadweights, I usually feel very motivated to keep doing other things. It's really switching the body into "workout"-mode.

Check these two videos for proper form: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huVujjfzphI , http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JYCvtNKWc8

how do you spend 90 minutes weight lifting? 5-8 reps, 3 sets per excercise, how many excercises?

> I have to buy clothes made for fat people and just deal with the extra room in the midsection.

You should honestly consider learning some basic tailoring. I'm starting it myself - I buy 'vintage' clothes from charity shops and most wouldn't fit.

Buy a decent antique sewing machine if you want a cheap one.

Its a sufficiently rare but useful skill to make good conversation too. And you can vastly increase the perceived value of your clothes by claiming they are hand tailored! ;)

Here is a good forum to pick up knowledge: http://www.cutterandtailor.com/forum/index.php?showforum=26

That is fantastic info about actual execution, many congratulations to you. It will be great if you could please share your age group range (very roughly; 20+, 30+, 40+ etc). Just trying to relate the results with the age group.

I'm 29

When I was a competitive ski racer I used to ave to buy pants 2-4 sizes bigger than normal because my legs were so big. It was actually really annoying.

All the stuff from this article is what my coach used to have us do for weight training. This really isn't comprehensive, though. Weights are important but actually going out and using your abilities is important too.

Same here - literally life changing. I tried free weights a few years ago after reading the article - loved them - bought the Rippetoe book and didn't look back.

I'm 46 now, before I began I was overweight and had frequent, severe back problems. I'm now two stone lighter, hell of a lot stronger and my back is just fine.

How long did it take for the back pain to go away once you started training? How often do you train and which weights do you recommend?

I train three times a week - as little as twice a week is enough if you're pressed for time.

My back problems gradually improved over two years of training. I had a disk that had slipped gradually over the previous several years. Exquisitely painful episodes 3-4 times a year. Certainly not helped by my weight and lack of muscle tone. After a year of lifting I noticed that I recovered from these episodes quicker, and that the intervals between them were longer. I think it's well over a year now since the last. Obviously, don't even think about lifting if you are currently suffering back pain.

I believe there is general agreement that any strength program will be based around low-rep sets of exercises that involve a large number of muscle groups. Typically squats, power cleans, dead lifts, overhead presses and bench presses. Rippetoe's Starting Strength book and DVD are an excellent introduction to these. Eventually (6 - 18 months) you will plateau and need to change program. I'm currently using Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 and so far am very happy with it, but a beginner will progress faster with Rippetoe.

If you don't mind some extra, unsolicited advice;

- start with much lighter weights than you think you can handle and aim for regular, small weekly increases - even a pound or two is fine and quickly adds up.

- Be prepared to end a session the moment you feel any discomfort in your lower back, and don't return until it clears up completely. I didn't do this at first and each time ended up unable to train for a fortnight.

- technique matters. While these lifts are nothing like as complex as the olympic lifts, there is still some technique that you need to learn for your safety, and also to allow progress to occur. If possible film yourself from time to time to check you're not developing bad habits.

Good luck - and have fun.

Once you see the strength gains tapering off, go into a cut phase - eating less than maintenance calories - and you'll see aesthetic gains to rival your strength and confidence gains.

What are your PRs?

I've no doubt at all that you're significantly stronger, but not all of that 40 extra pounds is going to be muscle. You might want to reduce the amount you're eating now so that you don't have to eat at a deficit for so long later.

It's 40 pounds of muscle, give or take (at most) a couple of pounds of increased bone mass. I take weekly caliper-based readings of body fat percentage, which has fallen by over 10% in the last 6 months. Overall I've gained 20 pounds while losing 20 pounds of fat.

Blackjack already said this, but humans can gain up to 0.5lbs of muscle per week. And this assumes perfect sleep, perfect diet, and a perfect workout regimen. A little more than that number is possible, but you have to be either genetically gifted, or use steroids. Assuming neither, the 40 pounds you gained over the past six months was mostly fat. You are probably confused because gaining muscle can make someone look less fat, as muscles are emphasized more.

I'm sorry, but caliper readings are pretty inaccurate. Losing 20 pounds in 6 months is solid and believable, but it's hard to believe that you put on 20 lbs of muscle in 6 months. Generally accepted advice is that you can gain about 0.5 lb muscle/week, so I could see you putting on 12-15 lbs tops.

It's also very difficult to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, especially if you're not a teenager anymore. Still, congrats on your progress!

Individual caliper readings have a pretty high margin of error- I've noticed up to 3% swings from week to week. But when the readings are done regularly and applied as a trend, it's pretty clear.

I've also changed my diet significantly- I eat way more protein and fat and almost no carbohydrates. I think that has as much to do with my fat loss as the exercise.

generally accepted advice isn't always right: I put on 17lbs of muscle in three months (Parris Island, SC). I was underweight at the time, and a teenager.

I did mention in my post that it doesn't apply to teenagers, although I should've been more explicit at that. Growing children can generally make tremendous progress, as can untrained novices.

Your post doesn't really refute my point anyways, because it's very hard to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time for adults. You're talking about one direction i.e. gaining muscle.

Try getting your clothes tailored if you can afford it.

This is a solid article, but the title is just wrong. "Free weights are better than machines" is not a "little known" fact, it's a well known fact by anyone who has cared to read the internet re:fitness since 2009. So is "lifting weights is much more efficient than cardio".

I say this only so that you don't read this and think these are some kind of fringe theories. They're widely, WIDELY known and 100% true.

2009 and the internet? This has been the dominant conventional wisdom in all fitness media for at least a decade. If you open any fitness or "men's" magazine in any given month you will find at least one article telling you that: strength training is better than cardio, free weights are better than machines, and lifts that use multiple major muscle groups in coordination are best. The funny thing is that every one of these articles acts like it is the first time any of this has ever been written down.

It's the exact same way with articles advocating diets relatively higher in protein and fat. An assertion of novelty seems to be a mandatory element of any attempt to market anything fitness related.

Agree, but you know who hasn't gotten on board? The people that design/fit out gyms. It's still all machines in the middle and a couple benches near the edges. I'd love to walk into a gym that is all or nearly all free weights.

Actually I think you'll find that they're not widely known.

(Sweeping generalisation) Most women avoid free weights because they don't want to put on muscle and look like a body builder. Doesn't happen. Hell, some men have that same attitude because "hey I don't want to get bulky". My comment is "well if you discover that secret, you should market it because millions of people will buy it"

Thanks for the crux of it. The first page was so much intro filler that I gave up.

Free weights as better than machines was fairly well known at least as far back as the early 90s. "Machines don't work your stabiliser muscles" was the phrase I generally heard.

Depends what you are trying to do and your situation. Machines are safer, so if this is a concern for some reason (injury rehab, age, etc.), then machines in some cases can be better for lifting heavy weights.

Machine are only "safer" for very specific definitions of that word. They force you into a specific path.

very specific definitions

Ha! Hard to argue with that because you pluralized 'definition.'

But what I mean is, (1) If I'm doing a chest exercise, for example, with 270+ pounds, and I fail on a machine, I can get out of it. With free weights, I need a spotter and it's much trickier. (2) Perhaps more important: If I'm doing heavy legs (450 lbs, for example), with free weights I have to load a lot of weight on my back for a squat. This is dangerous even for younger men (I'm 50 years old) because slight distraction and they can hurt their backs in a way that is really hard to get over. Load up a weight machine and I don't have to worry about it.

I hit the stabilizer muscles doing light weight squats on a bosu ball.

So, yeah, in a perfect world I'd be 25 years old and doing all free weights. But I've adapted to my circumstances in what I believe to be a reasonable way.

Yes. It's just that being hit by the weights is actually not the failure mode you should be worried about most. It's having the wrong stress on your joints for longer times.

It's a bit like barefoot running vs shod running. Shoes protect your feet, so they are ostensibly safer. But they also make it easy to have bad technique and wreck your joints, especially your knees.

> (1) If I'm doing a chest exercise, for example, with 270+ pounds, and I fail on a machine, I can get out of it. With free weights, I need a spotter and it's much trickier.

Depends on what you are doing, and how you are doing it. The only real need for a spotter is for barbell bench pressing. There you can bench press in a squat rack with the safeties set to the right level. But there are lots of other exercises that provide a similar benefit without trapping you. E.g. (weighted) dips (on rings), push up variations, hand stand push ups, standing overhead presses.

* It's having the wrong stress on your joints for longer times*

Yes, that was my point #2.

The only real need for a spotter is for barbell bench pressing

I was specifically thinking about the bench-press-like machine press, but also true for the dumbell fly exercise.

I do the free-weight lifts, just not with heavy weight. When I want to seriously stress my muscles I go to the machines.

I just started with the bosu-ball stuff last year and I have to say I like it. It hits stabilizers the squat doesn't begin to touch. I'm a sailor- just got back from a week-long bareboat charter in pretty choppy seas, and I really like the results. I'm not sure I can articulate it though- while it helped my balance, it also helped my strength while maintaining balance. For example, the task of picking up a mooring ball with the boat bouncing seemed easier. But that may just be a distorted perception.

> It hits stabilizers the squat doesn't begin to touch.

Interesting. How much do you squat in relation to your bodyweight? Have you ever tried slacklining?

There's nothing wrong with machines, except being less effective than free weights. They're still solid though, I got in the best shape of my life one time only on weights because I worked really really hard at it. But I accomplish 80% now with 40% of the time with free weights and compound exercises.

One of the big criticisms Rippetoe makes of machines in the book Starting Strength mentioned in the article is that because they can cause unbalanced muscle development and increase the chances of injury over the long run.

I do something similar. Two days/week: heavy weights, primarily machines (+cardio). Two days/week: free weights, compound+core exercises. Much lighter weights- still a grueling work out.

I find machines are also more permissive of terrible form.

Well I knew that machines are extremely ineffective. I also knew they have them there for their impressive looks. What I did not realize is the second reason gyms like machines: Liability.

I came here to say this. I read about all this stuff years ago on SomethingAwful of all places. If you've ever bothered to do any research rather than just believing whatever your gym tells you, you know all of this.

For life in general, or at least the things that matter in life, it's always a good idea to do your own research. Otherwise you end up going through life believing the half-baked stories people make up so they don't have to think, and the bullshit people tell you to sell you stuff.

it's a well known fact by anyone who has cared to read the internet re:fitness since 2009

Or anybody who picked up an issue of IronMan magazine, dating back to at least the late 80's or early 90's.

> "lifting weights is much more efficient than cardio"

That's news to me. Not saying it is wrong, but if it is a fact, it's one even reasonably informed people doesn't know. Studies (http://jap.physiology.org/content/102/4/1439.long and http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100311123639.ht...) suggest that High-intensity interval training is an incredibly time efficient way to get in shape.

While those of us who know how to wield the Internet wisely will have arrived at this conclusion, I still meet many people on a regular basis (especially women) that will try to challenge those ideas.

I don't blame them for thinking that way, the fitness industry has conditioned an entire generation into thinking cardio is the way to go and that high rep work with pink dumbbells is how you 'tone'.

The more articles there are like this, the more likely we will see a shift in how everyone tries to get fit.

That all depends on where you are in your information-gathering phase. And for many, many, many inexperienced lifters, as well as materials and recommendations promoting fitness and strength training will still recommend machines over freeweights.

Both have their place, though I put a heavy emphasis on freeweights.

Working with free weights is amazing. After college I decided to get in shape and spent some time doing this: http://stronglifts.com/stronglifts-5x5-beginner-strength-tra.... It's just one of many perfectly good programs you can find on the internet, it just has the advantage of being free and pretty simple to follow.

What's really shocking about lifting free weights is how little time it takes to stay "acceptably fit" (not "ripped like Jesus" fit, but "looks pretty good in clothes" fit). It just doesn't take a long workout to work all your muscles to exhaustion, and since it's often counter-productive to work the same muscle group on consecutive days, you don't need to go to the gym every day.

That "5x5" reminds me of this old article from Tim Ferriss' blog. I followed that back then and certainly improved my strength.


Absolutely. It's amazing how time-efficient resistance training is. Strength training in particular where you're using the higher weights and lower reps.

Agreed. I have found a total of 10 reps (divided by 2 or 3 sets) or less for each lift is enough to see gains. The point is to keep setting a slightly higher max and go to failure.

That depends heavily on your traning status. As a beginner you will see gains with almost any routine.

If you progress enough, you will eventually need more complicated programming.

Going to failure is not a good idea in general. You do not want to train your body to fail. Going for slightly higher maxes each time is excellent advice for beginners, though.

Cardio machines are innocent enough, as they won’t actually make you any less fit, but maintaining cardiovascular fitness doesn’t really take much more than breathing uncomfortably hard for about 20 minutes, three times a week. And we all know that swimming, hoops, bike riding, and even Ultimate Frisbee can get the job done, and that treadmills or elliptical trainers are a pale substitute.

I think the author is overlooking one of the great benefits of elliptical trainers. They get the job done and they're very safe. If you're an obese out of shape person you're unlikely to get hurt getting your cardio in on an elliptical, whereas activities like hoops, bike riding, and Ultimate Frisbee can really fuck you up.

If you wear a heart monitor and keep your HR in the appropriate zones the elliptical can be a safe, effective cardio workout. I spent three years doing hour long cardio sessions 3-5 days a week, with around 60% of that hour spent in the high end of the aerobic zone. At the end of it I had lost a considerable amount of weight, and I had a resting HR of 38.

There are alternatives to cardio machines that are far less expensive. A jump rope or kettlebell can provide ample and safe workouts for most. The advantage of activities (basketball, cycling, Ultimate) is that they're engaging, getting past the "but it's sooooo boring" issue of just grinding out your 20 minutes.

And at the high end of the out-of-shape scale, just getting out of the house and walking would be a great start.

I agree that walking is a great start, but your body will quickly adapt and unless you're walking up hills you're unlikely to get to aerobic HR levels.

There are plenty of progressions available for walking.

> A jump rope or kettlebell can provide ample and safe workouts for most.

Or just the floor (burpees). Or sprinting up stairs.

I'm assuming someone who's pretty out of shape. I was a bit hesitant to put a jump rope in there, but (given coordination) it should be fairly safe.

KB swings are surprisingly aerobic and very low impact.

Yes, skipping rope is only trivial if you already learned how to do it earlier.

Walking / running up stairs is an easy way to get in intense exercise without much stress on your joints.

KB swings are fine. Just need equipment.

If one is fairly out of shape, than one can benefit from very simplified burpees: just lie on the floor, get up, lie down again. With speed. Add jumping, once you are fitter. Then add negatives of push ups. And full push ups later.

"Stand-ups" included in T-Nation's "Seven Cardio Drills that Don't Suck": http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_trai...

If you're goal is fat loss, not cardiovascular health, then lifting weights works just as well as running or using the elliptical, and it is easier on your body if you learn the correct form.

Strap an HR monitor on your chest when you do your next weight lifting routine, have it estimate your calories burned. Spend the same amount of time doing cardio at > 70% of your age predicted HR max. I think you'll find it's not even close.

Of course you said fat loss, and perhaps you'll quibble about how much of the calories burned comes from fat vs. muscle, but I think more people are trying to get to a healthy weight rather than achieve a single digit body fat percentage.

Sure - cardio is more efficient at burning calories than lifting... while you are exercising.

The point is that anaerobic exercise builds muscle, which boosts your basal metabolic rate. Unless you're doing cardio several hours per day, lifting will be much more efficient.

edit: minor word change for clarity.

Even easier than that is just to not eat those calories in the first place.

With resistance training you are not trying to burn calories, you are building muscle. This new muscle will need calories to support itself and will make it easier to lose fat in the future because your body will need more calories to function.

> Strap an HR monitor on your chest when you do your next weight lifting routine

I've done that a few times. Consistently 140-160 BPM, peaking higher, sustained over 40-80 minutes.

My peak during Tabata sets is 180-190 BPM, so lifting isn't quite at that rate, but it's decidedly aerobic, especially for mid-high range sets (5-20 reps).

"I think you'll find it's not even close." Fairly similar for me actually, my heart rate goes pretty high when I'm lifting.

When people say healthy weight surely they always mean healthy body fat percentage?

> if you learn the correct form

That's a big if. I don't trust myself to do it properly by myself based off a diagram from the internet. What's my alternative? The evil big box gym and overpriced personal trainer?

I hope someone builds a computer vision system to provide audio feedback for correct form. I often feel that I have zero self awareness for body position, and it makes me worried to work out alone.

Start with -just- the bar.

Or get Starting Strength, by Mark Rippetoe, which has about 70 pages of instructions and diagrams on the correct form of each lift.

Or find a gym that has a personal trainer willing to teach you the proper form.

Or do it, record yourself with a camera of some sort, and find a community of weightlifting people (/r/fitness welcomes this) to correct your form.

Read starting strength. Its a small, cheap book, and it goes into more detail on form than you will probably need. It has chapters on each of the major lifts and I used to read it on my phone (kindle app) before/during the workout at the gym until I got everything right, using low weights of course.

    I think the author is overlooking one of the
    great benefits of elliptical trainers.
I think the greatest benefit of ellipticals is the opportunity to read while exercising. I have a computer and monitor dedicated to my elliptical with the monitor raised to eye level.

In all fairness, the parent is talking about cardio workouts. If you are able to read while on an elliptical, you may be getting exercise, but certainly not in the "high end of the aerobic zone".

That's highly individual. You may be unable to read while going hells bells on an eliptical (or running on a treadmill), other people can.

If you don't feel like clicking through 6 paginated pages, the single-page link works well: http://archive.mensjournal.com/everything-you-know-about-fit...

My own research on the subject, and my several years of experience applying said research, taught me this: fitness as an overall goal is actually very, very simple. It gets complicated only when you try to optimize and fine-tune your workouts and diets, which most people do not actually need to do unless they are professional bodybuilders or powerlifters. Regardless of your goals, it comes down to three things: eat well, sleep as much as your body actually needs, and lift weights.

The problem is that the fitness industry, in order to justify its own existence, feeds people so many little details and tricks and drivel that it intimidates those who want to start, and quickly overwhelms those who actually do start. Furthermore, when someone fails to see results, they attribute it to some little detail that they must have missed, which perpetuates the existence of all those fitness magazines and websites.

Combine this with people's natural tendency to look for quick fixes, and you got yourself a huge mess. What I tell people who want to become fit is this: your current body is the result of years and years of certain habits you followed. You can't undo that in a month.

For those who are reading this and want to become healthier, my advice is as follows.

1. If you want to lose weight, then you need to eat below maintenance, do a mix of cardio and weightlifting, and sleep eight hours a day.

2. If you want to build muscle, then you need to eat a LOT of food with tons of protein, do mostly weightlifting, and sleep eight hours a day.

3. If you want to get "toned", that actually equates to losing body fat to make underlying muscles more visible, so follow 1.

4. If you want to build cardiovascular endurance (e.g. for sports), then focus mainly on cardio, with some weightlifting to build the muscles used in those sports.

From there, it's a matter of figuring out the basics and sticking with them.

This is my feeling exactly. People seem to over analyze various approaches to fitness and diet to the point that it becomes un-productive. There is not a magic bullet workout or diet - in fact lots of different workouts and diets will have a positive effect if you stick with them. We are so obsessed with micro-optimizing that we miss the big picture.

I would add some general principles with regards to diet that could benefit most people. Reducing or eliminating processed foods and sugar, for example, can benefit anybody. Maintaining a reasonable proportion of fats, protein and carbohydrates is another.

Well, actually... Daniel the author neglected to tell Nicole the illustrator that the thumbs on the squatter (first graphic) are in the wrong position -- according to Rippetoe, not me. :-)

Humor aside, lifting heavy works for women, to. Women are afraid to get bulky. I got over the idea that lifting heavy wouldn't _make_ me bulky. This is just the way I am. Might as well make the best of what my DNA doled out. As for gyms, I've been harassed at my gym by a trainer for dropping 250lbs a bit too hard (it ripped the callus on my left hand and fell less than a foot, and gym doesn't allow chalk) when I routinely see/hear male lifters throw 100+ dumbbells to the floor. Can't wait to get a cage in my basement so I can spend less time in that place.

I'll be trying Brown's movements to see if they help with the pain in my knees from derby drills. Thanks for posting this!

Weightlifter here. The squat described in that graphic is high-bar (bar between traps and delts) as opposed to the low-bar form championed by Rippetoe (and powerlifters in general). The back is more upright, so you can't really "trap" the bar just by resting your hands on it and pushing your elbows back, you have to wrap your thumbs around. You should still keep your wrists as straight as possible.

Speaking of women lifting heavy things, my Coach's wife Jo-Ann Aita just set a world record in raw powerlifting last month, and she is far from bulky! See for yourself http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5n7c5KoyaLI

Congrats on your heavy lift! 250lbs is no joke.

Ah, that explains it. I do low bar and had forgotten there was such a thing as high bar. Do you suppose low bar works better if you have broad shoulders? Low bar certainly alleviates the sore neck problem.

JoAnn definitely not bulky. And cripes would I love to be able to bench 165! Sometimes I resent stumbling on this type of training in my 40s instead of my 20s.

Nia Shanks is something like 122lbs and (last I saw) could deadlift 315lbs. She is not bulky or "'roided out." It is because of her that I've set my goal at 315lbs. I've had two kids by c-section, though. Dunno if I'll get there or not. Sometimes stuff hurts.

Daniel makes this point in his article, in a way: goals are important. From what I understand, there are three goals: get strong, get lean or look good naked. All three are perfectly respectable goals in my book. Approach a random person in the gym and ask them what they are training for, "To lose weight." This is a meaningless statement we believe has meaning.

So far, the best response I've heard is, "Retirement." I forget who said it, though.

Try convincing the women with that. I have no idea where they came up with the belief that lifting weights would make them bulky while it would take a man, on supplements, years and a lot of effort to develop a meaningful amount of muscle to be considered "bulky". They seem to be happy to walk for a half-hour on the treadmill and then run towards the scale as if that half-hour would actually do anything.

It's really difficult to explain to unfit people (who always complain) that the solution is not a pill or some crazy diet you do for a week. It just takes a bit of effort and common sense.

Unconvincing anyone of their convictions is a quixotic undertaking. I've had a few women approach me over the last year and ask me how much I'm lifting, and I've seen them watching me from afar. Alas, the way I am built, I am only going to reinforce the stereotype. My people were built to pull ploughs, apparently.

If you are interested in free weights, Starting Strength is the best book out there. In free weights you have to be extremely careful about your form otherwise you could seriously injure yourself. This book goes deep in the human anatomy and mechanics to teach you how to approach free weights.


This article and this DVD really set my fitness regime over the last two years.

The DVD is a great guide to the six or so major movements in weightlifting and I found it was much easier to visualise what I was meant to be doing.

I got serious in May '11 and by Jan '12 my personal bests were a massive improvement over where I had started, and I found that I was really enjoying tracking my progress and getting strong and fit.

I'd gone from benching 80 kgs to a 1 rep max of 120kg, and squatting 90kg a 1 rep max of 160kg.

I found the major contributor to my improvement was - consistency (3 times a week, every week), and - focussing on getting the biggest impact for your time in the gym.

Even if you just squat and deadlift, I believe you're doing much more for yourself than by focussing on what most people do - tricep pulldowns and bicep curls.

And SS is mentioned (along with Practical Programming) in the essential fitness library graphic from the article: http://archive.mensjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/picture-72...

An amazing free ebook called Brain Over Brawn is one of the best things I've ever read on this subject, and continues to include all the big conclusions articles like these come to: http://brainoverbrawn.com/get-the-book/

I highly suggest giving it a a read or scan. It's very well written (fun to read, he's a great writer), short, and very to the point. He applies the 80/20 rule to working out, your body, your diet, and so forth.

My favorite section is how to build what he calls an "engineer bag", which costs a total of around $10 and replacing pretty much all gym equipment.

Thank you for this link, I started reading and can't stop, indeed a very fun read! and brutally honest too.

At Betable, four of us do CrossFit. It's not sadistic as the title says, though I'm sure that can depend on the gym. The one in SOMA is pretty supportive and accommodating, probably because they deal with a lot of startup engineers :)

Anyway, was struck me about CrossFit and really any group exercise routine is how much more it makes you tax your own body. When you're at the gym, you don't push yourself. You run comfortably fast on the treadmill, lift a comfortable amount of weight, and do it at a comfortable pace. Group exercise is great for breaking you out of that habit and making you push your limits. It's too easy to pretend that 45 minutes at the gym, 15 of which is "cardio" and 15 of which is "cooldown", is going to change anything.

I was a crossfitter for about 2 years at the South Bay Crossfit gym (Jason Khalipa's).

My big takeaway from that was that olympic lifting is much more fun and rewarding than CF for me. (Note to HN pedants: for me.) The only problem is that it's hard to find a big box with a barbell, let alone two or three.

This article has fired me up again.

Go to the sports palace in south sf. The guy who wrote the Olympic lifting book mentioned in the article coaches there.

Huh, that's interesting. I go to a CrossFit affiliate that actually focusses pretty intently on olympic lifts. Each one hour session includes 20 minutes of practicing a specific lift. The two - olympic lifting and CrossFit - have become so intertwined in my mind that it's difficult to imagine one without the other.

I've been doing Crossfit for about five years, at multiple facilities. The really good CF facilities, including Crossfit Southie in Boston where I currently go, place a huge emphasis on powerlifting and olympic movements. Take a look at the Crossfit Games workouts (http://games.crossfit.com/), and you'll see snatches and deadlifts everywhere.

The problem with Crossfit is that it is an affiliated brand. Every CF facility pays about $5,000 per year to use the Crossfit brand, but each facility is independently owned and operated, and so the programming at each facility is usually unique. There exist a number of questionable facilities, especially out in California where the concentration of gyms is much higher.

The Crossfit affiliates need to start doing some quality control. As I've watch the program expand over the past half-decade, I've been excited at how many people the gyms have helped, but dismayed at how the trainers at some facilities don't share the same love or ability for the basic lifts.

Yeah that's the point I was trying to make. CF turned me onto Olympic lifting and after awhile, I just really learned to love Oly lifting but lose my devotion to CF.

I'm doing Crossfit for about 1.5 years and sometimes it's pretty tough. E.g., last week there was a workout that I was 100% sure I won't be able to finish, though eventually I did even though it took me 20 mins more than more fit people, and I had to scale down couple of parts from prescribed. But thinking back about it, I constantly realize there's no way I'd push myself so hard if I weren't on Crossfit program. And that's probably why previous years of "exercising" here and there did very little for me, but with Crossfit I am feeling real progress. I am still very far from where I want to be, but at least I am feeling some movement towards the goal. And while Crossfit can be very tough sometimes, right on the border of "are you kidding me? you want me to do what how many times?", it usually works out pretty well.

"...how much more it makes you tax your own body. When you're at the gym, you don't push yourself."

Says who? This seems like a false premise to me.

Personal experience (his and mine). Same basic principle explains why people work together in offices instead of at home: peer pressure prevents you from slacking. And personal trainers take this up yet another level, because it's a lot harder to give up when somebody's in your face telling you that he knows you can do one more rep.

And yes, of course there are people who can put in supremely productive 9-to-5 days at the home office and/or whip themselves mercilessly in solo workouts. But they're a minority.

A really good way to counter this, at least for me, is to keep track of your progress in a notebook or on your phone. It helps a lot to be able to say "oh, I was able to do 2 more reps than average this time" or "Hmm, I've been on this weight for a couple of months, maybe I should go up." Plus it's a good motivator -- it's a lot easier to go the the gym when you can see how much progress you've made.

I think he meant that, if you're not careful, you'll lapse into going through the motions without pushing yourself. In other words, you need to push yourself. And he says being in a group will help you actually push yourself.

A roommate of mine (former D1 track athlete) loved to do CrossFit solely because the group atmosphere forced him way beyond his boundaries. The first 4 times in a row that he went, he pushed himself so hard that he threw up. He could not stop raving about how it got him back into such relatively good shape so fast.

Which CrossFit gym in SOMA are you referring to? (Mine is awesome, too. Just wondering if it's the same one.)

Not the OP but worked out at United Barbell and they are phenomenal. I am no longer convinced that CrossFit is the right thing for me to keep doing so I stopped it and replaced it by running 5+ miles and doing the big 3, but it definitely is the best thing that ever happened to me fitness wise.

Everything I know is a lie? So, eating huge amounts of fat and sugar, and never exercising is not less healthy than eating some vegetables and going for a run? I doubt it. So can we please stop with such ridiculous headlines?!

Actually, eating huge amounts of fat, with the absence of sugar and other carbohydrates can actually be very healthy. I've followed a keto diet for some time now and have much improved cholesterol, triglycerides, and I've lost > 30 lbs. Check out /r/keto on Reddit. Fat is not bad.

Yes, I'm aware of that, which is why I mentioned "huge amounts of fat and sugar" combined with 0 exercise. I know that the combination of those things does not lead to being fit (but the headline tells me that's a lie! so maybe that will lead to me being fit.)

Did you read the article? What do you think of the contents of it other than the headline?

Yes, I have read it now. It was a nice article. I did not find out that everything I know about fitness was a lie. I found out that I don't know much, but what I did know was correct (and I learned a number of new things). No reason to hide a nice article behind a rude, condescending and incorrect headline.

The word "You" in a headline is an idiom and not literally a personal communication to the reader. "Lie" is used similarly.

> a miasma of lies and misinformation that we mistake for common sense, and that makes most of our gym time a complete waste

Well, it started off with complete bullshit like this. If we could get 10% of people to the gym (instead of their usual home-bound sugar-feast), it would be fucking wonderful. My gym time was never a waste, regardless of my form or which equipment I was using.

The rest of the article, however, I'm pretty in line with with. But it's preaching to the choir for the most part. We could make this article mandatory reading and it wouldn't make a goddamn difference. And that's the problem. Got a solution?

You'd get the Nobel Prize in EVERYTHING if you could figure out an effective way to get masses of people to effect these kinds of changes in their lives. That kind of science spans the realms of pyschology, sociology, medicine, biology, physics, and wizardry.

I agree 100%. I would actually be interested in reading an article about fitness but I've decided to steer away from any articles with such bombastic headlines.

How else are they going to sell those magazines at the counter competing with "10 Easy Ways to Get Laid!!!".

I think the author is targeting subscribers of health magazines and gym go-ers. For the average person getting health tips from google news, they probably are only filled with far less lies than the aforementioned group.

While some are able to extract valuable benefit from gyms the vast majority are wasting time and money. In addition to that, most of these articles are very thin on reproducible facts and true research-based data.

This is, by far, the most interesting and useful resource I have found when it comes to fitness:


The author covers cellular biology and debunks ideas such as "cardio workouts", treadmill bunnies, jogging and walking around your neighborhood to loose weight with plain-old science. Here you'll learn about the cellular metabolic process, Krebs cycle, Insulin resistance, fatty acid synthesis, glycolitic cycle, Cori cycle, Bohr effect, glycogenolysis, amplification cascade and whole host of other topics that are important, relevant and reasonably well understood.

What's more important is that everything that is proposed in this book is backed by science and scientific studies. It's like open-source software. If you care to dive deeper into why something works the way it does the scientific references are provided. The book has over 25 pages of listed references (about 10% of the book is reference data).

Anyhow, one of the claims of the book is "12 minutes a week" every seven to ten days. In other words, that's the actual time under load you need every seven to ten days to affect significant changes in your body. This does not include time walking around, watching TV or resting. Time under load.

I have to say that it works pretty much exactly as advertised. After reading the book I tried it and had a friend try it. We'd spend about fifteen minutes under load at the gym once a week. For me it changed to fifteen minutes every 9 to 12 days (you track your data in order to determine frequency). I got stronger with every passing week. Something that I was not able to do without a ton more effort in the past.

If you are interested in learning about this, start with Dr McGuff's (the author) videos:


I wish there would be more studies done to support McGuff's theories. I find his ideas (including the ultra-high resistance machines) fascinating, and do hope they turn out to be correct, but I'm also really skeptical of anything that's not been proven by time.

I can't find any holes in it. My wife is a doctor and she couldn't either. Just two data points.

I used to own a boutique, 5,000 square foot personal training facility a few years back. Sadly, this article is on the money. We hired strength coaches with degrees in exercise physiology or athletic training and were fanatical about form and outcomes. We wanted clients to re-up not because they'd become best friends with a trainer or been entertained, but because they were experiencing measurable changes in whatever metrics were relevant to them (which we tested on a regular basis). We were very much the exception to the rule in a world where places like Crossfit didn't even exist yet.

The commentary on big-box fitness clubs is also dead on. It's all about maximizing revenue / sq ft, not changing lives. That leads to a 40% industry attrition-rate, because the offerings and environment are so broken, off-putting and ineffective. What other industry survives when you need to regenerate 40% of your client base every year just to stay at zero-growth? Insanity.

Last stat, for more than 30 years, the fitness industry has been trying to attract what's perceived as the holy grail, sedentary adults. But, no matter how much marketing they throw at the market, 85% of US adults refuse to join or stay members of clubs, even though more than 90% say exercise is mission-critical to their ability to live the lives they want to live.

I sold my last facility 4 years ago, but just writing this is reminding me how ripe this space still is for mass-disruption. Crossfit is doing a great job, but there's still so more that can and should be done.

> I signed a 10-page membership contract at a corporate-franchise gym, hired my first personal trainer, and became yet another sucker for all the half-baked, largely spurious non-advice cobbled together from doctors, newspapers, magazines, infomercials, websites, government health agencies, and, especially, from the organs of our wonderful $19 billion fitness industry, whose real knack lies in helping us to lose weight around the middle of our wallets.

If that's not a CTA for startups, I don't know what is.

The real CTA would be for them to find a way to make guys like me _want_ to exercise (or find a way to get the benefits of exercise without exercise, which would be the real solution).

Gamify it! Make an app!

(Oh, right, there's already a ton of those...)

Yeah, that is clearly a non-solution.


Call to action.

I'm in a unique position because I'm an avid programmer/HNer, but I'm also a competitive powerlifter in my spare time. I was very skeptical based on the article title, but it is actually well done and honest. If you're new to the gym/fitness, I would back up what was said in this article as sage advice.

Amateur marathoner here. Those lying side leg raises with toes pointed down are THE BOMB! Here's a great vid by Strength Running that illustrates that exercise and several more: http://strengthrunning.com/2011/02/the-itb-rehab-routine-vid...

Random slow person here: I had knee pain from running and cycling: physical therapy involved doing the exercises shown in the video, so +1 anecdata.

Cannot upvote these leg raises enough. Especially useful for any back pain associated with sitting too long.

Anyone swim?

My kids joined a swim team, so I decided to try it as a work out (already had a membership at a gym with a pool).

I never swam as a workout before. I could barely do 500 meters when I started, switching up strokes (mostly free with my sad approximations of breast, fly, and back), having to stop and catch my breath often.

Now I'm at 600, have to stop much less often, and see some upper body development. I feel like swimming fits into the "muscle endurance" column from the article. I had just recently told someone swimming is like "upper body cardio".

So I'm curious if anyone else reading this swims and how you think it compares to other exercise regimens.

Please read the article.

I've swum for several decades. It's a good form of cardiovascular training. It's also very much a skill sport that's difficult to pick up in later life -- your entire workout distance is a small portion of my warm-up routine (workouts run 3k - 6k meters).

The specific part of the article you want to pay attention to is the training goal matrix (http://archive.mensjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/picture-21...). Swimming does not load your muscles at 40-60% of your maximum. For an utterly untrained individual you'll see some development as the result of doing virtually anything, however that progress will max out very quickly.

Any serious competitive swimmer (national / international / Olympic level) is doing a considerable amount of strength training in addition to their pool work. The same goes for athletes in any other field. While there may be adaptations to limit total mass gains for some (long-distance marathoners and cyclists tend to have low bodyweights), there absolutely is strength training.

If you want to gain muscle, lift. If you want to get better at swimming, invest in a stroke clinic and join a masters team.

I agree: swimming will make you more fit, and works great as general aerobic or anaerobic exercise, but won't necessarily build up muscles beyond a reasonable baseline. However, I'd argue that it works far better than walking or running if you want general calorie burning.

On a different note, though: swimming works very well for building lung capacity, which cross-trains very well with other exercises.

I can attest to the final point. I had to give up running for a month to heal from shin splints and I started swimming and biking to train in the meantime. My previous 5k personal best was 24:00 and when I ran it again after that month of swimming/biking I ran it in 21:52 with relative ease. I attribute it to the swimming which kicked my ass.

I would say it fits with point number four in the article. I found swimming especially good for avoiding normal "office injuries" in the back and hips. I also think it's great mental training as most of the difference for a novice to go from say 10% to 60% in swimming ability is just relaxing and "finding" decent technique.

Strengthening your back and hips, with posterior-chain exercises (squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, rows, kettlebell swings) will do a lot more for back/hip issues than swimming will.

Though swimming does give you a modest amount of lats and trunk stimulus.

While strengthening should be the goal, I'm also talking about loosening by low-impact training.

You increase the support in a system by strengthing it, not loosening it.

You may want to address imbalances (look up "upper crossed syndrome") by strengthening parts of the system in opposition to those which are overstimulated.

Generally, there's not a whole lot of increase in flexibility you can accomplish by casual stretching, and excess flexibility can be a problem -- pregnant women experience a loosening of tendons and ligaments (it helps in moving the baby through the birth canal) which can present problems in strength training.

Kettlebell swings are most decidedly low-impact training.

Many long distance runner do not lift at all, but there are so many schools of long distance running what actually works still seems like vodoo (at the top level).

I recently started swimming since I'm planning on doing a triathlon next summer and it is by far the hardest of the three disciplines. I started out not being able to do more than 50m without having to catch my breath and this was after an entire summer of running and a month of road biking, so it's not like I wasn't in decent shape. Swimming is a whole different ballgame. I'm now at the point where I can swim indefinitely (did 1500m with two 20 second breaks at the 10th and 20th laps recently) but it took a while to get there. Like anything, it's all about your form. I had to learn how to settle down and swim slower, gliding through the water, controlling my breathing, and reaching on every stroke. Once you get the form down you can pretty much go and go, but it's hard to trust that you won't start sucking water in when you get too tired. I find it helps to really exaggerate your rolling motion so that your mouth clears the water more easily when you go to take a breath. It also helps you reach your arm out a couple extra inches.

The most surprising aspect of swimming was how ripped my chest and arms felt afterwards. I've been an avid weightlifter since high school and it's the same feeling I get after doing bench presses or fly's.

Comparing the distance you can swim may be a bit misleading as a very large component of skilled swimming is doing it efficiently. As you improve your stroke you become much more hydrodynamic and it takes far less effort (and time) to swim a given lap.

For an extreme example, put someone who doesn't know how to swim at all into a pool. As they thrash about wildly they'll get a rather serious workout even though they'll scarcely make a lap.

Swimming is great, in many ways - great cardio, super low impact, endurance strength, high base metabolism, and puts you in line to have a good physique.

The biggest problem is that a standard swim is 2-3 hours, whereas I can complete all my lifts in 45 minutes.

I used to swim ~3 miles a day. That was before I had two kids, a house, etc.

For whatever reason, swimming picked up a pattern of really long-distance training routines, peaking in the 1970s and early 1980s with 10-12,000 yard/meter days (two workouts). Cycling had similar trends for a while as well. Both are activities in which the athlete is supported (swimmers by water, cyclists by the bike) and friction is minimal (rowing tends to get painful after an hour or two), allowing hours-long training sessions well past what would be the point of exhaustion in other activities.

While this can help with skills development (though my thinking is that training in an exhausted state reinforces poor form), and may be a good way to keep kids off the streets, it's largely useless for developing maximum capability in the shorter-duration events typical of pool meets (50-500 yards / 50-400 meters), taking anywhere from 15 seconds to 5-6 minutes or so. The primary exceptions would be 1000m or 1650y events (10-15 minutes or so). Triathalon / open-water swimming is almost a wholly different sport.

You'd benefit in swimming from a regime that's similar to other HIIT training: 15-60 second maximum-effort pieces followed by brief rest (5-15 seconds) and a repeat, in sets of 8-10 or so. Incorporate warmup, skills drills, and strength training, and workout time drops markedly.

I still enjoy doing longer pieces and the whole-body flush accompanying them, but they're not something I undertake daily or even weekly.

When swimming competitively, 2-3 miles is the norm, and 4-5 would be for longer practices (usually Saturday mornings or the Friday before a break)

You don't just get in the pool and lap swim. We would do laps on 1 minute intervals (sprint the lap, rest for 30 seconds, repeat), 100s on 90 or 120 second intervals, 200s on 4 or 5 minute intervals, etc. You've also got isolation exercises ( pull/kick/swims, 25s off the block, half-pool 25s with the turn, etc)

But during a 3 hour practice, you still wind up swimming a few miles. Even doing an average of 25 yards a minute (a snail's pace), you're looking at 2.5 miles.

Trust me, I'm all too familiar with swim workouts.


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