Why Do You Workout?
Fitness is changing and it will never be the same. Over the past few weeks, this idea has increasingly become more apparent.
It all started when I read something Mike Demeter wrote saying, “the only reason people started working out in the 70’s was to look better…these days, I don’t think it’s changed much”. These views were then both expressed by Jay Ferruggia on his website and John Romaniello on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s blog.
It’s totally true.
Exercise: The Younger Years
When I was 2 or 3 years old, I had a shirt with “Muscle Man” written on it. There are still pictures of me wearing this shirt while flexing a crab pose and front double biceps pose. Even back then, I knew I wanted to put on some serious muscle and look awesome.
In Grade 5 and 6, my friend, Jack, used to come over to my place and we’d pump up our biceps with a blue 20lb dumbbell that I found in my grandparents’ house. We would also try to press it overhead and do tons of sit ups and pushups. We’d then finish it off by laying down and placing 25lb plates on our stomach thinking it would give us abs. I kid you not.
How to Exercise Like a Highschool Kid
I didn’t touch a weight again until Grade 11 gym class. They brought us into the weight room and I remember us having leg press competitions and smith machine bench press competitions. While I was always top 2 in the leg press, I was pretty crappy in the bench press.
In that gym class, there was this kid named Moe. He was easily the most ripped guy there. Moe was one of those kids that had a super low IQ and was in the special education classes. He was also one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Picture a ripped Bubba from Forrest Gump. That was him. Moe told me that he worked out every day after school for an hour then ran up and down his street for another half hour. The key word here is “everyday”. It worked and the kid looked awesome. When we were in the weight room in the gym, Moe could push through any pain from lactate in the muscles. He could just go and go and go. Part of it was the fact that he was used to the pain, but I think his low IQ numbed the pain signal to the brain. In this regard, he was like Forrest Gump instead of Bubba.
This same year, I bought my first gym membership. The cost was $60 for the whole year to use a small weight room tucked to the side in the local Curling Club. It had dumbbells, cables, a pull up bar, a smith machine, treadmills, a preacher bench, a back extension machine and nothing else (ok, it had a TV). For a solid 6 months my workouts consisted of myself running on the treadmill for 20 minutes and then doing a bunch of situps and back extensions. I would then proceed to do superset dropsets of preacher curls and triceps pulldowns. I’d shower then head home. All I wanted was abs and a six pack, Bro. This workout allowed me to see a bit of changes, but as you probably know, I was still a skinny fat kid back then.
The First Real Exercise Program
Every night, I would look up workout stuff on the internet. One night I found what seemed to be the perfect program. The next day, I printed it off in the school library and brought it to the gym that night. Low and behold, that program was called “Westside for Skinny Bastards”, and was written by Joe Defranco. I did that program 3-4 days per week for the next year. I can still remember the first leg day which involved hamstring curls supersetted with walking dumbbell lunges. I’ve never felt pain like that before and I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder if getting kicked in the nuts would hurt less than this”. I was a wimp, but I pushed through.
To date, this was the most successful program I’d ever performed. My arms got bigger, and I was getting more defined. On off days, I would do 20 minutes on the treadmill and planks. This allowed me to get down to 160lbs and probably 17% bodyfat. Even though this sounds like crap, it was awesome progress for me. I actually had a 2 pack on my stomach.
Everything changed when my school got a football team.
I remember thinking to myself, Hell yes, I’m going to go play football and kick some ass. This was around the same time that the movie, 300, came out. I wanted to look like a Spartan. Obviously, Spartans can kick ass in football, right?
I looked up “300 workout” on the internet and was taken to a workout routine on Men’s Health written by Craig Ballantyne. Here’s the video for the workout:
I did this program 6 months straight leading up to football season and got myself down to 155 lbs. It was the most brutal thing I’d ever done and not once was I able to reach the total 300 reps.
Football season came around and I was one of the fastest guys on my team. I thought I was going to kick ass in my first game. That game came around and I thought every guy on the other team was on steroids. They were huge. We all got our asses kicked. The night after my first game, I went home and Googled “Football workouts”.
This was the best day of my life.
It was the day I found Coach Dos’ book, Men’s Health Power Training. It taught me the basics of working out and getting stronger. It even introduced me to Olympic lifting. I used what I learned in this book over the next 2-3 years of workouts. I also adopted Mike Roussell’s nutrition chapter when I went to University and I lost tons of fat and gained 20 lbs of muscle. I remember going home for Christmas break and my brother looking at me and saying “holy shit” (Dan John has a similar story to this).
Even though Coach Dos’ book later allowed me to discover guys like Alwyn Cosgrove, Mike Boyle, Jon Chaimberg, Charlie Weingroff, Geoff Girvitz, etc, the only down side was that it taught me that isolation exercises were pointless and not functional. Maybe I needed to hear this in order to master the basics, but the only problem was I needed to realize that it was OK to isolate and not to look down on people who perform isolation exercises. After all, the top bodybuilders all do some form of isolation in their workouts.
Exercise Needs to Change
This is where the fitness industry seems to be right now. No longer is it cool to workout in order to look good. Now, it’s all about working out “functionally” in order to perform better. This mindset needs to change. If looking awesome naked is your goal, then your training needs to reflect that. I’m giving you permission to isolate your muscles to make them bigger. Someone needed to say it.
I think the real problem is that people associate functional training to big compound lifts and associate training to look awesome naked to isolating their muscles.
I’m going to give you the brutal honest truth: all beginners need to master the basic big compound lifts no matter what your goal is. Athletes, bodybuilders, fat loss goals, and every other single goal needs to start out with mastering big compound lifts. This means things like: squats, Bulgarian split squats, deadlifts and their variations, pushups, all kinds of presses, pullups, all kinds of rows, and carries. Master these movements first. After this, you can expand on and experiment with isolation exercises.
This is where I’ve come full circle. Right now, I’m not a football player. I’m a guy who wants to look awesome and am willing to experiment with anything and use it if it works, even if it calls for some isolation exercises.
I wonder if that muscle man shirt will still fit me.
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