Picture this: you’re walking out of a midterm that just gave you a nice slap across the face, leaving you with anxiety so overwhelming that you can't decide whether to burst into tears or laugh it off.
That was me. After every midterm during my first year in university.
Why? I did very little studying because of how distracted I was with varisty soccer and all the constant partying with my teammates and friends. I know, not a valid excuse at all, sorry Mom. To top it off, before every single one of these midterms, I always made sure to get my workouts in, even if it was 8pm, the night before my 8am exam. I still thought it was a good idea to go to the gym and spend 3 total hours of physical and mental energy on what could have been used towards studying. I did end up graduating (with honours), but boy oh boy did I learn a little thing or two about prioritization.
Now, many years have passed since those dark days and I’d like to believe that I have a much more mature perspective on the priority that I place on the gym. It was around halfway through my undergrad that I started taking weightlifting a little more seriously and started educating myself. Through trial & error, injuries, youtube videos, certification courses, and hundreds of $$ on different programs, I realized that the way I was structuring my time and workouts was totally wrong.
Below, I’ll be sharing the main things I’ve learned over the past ~10 years of working out, basically so you don’t do what I did. Don’t be 1st year Shy.
Some lessons are focused on my story above, but most are specific to my weightlifting journey.
Sleep and rest is #1
I was convinced that if I had a choice between working out and getting good quality sleep, I should chose the gym 100% of the time.
There are definitely times where sacrificing a bit of sleep to get your workout in for the day make sense, but it should never become the norm.
Nowadays, if it’s 10pm and I still haven’t gotten my workout in for the day, I focus on getting good sleep so that it doesn’t happen again tomorrow.
It’s amazing to see sleep being highly emphasized on social media nowadays - if you’re interested in learning more about this, just watch any podcast episode with Matthew Walker on it.
“Don’t miss twice”
I don’t even remember where I heard this anymore, but I’ve been using this for years.
It’s pretty straight forward. Unless there are some circumstances that prevent you from getting it in for longer periods of time, just don’t miss 2 days in a row.
This ties into 👇🏽
Missing 1 workout isn’t the end of the world
Believe it or not, I needed to hear this earlier on in my lifting journey.
A lot of the time, when I miss a workout, my session the next day is always 100x better anyway.
Your strength and/or physique will be fine too, btw.
Prioritize what matters most
This one sounds obvious too, but clearly I didn’t follow this.
For me, exercise and movement is a non-negotiable. I feel horrible when I don’t exercise, I perform better in my professional life when I do, and I have goals I want to achieve in the gym.
That all being said, when you have moments of competing priorities across your life, make sure you critically think about which one is more important.
The repercussions I had to face by chosing to go to the gym over things like: studying, seeing my girlfriend, and sleeping, were often far worse than if I chose to miss a workout here and there.
Some types of training drains you more than others
I’ve been working out in the morning for most of my career and I’ve noticed that when I have an intense strength session before my work day or a study session, I’m actually less productive.
There’s definitely an explanation to this that I’m going to assume has to do with things like your nervous system, amount of muscle damage you caused, hunger & nutrition requirements, etc.
Out of the typical types of workouts I do, here’s a list in most tiring to least:
Powerlifting → Hypertrophy → Strength/Power → Extra-Long Endurance → HIIT → Low-intensity aerobic → Mobility
This obviously depends on what your modifiable variables look like, but keep this in mind if you notice yourself getting more tired than usual after working out.
Consistency is only one part of the puzzle
“The literature will show very clearly that adherence is the number one predictor of physical fitness outcomes”
Heard the above from Andy Galpin on a podcast and although it’s obvious, depending on what you want your “outcome” to be, some other extremely important factors are: smart programming, nutrition, and generally just pushing yourself.
You could be working out for 10 years but still look and feel like a blob - this just means you didn’t do the additional things properly.
Weightlifting is a skill
Yes, there are some people out there who are just freaks of nature and can lift very heavy things or do crazy athletic feats with seemingly very little effort.
You are probably not one of those people.
Muscling your way through movements for years will catch up to you.
Get a coach or study the movement patterns that you want to get good at.
If you want to get better at a specific movement, just do more of it.
Record yourself lift
In similar vain as 👆🏽, recording yourself is a great way to catch movement inefficiencies and fix your technique.
Plus, you’ll have a bunch of cool lifting videos over the years.
Lift heavy things
With the right technique, lifting heavy provides tremendous benefits to your body (not just bro-science).
Don’t sacrifice technique breakdown for bigger numbers, but also don’t be afraid to push your weights up now and then.
This is where you grow.
Eat more protein
I used to think that I ate more than enough protein, but for many goals in the gym and as an athlete, your protein intake needs to be high.
Aiming for (it’s ok if you don’t always hit it) 1g of protein / lb of bodyweight is my recommendation.
I noticed immediate differences once I bumped up my protein intake.
Nutrition is a whole can of worms, but to keep this one simple, just eat your veggies & fruits, get your protein, and don’t eat too much processed junk.
If someone tries to tell you kale is bad for you, turn around and walk away.
Listen to your body & trust your instincts
If something feels off, it’s because it probably is.
Figure out what it is early and address it.
Don’t let other people tell you how you feel.
You know what feels normal and what doesn’t.
Injuries are a part of the journey
I’m not saying it’s normal to get regularly injured, I’m just saying you could be doing everything right and still get injured.
Generally in the weight room, the equation is as follows:
If you’re doing exercises that involve a lot more variability, then the injury risk is obviously greater.
But if you practice, make sure you move well, and progress gradually, you should have a long and healthy career.
Injury-prone ≠ Injury-predisposed
Heard this from Eric Cressey on a podcast recently.
Injury-prone is a joke used for people who always get injured or whatever.
Injury-predisposed implies that you are predisposed to an injury based on past events or on the context of what you are trying to do.
For example, if you are a 50-year-old trying to get into olympic lifting, you’re significantly more predisposed to injury than someone who is 15.
You can still do it, but you’ll need a much more thoughtful process to get there.
You don’t have to destroy yourself every workout
If you’re having an off day, it’s ok to scale your workout back a little.
In the long run, it will save you from stupid injuries.
Weightlifting is very easy to get into with a low barrier to entry and because of this, people think that you can just get in and pick it up quickly.
Although that’s what I did, I could have avoided so many injuries and lack of progress if I had just educated myself on some simple anatomy, biomechanics, and programming principles.
- Learn how the shoulder + scapula + thoracic region work together and the surrounding muscles
- Learn about hip function & stability with up stream/downstream effects
- Learn about the actual action and function of each of the main muscles you are working
Or you could just hire a good trainer that would help with all this.
Don’t workout without a plan
Whether you buy an app, a digital workout program, or an actual coach that helps you with your goals and programming, just make sure you have something.
You’ll waste a lot of time and effort with minimal results without a good plan.
When you first get started, anything works
When you first start working out, it matters WAY less what you do - you’ll see results either way.
This becomes less and less true as you become more trained.
So, when you’re starting out, don’t worry as much about what the “perfect split” is, or about being in the gym 7x a week.
Just eat good, rest well, and push yourself with good form.
There are 7 modifiable variables you can tweak in your programs
- Exercise choice
- Exercise order
- Frequency (x per week)
- Progression (session over session increases in any of weight, sets, reps)
- Volume (reps x sets)
- Volume Load (reps x sets x weight)
- Intensity (% of 1RM or % of Max Heart Rate/VO2 Max)
- Rest (how long you rest between sets & exercises)
There are 9 adaptations you can work on
- Muscular Endurance
- Anaerobic capacity
- Maximal aerobic capacity
- Long duration/steady state
You can’t specialize in all of them, so figure out which ones are a part of your goals and work towards them.
You can’t do it all
Let me repeate this one.
You. Can’t. Do. It. All. 👇🏽
I’ve injured myself so many times trying to do too many things at once. It’s ok to pick one or two things and focus on them for a while.
Use Mesocycle & Macrocycle training blocks if you’re training for something specific, like an Iron Man.
Over the long-term, add exercise variation
Unless you’re regularly specializing in something like powerlifting, over the long-term make sure to add exercise variation.
It’s ok to specialize in the short-term, or focus on certain goals, but make sure to bring in variation over time.
Squat, hinge, push, pull, carry, rotate, move fast, move slow, isometrics, etc.
Over-specifying for long periods of time is generally not ideal for moving well.
Don’t follow too many fitness social media accounts at once
It depends what you’re interested in learning about, but don’t get caught up following so many different styles of fitness that you get confused as to what you should be doing.
If you want to get into powerlifting, find a few good powerlifting accounts.
If you want to get into gymnastics, find a few good gymnastic accounts.
Most people are roided up
Understand that most of the really (and I mean REALLY) jacked famous influencers either:
- Do fitness stuff for a living, so they will naturally be more likely to be more strong/jacked/etc.
- Have taken PEDs in the past, or are currently taking them.
- Have amazing genetics
- Have been training for decades
Don’t compare yourself or your results to any of these people.
Compare yourself to your past self.
Don’t ever base your schedule around someone else’s plans
If you really want it, they are never as serious as you.
What you should do instead: create your own schedule and ask if they want to join.
The amount of times I’ve moved my schedule around to accommodate for someone else, only to be told that “I am too busy” or “next time” or “I need to eat” at the last minute 🙄
Having the right workout partner can be amazing, but focus on yourself and your own schedule first.
I’ll stop there for now…
These are my learnings 10 years in, we’ll see what changes in the next 10.
The beauty of exercise & physical fitness in general, is that everything ALWAYS depends on context.
If you want to ask me any questions or tell me why I’m wrong, feel free to reach out 👇🏽
Thank you for making it this far! Please give me feedback. Writing is hard.