No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.
Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general.
- Mark Rippetoe
They also make more money and get better warbrides.
- An tUasail Ó Chaddail
This is the first of a series aimed at helping Irish men who don’t yet train for strength to get fitter, stronger, and look better.
This article discusses the basics of strength training. Future articles will cover nutrition, advanced fitness, fitness and nutrition on a tight budget, and combat sports.
We will not prescribe specific programs or panaceæ. If you have successfully trained to a decent level, this article is likely of no interest to you. If you have not progressed in the gym or haven’t made a concerted effort to do so, then this article could save you years of your life.
Time is money, so we will cut to the chase and tell you the most important things you need to know in brief and give you directions for further study. But first, the why:
The case for lifting weights
On a personal level, no man has an excuse not to get fit. It improves health and mood, allows you to defend yourself and get things done, and most importantly it makes you look more respectable to other men and more attractive to women.
On a political level, conservatives must continue to present a more physically respectable alternative to the repulsive impression made by most leftists and liberals. Furthermore, as we have seen in recent years, those same people are often intent on doing harm to you and your family. Being able to overhead press their flabby frames might someday pay off in terms of protecting yourself and your family.
There is minimal opportunity cost. You can get fit for 3 hours of gym time a week plus transport time and a couple of hours of nutrition preparation. Gym fees are low. You’ll probably save money overall by eating less expensive junk. Some of the laziest, most unathletic losers in the world are fit because they put in minimal effort. It’s not rocket science.
In Ancient Greece, slaves were forbidden from using the gymnasium to “perfect their talents and technique”. For good reason; a trained man is a threat to the system. An untrained man is easily enslaved. Which are you?
Many young men have had bad experiences with wasting time and money on fad supplements and convoluted lifting programs, and achieved no progress worth mentioning. This is likely because of neglecting the basics. In this article, we prioritise the important aspects of lifting. Ignore the issues higher up the Lifting Pyramid if you haven’t addressed the basic fundamentals first.
1. The Fundamental
An unimplemented plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Jumping from one program to another, missing long periods in the gym, failing to track your progress; these failings almost totally preclude any sustainable gains. Be consistent with something for 3 weeks before switching. Exercise several times per week.
When beginners first walk into the gym, they see arrays of impressive looking machines. They see jacked up men using them. “I should use these impressive machines like that strong guy.”
Wrong. Beginners need to induce a growth response from their system with full-body lifts like bench press and squat. Seasoned bodybuilders have the strength base (and often the steroid regimen) to focus on individual muscles with isolated exercises. Beginners need compound exercises. Some bicep curls at the end of your workout won’t kill you, but increasing your deadlift by 100kg will make your arms grow a lot more than increasing your barbell curl by 5kg. Any good beginner program will focus each workout on some combination of the big 4 (squat, deadlift, bench, overhead press) or variations thereof.
Gym-obsessed losers will tell you it’s normal to take risks in the gym out of some misguided sense of toughness. Or that serious injuries are a fact of lifting life.
This is extremely misguided. Hopefully you have more important life goals than sacrificing yourself in the gym to vanity. Instead, treat your body like a tool that needs to be used correctly and maintained, so it can be used for something valuable.
Don’t pull your back. Don’t shred your rotator cuffs. Don’t blow your knee out. Don’t tear a pectoral. Stay healthy – risky egocentric lifting is not worth it.
It’s good to look good. But looking good is not the measure of a man. You should want to be powerful more than pretty. Focus on getting powerful in the gym and not chasing aesthetics exclusively.
Ironically, this will build more muscle in the long run. As mentioned above, beginners need to tax their system and aim for strength for the body to build muscle. For the first few months of training, your lift numbers should be your focus. When you reach an experienced novice level (1x bodyweight bench, 1.5x bodyweight squat, 2x bodyweight deadlift, 15 pull-ups) you can start worrying about bodybuilding.
2. The Vital
Choosing a program that suits
Let’s make this easy. Assuming you have access to a normal gym and have time to go several times a week, here are your 2 best options: Starting Strength or Push-Pull-Legs
Starting Strength is a famous low-volume, powerlifting-focussed program. It might offer the fastest way to get big numbers on the barbell. 3 days per week, about 50 mins per session
Push-Pull-Legs or any other well-known “powerbuilding” program allows you to go to the gym more often and for longer (4-6 days per week, for 1 hour 10 mins roughly), is generally more enjoyable, and is more flexible. You might get slightly more size on this program but strength gains won’t be as fast for the beginner.
Pick whichever suits you better. Both are solid and can be found online. NB, the original book for Starting Strength is an excellent intro to strength training and form. Detailed summaries can be found online.
When learning the big lifts, don’t over-obsess about form. However, once you’re in the swing of things you should perform each rep appropriately. There are thousands of resources on this. The most important rules are as follows.
Squat: weight on heels, go to proper depth, flat back, knees not caving in, hips and head rise simultaneously
Deadlift: neutral spine, bar close to body, neutral spine, weight on full foot, neutral spine.
Bench: keep back and glutes on bench, smooth reps, arms and elbows perpendicular to the floor.
Overhead press: no pushing with your legs, elbows unflared (maintain internal rotation).
3. The Useful
If you’re looking into this level of detail, you better have the Fundamental and Vital aspects of the gym sorted. At this point, you know 80% of what’s important.
Experimenting with rep ranges and rest periods
Supersets, drop sets, 20-rep squats, finishers, whatever. Some are useful. Read around and see what works for you. The end of the workout is a good time to try some insignificant experimentation. Don’t lose focus or burn yourself out.
5 reps for 3 sets is the standard for strength focus. 8 rep sets are better for size in general. These should be your basic set formats.
Beginners should approach with caution, as they have a poor understanding of their own capabilities and have excessive irrational exuberance. Don’t start spending an hour on the rowing machine or doing CrossFit metcons until you’re making steady progress with the big lifts.
Once you are comfortable, however, conditioning can increase testosterone, coordination, reduce imbalances, and be really fun.
Same as above, you don’t need to undertake advanced smolov-Bulgarian-kungfu-olympian megaroutines until you’re making steady progress. But when you’re ready, some accessory programs like 100 pressups or SuperSquats can be enjoyable and productive (as long as they don’t distract from the main part of your workout).
4. The Nice-to-have
Specific aesthetic goals
For the first few months, you have no business worrying about certain bodyparts or sculpting your physique. You have nothing to sculpt. Come back to this when you can lift a reasonable amount.
Crossfit, callisthenics, and to a lesser extent Olympic lifting should not be your focus right now. Goof around with these exercises at the end of your workout if you like, but don’t get distracted.
Time to Seize the Day
You have no excuse, get strong. Your family, country, and future self will thank you.
Next week, we will discuss the basics of an even more important aspect of the body; your nutrition. In future weeks we’ll talk about more advanced concepts, how to make fitness work in difficult circumstances, and how to learn to defend yourself.
Beir bua (ní bua gan dua).