Throughout my time as a bodybuilder / strength trainer, and Master Personal Trainer, I have been asked numerous times, what is most important, diet / nutrition or exercise? My response has always been, and will always be, diet / nutrition is more important than exercise. You really are what you eat, and if your diet / nutrition is not good, than no matter how much exercise you do, you will never be honestly healthy. So again, visit my Juice PLUS+ section of this website before moving on down through this page. Now, let's add in the exercise portion, because combing the two is how one achieves optimal health.
Over my 50+ years of bodybuilding / strength training I have tried many routines, techniques, supplements, and ideas. I have worked out for as short as 20 minutes to as long 3 hours per session. I have tried the 2 to 3 days per week of working out, and the 7-days per week workouts, even the 7 days per week full body workouts, every day. I have learned which are the most beneficial exercise, routines, and number of repetitions and sets that are not only sustainable, but also can be performed long-term - hopefully on into my 90's (the COREBASELINE of my workouts), if I am still kicking around. Here are some quick tips, which I will add to as time permits, based on what has worked for me, and what has worked for the people, of various ages and body types, whom I have had the pleasure of training:
Workup to lifting heavy, gradually - prepare the joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments for the heavy lifting which the muscle can already likely do. About 1 to 3 weeks of lifting lighly, a weight you can lift about 10 to 12 times (repetitions), minimum of 3 sets. This is especially critical as you get into your 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond. When I was a full-time Master Personal Trainer I would give my clients up to 2 weeks of lifting any light weight they were comfortable with (we did train 7 days per week), but I always warned them that by week 3 I was going to raise the weight for them, based on what I was seeing. Their bodies, and minds, were always ready for the weight increase, as they should be.
Do lift heavy! Take your muscles and body where it has never been before. If you keep lifting what you are already capable of lifting, then not much will change, your strength will not go up, you won't honestly scluplt, and muscle growth will be limited. Sure, high repetitions, with low weights will yeild some results - toning, and a temporary pump, and it might even be good for a maintenance workout and building some endurance, but if you are looking to gain muscle, gain strength, build yourself up, build extreme endurane, lose significant body fat, and honestly scuplt your body, lift heavy. After preparing your body as identified in the bullet above, workout with a weight that you can lift 6 to 10 times (reps - repetitions) for at least 3 sets. Minimum of 6 reps, no less. If you can't get at least 6 reps in for all 3 sets, the weight is too heavy. Your goal is to be able to perform the full 10 reps, for at least 3 sets, and if you can do that, it's time to bump the weight up. You can go up! One of the guys I trained used to finish his 3 sets of 10, look over at me, and reluctantly say, You think I should go up. I did (I would just look at him), and he did it, and he achieved great results. I still remember that look on his face, and it still makes me laugh.
If your initial goal is to lose weight / burn-off body fat, then set aside building muscle, and eating like a bodybuilder who is bulking up, and first burn the fat off through bodybuilding / strength training exercises, and a portion controlled, proper diet. Once the fat is gone (you will still have built some some muscle), then start building more muscle by lifting heavy and feeding the muscle (and your body) in-sync, a rythym of sorts. It is a very rare, and incredibly determined, individual, who can lose the fat and gain a significant amount of muscle all at the same time. The body scuplting typically comes in after the fat is burned off, when you are lean and can build muscle and definition. That said, there are programs that include plenty of hard work that can help those who are determined to accomplish muscle gain and weight loss at the same time, but those tend to be rather radical, and sustaining the longer-term results from those crash programs can be difficult, not impossible, but difficult. I highly recommend the fully natural approach, eating right, and losing the fat first and then building the muscle, for most people.
Most bodybuilders recommend eating 5 to 6 meals per day, and that often scares people off who have weight control issues. But, for the most part, the bodybuilders are right. The Human body is actually more designed to be grazer, eating small amounts of food throughout the day, and not designed to be "feasting," on 2 to 3 big meals per day. Our bodies don't deal with large portions of food only 2 to 3 times per day well. Much of the excess eaten in those large meals is simply stored as fat. Our digestive systems seem to process and absorb nutrients in food more productively when we keep our metabolism stoked, running and burning throughout the day. So when a bodybuilder talks about 5 to 6 meals per day, be sure you understand in what capacities of food they are talking about. Some bodybuilders, for bulking up and building massive muscle, are eating some pretty significanly sized meals, all day long. For most of us, we want to stay lean, and still build muscle, and trim, or keep, the fat off. So 5 to 6 meals per day means small portions of the right types of food, with a portion being about the size of your fist. I recommend sticking somewhat with the tradional breakfast, lunch, and dinner as being your main meals, with some small portions of nuts, celery, carrots, and other healthy snacks for the other 2 to 3 meals. That also helps keep you in-sync with the rest of the world around you where people are eating the 3 traditional meals per day, at work and at home.
For many years the below was my COREBASELINE workout routine. Today I use a heavily customized Total Gym that I modified on my own, but I still need to share the below because it worked, and still can work. I do recommend the Total Gym, even if it's not modified, or customized, to add heavy resistance capabilities like I have done. Without modifications it is still a great way to workout. You may need to up the number of reps you do on it to attain the results you are after, but it can work well for you. That said, here is the routine I used for years, prior to the Total Gym, and it built and maintained some serious muscle on me and kept me strong and healthy for many years:
I based my COREBASELINE workout routine on a PUSH and PULL, recurring and consistent routine. Which works opposing muscles on alternating days. I work on my abs daily, which always require a lot of work! Here is the basic routine:
- Day 1 - Chest, triceps, and shoulders - All pushing exercises.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Bench press flat, using dumbbells. I use dumbbells for many reasons. Having a full, and heavily weighted, bar over my body is a bit dangerous (yes I have dropped them on myself, many times), and it's not always easy to find a spotter. If I get in trouble with the dumbbells I can drop them off to the sides. Plus, the dumbbells help ensure I am working each side equally, I can go deeper, and I have to balance them as well.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Bench incline (or seated) flys, I now use a machine for this instead of the free weights - dumbbells, to help avoid shoulder injuries, which I have seen happen to too many people using dumbbells for their incline flys.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Weighted Dips. I hook weights on to me and perform very deep dips. Weighted dips rival the bench press for chest development.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Push downs (working the triceps), using a cable machine.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Shoulder press, using a shoulder press machine.
- Day 2 - Back and arms - All pulling exercises.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Pull-ups, with a weight hooked on to me.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Chin-ups, with a weight hooked in to me.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Pull Downs, using a cable machine (work back).
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Rows, using a cable row machine.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Preacher Curls, using a preacher curl machine or station.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 to 50 - Uppercut Curls. I usually finish my arms off with some lower weight, high repetition, left and right - alternating, relatively quick uppercut curls, using a dual cable machine.
- Day 3 - Legs - Push and pull exercises. I could break leg day down into 2 days, one for push and one for pull, but simply put, I don't. Admittedly I do not perform squats anymore. I used to, and with insanely heavy weight, based on my own size and weight, but my knees can no longer handle it, and now that I stopped doing them my knees are fine. So, I stopped in time to avoid longer-term damage.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Leg press using the Leg Sled.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Leg press using the seated Leg Press machine.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Leg extensions, using the Leg Extension machine, slowly and carefully to avoid knee damage.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Leg curls, using the Leg Curl machine, preferably the kind you lay face down on and pull up and over.
- Goal - 3 sets of 10 - Glute / Leg push backs, using the standing Glute / Leg pushback machine, one leg at a time.
Keep in mind that if I can perform 3 sets of 10, the weight is too low, it's time to go up! Minimum of 6 repetitions in any one of the 3 sets. If I can't get at least 6 repetitions, the weight is too heavy. Example: 10 the first set, 7 or 8 the second set, and 6 the third set is working hard and heavy. If I can't squeak out that last 6 repetitions, the weight is too heavy.
When Day 3 is complete, I start all over the very next day with Day 1, and if I miss a day, I either pickup where I left off, or if I have missed a few days (or more) I start over on day 1. I workout 7 days per week, mostly because it helps with the discipline knowing that I need to get into the gym daily. As I stated earlier, I work my abs, and core, every day. For each day, the COREBASELINE is designed to take about 30 to 45 minutes (if I move through it quickly), short and simple, which helps keep the time needed reasonable, and helps ensure I can, and will, fit it in. That is my COREBASELINE workout routine, essentially the minimums, and something that is sustainable over the long-haul. When I have more time, I do what I call the Extras - More sets, different exercises, maybe some higher repetitions. I admit, I do enjoy the days when I can fit in the Extras, and those are the more serious lifting, and building, days. But by maintaining the COREBASELINE workout routine I pretty much ensure I never stop working out in my lifetime. The exercises I selected for the COREBASELINE workout routine are those that I believe have provided me with the best results, and have helped me avoid injuries as well. Keep in mind that I have carefully selected these after many years of trying many exercise types, and routines. The ones I have selected have yielded the greatest benefits and results for me. Each person is different, and has different issues, problems, strengths, etc., so you will need to tailor your own COREBASELINE workout routine to meet your own specific needs.
Things I avoid: I avoid clean and jerk type exercises, bouncing or jumping around with weights in hands, lifting crazy amounts of weight over my head without being seated and stabilized as I do all I can to protect my back. Do your best to protect your back, knees, and all of your joints, if you want to still be lifting, and getting around okay when you are older. I think what people do, and can do, in fitness routines like those I see in CrossFit is amazing, but I am for sure not a good candidate for that type of punishment. I stick to slow, steady, stabilized, repetitive, and the COREBASELINE, with some extras (as mentioned above), which I will be able do into my late senior years, and hopefully without a great deal of pain from damaged joints, back, etc. I know that does not appeal to everyone, but it has worked well for me, and I simply enjoy the body sculpting and the strength it provides me with. I am more of a sculptor (a starving artist type - it does not pay well), than a sports or on stage competitor.
More training tips to come as time permits. Stay tuned!