Ready to start
Thank you for joining me on this journey of learning the how and why of becoming fit, specifically concentrating on strength training. We learned that strength training is the basis for life-long fitness that will amplify your other fitness pursuits beyond strength. Fitness brings improved health, resilience, and confidence in yourself. It will reward you as you grow older by making your life easier and more enjoyable.
You learned that it’s a demanding prospect that will require you to re-evaluate your priorities and make time for training that you may not immediately have. It will be worth it. You learned to be skeptical, to understand that some people do not have your best interests at heart. Or that they do, but it’s so hard to be correct on all matters in this age of disinformation.
Finally, you learned that strength training means stepping into an alien world. One that can be inhabited by (sometimes toxic) masculinity, and bro-culture. Do not worry, there’s enough room for all of us, and most people I’ve seen support anyone who wants to try to improve themselves. There’s respect for those who keep coming back regularly and make clear progress.
All that’s left to be said is that this is not the end, but the starting line. This is where you need to read the technical specifics about what to lift and what programme to follow.
My personal recommendation is to read Martin Berkhan’s The Leangains Method: The Art of Getting Ripped. Researched, Practiced, Perfected. This book covers the journey of Martin as an overweight youth, through to his modelling career, and battles with dieting. His focus is on food, and what he speaks about diet is compelling and worth reading, especially the concept of 16/8 intermittent fasting. Considering how little practical advice I give about diet in general, I consider this book essential reading for someone who wants to eat healthily to aid lifting.
As a fitness training book, however, it leaves a lot missing in the technical details of how to perform the lifts that make up the training schedule described. When I first read this book I was already a confident weightlifter so this did not trouble me. For detailed technical descriptions of exactly how to perform various lifts, the book Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe excels. It has long paragraphs about the position of the body, the bar etc. at all stages of the lift, and clues as to how you know if you’re performing a lift correctly or not. Little things are in there that I see others in the gym get wrong all the time, like not resting the bar below the shoulder blades when squatting, or not squatting deeply enough. Not just this book, but Mark’s many videos online where he demonstrates good lifting form will help beginners. I consider this essential reading for someone who wants to lift correctly.
Both books above give simple, structured training programmes with rules about how to progress to the next lift. Leangains has a week long cycle covering 9 different lifts ― this is what I currently follow, and likely will use for the rest of my life. Starting Strength is lighter on training programme details and delegates the supplementary book Practical Programming for Strength Training, where Mark describes the Texas Method, for his recommended intermediate training programme.
The key idea for starting out is to do so in a way that best sets you up for success. You want the lifting to be successful, but more importantly the routine has to work for you. Making the programme, the rules etc. as simple as possible, the more likely it is to stick. For this reason I will also refer readers to Stronglifts 5×5 by Mehdi. It is by far the simplest programme with only 5 different types of lift, and two different training routines on any given day. The “5 by 5” title refers to performing 5 sets each of 5 reps. The simplicity makes this a good introductory programme for a few continuous months (say, three to six months). Once your routine is established, I recommend looking at a more complex programme with a week long cycle.
In closing I’ll leave you with a few words about me. I was always a skinny, shy kid growing up. I always enjoyed sport without being particularly great at it; I played football, I cycled. It was only after I lost my “fast twitch” muscles and could no longer run fast enough to play football well, I looked to become bigger and stronger. What was meant to be a few months of distraction to help football, became a life-long passion. I will be lifting weights as long as I’m able.
I work over 40 hours a week sitting at a desk, at a reasonably stressful job. I have several projects in my spare time including writing, and programming (see github.com/lifebeyondfife). Time will always be limited. I don’t consider myself particularly strong or to have an amazing physique. What I can say though is that I think back to that ancient quote from time to time:
“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.”Socrates
I know that if I live to become an old man, I will have few regrets about what my body could have achieved. I hope you’ll be able to join me in saying the same.