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You can’t put an old head on young shoulders

For the most part this is true. Trial and error when it comes to physical exercise and dieting is something which not only makes you wiser, but also debunks your own set of pre-conceived ideas. What works for some, doesn’t work for others.

Unfortunately, determining what is in fact working, isn’t always that easy.

Here, I’ll point out the mistakes I’ve made over the past 10 years. This will hopefully help you become more discerning, and also cut out some of your own guess-work.

#1 Use a variety of techniques & programs

I used to ask my sister to write me a program, and I’d stick with it for months at a time. Not only did I become bored after a few weeks, but my progress wavered to a new level of sh*t-house. And for the guys out there, I don’t want to hear that you’re training for ‘size’ all of the time. For gods sake, doing a strength program for a few months then come back to it. You’ll REALLY be surprised as to how much you can change your body composition when you continually shock it.

#2 Being sore isn’t a ‘good workout’ indicator

It’s a common mindset, especially in the early days of training.

“I Don’t feel sore! My workout must have been sh*t. I’m definitely not going to grow now… “

This is a complete myth. You will grow even if you don’t feel sore for days afterward. However, I’ll happily admit that DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) does motivate you to get back in the gym. It’s highly addictive.

#3 Always track your progress

Training ‘blind’ is something i did for a couple of years. I had NO idea what my gains were week to week, nor what rep ranges I was in. I feel it was a wasted period of my training career where I could be two years further advanced from where I am now. You know, Lifting up small buildings and doing thrust-squats with a family-sized car in each hand.

Write your sh*t down, or use the iPhone application iFitness. No excuses.

12 things I wish I'd known before i started training

Use your clothing as your best guide (just not in terms of fashion)

#4 Clothes are your best guide

In the beginning, I took photos and weighed myself religiously until the cows came home.

“Yay! I’ve shifted 2lbs! I’m on my way to fat-loss city!”

Whilst this might seem like a motivational experience, it has the opposite effect come the week after when you’ve put it back on. Small shifts in body-weight occur weekly depending on a number of factors from how hydrated you are to how long ago you just ate. Use your favourite pair of pants as the ultimate weight-loss guide. If they’re loosening up, you’re doing the right thing. Similarly for muscle gain, if your tee-shirts are shrinking, you’re gaining size (or you’re using the tumble-dryer to often).

#5 Take ‘before’ pix and use the mirror

In addition to the point above, look in the mirror—It will tell you everything you need to know. Just make sure it is a ‘true’ mirror and not a slimming one that they tend to have in gyms. It’s also great to track your progress with a number of pictures, and even small video clips of yourself. No it’s not vanity. Promise.

#6 Ditch the supplements

I’ve had my fare share of bogus supplements over the years. These days, I’m VERY selective with what I use, and during what phase I use them. Sounds complicated doesn’t it? If you’re just starting out, you probably don’t need supplements at all, other than maybe whey protein to help fill you up when you’re on the run, and a good quality fish-oilOtherwise, save your money for real food. I wish I had done the same. I’d have saved THOUSANDS.

#7 Eat natural and organic foods

If it’s processed, avoid it (or limit it to weekends only). I’m probably preaching to the converted here, but if you’re trying to consume extra calories (for muscle size) from processed foods like bacon and McDonalds hamburgers, you’re just not going to get the most out of your training. PERIOD. I went through a phase of eating everything that moved (or didn’t move) for a ‘BULK’ period in my early twenties. I look back at the photos with my double-chin, and wonder how much stress my body was under. It’s not always a case of calories in versus calories out—quality really does count.

#8 Never train sick

Listen to your body. I wrote an article a while back on the reasons why you shouldn’t do it. In my own experience, it made me sicker, and kept me out of the gym twice as long as it would have if I’d just taken a week off.

The gym will still be there when you go back. And no—you won’t lose your muscle.

#9 Ditch fitness magazines

Besides offering a steady flow of ways to get a six-pack in 3 weeks, fitness mags are little more than a bible of supplement advertising. Save your cash and follow some decent blogs instead. Many fitness blogs are unbiased, aren’t being influenced by product and offer real results proven by real people. A few of my faves are here, here and here.

#10 Don’t train to failure all of the time

I found myself doing this for years. I think it was due to an article I read in some body-building magazine which told me I had to. After that, every single workout had me doing bench presses until the bar had to be physically removed from my rib cage. It’s fine to go to failure SPARINGLY, but 9 times out of 10, you want to be sending positive feedback to your CNS. This means stopping a rep short of failure each and every set. Try it some time and watch your gains explode.

#11 Allow time for things to work

Give that new program a chance to work for f*ck sake! You’ve been doing it for a month, and you aren’t looking like a fitness model or Greek Adonis yet—results take time! If you aspire to have an elite physique, you need to put in the hours over a decent stretch of time. Yes, change your program, but give it a good 6 weeks to work it’s magic before you ditch it.

My final piece of advice…

Personal experience cannot be bought! Sometimes you just have to give things a go yourself and make up your own mind. Noone knows your body better than you do. Just because Program X didn’t work for Johnny-Six-Pack, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you.

Editor’s Note: If you could do it all again, what piece of advice would you give? Comment below.

Clint Nielsen

Author Clint Nielsen

Clint is a dad and husband trying to stay in shape. He's also a highly opinionated fitness enthusiast and author of Reveal The Steel. Follow him on: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google+

More posts by Clint Nielsen

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Yeah a good list of tips that work you mention most of the ones I would say but the only tip I would give is : Low training volume is better to create intense workouts.

    • My issue with defining a particular ‘volume’ is that it’s limiting over the long haul.
      Changing volume and rep-range has been a definite key to my recent progress.

  • Clint,

    Great tips… number one being my favorite. Back in my college days I always fell into the trap of finding a workout program that I liked and sticking with it because it became very familiar and comfortable to me.

    As you mention, I’ve found that like variety in training is a key way to progress (there’s more to changing then just increasing weight).

  • Louis says:

    Damn those guys in the video dropping the bar on their chests and throats is sick. I agree 100% on your list! People stick with one thing way to much, listen to mainstream media way to much, think a pill or powder is all they need, and rely on what the scale says to much! great list!

  • Cheers Louis :)
    Mainstream media does have a heck of a lot to answer for.

  • Great list, except that I personally like training when I’m sick, I like that feeling of pushing through exhaustion and spending some time in the steam room to clean up my breathing passages. I think its a matter of preference but you are right in that the gym will still be there when your done.

    • Clint Nielsen says:

      My MAIN issue with those that train when sick, is the ‘sharing’ of the illness.
      Unless you train at home of course ;)

  • maureen says:

    Thanks for the video..LOL Love your blog, love your humor

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