Take Your Workout Seriously

Reinventing The Wheel

Over the past ten years I have had a very on-again, off-again relationship with working out. As a complete novice – lacking knowledge, experience, and proper guidance – I fell into the trap of the “build your own program” abomination, instead of doing my homework and finding one that was battle tested. Before I learned how to workout effectively, I would spend my time running on the treadmill and using the plethora of machines my gym had available. For years, my go-to “program” looked much like this:

  • 10 Minutes of cardio for a warm-up (either treadmill or elliptical)
  • 40 Minutes of weight training
    • Monday – Chest and triceps
    • Tuesday – Back and biceps
    • Wednesday – Legs
    • Thursday – Shoulders
  • 10-20 Minutes of cardio

Something like that…

I would spend 5 days a week at the gym (Friday consisting of some form of cardio for an hour) every week for months at a time. Within the bounds of the muscle groups for the day, I would wander around the gym and perform two or three exercises per group. After a while, the lack of results would finally catch up to me, and I would give up. Sure the weights on the various exercises would go up for a while, but I couldn’t see any change in my physique or how I felt day-to-day, leading to ever increasing frustration. This is an example of what happens when you don’t do your homework on a workout routine. I think Martin Berkhan’s post about Fuckarounditis sums up what I was doing better than I can:

  • Fuckarounditis is a behavioral disorder characterized by a mediocre physique and complete lack of progress, despite significant amounts of time spent in the gym
  • Fuckarounditis most commonly manifests itself as an intense preoccupation with crunches, curls, cable movements, belts, gloves, balance boards, Swiss Balls and Tyler Durden. Fear of squats and deadlifts is another distinguishing trait. Physical exertion is either completely lacking or misapplied (towards questionable or unproductive training practices).

– Martin Berkhan: Fuckarounditis

Back To Basics

About two years ago, when I finally couldn’t stand being unfit anymore, I took a much more serious and involved look into the fitness world. Taking a step back and reevaluating everything I knew about working out, I started reading everything I could find on how to get in shape. Once I got past the fitness magazines, and their marketing which is poorly disguised as bullshit advice, a trend emerged: if you want to be fit, you have to do compound barbell exercises.

Barbells, and the primary exercises we use them to do, are far superior to any other training tools that have ever been devised. Properly performed, full-range-of-motion barbell exercises are essentially the fundamental expression of human skeletal and muscular anatomy under a load. The exercise is controlled by and the result of each trainee’s particular movement patterns, minutely fine-tuned by each individual limb length, muscular attachment position, strength level, flexibility, and neuromuscular efficiency. Balance between all the muscles involved in a movement is inherent in the exercise, since all the muscles involved contribute their anatomically determined share of the work.

Mark Rippetoe: Starting Strength 3rd Edition

This isn’t the first time I’ve referenced this passage from Rippetoe’s book, and it certainly won’t be the last. When I first started working out in middle school, I was terrified of barbell training, especially squats. I thought I was guaranteed to get injured, and that my joints would get destroyed. Starting Strength, and resources like it, helped me to overcome my concerns by laying out the benefits of barbell training, and dispelling the common myths about it. Not to mention the detailed information on correct form so you don’t do something stupid, and actually hurt yourself.

Starting a program based around compound barbell movements changed my life, and taught me what fitness was really about. Since I started, I have seen tremendous results. Results that have made me a life long advocate, and kept me motivated to keep going back to the gym, finally breaking the cycle that I spent so long stuck in.

Keep in mind though, barbell exercises aren’t magic, a proper training program to make the best use of them is crucial for success. Tons of programs exist out there that have been created by some very smart people who have had decades to perfect them, so for the sake of all that is good in the world: use one!

Why So Serious?

Considering my experiences, the thought of people starting with a “lackadaisical” workout that’s meant to naturally “evolve” is very irksome. Who would ever stick with a workout, or have desire to suffer through another session at the gym if there is little-to-no payout? I know I couldn’t.

I try to go to the gym once or twice a week. I spend 25 minutes there. I run for a mile, do some curls and then finish off with a dumbbell bench press. It’s an admittedly ridiculous routine that does very little for my overall fitness. But I don’t care.

I don’t care because I’ve been down this road before. I decide I’m going to start working out again and I take myself very seriously. I become a workout-planning god. I research routines, buy supplements, construct a schedule and pick a start date. Then I go to the gym every day.

By the end of week two I invariably give up.

My current workout routine seems lackadaisical, and it is lackadaisical. But intentionally so. That’s because it’s designed to naturally evolve.

– Stop Taking Yourself So Seriously

Beyond my own experiences, I have seen many of my friends and coworkers take this approach to developing a workout plan, and it has always ended in failure and further discouragement. Burning out doesn’t come from taking yourself too seriously, it comes from not getting results. There is a simple truth that applies in all facets of life: nothing kills motivation faster than a lack of progress.

You can guarantee for all but the most out of shape individuals, screwing around on an elliptical or doing curls for 30 minutes a few times a week will not get any reasonable results. Meanwhile, the person who began a barbell training programs has seen the bar weight go up week after week, and can’t wait until their next workout!

Bro Magic

Hypothetically let’s imagine I’m serious about working out. Because of this, I need a very serious role-model to copy. I settle on Arnold Schwarzenegger. I read his Wikipedia page, I watch Pumping Iron and I take away something like the following:

On Mondays and Fridays Arnold did squats, dead lifts and bench presses.

Then on Wednesdays Arnold did squats, bent rows and power cleans.

Arnold also took creatine 3 days a week to boost his muscle mass.

Looking at this, what’s the most immediate, clearly accessible thing to do to get me closer to becoming Arnold? The creatine of course! So I drive on over to GNC, buy a big bucket of creatine and come home satisfied. I’m at least 30% of the way to becoming the next governor of California, right? Wrong!

– Stop Taking Yourself So Seriously


That blurb is a wonderful example of another major issue that plagues most people when it comes to working out, and getting into shape: the idea that supplements are a magic bullet for fitness. Sure, the tone here suggests that the statement about creatine is probably in jest, but it seems to be a sentiment that many share in earnest. Sure a select few supplements like creatine can assist in getting the most out of a well structured strength training routine, but is in no way going to magically transform you into an elite lifter.

…in regards to studies assessing 1-3 rep bench press strength in trained young men, that 7 studies (Four of which are online) totaling 70 persons using creatine and 73 persons in placebo resulted in a 6.85kg increase in strength relative to placebo; benefits of which peaked at 8 weeks. This meta-analysis also quantified a significant increase in squat strength (9.76kg)…

Examine.com: Creatine – Exercise and Performance


I won’t go into this topic too much, as discussing supplementation would turn into a very long tangent. The short version is that supplements, depending on how much disposable income you want to devote to them, have their place in being an overall healthy person, but only as icing on the cake. Supplements can assist a person to eek out a few more percentage points from the overall health and/or strength picture, but no matter how much “pre-workout nitro-booster animal pump ignition rage” you shovel into your face, it won’t magically turn a lifelong couch potato into the next Mister Universe.

1.1. Sources in the Diet

Creatine can be found in meat products, such as:

  • Steak or Beef with minimal visible connective tissue, about 5g of creatine per 1.1kg of uncooked or a range of 2.15-2.5g/lb
  • Chicken at around 3.4g/kg uncooked
  • Rabbit at around 3.4g/kg uncooked
  • Cardiac tissue (ox heart) at around 2.5g/kg Pig heart is lower at 1.5g/kg

Examine.com: Creatine – Sources In Diet

Information like this is what makes Examine.com an amazing resource, instead of rushing to GNC to buy some (overpriced) creatine, you just increase the amount of meat in your diet. A much tastier option that will help you boost your protein intake, along with numerous other vitamins and minerals. Examine can also help the Average Joe a great deal to cut through the bullshit hype machine that is the supplement industry, and concentrate on supplementing things that have been shown to actually work. Don’t forget the option to just eat well, and not bother worrying about any of this until you’ve burned through your “newbie gains,” and actually start struggling in whatever program you are working through.

Long Story Short

Being fit doesn’t require a huge research effort, but it does require some homework and planning. Just going to the gym and randomly doing whatever exercise that catches your attention will likely get you nowhere fast.

A simple truth that applies in all facets of life: nothing kills motivation faster than a lack of progress.

If you want to stay motivated to be fit: get results. If you want to get results: follow a well vetted barbell training program and eat well. Oh and of course: take your workout seriously, and don’t screw around at the gym!

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