If you’re a man who cares, even a little, about your health and vitality, you NEED to be exercising.
I know, sounds like it should be pretty self-evident, but apparently, some guys haven’t received the memo.
Having said that, if you are a man who cares about these things, and you haven’t embarked on an exercise and workout routine, you could be forgiven considering how incredibly confusing it can be for a beginner to get started.
Do a simple google search for “best workout”, and you can expect to be bombarded by an onslaught of contradictory advice – supersets, high-intensity training, high rep, low rep, no rep, bodyweight, etc….
All this information, when all you really want to know is…
And that’s EXACTLY what this article is for.
The following is a definitive guide to exercise and weight training. It’s designed to take any guy, regardless of his level of experience, and give him the tools he needs to embark on a workout regimen that will add strength, build muscle, increase conditioning, and improve his health and quality of life.
How To Use This Guide
This guide is designed to be as user-friendly as humanly possible. Throughout the article, we’ll be talking about everything from the history of weight training to the benefits of exercise, to the specifics about workout routines that you should be using and adopting into your life.
As a beginner going through this guide, you may find that some of the concepts don’t completely make sense.
You may also notice that each subtopic links out to a more in-depth article.
So if you’re giving this a quick once-through and you do find yourself getting confused (or you find that the information is just too brief), remember that the individual articles cover each subtopic in far more detail.
Let’s get started.
Part I: A Brief History Of Fitness
Human beings have always had a fascination with strength, more specifically, men have had a fascination with strength. Since the beginning of civilization, contests have been held in which men hoisted up whatever heavy object they happened to have available to them in an attempt to determine who was the biggest badass in that particular Greek village.
The origins of the actual barbell are a little more ambiguous, with primitive models likely going back to at least the Renaissance. But we do know that the first modern barbell (the one you see in your gym today) was invented in Germany in the 1920’s by Kasper Berg.
In America, strength contests have always taken place with or without modern barbells, but it wasn’t until the emergence of bodybuilding that the use of weights to build and alter your strength and physique became common knowledge.
During the 1940’s and 50’s, early bodybuilders like Bill Pearl gained notoriety, with nationally recognized bodybuilding contests following shortly after. This paved the way for what is now known as the “Golden Era of Bodybuilding” in the 1960’s and 70’s. With Muscle Beach in Venice, California, as its Mecca, champions like Frank Zane, Franco Columbu and Arnold gained widespread attention, both for their godlike physiques as well as their roles in Hollywood films.
While the popularity of these giants helped solidify the appeal of weightlifting, it was still considered somewhat of a “fringe” activity. The fact that bodybuilding in the 80’s and 90’s saw an increased amount of drug use and increasingly “freakish” physiques didn’t exactly help sell the idea of strength training to the average person.
So it’s somewhat ironic then that it was (roughly) during this time that fitness as a mainstream movement started to really take off. With media and magazines promoting a lean, muscular body as a worthwhile goal to aspire to, and with the proliferation of commercial gyms throughout the country, the general population began to catch on in a big way.
This interest in fitness, and in particular, muscles and strength, only increased with the widespread use of the Internet in the late 90’s and the widespread dissemination of information.
As of 2018, fitness is now anything but “fringe”. Gyms are scattered throughout every corner of the country. Magazines, books, and blogs offer information on everything from workout advice to diet and nutrition.
Rather than something that only “meatheads” do, almost everyone has, at some point in their life, gone to a gym and at least attempted to lift some kind of weight.
While most guys have woken up to the benefits weight training can have on their lives, there are still some holdouts who can’t get past the idea of weightlifting as something that “dumb bros” do.
Sure, almost everyone can get behind the idea of cardiovascular training, but when it comes to the iron, some dudes still have a mental block around it.
So, if that’s you, and you’re resisting getting on this train because you think it’s a waste of your time, listen up.
Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, should be lifting weights. Period. Whether you’re a world champion powerlifter or an accountant who spends the bulk of his day behind a desk, resistance training IS NOT optional.
But don’t take my word for it. The following is a list of just some of the benefits of weight training. Some of them may be self-evident (like looking good naked), but many of them are things that a lot of guys simply haven’t considered.
Increased Lean Muscle Mass
This is a pretty obvious place to start. By engaging in resistance training (i.e. any form of training in which you’re working against some kind of force), your body will be forced to build more lean muscle.
Even if (for some reason) you don’t care about building an aesthetically pleasing body, the benefits of increasing your lean muscle mass go way beyond that. These include:
- Better body fat control
- More stamina in physical activities
- Greater ability to fight off disease
- Fewer injuries
Increased Quality Of Life As You Age
When it comes to the benefits of muscle, this one can’t be overstated – individuals with higher levels of lean mass live longer and live better.
As we age, we gradually lose the ability to move around and perform tasks on our own. The more muscle you have, the less you’ll fall victim to this, and the longer you’ll keep your independence.
Reduced Risk Of Injury And Degeneration
Resistance training has been shown to not only ward off degenerative conditions like osteoporosis, but it’s also been shown to prevent injury since a good workout routine will prevent muscular imbalances.
Improved Cognitive Function And Mental Health
If you’re a guy who prides himself on his mind and intellect, understand that by not exercising, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Not only does regular exercise improve cognition and mood, but regular weight training has been shown prevent cognitive decline, including serious conditions like Alzheimers and dementia. Not to mention the reduction in stress that we know every working Joe could use these days.
Now that we’ve established why you should not only be exercising but specifically incorporating resistance training into your life, let’s talk a little bit more about the specifics of how you should go about doing that.
In order to give you gentlemen a model of how this works, we’ll be starting with the fundamentals, and then working into a more detailed breakdown of the different ways of training.
And when it comes to the fundamentals, there’s really nothing more barebones than the one piece of workout equipment that you’ll find in almost every gym in the country – the barbell.
While barbell training has fallen out of favor over the last few decades with the advent of modern gyms and machines (which we’ll cover in the next section), the last few years have seen a resurgence in this “archaic” piece of equipment, with a renewed interest in old-school lifting techniques.
And that’s exactly where we’ll be starting – the basic barbell lifts. While these certainly aren’t the only things you can do with a barbell, they’ve stood the test amongst lifters, and are certainly worth considering.
They’re also phenomenally powerful compound movements that, if done right, will build both muscle mass and brute strength.
The Bench Press
A longtime favorite amongst bros nationwide (and the reason Monday has been dubbed “international chest day” at almost every commercial gym), the bench press, is one of the definitive upper body lifts.
While many think of it primarily as a chest builder, it really is so much more than that. When executed properly, bench pressing will build not only result in an impressive set of pecs but will also work the shoulders (with emphasis on the front delts), triceps, back and even the quads (since the legs act to stabilize you during the movement).
From a functional standpoint, bench pressing builds tremendous horizontal pushing power, which will translate to everything from playing football to pushing your car out of the snow.
The Overhead Press
If benching is the prime mover in developing your ability to move an object forward, then the overhead press is the vertical component- taking the barbell in your hands, and hoisting it above your head not only looks incredibly badass but also rounds out your pushing strength.
And since a powerful, thick set of shoulders is a defining characteristic of a well-built physique, it stands to reason that many trainees concerned with aesthetics would want to add this movement to their arsenal.
The deadlift (aka “picking heavy shit up off the floor”) is hands down one of the most powerful movements in weightlifting. Executed properly, deadlifting will work almost every muscle in your body (with emphasis on the back and legs).
It’s also one of the definitive exercises for developing pulling power (not to mention grip strength).
While it is one of the more difficult movements to coach, its strength and muscle building potential make it worth learning how to perform properly.
Apart from deadlifting, there probably is no movement more intrinsic to being human than a squat.
With a number of variations to choose from (back squat, front squat, etc), squatting is the definitive lower body exercise and will build power throughout your entire posterior chain – critical to being a strong, well-functioning human being.
It’s also the ultimate antidote to the dreaded “chicken legs”.
The Barbell Row
While often not included among the “major lifts”, learning how to row with a barbell is certainly worth the effort.
Unfortunately for many lifters, the back tends to be one of the more neglected parts of the body, which if not addressed can lead to muscle imbalances.
Rowing is a phenomenal exercise for addressing this imbalance, and for building strength and adding mass and thickness to the back.
Part IV: Workout Machines vs Free Weights (Does It Matter?)
Now that we’ve covered a few of the basic exercises that can be performed with free weights, let’s switch gears and talk about machines.
Which means addressing the age-old question…which are better?
This debate has been raging since the advent of workout machines and, unfortunately, getting to a definitive answer of “which one’s better” probably isn’t going to happen in this article.
With that said, it is certainly true that both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages Of Free Weights
- Versatility (the ability to move a barbell or a dumbbell in a variety of different directions)
- Trains the major muscles as well as the “stabilizer muscles”
- Greater ability to perform compound movements
Disadvantages Of Free Weights
- Longer learning curve
- Greater potential for injury
- Many lifts require a training partner
Advantages Of Exercise Machines
- Many weight machines can do things free weights simply can’t
- Workout machines provide a safe way to train by yourself
- Efficient for certain types of training (circuit training, HIT training, etc)
Disadvantages Of Exercise Machines
- Availability depends on the gym
- Expensive (if you’re looking to workout from home)
The short answer is this – whether or not you use free weights or machines doesn’t matter nearly as much as actually training.
By all means, weigh the pros and cons and take into account your personal preference and circumstances. But don’t get bogged down in the details.
Just the fact that you lift puts you above the majority of guys.
Part V: The Different Styles Of Training (Choosing A Workout Plan)
One of the biggest issues new trainees have when it comes to getting started is choosing a program.
And at the end of the day, all the information in the world won’t mean much if you’re at a loss for how to actually put it to use in a practical, well-structured routine.
The following is a brief guide to the different styles of weight training. We’ll talk about the fundamentals of each, as well as who will benefit most depending on your specific goals.
Keep in mind that just because you start with one training style doesn’t mean you’re married to it – it’s completely acceptable to change up your workout as you progress and find out what works for you and your body. It is also not a bad idea to change your workout routines periodically.
Isolation vs Compound Exercises
Compound exercises are exercises that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously (think squats, deadlifts, etc).
Isolation exercises are the opposite, and they’re exactly what they sound like – movements that isolate and work a particular muscle (bicep curls, tricep extensions, etc).
There’s been a lot of debate surrounding which of these are optimal for building muscle mass and strength, but for the purpose of this article, we’re going to keep it simple for you – you need to be doing both.
Unless you’re training for a very specific sport, most trainees will benefit from a mixed workout routine.
Compound movements work well because a.) they’re efficient, and b.) they build both muscle mass and strength.
Isolation work is necessary to maximize muscle growth and to build up any body parts that are “lagging behind” (which often happens to lifters who only perform compound movements). Your body tends to lean on your dominant muscles and this causes a lagging effect in the other muscles involved in that exercise.
High-Intensity Training (HIT)
High-intensity training originally came out of the bodybuilding world in the 70’s and 80’s. Originally devised by Arthur Jones (the guy who created the Nautilus machines), it was later made popular by bodybuilder Mike Mentzer and six-time Mr. Olympia winner Dorian Yates.
HIT is a low volume, very high-intensity approach to training. It often involves performing only one set for each exercise- but doing that set to complete failure.
Super Slow is a variation of HIT which puts more emphasis on performing the repetitions as slowly as possible, placing equal emphasis on the concentric and eccentric portion of the exercises (if those words sound like Spanish to you, don’t worry, the detailed article breaks all of that down).
Circuit training is a technique that combines resistance training with cardiovascular training. A typical workout will involve choosing a set of exercises with a specified set of repetitions. This is designed to elevate the heart rate like you are doing cardio while providing strength training. This is actually the workout routine I do 80% of the time.
The idea is to move from one exercise to another as quickly as possible, without taking a break. Once you’ve completed all the exercises, you’ve finished one “circuit”.
Circuit training is a good option for certain athletes who require a high level of endurance for their sport. It’s can also be a smart choice for people who don’t have a lot of time to spend in the gym.
High Volume Training (High Repetition, Low Weight)
High volume training is an approach to lifting that involves performing a lot of repetitions and sets with the weight kept relatively low.
Now, with that said, doing this style of training correctly doesn’t mean that you’ll be throwing 10-pound pink dumbbells around for 50 reps. It just means keeping the weight low enough that you’re able to perform anywhere from 8-15 reps (the specifics will vary depending on your workout).
High volume is great for beginners since the high number of repetitions means you’ll get plenty of practice with the movement (critical for developing good form).
It’s also historically been used by bodybuilders and lifters who prioritize size and muscle mass (although it’s definitely NOT the only way to go about it).
Heavy Compound Training (Low Repetition, High Weight)
Heavy compound training is a low volume approach to lifting. With strength being a priority, it often places a lot of emphasis on progressing in a few key compound lifts like squats and deadlifts (although certain machines can be substituted), with most of the work being done in the 3-6 rep range.
Heavy, low rep weight training of this nature is usually not recommended for guys who are complete beginners since you need at least some familiarity with the lifts and how to execute them with good form before you start piling plates on the bar.
This style of training is often favored by guys who regard gaining strength as their top priority (although it can certainly be effective for putting on muscle mass as well).
Now we’re getting into the really hardcore stuff.
Powerlifting is a sport that revolves around developing pure strength in three specific lifts – the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press.
Training for powerlifting is all about getting stronger in these three moves, with a great deal of work being done in the 1-3 rep range, since powerlifting competitors are judged on their performance on a single repetition.
Powerlifting certainly is not for beginners. If you want to get involved, you will need to have some lifting experience, particularly in the three aforementioned lifts, and possibly some training from an experienced trainer as well.
With that said, if your goal is simply to get as strong as possible, this sport is definitely for you.
Bodyweight training is exactly what it sounds like – using your body and gravity to create resistance.
While training like this does have certain limitations, you can definitely build some quality muscle and strength – you just need to get creative.
Bodyweight training is ideal both for beginners, guys that don’t have regular access to a gym or guys who travel a lot and end up in hotels with the 3 standard cardio machines and that is it.
Cardio is an important component of anyone’s exercise routine and should supplement any weight training program you choose. Not only will it help keep you lean, but (contrary to what the meatheads will tell you), it will actually make it easier to build muscle in the long run.
In terms of how to perform your cardio, you’ll have a number of different options at your disposal. These include the obvious – running, cycling, and swimming. But they also include different ways of structuring these activities to maximize your results, including:
- Steady state cardio
- HIIT (high-intensity interval training)
- Complex training
The amount of cardio you should be doing will depend on your goals and lifestyle, but generally speaking, most men would benefit from doing anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours per week. I believe that if you’re redoing circuit training correctly, you can probably even cut that in half.
Supplements are a highly contentious issue in the health and fitness world. They’re also a confusing one, given the seemingly endless bottles of supplements on the shelf at every GNC and Walgreens in the country.
Fortunately, we put together a Guide to Supplements for you, but we’re going to keep it real simple for you here – most supplements are bullshit, and the ones that aren’t generally won’t run you a ton of cash.
A good quality supplement routine can (depending on your needs) include the following:
As for the other stuff, like “supercharge turbo-testosterone booster”… absolutely avoid that kind of junk.
Save the money for your gym membership and some decent workout gear.
Part VI: The Importance Of Cardio And Diet
One of the most neglected aspects of the exercise game, a lot of guys either do too little cardio or worse – no cardio at all.
We touched a little on the different techniques, but, just as there are some who are resistant to the idea of lifting weights, some people are just as stubborn when it comes to cardio.
And at the end of the day, a lot of them are stubborn because of a few persistent myths in the gym world that just won’t die, including the infamous “cardio will kill your gains homie” (that’s bro speak for “cardio will burn muscle”).
The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. If you’re serious about maintaining a lean, healthy physique, you need to be incorporating some kind of cardio into your routine.
Now, with that being said, it’s important to note that while cardio is important, so is your diet.
And unfortunately, for everyone out there who treats the treadmill like it’s kryptonite, there are countless others slaving away in the hopes of undoing a crappy diet.
Here’s the deal – if you want to burn fat and get lean, you need to get your diet in check. It is actually a lot easier than what most people think unless of course your spouse, parents, and friends are having brisket BBQs with mac and cheese and brown sugar laden baked beans every weekend and your idea of lunch is a Big Mac. But let’s get real, you don’t have to eat it.
If you want to build muscle, you also need to get your diet handled, no two ways around it.
When it comes to diet and nutrition, calories are king. They’re the single most important factor when it comes to determining your body composition, and whether you’re “bulking” or “cutting”, they’re something you need to understand and manage.
In case you’re completely new to the concept, here’s the short abridged version – your body uses a certain amount of calories per day to maintain your current body weight. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less than that amount or burn more.
If you want to gain weight (muscle), then the opposite is true, and you need to eat more and EXERCISE.
Again, this is an oversimplified explanation, and the devil’s in the details, but if you can burn that simple concept into your head, you’ll be light years ahead of most guys looking for the next “miracle” diet.
I manage my calories by following the intermittent fasting diet. If you have a half decent diet and follow the 16/8 method that I do, you will find that it is difficult to eat more than 2,000 calories per day, unless you are just eating like shit. Also, since implementing this fasting method, I am almost never hungry. I just eat when I know I should and if something like work gets in the way, I don’t even miss the meal, I just eat the next time I get the chance.
If calories are king, then protein is queen (for lack of a better analogy).
Protein is responsible for the release of amino acids into your body, which acts as the fundamental building blocks of muscle. It’s also a highly satiating macronutrient with a host of other benefits, so if you’re looking to improve both your health and your body composition, eating a high protein diet should be a top priority for you.
I want to tell you all a secret here. You can get just as much if not more protein from plant-based foods as you can from meet. So consider your cholesterol when increasing your protein and add some plant proteins to your diet instead of just doubling the amount of steak and burgers you eat.
Fats And Carbs
While not as important as calories and protein, your fat and carb intake does matter.
The amount of each that you should be eating will depend largely on your goals, your personal preferences and how your body functions, and will require some personal experimentation.
Personally, I follow a low carb diet called the keto diet. I am a firm believer that sugar and carbs are the leading culprit of type 2 diabetes, many autoimmune diseases, and more today. There are a ton of studies that support this, so I encourage you to get serious about your diet and start investigating food so that you can be an informed consumer that will ultimately be happier and healthier because of it.
Good news, bad news – the good news is that, contrary to what “clean eating” zealots will tell you, you can get absolutely shredded eating a diet of cupcakes and protein shakes.
The bad news is that you’ll feel like shit, train like shit, and set yourself up for illness, injury, and dysfunction.
No, you don’t have to eat “clean” all the time, but you should prioritize nutritious, whole foods over Pop-Tarts and bonbons.
Part VII: Add Stretching And Mobility To Your Workout Routine
You can have the most jacked physique in the world, but if your body doesn’t move the way it’s supposed to, you’re going to have problems.
We live in a world in which most of us spend the bulk of our day sitting at a desk hunched forward in probably the worst position any human being can get themselves into.
And while weightlifting does help correct this, it’s not enough.
Most guys are at least familiar with the idea that it’s important to stretch before exercising. What they don’t realize is that stretching is just one part of the equation, and if you really want to move the way you’re supposed to, you need to add mobility work into the equation.
As we move through life in dysfunctional patterns, certain muscles tend to tighten up. If this happens over a long enough period of time, it begins to affect the way we move, causing other muscles to pick up the slack and get overused.
A good, solid mobility routine will correct this issue by loosening these tight muscles up, restoring balance to your body and allowing you to move through the world (and your squat routine) the way you were meant to.
Just in case your thinking it, Yoga is not just for women. If that is what you believe, I challenge you to give it a try and you definitely change your mind. I have a suspension you may even be ashamed of your poor performance halfway through your first session.
Parting Words Of Wisdom
If you’ve made it to the end of this article, congratulations! It’s a lot of information to digest, especially if this is all stuff you’ve never considered until now.
And chances are if you do happen to be a newbie, some of this may have gone over your head.
If that’s the case, no worries – take your time, and go through the material as many times as you need to, and go through the links to the more detailed articles on each subtopic.
And, most importantly, start taking action. Having all this knowledge is great, but it’s useless if you don’t start applying it. Start slow if you need to – there’s nothing wrong with gradually easing into a workout and diet routine.
And if you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments below, and we’d be happy to clear up any confusion you have.