Know the What, When, Where, How, and Why

Knowing the details is important.

Specifically:

You should know what you’re doing. There should be no guessing games when you show up to train. You aren’t showing up and spinning a big wheel of fortune.

You should know when you’ll train. What time of day, what days of the week, etc. Make sure that training days aren’t some big game of whack-a-mole.

You should know where you’re going to train. At a gym? At your home gym?

You should know how train. Educate yourself on form, technique, sets, reps, etc. and how the changing of certain variables leads to different adaptations. Read this site, read other sites, and always be learning something new.

And very important but often neglected…know why you’re training. Why do you want this? What is your overarching why? Keep this why close to heart.

Every detail should be ironed out and articulated so that you’re not reaching for things in the dark.

Beware of Cheap

I used to buy cheap things to save money, and instead of getting what I really wanted, I got some inferior version and paid the price.

Yes, I’ve been burned by cheap many times, and I’ve learned my lesson.

Nowadays if I purchase something, I go mid-tier or above.

Just think about it: why is something cheap?

Usually cheap materials, labor, or practices.

This also goes for services.

Cheap usually (but not always) means lack of skill, knowledge, or experience.

Now, is this law in every case?

Of course not.

Sometimes you’ll find great value in cheap things. We’ve all had a product or service that exceeded our expectations that was an absolute steal.

On the flip side, you’ll sometimes get little value from expensive things.

But I’d say for the most part, you get what you pay for, and as the saying goes: “buyer beware”.

Cheap does not equal value. Cheap means low price. Low price does not equal value because value means getting more back than the dollar amount you paid. Value is getting your money’s worth and then some.

So why am I saying all of this, and what does it have to do with strength training?

  • Beware of the cheap gym membership. Cheap can mean crowded, understaffed, busted down equipment, or even just a downright terrible environment for serious training.
  • Beware of cheap fitness equipment. In this case cheap usually means inferior materials and workmanship. Cheap equipment can quickly break down and become useless.
  • Beware of cheap food and supplements. Cheap can mean low quality or even contaminated products…this is one you really don’t want to play around with.

You mostly get what you pay for, and always remember: you’re worth every penny.

Is Life Happening FOR You, or TO You?

I find that looking at life as something that happens for you, as opposed to something that happens to you, changes the whole game.

When life happens for you, problems are challenges, and challenges are opportunities for growth, learning, and becoming a better human.

Sometimes, you might also find that problems, and thus challenges, are blessings in disguise.

For example, I’m a naturally skinny dude. In high school I was rail thin, 6′ tall and about 150 lbs soaking wet. Not very strong at all either. In fact, I remember failing a body weight back squat to get up on the strength board in my high school weight room.

Yikes.

Today I’m more than 30 lbs heavier and my back squat is more than double 150 lbs.

You see, If I had been more gifted in the genetics department I likely wouldn’t have had that fire to get bigger and stronger, I wouldn’t have gained the expertise of actually doing it, and I likely wouldn’t have made helping others do the same thing one of my missions in life.

I turned not-so-good genetics for strength and size into a challenge that ended up a blessing.

So begin with the mindset shift: life is happening for you, not to you.

Turn your problems into challenges that’ll make you a better human being, and you might just find that some of these challenges become blessings that were in disguise.

Note: I first heard of this concept from Tony Robbins, so I must give credit where credit is due.

Doing Pull-Ups @ Home

Pull-ups are imperative for greater pulling strength and building a bigger back.

So if you’re (mostly) a home-gymmer (yes, I just made that word up) like me you’ll need a place to do pull-ups. This can be tough, as most homes aren’t very conducive to pull-ups.

But fret not, I’ve got solutions. None are perfect, some are better than others, and all require compromises. But hey, at least you’ll be able to get your pull-ups in.

1. Find a Sturdy Apparatus on Your Property

This could be a beam, a pipe, or any other sturdy thing you could hold onto.

My childhood home was built in the early 1900’s and had solid exposed beams in the basement that we would do pull-ups on. It wasn’t that bad, save for almost impaling our skulls with nails and getting covered in cobwebs (I was also a kid and not too serious about training).

I really don’t recommend this option, unless you really have no other choice. You could seriously damage your property or fall off and get injured by hanging onto things that weren’t meant to be hung onto (and even catch a nail in the skull).

Indeed, this is a last resort or temporary option.

2. Find Jungle Gyms, or If You’re Lucky, Calisthenics Parks

Another free option: you could get outside and use nearby jungle gyms or calisthenics parks.

There are a couple hang-ups here, though. One is that you probably won’t be able to bring much other equipment with you. Two is that the weather must cooperate (and it probably won’t). Three is that there’ll likely be lots of other people there.

Obviously these three things make this a less than ideal option for our purposes. It can work, but it’s not ideal.

3. Build Your Own Pull-Up Apparatus

Now we’re getting serious.

If you’re the engineering type, building your own pull-up apparatus is a great idea. You could build a bar off something, like a sturdy wall, or even build your own pull-up stand.

The beauty here is that you could customly build it to your height and width specifications, creating exactly what you need.

But…

You must know what you’re doing. The key words here are sturdy and safe. If this apparatus breaks in the middle of a set you’re going to have a bad time.

A great option if you’re handy, less so if you’re not.

4. Buy a Door-Frame Pull-Up Bar

A door-frame pull-up bar simply attaches to a door frame, and these can be a great option for those on a budget or for those who have little space.

One hang-up with these bars is that you won’t be able to do a full hang, especially if you’re taller. You’ll have to go with bent knees.

Another hang-up is that it could damage your door frame, although I’ve been using mine for years with many different door frames and I’ve never had a problem.

This might be a good option for a more compact person, but a not-so-good option for a bigger and taller one.

5. Mount a Pull-Up Bar on the Wall

Yes, there are pull-up bars that can be mounted directly onto a wall (forget mounting your flat screen, mount a pull-up bar!).

This is only an option if you own your house though, because it’s pretty invasive. You also must know what you’re doing, as you could just plain mess your walls up.

I have no experience with this, but if you have a single carpenter bone in your body and the right housing framework it probably wouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

6. Go with Rings

Rings can be a great minimalistic and space-saving option.

If you have a strong beam or other sturdy anchor point high enough, you can just swing them over and get to work.

I also find that rings are much easier on the elbows, as they allow them to move freely.

They do require more coordination, however, and you also can’t do banded pull-ups with them, so they’re not a great option for newer trainees.

7. Buy a Squat Rack with an Equipped Pull-Up Bar

You need to do your squats anyway, right? Why not hit two birds with one stone?

This is a great solution, but it comes with a greater cost and requires more space.

8. Buy a Stand-Alone Pull-Up Option

If you don’t have a squat rack with a pull-up bar, or you want to place the pull-up bar in a different room from your squat rack (due to ceiling height, etc.), buying a stand-alone pull-up bar is an option.

Things to Think About That Might Affect Your Final Decision

If you can’t do a pull-up yet, you’ll have to use some assistance (bands, a chair, etc.).

When you get stronger you’ll attach weights to yourself to make progress. This could be north of 100 lbs. A sturdy pull-up bar is a must.

A high enough bar or rings will allow you to do fixed upper body core exercises (hanging reverse crunches, knee/leg raises, toes-to-bar, etc.).

Do No Harm

The first goal is to avoid injury.

Now this doesn’t mean you should train scared, but it does mean you should train with your health and future in mind.

Therefore, it’s important to:

  • Listen to your body and know your limits.
  • Check your ego at the door.
  • Use optimal technique.

Look, an injury will set you back weeks, months, or even years. That means zero progress while you get back to 100%. An injury might even affect other areas of your life, too.

The goal for getting stronger and fitter is to make your life better. If you’re continually getting injured you’re actually making your life worse.

What’s the point then?

So do no harm, and remember that every workout is a good workout when you don’t get injured.

Walking: Do It and Do It Often

Walking is one of those things that not only benefits physical health, but also mental health. This is especially true if it’s done in a serene environment, such as nature areas.

Indeed, walking is a great stress reliever, and it should be done often, including up to every day.

A solitary stroll is great, as is walk with your kids, a family member, or a friend. Any way, you get some movement in and also get some time to think or socialize.

Walking is really a win/win thing that should be done often.

Record Everything You Do

How can you know you’re making progress if you don’t have anything to look back upon?

You can’t.

That’s why it behooves you to record everything you do training-wise.

Now, how should you record your training sessions?

The simplest way is to keep a training log on your phone or in a notebook.

If you go this route it’s important to keep this information organized and easily accessible, as the last thing you want to do is sift through past workouts for 20 minutes trying to find your last squat PR.

You could also use an app.

Apps are great because they record everything but can also give you real data to go off of.

The big plus with apps is that they organize everything for you and allow you to search through your data, making it easy to find the information you’re looking for.

But either way works.

All that matters is that you do record and use the data to keep track of your progress and map your future course of action.

Making It a Lifestyle

Getting stronger, more muscular, and leaner is more than just training.

Indeed, it’s a lifestyle that also requires:

  • Eating the proper amount of food for your current goal, while eating more higher-quality foods and eating less lower-quality foods.
  • Getting more quality sleep (7-9 hours).
  • Removing bad stress from your life, or finding ways to cope with this stress.
  • Buying cool tank tops and shorts to show off your giant veiny arms and amazing quads.

Now don’t get me wrong, training is important. It’s the stimulus, it’s the spur for adaptation.

But recovery is arguably more important.

Recovery is where the magic happens, where your body builds up better than before. Sub-optimal recovery = sub-optimal results.

So yeah…

It requires much more than the process of actually training.

You see it all the time: someone resolves to get in the gym and make something happen, but they make a BIG mistake…

They only think about what happens in the gym!

They don’t think about nutrition, sleep, and managing stress not one bit, and although they might make some progress, it’s usually not much and they get discouraged…and then quit.

Look, the gym is only a fraction of it, an important fraction, but a fraction nonetheless.

So, you may train 4-7 hours a week. That leaves 161+ hours a week that you’re not training, and believe me those 161+ hours will be make or break.

If you fail to support your training with solid nutrition, sound sleep, and a workable stress-management strategy you’re likely not adapting and you’re just spinning your wheels while wasting time and money.

The cold hard truth is that most will try but continually fail because they don’t make it a lifestyle.

They think all it takes is an hour of training each day.

No chance.

It takes 24 hours each day.

7 days each week.

365 days each year (okay, minus a few days, you likely won’t be 100% the whole year, but you get my point).

So ask yourself this: am I willing to not only commit to training, but also everything that comes with it?

If your answer is no, you might as well go and do something else.

Structuring Training Sessions

Think of each training session as 4 parts:

Part 1: Warm up. Priming your body for action, going from general movement to specific to what you’re doing that day. The warm up is also a great time to practice technique and move your body in different ways.

Part 2: Strength training. Hitting sets of your prescribed strength training exercises.

Part 3: Conditioning. Getting your heart rate up and burning some calories. Conditioning is necessary for you to stay as fit and healthy as possible. Conditioning can be running, biking, walking, some sort of MetCon, etc.

Note: I use conditioning and the more traditional “cardio” interchangeably.

Part 4: Cool down. Allowing your heart rate come down safely and doing some flexibility and mobility stuff.

Note: the warm up and cool down are optional for very light conditioning sessions, like light biking or walking.

Now, if you do your strength training and conditioning separate it’ll obviously look a little different, as parts 2 and 3 will be done at different times of the day, but the jist of it remains the same.

Important: don’t skip the warm up or the cool down. Both are important, and if you don’t have time to warm up or cool down then you don’t have time to work out!

Now you may ask if you can do your conditioning first and your strength training second. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Strength training requires you to be “fresh”, that is not unduly fatigued. Fatigue will affect your performance, leading to sub-optimal adaptation. It might also lead you to deviate from desired technique, increasing injury risk.

So warm up, strength train, do your conditioning, and cool down. That’s the outline for a successful training session.

The Enjoyment Factor

Yes, you should have clear-cut goals. Yes, most everything you do should have a purpose. And yes, you have to get serious to get anywhere.

But don’t forget to also make your training fun and enjoyable.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

I have a blast almost every time I train, and if I didn’t I probably wouldn’t do it.

The key is finding ways to make it fun and enjoyable while still getting to where you want to go.

Where Should You Train?

First off, there’s really no one-size-fits-all solution as to where to train.

One might find that a home gym works best for them. Another might find a commercial gym best. Yet another might find a combo of the two is the way to go (I’m in this camp. I train ~90% at home and ~10% at a gym, and it works for me).

It’s an individual thing, and you’ll need to take a look deep inside and ask yourself questions such as:

  • Where would I be comfortable training?
  • Where can I train the way I want to train?
  • Where would I find the greatest enjoyment?
  • Where would I be the most consistent?
  • Where can I listen to my early 2000’s Screamo and not get judged?

Really think about this.

Progress will take months (and years!) of consistent effort. You’re going to be spending a lot of time training in your chosen environment, so you must make it convenient, fun, and enjoyable.

Therefore you must go where you can train in accordance with your own nature.

If you have any big hang ups about commercial gyms, joining one probably won’t work.

Likewise, if you’re bored to death working out by yourself, you probably shouldn’t build a home gym.

Here’s a list of pros and cons (I know, who doesn’t love pros and cons?):

Pros for the gym:

  • Gyms can provide good atmosphere and energy (they can, it doesn’t mean that they necessarily will).
  • There’s a social aspect.
  • There can be a camaraderie among members (all working to achieve a common goal).
  • Gyms have amenities such as a pool, a sauna, etc.

Cons for the gym:

  • You’ll have to pay gym dues.
  • Gyms can get crowded (at peak times).
  • Gym can be bastions for microbes.
  • There’ll be a commute (time).
  • You’ll have to get all dressed up.
  • Naked people in locker rooms.

Pros for training at home:

  • It’ll never get crowded.
  • There’s only a one-time upfront cost of equipment.
  • You can scream, grunt, and do all of the socially unacceptable things you want.
  • It’s very time-efficient and convenient (this one is huge).
  • You can wear whatever you like.
  • There’s no commute time.

Cons for training at home:

  • You’ll have to provide your own energy and motivation.
  • There’s no social aspect.
  • There’s the aforementioned upfront cost.
  • Equipment takes up space.
  • You can get easily distracted if you’re not careful.

So what do I recommend?

Any and all.

Look, you should do everything you can anywhere you can.

If that means training at the gym 4-5 days a week, so be it.

If that means training at home 4-5 days a week, so be it.

If that means training at the gym 2 days and training at home 3 days a week so be it.

There’s no one right way to do it.

So at the gym, at home…doesn’t matter.

What really matters is that you actually train and make progress.

So find what works for you and put in the work.

Types of Resistance

To build greater strength you’ll need resistance, and this resistance comes in many forms, most in which you’ll be working against gravity (a downward force).

Indeed you have:

Your own body weight. Kind of self-explanatory, you get into lots of different positions and move your own body weight.

Free weights. You lift an external weight. Weights come in many forms, from the barbell and weight plates, to dumbbells, to kettlebells, and everything in between. Each type of weight training implement has it’s own unique advantages and disadvantages.

Machines (fixed weights). Most machines use adjustable weight stacks, pulleys, and cables to manipulate gravity and provide resistance.

Bands. The actual band material provides the resistance. The resistance is adjusted by using heavier and thicker bands. This is a common form of resistance that doesn’t use the downward force of gravity.

So what type of resistance should you use?

For strength purposes, most of your training should be with free weights.

Free weights allow you to adhere to the principles of strength training, they’re cost-effective, and they’re functional.

Body weight training should also be included. Manipulating your body weight is incredibly important, and it can help you learn kinesthetic awareness and bodily control. Body weight movements are also great for conditioning.

Machines and bands should be used sparingly if you’re not rehabilitating an injury.

Training for Longevity

I know.

I know it’s cool to train heavy, train hard, and train fast these days.

And I love it too, probably more so than anyone else.

But one must take into account longevity.

In other words, you have to look long term. You have to look out for your future self.

Is this person, the future you at 60, 70, 80, 90, or even 100, going to be injured, broken, and beaten down from years of hard training?

Look, strength training should be a lifelong activity. You should be able to do it until your very last days.

It should give you more out of life.

This won’t be the case if you’re putting the pedal to the metal all day every day.

So yes, go hard.

But be smart about it.

You want your future self to thank you, not curse you.

Re-Framing Problems as Challenges

Re-framing problems as challenges instantly makes things more actionable and do-able.

A challenge evokes a call-to-action. It invites you to take care of it.

Re-framing problems as challenges puts the control right back in your lap. Challenge means there’s opportunity.

“The problem is that I’m weak.” No, you don’t have a weakness problem…you have a challenge to get under the bar and build some strength and size.

“I have a weight problem.” No, you don’t have a weight problem…you have a challenge to lose fat and get lean.

“I have a problem with consistency.” No, you don’t have a problem with consistency…you have a challenge to do what it takes to become the type of person who is consistent.

Don’t look at life as something that happens to you, look at life as something that happens for you.

Challenges are growth opportunities, as they give you a chance to learn, to become more resilient, and to become stronger. They give you a chance to become who you want to be.

Start shifting your mindset and re-frame your problems as challenges.

Getting a Little Uncomfortable

“Civilization has, indeed, become a slaughtering-car crowned by a grinning effigy of comfort, before which man blindly and voluntarily hurls himself in his own ignorance.”

-Eugen Sandow, strongman and bodybuilder

Sandow said this in the early 20th century, and I suppose it goes double today.

Indeed, we’ve gotten used to a higher and thus more comfortable standard of living.

Is this a bad thing?

Not totally.

What we’ve done is amazing. We live like past kings and have raised the standard of living and life expectancy tremendously.

BUT…the problem becomes when we don’t balance it out with a bit of discomfort. This makes us soft, weak, and unable to meet demands of any vigorous activities we may encounter.

Think about it:

What if you must defend yourself?

What if your kids, grandkids, nieces, or nephews ask you to play a sport with them?

What if a good friend asks you to help them move?

Answer this question honestly: would you be able to just jump into the above with grace and ease?

This is why strength training is so important.

It’s a way to safely get uncomfortable while building far-reaching functional benefits, preparing you for any physical task life throws at you.

Indeed, strength training strengthens your body and mind, builds confidence, and keeps you in touch with your physical being.

It’s imperative in today’s world.

Strict Adherence to Programs

Unless you’re a professional athlete (or a very serious amateur athlete), life is too unpredictable for strict adherence to programs.

Sure, you can write out the greatest training and nutrition program in the world, but what does it matter if you can’t even adhere to it? (or worse, never even start it!)

A program is just words on paper.

Life is dynamic and fluid and always changing.

And yes, even I have to be a little flexible with my programming and move things around every once and a while.

So what do I suggest doing?

Becoming more flexible and adaptable.

Now, this isn’t a license to do anything you want. You should still have some kind of routine and ways to measure progress.

BUT…

You shouldn’t need everything to be “perfect” or even ideal to be consistent.

This means things like:

  • Getting some home-gym equipment for those times you can’t get to a gym (if you don’t train at home to begin with).
  • Going to a gym that’s close.
  • Learning bodyweight movements for bodyweight training.
  • Finding ways to do quick, effective conditioning.
  • Meal prepping.
  • Finding healthy “fast” food options.

And so on.

Learn to roll with the punches…and you’ll be well on your way to becoming the strongest version of yourself.

Skip Shortcuts, Build a Solid Foundation

Sure, you can take shortcuts. And you can even see some quick progress from them.

But shortcuts are short-term fixes, and soon you’ll be right back where you started.

You see, shortcuts don’t build the foundational habits you need to make permanent (or as permanent as possible) changes.

Indeed, a house built right on a solid foundation will stand for centuries. A house built on a shoddy foundation using shortcuts will stand for just a few years, if that.

So take your time, do it right, and focus on building a solid foundation that will set you up for long-term success.

Prioritization: Putting Important Things First

Important things need to come first.

When one says they don’t have time, it’s usually not a time problem, it’s usually a priorities problem.

Waiting to do something important “later” usually means not doing it at all. Or doing it, but doing it sub-par.

If you’re serious about something (ahem, training), put it as close to first as possible.

A Little Bit Better Than You Were Yesterday

Just a little bit.

Because these little improvements add up to big improvements over time.

Look, it’s almost impossible to improve by a lot in only one day. But a month? A year? 5 years? 10 years? You can improve drastically by doing a little bit every day.

And the key here is every day. It requires consistency. You can’t just do something once or twice willy-nilly and hope it improves. You need to do it consistently hundreds or even thousands of times.