Soldiers training

Unexpected Considerations When Working Out

Soldiers training

Maybe you’re a gym rat, or are starting to go to the gym for the first time in years – whatever your comfort level with exercising, there are considerations that you should take into account when working out at the gym.

There are a lot of overenthusiastic, under-educated gym goers who think that their body is invincible and that the weird twist that their body is doing right now isn’t going to come back and bite them in the you-know-where with a pulled muscle or sprain or anything of the sort. Well, it does happen, and don’t think it can’t happen to you.

The biggest thing that you should really do when you go to the gym is know both what you’re doing and your own limitations. While it is okay to push your limitations on order to break a plateau, breaking your limitations and hurting yourself is not something you want to do, even unintentionally.

What follows are a few specific examples of common dangers that you could run into at the gym.


Treadmills are dangerous for you in a few ways. First is an issue that we’re probably all aware of, seen a video of or experienced ourselves – you can fall off a treadmill and seriously injure yourself. While it may seem like slapstick humor in movies, getting thrown off of the belt of a moving treadmill is not a pleasant experience. If you’d rather use the treadmill over a more controllable machine like the elliptical or an exercise bike, make sure that the treadmill has that little emergency clip that you clip somewhere on your clothing so that if you start falling off the machine will shut down.

Another danger of the treadmill that is perhaps less obvious is the incline of the treadmill. Because it’s indoors and we feel safer (and aren’t faced with a massive hill to run up) many will actually attempt inclines on treadmills that are beyond their capacity – and will often end up putting undue stress on their back and joints when attempting to run a steep incline. It’s much safer (and probably more beneficial to the everyday fitness runner) to do interval training on a treadmill or run outside the old-fashioned way.

Rowing Machines

While it’s great that you don’t have to wake up before the sun and carry a skull to the water to row, using rowing machines requires a proper form that isn’t necessarily obvious to the neophyte. Using a rowing machine does not mean that you only use your arms to pull yourself back – it’s a combination of arms, legs and back – no shoulders around your ears, please!

Loose Clothing

While you may feel more comfortable working out in looser clothing and all your jewelry (I don’t thin k anyone would actually do that, but just go with me here) – that’s probably one of the worst things that you could do at the gym, especially if you’re using any of the weight machines. Things can get caught and trapped, can catch and potentially hurt you. Wearing loose clothing and excessive, dangling jewelry can seriously pose a risk to your safety when you work out.

In order to stay safe you’re going to want to wear fitted clothing, pull your hair back, and reduce the jewelry to a minimum, and tuck under your clothes if it is something you absolutely need to wear.


People sweat; that’s just a fact of life. But the moisture of sweat when it accumulates on community machines like at the gym is an ideal place for germs to flourish. So make sure that you sanitize the equipment that you’re using. Also – never, ever, ever walk barefoot in the gym lockers or shower area.

If you’re particularly persistent with your desire to be germ free, you can bring a personal towel so that the surface your actually touching is your own towel and not the gym equipment, and make sure that any open cuts are properly cleaned and bandaged.

Jackie Ryan hopes that everyone feels that rubber gym flooring under their feet – but wants to make sure that everyone stays as safe and healthy as they can while getting proper exercise.

Image credit: US Army

How to devise a split-training routine

My last blog post discussed the disadvantages of whole-body workouts and when it is time to move on to split-training routines.

Split-training is simply training specific muscle groups in a session so that over the course of several consecutive training sessions, you end up working all the muscles in your body which you would have done all in one session in the whole-body approach.

You might think that you can randomly group bodyparts together to work in one session.  It’s not like that. You need to decide carefully how you will split out your training. Here are a few examples:

  • Upper-lower body
  • Push-pull muscles
  • Upper push-pull and lower body
  • Synergetic split
  • Antagonistic split
  • Non-competing split
  • Individual muscle groups


Upper-lower body

This is the next logical step from the whole-body workout. Split your training over 2 non-consecutive days and train your upper body muscles on one day and your lower body muscles on the other day.


This is one step further. Work all the muscles that push in one session and all the pulling muscles in the other session. So for e.g. Day 1 can be for the chest, triceps shoulders and quadriceps. Day 2 will be for the back, biceps and hamstrings.

Upper push-pull and lower body

Because the upper body has quite a few different muscle groups, the upper-lower body split means the training is imbalanced over the 2 training days with the upper body day involving many more exercises. So by combining the above 2 splits, you spread out your training over 3 days by further splitting the upper body training day into push muscles day and pull muscles day.

So far we have been grouping bodyparts together. Now let’s drill down to muscle groups.

Synergetic muscles split

Synergetic muscles are muscles that help one another. So you would group back muscles with biceps, chest muscles with triceps and so on. This is a great combination because your smaller arm muscles will already be warmed up by the time you finish with the back or chest. Just don’t work your arms first though or you will be too tired to push or pull afterwards.

Antagonistic muscles split

This is the opposite and you work opposing muscles like the chest and back, biceps and triceps together. The disadvantage will synergetic muscles split is that by the time you finish with your main muscle group, the secondary muscle is not fresh anymore. With the antagonistic muscles split, there is no overlap. This combination is great with supersets as you work one muscle group while the other recovers.

Non-competing muscle groups

While working the chest and back together sounds good as there is no overlap, you will need a lot of energy to thoroughly work these two main muscle groups in one session. On the other hand, working just arms in one session is not a lot. So you combine different muscle groups in such a way to balance out all your training days. And you combine them in a non-competitive way.

That means not training your back with biceps, not training your pecs with shoulders and so on because working one muscle group will also recruit the other. Instead, try combining back with triceps, chest with biceps and legs with shoulders. This is my favourite 3-day split training routine.

Individual muscle groups

Finally, you can train just one muscle group in one workout so that it gets your full attention. This is mostly for advanced and professional athletes who not only require to push themselves hard but also have enough time to train everyday, sometimes twice a day. Here’s a taster on the various exercises for triceps that you can choose from.

If you are not one of them, what you can do is train only your weakest muscle group in one session and combine your other muscle groups in other sessions. So if you are lagging behind on chest development, you can dedicate a training session just for the pecs.


You can come up with your own split-training routine to suit your needs but remember these few rules.

Work your big muscles first during your workout. They are responsible for most of your visual and physiological development, so you want to give them priority, rather than a tiny muscle group like the biceps, despite its great popularity.

Prioritise your weakest muscle groups first. You want them to catch up with the rest of your body’s development, so give them your full attention with you are still fresh and strong.

Give yourself a few day’s rest before training the same muscle again and never train it again if it still feels sore after a workout. Muscle stimulation and breakdown occurs in the gym but muscle growth, which is what you want, occurs outside the gym.


So use these rules, the examples here and your imagination when coming up with your own split workouts.

When should you move to split training?

Or in other words, when to move from whole body training to split training?

You’ve read and learnt that you should be doing whole body workouts and that this kind of training has a lot of benefits. You followed that religiously for a while, maybe for a long time even. But there comes a time when you need to move on to the next level: split-training. How do you know when it’s time to ditch your current training? Start first by recognising the following drawbacks to whole-body workouts.

Time factor

The biggest advantage to working your whole body in one session is also its main drawback: lack of time to thoroughly challenge all your muscle groups. You have only a short period of time to work your whole body, usually 1 hour. But why limit yourself to 1 hour? This is because usually after 1 hour, your body starts to run out of energy and will start cannibalising your muscles. This is the last thing you want. It becomes easy to overtrain in this case.

So you have only 1 hour to dedicate to legs, chest, back muscles and so on and it’s simply not enough for each muscle group after a while.

Lack of intensity

A successful workout is measured by how much intensity you generate during the training time. The shorter the workout, the more intensity you can generate. If you work a marathon workout of a few hours, you can be sure the intensity level will be low. After a while in your whole body workout, your muscles will need a higher level of intensity to progress. And you will be unable to provide that because you have to divide this intensity among too many muscle groups.

Not enough volume

One way to provide more intensity and more challenge to your muscles is by increasing your volume of training. One or two exercises or 1 or 2 sets of exercises for a major muscle group might not be enough anymore. But how can you dedicate 5 sets of exercise, 3 exercises per bodygroup if you have limited time, limited energy and plenty of bodygroups to train? Not possible.

More volume, more exercises, more intensity and energy in a training session work your muscles in greater depth and this is what they need to keep progressing.

How do you provide all this? By following a split-training routine of course.

Time to split-train

It is usually recommended for complete beginners to keep to whole-body workouts for a year approximately. But everyone is built differently and progresses at a different rate. So if your progress is quick, you might find that this kind of training starts to limit yourself after a while and 1 year is way too long.

When you recognise that your workouts are starting to be hampered by the above disadvantages, then you know that the time is ripe for you to break them down into smaller groups and adopt a split-training routine.

My next blog post will explain how to devise a split-training routine.

9 tips to motivate yourself for the gym

A while back, I read an article about what to do when you don’t feel like working out. I didn’t agree with most of the author’s points and left a comment. But I felt that I didn’t sufficiently address this issue so here I go in more details, at the risk of repeating a few things.Arnold

All in the head

First understand that when you have a lack of energy and you don’t feel like working out, it’s all in your head and psychological. Unless you are physically exhausted, ill or literally have a lack of energy through not eating, there is no reason for you to feel weak. Your muscles are just as primed and in full working order as ever.

What really makes you feel pumped up and ready to take the world are hormones like testosterone, endorphine and adrenaline and they are all released by the brain. So this is what you must stimulate in order to feel full of energy and want to go to the gym to face a tough workout.

 #1 Morning or evening person?

Determine if you are a morning or evening person. This means whether you are at your most active and productive in the morning or in the evening. This will have far reaching consequences in your training and you will be struggling and fighting against yourself if you work against your natural rhythm.

#2 Let your imagination fire you up

Watch an action-packed movie. Rocky for example? Maybe one of the most effective ways of feeling as if you’re ready to destroy anything in your way but it will take you also a couple of hours to watch a movie.

#3 Let your emotions rip through

Listen to a stimulating song. Rocky’s soundtrack Eye of the Tiger? What is love? from Haddaway… If you don’t have time to watch a stimulating movie, this is the next thing you could try. Make sure you listen to the music before your workout and not just during.

#4 Have sex

Work out after sex. The body relaxes afterwards but also gets a surge of testosterone. If you ever needed an excuse to have sex, here’s one.

#5 Get more sun

When do you feel better? During a grey wet winter day or a warm summer day with shining sun and blue sky? While you can’t control the weather, you can make the most of it so if it’s sunny now and you know it might rain later, don’t wait; make hay while the sun shines!

#6 Get busy

Keep yourself physically busy prior to going. It’s difficult to jump from the sofa after napping or relaxing to running for 30 minutes. Clean the house, the garden but don’t exhaust yourself. Activity engenders more activity.

#7 Just do it

In the worst case, just do it. This builds from the above tip. So even if you don’t feel like training, just getting started, slowly and grdually, is the biggest hurdle and once overcome, you will find it easier to carry on. But if you do that too often, you run the risk of hating your workouts and losing all long-term motivation. (I borrowed this tip from Cubicle Warrior).

#8 Focus

Once you’ve started, focus intensely on your workout and leave your problems behind as otherwise they will only hamper you and drag you down. When you train, you train and nothing else matters.

#9 Aim at targets

To help you focus on your workout only, think about targets and achieving them. A ship with no rudder ends up going nowhere. You don’t want that with your training. You have a specific goal to achieve and you need to focus on that. This is why you are working out, why you are running for 30 min at 8 km/h or squatting 5 extra kilos or curling 2 more partial reps today.

 In top form for top results

Remember that physical training and especially lifting weight are all about making incremental progress. To achieve that, you need to be able to constantly push yourself beyond your existing limits. If you have a bad day, you will not be able to do that. If you have many bad days, then you might as well give up training.


A good analogy to having muscles and power but no energy is a sports car without fuel. It has a powerful engine that doesn’t work, not because it is broken but because there is no juice to power it up. Equally, your muscles are not weak. You may be feeling weak but you are not.

Another way to explain it is through the  fight or flight concept. If you are suddenly in danger, your body may instinctively decide to flee. You suddenly find the energy out of nowhere to literally run for your life. Your muscles did not suddenly become more powerful; it’s the adrenaline coursing through your vein.

Feeling down

You could also feel down mentally because of bad news or because you just had a bad day. It happens to everyone. But you are in control of your emotions. You just need the right stimulation and frame of mind for the task ahead. In movies before battle starts, why do generals address their soldiers in a motivating and arousing speech? Think Braveheart.

Energy drinks?

So how do you juice up your body? How do you add fuel to it? You might be thinking along the lines of energy drinks and performance-enhancing drugs, legal or illegal. They are appropriate for athletes trying to push the absolute limit, whether the fastest 100m or the heaviest bench press. Unless you are an athlete training, you are otherwise competing with yourself only when you go to the gym to train.

These drugs give you an artificial limit that your body cannot attain on its own and your performance is due to the drugs, not yourself. Caffeine, Red Bull and the like all artificially raise your limits and don’t make you any fitter and healthier. Instead, follow my above tips.

Fight the Christmas gluttony with a home workout

As the festive season approaches, so do the opportunities for excesses in all forms. On of the forms that leave consequences hard to get rid of is excess weight. Whether temptation comes in the form of chocolates, multiple Christmas parties and lengthy family meals, you need to stay in control of your diet, health and ultimately your fitness. Couple that with less time for workouts as the gym is closed over the Christmas and New Year period and your calendar is filled with office and family parties or lucky you, holidays abroad, what can you do?

Home workouts

That’s right. You have to work out with what you have. In that case, it will be old-school exercises. You don’t need a gym for them, you don’t need special equipment and you can do them anywhere, in your hotel room, at your in-laws, in your beach house. However, many of these exercises are too easy if you are used to training with heavy weights at the gym? So how can you benefit from easy squat sessions with no weights on your shoulders when you normally go over 100 kg? How can you benefit from a back raise when you do the deadlift with more than your bodyweight on the bar? Here are a few twists you can follow to toughen up your home workout.

Pushing movements

When doing press-ups, instead of placing your feet on the floor, place them high up on a chair or even on a table. This is the incline version of the bench press and you will be working your upper pecs more.

As the higher you raise your legs, the more you solicit your shoulders, why not go all the way into a handstand position with your feet against the wall, arms shoulder-width apart and lower your body by bending your arms and then pressing up again. This is the shoulder press version. You might find that your head doesn’t allow you to lower yourself sufficiently. Just find two blocks to place under your hands. They could be big books for example.

We’ve got the triceps covered but you can also do dips. Grab a chair, position it in front of a table on which you will rest your feet while your hands will be on the edge of the chair. Lower yourself by bending your elbows and then up again. You will find this quite easy so get someone to sit on you close to your upper body or place a few litres of milk or water on your lap!

You can also do dips for chest by using the back of two chairs as parallel bars to move up and down by the strength of your arms and chest. Position is everything to target the external parts of your pecs, so get the gap between the chairs just right.


With squats, do the one-leg version. Raise one leg in front of you and touch a wall or a chair lightly to keep your balance. This exercise is more than doubly challenging because not only because one leg lifts your bodyweight instead of two but also because you have to balance your body on that one leg and concentrate on keeping the other leg up.

If you haven’t done lunges for a long time in the gym, you can do them now without weight. The stretching action of this exercise is already half the benefit.

Pulling movements

To target the back, find a sturdy mop stick that can be used as a bar and place it over two chairs. Lie under the bar and pull up your body in a back row-style movement. If you can find an arrangement to place a bar horizontally above your head, do so and use it for chin-ups and pull-ups, working your lats and biceps. Try pull-ups with one arm only for a more challenging version.

If you can find someone heavy enough, get that person to sit on the very end of your feet as you lie on a bed with your torso beyond and facing the floor. In this position, you can do back extensions. Hold a dictionary in front of your with arms straightened to add some resistance.

We’ve got the pushing and pulling muscles covered as well as the leg muscles. Now for the abs, do leg raises between each exercise.

To round up your training, perform it circuit-style without rest between exercises and for several sets. This should work you into a good sweat and you might find it quite challenging. Save it till next Christmas afterwards or until you go abroad for an extended period of time with gym.

6 weight-lifting myths and truths: can you distinguish between them?

The fields of weight-lifting and strength training contain a lot of erroneous advice. In a bid to brush away these myths, sometimes people end up believing correct training techniques to be myths too.  An article on the 6 most common weight-lifting myths lists a few myths that are actually not myths but truths. Here is a rebuttal to this article and a correction of some of the perceived myths.

# 1 Training more to grow more

Wrong indeed. The only disagreement is calling this a myth: it’s not a widespread belief at all promoted in magazines, online forums and blogs or even in the gym. Building muscles also requires a subsequent rest period during which time growth can occur.

# 2  Reshaping muscles with specific exercises

This is a myth but it is possible to emphasise the work done by a specific muscle within a muscle group such as the quadriceps. So if your vastus medialis is lagging behind your vastus lateralis in size, you will want to squat with your legs closer together and toes pointing slightly inwards to recruit more of the vastus medialis. Similarly, if you want to develop your upper pecs, you will do the incline bench press or dumbbell presses. It all depends on your understanding of the expression ‘reshaping a muscle’. Your genetics will play a strong role as well.

# 3 Higher reps to get cut

Of course it works. This was never a myth. Bodybuilding competitors do that during precontests and one eventually ends up winning. If you think of it, there is a lot of common sense to it. Heavy workouts to build muscles, coupled with the appropriate high carbohydrates, high protein diet. A high-rep, get-cut routine will need its own get-shredded diet to work. You won’t get muscle definition without the appropriate diet which should focus on less fat and less protein because you are building less muscle. The key aspect of this routine is the fact that you are not trying to build muscle.

#4 Keep your muscle guessing

Another shocking non-myth. Of course you need to change your workout parameters. The article says:

If you apply enough, progressive force, regardless if you use a dumbell, a barbell or even the same workout routine, your muscles will eventually get bigger.

So if you do the same barbell curl for the rest of your life, applying enough progressive force every time, then would you keep growing muscles non-stop? Until your arms are the size of tree trunks? Is there no limit to how big they will become?

Muscles do not ‘guess’ per se; what they do is become more efficient at their task so that the initial benefit you received from the barbell curl is no longer effective. Your biceps have adapted themselves to the task. So at first glance it seems this is not in your advantage. But if you think about it, this very process of muscles adapting themselves is what caused them to grow. If they were not adapting themselves to stimuli, they would not be receptive to training and all the weight-lifting in the world would have no effect. Keeping your muscles guessing is the cornerstone of bodybuilding and weight-lifting. And bodybuilding takes it further by exploiting so-called myth #2: shaping muscles to attain symmetry.

5. Eating a high calorie diet.

Pure myth. You need the right diet, not a high calorie diet, to build muscle: protein as the muscle building block and carbs as powerhouse.

6. Follow a pro’s routine to get results

Myth too but it is easy to fall for that, especially if you are a novice. The pros do this workout and if you look at their body, it must work, right? Correct, it works for them, not necessarily for you. What you should do is try to get inspired from what they do and try to adapt it to your own goals and situation.

The barbell curl is known to be an excellent exercise to fully develop the biceps. Yet with me I never made much progress. The same applies to the bench press – excellent exercise to build muscles on the pecs but little positive results for me. I found out I progress much more rapidly with dumbbell curls and dumbbell presses and so very rarely do these barbell exercises as they don’t benefit me at all. People might say an exercise is great but see what works for you.

Let’s end with the same words as the original article as they are not a myth at all:

bodybuilding is really a lifestyle.

Free weights vs machines

The free weights vs machine debate has been going ever since machines have made their way into the gym. This is Iron Simba’s attempt at clarifying this issue. So when should you use machines and free weights in your training?
The answer is that it depends on what you seek to achieve and where you are in your training. In more other terms, where are you now and where do you want to go?

The nature of free weights

Free weights give you the possibility to perform natural movements. Each individual is built in a similar yet slightly different way, making our body unique. So one machine is not able to fit everyone perfectly. Free weights, on the other hand, do. In addition, because you alone control the weight, you need to balance it and recruit secondary muscles to do that. This means you work more muscles than using machines. Compound exercises are especially suited to free weights. The natural movement and greater recruitment of muscles both help you to lift heavier.

Machines specialise

The fact that free weights recruit different muscles means they do not target a specific muscle well, instead calling on secondary muscles to help. Machines are able to focus all the efforts onto a particular muscle and also removes the need to balance the weight. All you need to do is push or pull and when your muscles are tired, you can keep going past your limit by just focussing on the movement. It’s safer too when you are past your exhaustion limit. Machines are a good choice when you need to add definition to your muscles.

Machines also introduce new movements and exercises that may not be possible with free weights alone: many back row exercises are done with machines; hack squats and leg presses cannot exist without machines.

Making a wise choice

Now that you know what machines excel at and what free weights are good for, you can answer the questions at the beginning and decide how machines and free weights can help you.
Where are you now? Are you a beginner who needs to learn the basics and focus on building muscles? Or are you an intermediate lifter who is ready to expand his training by incorporating advanced training techniques by combining machines and free weights? Have your workouts reached a plateau?
Where do you want to go? What is your goal? Are you entering a bodybuilding contest or do you want to hit the beach with your best body? Then you need to focus on defining your muscles. Alternatively, if you enter powerlifting or strongmen contests, then you need to train for strength.
You can start by choosing the right tricep exercise for you.


The bottom line is that any activity that actively works your muscles is bound to make them grow. But you want to train effectively and get as much gain as possible from each workout. So it pays to learn when to use machines and when to use free weights by matching their advantages with your training goals. So it really is about machines AND free weights. What’s your opinion on it? How do you incorporate these two in your workouts?

The advantages of bodybuilding

In the majority of cases, when one thinks of the advantages of weight lifting, one only thinks of the health implications. Rightly so, as bodybuilding has a direct impact on the body. Nevertheless, the benefits go beyond that.

Keep teenagers off drugs. Maybe turn them to steroids in the extreme case! But the idea is to keep them busy so they don’t try harmful things, get involved in gangs, crime and so on.

Learn how the human body works.
By doing specific exercises for the bodyparts, you understand the function of each muscle and also feel it work. You are in tune with your body and learn how to make best use of it: legs are powerful muscles and you need to involve them to lift something heavy off the ground, instead of bending from the waist. You learn that the deltoids has 3 heads and is derived from the greek word delta because the deltoid looks like a triangle. You grasp the concept that your body is a human machine.

Respect your body.
Learning how your body works will in turn teach you to respect it and treat it carefully. You know that if you slouch in a chair all day, it will affect your body; if you smoke, your fitness level will go down; if you break a leg, you will lose your hard-earned muscles while you recover. The top two advantages are related to keeping teenagers off drugs as weight training will also teach them the marvel of the human body and not to abuse it.

Feel good about yourself.
As with other sports, physical exertion releases endorphin into the blood stream. This is a natural relaxant drug that helps to release stress from the body. You also feel victorious after achieving your goals or beating them. Imagine lifting just 1 kg more today than last week after being on a plateau for weeks. You’ll be in a good mood.

Guess weights more accurately.
After doing biceps curls multiple times, you get to guess how much your suitcase weighs.


If you were expecting the more conventional health benefits, here you go.

Become more powerful in your everyday life.
You are able to carry shopping bags more easily, move furniture, even move yourself around with more ease. Do you see how some old people need help to get out of a chair?

No lower back pain. While there are many reasons for suffering from a lower back ache, in many cases stronger muscles in your core muscles will get rid of that.

Build stronger bones, tendons and ligaments. Building powerful muscles in themselves will not make the human body very strong but only as strong as the weakest link in a chain. Muscles are joined to the skeletal frame by means of tendons and ligaments. All are involved in moving charges. Even if they are strong enough, the bones must be able to support the weight. Women in particular will benefit from building denser bones as they are prone to suffer from osteoporosis in old age.

Loose fat easily. Let’s get one fact straight first. Lifting weights and building muscles won’t make you look ripped. Building muscles will make you look big! But muscles burn more calories than fat, even while you are sleeping nad resting. So building more muscles means building a bigger oven to burn this fat 24 hours a day. Weight lifting increases your metabolism and produces visible changes to your body more quickly than any other sports.

Fight diseases. Everyday new research comes up showing the benefits of weight lifting to fight all sorts of diseases and debilitating conditions, from cancer to Alzheimer. Sometimes you have to take this research with a pinch of salt but whether true or not, you have everything to gain.

Excel at sports. Today, all top-level sportsmen, even marathon runners, incorporate weight lifting into their training. They have realised the importance of a powerful body.

Hardgainer: training big, eating big

Hardgainers by definition have a tough time trying to put on weight. That includes fat as well as muscle. They are often perceived as being more disadvantaged than others in the gym because they are slow to grow muscle and therefore increase the weight they can lift. But this disadvantage can be turned into a weapon: hardgainers do not have to worry too much about putting on fat. If you are a hardgainer, here is how you can attempt to build muscle.

The only workouts that work

The most effective exercises are those that attempt to stimulate as much muscles as possible and the only exercises that can do so are compound exercises. Let’s face it: no one is going to grow thick slabs of meat on their back with pulldowns or tree trunks in place of matchsticks with lunges. Well, if you’re a hardgainer, you should focus most of your workouts around compound exercises most of the time.

What if you’ve already been doing the bench press, the squat and the barbell curl for months on end without seeing results?

Then it’s time to throw in some spices to the mix. If you haven’t done so already, change your reps, your sets, the order of exercises. Try giant sets, supersets, light sets, heavy sets, 21s, slow reps, fast reps, high, low, half, forced and negative reps. Don’t do all at the same time but always add one of these to your workout. Also try modifying the exercises by changing your grip, your feet stance and orientation, substituting the bench for a Swiss ball, the ground for a Bosu ball, barbells for dumbbells, flat benches for inclines and declines. Try a superset of benchpress and dumbbell press on a Swiss ball, bent-over rows with dumbbells and one-arm row with a cable. But always use the fundamental compound exercises movements. These are what will help you grow.


For the hardgainer: not much of a diet. Sure, eat clean, focus on proteins, carbohydrates etc but don’t worry about eating extra doughnuts, candy, chocolates and sauces. Hardgainers don’t put on weight, remember? In fact, you should try to eat lots of sugars and carbohydrates to provide your muscles with energy instead of cannibalising themselves. That’s the worse thing you can do after all the hard work you’ve done to grow this muscle. So during training, keep eating, or drinking energy shakes. While others are busy counting calories, just ease back into your chair and keep tucking in. This is the advantage of being a hardgainer, remember?


Proper rest is more critical to the hardgainer than for others. Keep your workouts short and intense, 40 minutes at the most. You are not doing a marathon in the gym. You also don’t want your muscles to dig into their supply of energy rather than what you are supplying them with in your bloodstream. Leave yourself plenty of time to rest and recover between workouts and don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to train more because you grow muscles less. For this reason, hardgainers are most at risk of overtraining.

In summary, spend short, intense sessions at the gym and the rest of the time to eat and recover. Make your workouts revolve around the core compound exercises. You don’t need to worry about definitions and separations of muscles as much as others as you should be naturally lean with little propensity to add fat. While others are busy sweating it out at the pec deck machine and lateral raises, you’ll be focussing on growing bigger muscles. That’s the fun part of being a hardgainer!

Why should you do compound exercises?

Most modern gyms nowadays boast an array of fancy, sophisticated and sometimes intimidating machines that work your muscles. Many beginners are lured by the shiny looks and impressive pulleys, pads, cables and handles of these machines, thinking that such sophisticated machinery must surely work muscles better than a plain simple barbell. Well, barbells and dumbbells are not ready yet to be thrown out of the window as they are prerequisites to performing compound exercises. Why do compound exercises then instead of using machines?

Compound = complex

Compound exercises derive their name from the fact that they work more than one muscle. They compound your workout in a sense. The bench press is a compound exercise and works manly the pectoral muscles on the chest but also the shoulders and the triceps. The squat is another compound movement, also called the big daddy of all exercises by some because of its ability to recruit most muscles of the body, even those of the upper body. Compare the muscles involved in the squat to that of the leg extension. The leg extension is an isolation exercise that targets the quadriceps exclusively. Great exercise to burn the quads but you won’t be able to build as much muscle as with the squat.
Check out this post on the top tricep exercise and you can see that the compound movements win.

Free weight concept

But I can do compound exercises on machines, I hear you say. You can do the machine equivalent of the bench press by pushing the handles in front of you. You can do the machine version equivalent of the shoulder dumbbell or barbell press by sitting and pushing the machine handles up. But what these machines don’t let you do is balance the weight by yourself. That’s why the machine bench press and the machine shoulder press are not really compound exercises although they do involve the same groups of muscles. The other key component of compound exercises is the necessity to balance the weight. This is especially true of the squats. Total beginners doing dumbbell presses for the shoulders or the chest might very well find it near impossible in the beginning to balance the dumbbells. They might be pushing 60 kg on the bench press but press only 10 kg dumbbells each with shaky movements.

Compound exercises are the fundamentals to a good, effective workout that will produce noticeable and positive changes in your physique. Machines still have their place in the gym and in your workout but they are the icing on the cake, not the bread and butter of your workout.