How to do cardio if you must

As we enter into this, the month of the New Year’s resolution, a common question that hits the boards is “how much cardio should I do to lose this gut/ass” (depending on your particular assignment of X and Y chromosomes).

To anyone who knows me, the thought that my lazy, cardio-hating ass would actually sit down and WRITE about this most … unpleasant of activities, bear with me – this profound distaste has fuelled my attempt to find a way to optimize physique goals while doing as little cardio as humanly possible.

In spite of my deeplfy-rooted loathing for this type of activity, I am gradually learning to respect some of the benefits targeted amounts of it can do – not only for fat burning, but also for muscle growth (gasp!). (1) (2)

Although all exercise has a resistance and a cardiovascular component, for this purpose, we shall consider “cardio” to be endurance-types of activities rather than those performed primarily for hypertrophy or strength.

As in all things, there are pros and cons to the different types of cardio. A non-exhaustive list of benefits variously include:

  • Increased mitochondrial density and size
  • Increased capillary density
  • Increased vo2 max
  • Increased heart stroke
  • Increased endurance
  • Faster recovery/reduced DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Improved lipid levels

However, there are downsides:

  • Repetitive strain injuries
  • Potential for conversion of fast twitch fibres to slow twitch analogues
  • Overtraining, particularly of leg muscles
  • Unfavourable endocrine changes (reduction in testosterone, increase in cortisol)
  • Increased efficiency
  • The “Kobe legs” phenomenon of marbled leg fat, particularly problematic in females
  • Appetite stimulation that exceeds activity-related expenditure
  • And of course, boredom <yawn>

We don’t do the same lifting workouts all the time – why should cardio be any different? And I’m not alone in my thinking: for example, Berardi suggests incorporating volume, intensity and load progressions into your cardio work. (3)

In the text below, I will discuss the pros and cons of three different intensities of cardiovascular training – high intensity interval training, hill-repeats, and steady state (SS) cardio, and a strategy for integrating them into your fitness plan, which, as always, you will find summarized at the end so you don’t have to fall asleep trying to read my article. <blink blink>

HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training

HIIT is a protocol of alternating high and low intensity exercise, for example sprint/walk intervals.

Research has shown a number of physique-enhancing benefits to HIIT:

1. “High intensity training may prove beneficial if used properly. For example, its potent stimulation of whole body lipolysis during exercise leads to a rapid influx of plasma free fatty acids after intensity is lowered. In this context, it is postulated that performing a notably short, high intensity session, followed by a long duration, low to moderate intensity workout, may optimize lipid oxidation.” (4)

By following HIIT with a little steady state cardio, you’ll oxidize mobilized FFAs so they don’t re-esterify into triglyceride and hang around. Cool eh?

2. In fact, HIIT may actually curtail the propensity for fat storage:

”…it is highly probable that sprinting-evoked, systemic AMPk activation simultaneously curtails an individual’s natural genetic propensity for fat-storage as well. This is because, in response to the rapid ATP-depletion prompted by those repeated, maximal-intensity bouts of anaerobic expenditure, AMPk also works to curtail Acyl-coenzyme A: diacylglycerol acyltransferase (DGAT1) activity and glucose uptake into adipocytes.

This saves ATP for energy repletion rather than having it “misallocated” to synthesize new triacylglycerol (TAG) in your adipocytes. (5)

3. HIIT has a higher EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) than steady state cardio.

4. It leads to rapid improvements in VO2max and endurance performance (6) – this means you’ll perform better lifting workouts, too.

5. It doesn’t promote the conversion of type IIb (the so-called “pure” fast-twitch muscles) to type IIa slow-twitch analogues (7) (see below, steady-state cardio discussion).

6. And it can help increase carbohydrate metabolism, which can improve nutrient partitioning. (8)

HIIT doesn’t “work” by burning off fat – it works by stimulating catecholamines (9), and catecholamines strongly stimulate lipolysis in mammals. Plasma fatty acid concentrations increase dramatically immediately after intense exercise, where fatty-acid oxidation decreases. That’s why you do some steady state cardio at the end.

How often

If you’re going to do any cardio, do HIIT at least once and at most three times a week. Ideally, do it either on its own day, or on a leg day at least 6-8 hours away from your workout.

If you must do it in the same session as your workout, do it right after, on a leg day. Although this may seem counterintuitive, HIIT is quite the leg workout. Doing HIIT on upper body days may compromise recovery since your legs will have less time to rest.

What to eat

Because of the strong anaerobic component, feed HIIT the same as you would a lifting workout – target some carbohydrate and protein to provide an available pool of amino acids and to stimulate the cortisol-blunting insulin response.

For those of us whose diets are lower in carbs, you’ll want a little carb in you pre-workout or you WON’T be able to give these sprints your all, much like a lifting workout. If your carb consumption is ample, just focus on post-HIIT carbs. At least one study showed that post-workout carbs/protein didn’t impact FFA burning post-exercise: “in the post-exercise recovery period, muscle glycogen resynthesis has high metabolic priority, resulting in post-exercise lipid combustion despite a high carbohydrate intake”. (10) So your post-workout Nitrean shake with dextrose is fine here.

Sample 20-something minute HIIT workout

I do these on side-by-side treadmills. And yes, it looks ridiculous to see me hopping from one treadmill to the other. (11)

  • Three to five minute fast incline walk to warm up (3.5 mph, 3-5% grade works for me)
  • Flat-out (but safe!) sprint for 20 seconds (I do these at 10 MPH, flat)
  • Return to a fast incline walk for 40-60 seconds.
  • Repeat 6-9 times. Try to increase the number of sprints you can do each week.
  • Finish with 10-20 minutes of fast incline walking to burn off the free fatty acids mobilized by the intervals.

HIIT Variations

If you’re going to do more than one HIIT workout a week, you could do one with as many as 12 sprints with a 20:40 work:rest ratio, and the other with as many as 8 sprints with a 30:60 work:rest split.

For those new to exercise

Of course, if you are new to exercise, do NOT jump into HIIT! Ease into it slowly – start with steady state a few times a week, then gradually introduce short periods of modestly increased intensity as you feel able.

For example, instead of sprinting, you could do something as simple as alternating periods of faster and slower walking. While not HIIT, it IS interval training, and will get you used to varying the intensity while you build up your fitness level – particularly if you’re still significantly over fat. As you drop to lower and lower levels of body fat and your conditioning improves, you can increase your “sprint” speed accordingly.

Another option: Tabata

For those of you who find a 20:40 work:recovery interval too leisurely, may I suggest Tabata…

  • 20 seconds high intensity work (you should reach failure/exhaustion)
  • 10 seconds rest
  • 8 sets = 4 (really, really brutal) minutes in total
  • You can do it with sprinting on a track (probably the best), sprinting on a bike (also very good), or even with weights (squats, thrusters, chin-ups, push-ups, etc).

Check out the cbass website for more detailed info.

Stubborn Fat Loss protocol

Toward the end of a cut, when you’ve hit your body fat target (or close) but are left with small, stubborn pockets of subcutaneous fat that will NOT budge, there is a variant of HIIT that may be helpful – the so-called Stubborn Fat Loss protocol (12). I’ll discuss this in an upcoming article (don’t worry, it’s already written) but don’t worry about it for now – after Christmas eats, we’re all FAR too fluffy to benefit from this one JUST yet… <burp!>

Hill Repeats

“Hill training is excellent for improving maximal oxygen uptake because both high heart rate and high systolic pressure (the multiplication of these factors is known as the “rate-pressure product”) are achieved, and these components stimulate left ventricular hypertrophy and vascular development.”

“When doing full-fledged in-season work at VO2max, your aim should be to create a session which can blend in favourably with other sessions and races and which allows you to accumulate enough time to provide a viable stimulus for improvement without overdoing it.

Avoiding overkill basically means minimizing the negative effects of acidosis, so that your movements remain efficient, muscle groups are recruited in harmonious concert, and aerobic energy production dominates your efforts as long as possible. This is best achieved if you orchestrate the rest intervals between bouts so as to allow adequate recovery while also keeping the circulatory system active, thus reducing the possibility of “venous pooling” and allowing for some lactate to be reconverted to other metabolites by the heart and skeletal muscles.” (13)

“Those who run on hills have also been shown to be less likely to lose fitness when they take time off from training. And many scientists believe that hill training can improve the elasticity of muscles, tendons and ligaments, allowing these tissues to carry out more work with less effort and fatigue…Other research, carried out by Dr. Bengt Saltin, discovered that runners who trained on hills have much higher concentrations of aerobic enzymes – the chemicals which allow your muscles to function at high intensity for long periods without fatigue – in their quadriceps muscles than those who did all their running on flat terrain.” (14) So, well-conditioned ligamefnts and tendons in leg muscles that are resistant to fatigue – all good things for those of us who do a lot of heavy squats!

“One of the objectives for longer interval training is to improve the body’s ability to function in the presence of lactate. The higher level of effort raises the body’s energy demand beyond what can be generated through primarily aerobic metabolism, and the anaerobic systems become more important. The body’s aerobic energy systems are much more efficient than the anaerobic systems, but have a limited rate of energy release. Training for endurance sports, such as marathons or triathlons, focus on developing the body’s cardiovascular system to increase its aerobic capacity, and also on increasing the lactate threshold, which allows sustained physical effort at a higher, partially anaerobic level.

During incline or pace intervals, you’re moving the body’s energy production in and out of mostly aerobic and mostly anaerobic modes” (15)

Hill “repeats” performed in this manner burn a lot of calories, because they force the larger muscles of your body (i.e. glutes) to do more work. They improve exercise economy as much as exhaustive distance training (16) but may help you avoid the disadvantageous fibre-conversion problems associated with extended steady state cardio.

“Economy is measured during the aerobic endurance test on the treadmill and is expressed simply as the volume of oxygen (VO2), relative to your body weight (ml/kg/min), that your body requires in order to run at a sub maximal speed. It is therefore a measure of the “cost of the body’s movement” during each stage of the test.” (17) Now, as a lazy person, the word economy makes me nervous – makes me feel like I’m becoming an economy car. But wait: “As well as running for sufficient distances, running economy may also be improved by hill running or strength training. In particular, explosive strength training which includes sprinting, jumping and weight training using high to maximal movement speeds and low loads (up to 40% of 1 repetition maximum) can improve running economy.” So, since weight training can improve running economy anyway, it’s probably not worth worrying about for hill repeats performed once a week during a cut, okay?


We get to burn a lot of calories without needing to be fed extra calories or carbohydrate for the task. We improve the heart stroke, so resting heart rate goes down like it does with extended, boring steady state cardio, possibly with less risk of fibre-type conversion.

Increased heart stroke volume means increased VO2 and hence more oxygen circulating through your body. Lactic acid is a result of anaerobic metabolism (i.e. lifting), so with faster lactic acid clearance from the improved VO2 max, you’ll experience less fatigue you’ll lower the rate of lactic acid build-up.

This all means you’ll improve your endurance and conditioning, so you can lift longer and harder.

How often

Hill training is intense. Do this type of cardio at most once a week (18), on its own day – i.e., not on a training day – if for no other reason than they’re really hard!

What to eat

Because the interval portions of hill repeats are still in the aerobic end of the exercise world – i.e. fat is the predominant fuel substrate – feed days with hills the same as you’d feed a rest or SS cardio day: hill repeats don’t need fuelling like HIIT does.

Sample 40-minute hill-repeat workout
(3 – 5 minute warm-up at 2% grade)

4 minutes at 4% grade1 minute at 2% grade4 minutes at 5% grade1 minute at 2% grade4 minutes at 6% grade1 minute at 2% grade4 minutes at 7% grade1 minute at 2% grade   4 minutes at 8% grade1 minute at 2% grade4 minutes at 9% grade1 minute at 2% grade4 minutes at 10% grade1 minute at 2% grade4 minutes at 11% grade1 minute at 2% grade

(2 – 10 minute cool-down at 2% grade)

For hills, the individual determines the difficultly level. You can run, walk, or do any combination of the two (note that you may not be running very fast at a 9-12% grade!). You start with the incline and go hard for four minutes at whatever level “hard” is for you. Then slow it down with less incline for a minute. Increase to the next incline level for the next hill interval, and then slow it to the same level as the first rest for a minute. The speed may vary week by week, according to your energy levels.

Feel free to fiddle with the grades and the speeds – your fitness level will dictate how fast and how steep you can go. While you’re new to this, you may choose to use a flat grade for recovery and start at a 1% grade for the first “hill”. You’ll be able to build this up as your stamina improves.

(Low Intensity) Steady State Cardio

The good

Steady State (SS) cardio is often over-stressed and may be over-rated as a principal exercise modality, but it isn’t entirely useless. Research has shown that capillary density increases with low intensity cardio (19), and that means better blood supply to the muscles. It also translates to improved lipid profiles, possibly because of the improved glucose uptake due to this improvement in blood supply. And it can be helpful as a form of active recovery from more intense forms of activity. (20)

When trained subjects were tested at 25%, 65%, and 85% of maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), plasma glucose tissue uptake and muscle glycogen oxidation increased in relation to exercise intensity, while peripheral lipolysis was stimulated maximally at the lowest exercise intensity. (21)

Furthermore, low-intensity steady-state cardio isn’t particularly taxing to the body’s resources, an important consideration for athletes looking at avoiding overtraining, particularly in a caloric deficit.

The bad

That being said, while SS cardio is not particularly catabolic, it doesn’t create much of a caloric deficit. There is also an increased risk of repetitive strain injury (talk to any marathon runner). And there is evidence that extended endurance training promotes a transition from type II to type I muscle fibre types. (22) This is one REALLY important reason why it is so important to incorporate other types of cardiovascular training into your programme.

Endurance training has another ugly side – although fat oxidation increases in trained athletes, with conditioning, more and more of this fat comes from muscle triglyceride (23) – meaning less and less comes from adipose tissue. It seems the body learns to store muscle triglyceride where it’s being used (24), so it’s available for energy more quickly that it would be from adipose tissue – a phenomenon Charles Poliquin so eloquently describes as “Kobe beef thighs and butt, all plump and marbled with fat inside”.

Conclusion: endurance training is less and less likely to lean you out as you get used to it.

And the ugly

Steady State cardio sessions of up to 60 minutes a day can be used as an option to drop calories further as your cut progresses. To alleviate boredom and introduce still more complexity, these can be split up into separate sessions on the same day or divided amongst different modalities – for example, 20 minutes of incline treadmill, 20 minutes of stair climbing, 20 minutes of cycling.

How often

Ohhh, this is a tough one. For physique goals, my gut says 3 hours a week at the most. If you’re doing more than this to lose weight, look first to your diet, then to different forms of cardio, such as HIIT and hill-repeats. If it’s because you enjoy it, well, I’m sorry, but I’m far too lazy to understand you. Maybe try to watch more TV…?

What to eat

Because SS cardio uses fat as the primary fuel substrate, it doesn’t require any particular feeding paradigms. On days with SS cardio, eat as you would have otherwise.

Post workout SS cardio

For the same reason as was found by Romijn et al (25) in the HIIT summary above, SS cardio following a lifting workout may burn off FFAs mobilized by the intense lifting.

It can also act as active recovery and a means of burning off accumulated lactic acid as a fuel (26), protecting the muscles from ensuing hardness, which, while temporarily attractive, may leave the athlete more prone to injury. As a final note, Cressey suggests the improved nutrient delivery and clearance of metabolic wastes (27) afforded by increased capillary density due to steady-state cardiovascular conditioning may serve to reduce DOMS (28) (delayed onset muscle soreness) – so all you exercise-masochists will have to find something else to enjoy about your killer workouts!

Selecting cardio modalities

Vary your cardio. As in all things, it prevents adaptation. “Lactate threshold is highly specific to the exercise task”. (29) Adaptation equals efficiency, and since the biggest reason – at least from a physique standpoint – to do cardio is to burn calories, it’s inefficiency that we want here.

EPOC increases with the intensity (and duration) of the exercise, but HIIT can lead to overtraining, and hill-repeats are extremely taxing.

SS cardio doesn’t burn much and can lead to the fast-twitch conversion problem discussed above, but it does create SOME caloric deficit and can be helpful for active recovery.

To get the most advantage from these various modalities, you may find the following strategy helpful: choose to perform at most one hill session, at most two (maybe three) HIIT sessions and at most three (? I’m lazy) (pure) SS cardio sessions a week, for a total of say, at most five weekly cardio sessions. Make sure at least one of your cardio sessions is something other than SS.

And start small – leave yourself room to ramp up cardio as you find you cannot bear to drop calories any further.

So, for example, in a given week:

  • Two HIIT
  • One HILLS
  • One SS


  • One HIIT
  • One SS


  • One HIIT
  • One HILLS
  • Two SS


  • One HILLS
  • Two SS 

Lyle McDonald suggests the following training sequence, assuming a four-day split with two upper and two lower body workouts: (30)

  • Mon AM: intervals PM: lower body weights
  • Tue: AM: aerobics PM: upper body weights
  • Wed: Off (brisk walking would be allowed for active recovery)
  • Thu: AM: intervals PM: lower body weights
  • Fri: AM: aerobic PM: upper body weights
  • Sat: Off (brisk walking would be allowed for active recovery)
  • Sun: Completely off (everyone should take at least one day off per week).

As an alternative to the “AM intervals – PM weights” setup (not all of us can hit the gym twice a day), HIIT may be performed after leg workouts, although you MAY be a tad unstable doing sprints after a heavy squat workout …(maybe use the bicycle for that one!).

How to do cardio if you MUST, first month

For someone dieting at a modest deficit (15-20% reduction from maintenance calories and optionally carb-cycling with high/low or high/medium/low carb days) and using Baby Got Back (31) as a lifting split, here’s sample cardio protocol you could use. If you were planning to try a thermo, Nitor or Thermocin would be excellent choices – stack either with Creatine and Nitrean. And as you ease into HIIT, you might appreciate what ETS can do for you.

Day 1 – Horizontal Push Pull – high (or medium) carb day

Week 1. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM or 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 2. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting

Week 3. 25 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 4. 30 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

Max 60 minutes SS cardio for the day as your cut progresses

Day 2 – Quad Dominant – high carb day

Week 1. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM or 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 2. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 3. HIIT in the AM OR right after lifting; 5 – 20:40 work:recovery intervals;
– start and finish with SS for a total of 20 minutes.

Week 4. HIIT in the AM OR right after lifting; 6 – 20:40 work:recovery intervals;
– start and finish with SS for a total of 20 minutes.

Add one extra sprint per week – Max of twelve 20:40 sprints as your cut progresses

Day 3 – Rest – low carb day

Day 4 – Vertical Push Pull – high (or medium) carb day

Week 1. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM or 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 2. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting

Week 3. 25 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 4. 30 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

60 minutes max for the day as your cut progresses

Day 5 – Ham Dominant – high-carb day

Week 1. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM or 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 2. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 3. 20 minutes of SS cardio in the AM and 20 minutes right after lifting.

Week 4. HIIT in the AM OR right after lifting; 4 – 30:60 work:recovery intervals;
– start and finish with SS for a total of 20 minutes.

Add one extra sprint per week – Max of eight 20:40 sprints as your cut progresses

Day 6 – No lifting – low carb day

Week 1. Half hour moderate intensity SS cardio

Week 2. 20 minutes of hill-repeats

Week 3. 25 minutes of hill-repeats

Week 4. 30 minutes of hill-repeats

Max for hill repeats is 40 minutes. You’ll know why when you do ‘em. <smirk>

Day 7 – Rest – low carb day

**Always give yourself at least one full day without training**

Written by MariAnne Anderson, BSc, MSc (B)

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – How to do cardio if you MUST discussion thread.


1. Direct Comparisons of Fuel use during Low, Moderate, and High Intensity Exercises ; Researched and Composed by Jacob Wilson and Gabriel “Venom” Wilson – ABC Bodybuilding

2. Yes, I actually put the words hating, unpleasant, distaste, and loathing in the same paragraph. I eschewed repugnant and abhorrent because I felt they were too elegant for something so vile (ooooh, another adjective!)

3. Cardio Progressions; Are you getting the most out of your cardio training? by Dr. John M. Berardi – TNation

4. Relationship between fatty acid delivery and fatty acid oxidation during strenuous exercise. (ABC Bodybuilding) Romijn JA, Coyle EF, Sidossis LS, Zhang XJ, Wolfe RR. J Appl Physiol. 1995 Dec;79(6):1939-45.


6. Effects of High-Intensity Intermittent Training on Endurance Performance

7. Acute and chronic responses of skeletal muscle to endurance and sprint exercise. A review. Abernethy PJ, Thayer R, Taylor AW.


9. Bloom SR, Johnson RH, Park DM, Rennie MJ, Sulaiman WR.Differences in the metabolic and hormonal response to exercisebetween racing cyclists and untrained individuals. J Physiol1976;258:1–18.11

10. Am J Physiol. 1998 Aug;275(2 Pt 1):E332-7.Utilization of skeletal muscle triacylglycerol during postexercise recovery in humans.Kiens B, Richter EA.

11. If you do this with a friend, it looks like a really fast version of the treadmill dance:

12. Lyle McDonald, cited




16. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998 Aug;30(8):1250-6. Improved running economy following intensified training correlates with reduced ventilatory demands.Franch J, Madsen K, Djurhuus MS, Pedersen PK.



19. 1: J Atheroscler Thromb. 2002;9(1):78-85. Effects of low intensity aerobic training on skeletal muscle capillary and blood lipoprotein profiles.Shono N, Urata H, Saltin B, Mizuno M, Harada T, Shindo M, Tanaka H. Department of Community Health Science, Saga Medical School, Japan.

20. Cardio Confusion – Implications for Strength and Power Athletes, Eric Cressey (T Nation)which references Tesch, P. A., and J. E. Wright. Recovery from short term intense exercise: its relation to capillary supply and blood lactate concentration. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. Occup. Physiol. 1983; 52: 98-103.

21. Am J Physiol. 1993 Sep;265(3 Pt 1):E380-91. Regulation of endogenous fat and carbohydrate metabolism in relation to exercise intensity and duration.Romijn JA, Coyle EF, Sidossis LS, Gastaldelli A, Horowitz JF, Endert E, Wolfe RR.

22. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2000 Dec;40(4):284-9. Related Articles, A decade of aerobic endurance training: histological evidence for fibre type transformation.Thayer R, Collins J, Noble EG, Taylor AW.

23. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 May;29(5):635-9. Effect of endurance training on fatty acid metabolism during whole body exercise.Martin WH 3rd.

24. Pflugers Arch. 2006 Feb;451(5):606-16. Epub 2005 Sep 10. Increased intramuscular lipid storage in the insulin-resistant and endurance-trained state.van Loon LJ, Goodpaster BH.

25. Relationship between fatty acid delivery and fatty acid oxidation during strenuous exercise.Romijn JA, Coyle EF, Sidossis LS, Zhang XJ, Wolfe RR. J Appl Physiol. 1995 Dec;79(6):1939-45. 

26. J Appl Physiol. 1999 Nov;87(5):1684-96. Active muscle and whole body lactate kinetics after endurance training in men.Bergman BC, Wolfel EE, Butterfield GE, Lopaschuk GD, Casazza GA, Horning MA, Brooks GA. 

27. Tesch, P. A., and J. E. Wright. Recovery from short term intense exercise: its relation to capillary supply and blood lactate concentration. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. Occup. Physiol. 1983; 52: 98-103.

28. Cardio Confusion – Implications for Strength and Power Athletes, Eric Cressey (T Nation) which references Tesch, P. A., and J. E. Wright. (1983)


30. Bodyrecomposition Newsletter: May 17, 2006

31. Baby Got Back, MariAnne Anderson, February 2006

So you wannabe a powerlifter?

So you think you want to be a powerlifter, but you have no clue where to start? Well then it’s a good thing your reading this article because I am going to try and break down the essentials so you’ll be ready to step on the platform by the time you are done!

This article describes how you can get started in the sport the right way. I’ll touch on the different federations, use of equipment, powerlifting nutrition and gives some sample programs for the big three. After reading this article you should know what it takes to be a powerlifter.

Getting Started: A Few Federations

Powerlifting, like many sports, is one composed of skill; strength and an underlying desire to get better. Unlike other sports, however, powerlifting remains (and most likely will) an underground sport. While the cult following is plenty in numbers, to a beginner it would almost seem impossible to get started.

The first step for any beginner lifter looking into the world is to find locations of any and all meets and competitions that may be available to attend in the future. It doesn’t matter which federation as long as you can attend and be a spectator. I highly suggest starting your powerlifting career by attending as many meets as you can; this will give you a better idea of the timing of the meet, various rules, judging procedures, opportunities to get in touch with other local powerlifters, and ultimately what you are training for.

Once you are ready to compete you will need to pick a meet to train for. When searching for competition in your area you are probably going to find that there are several different federations that offer various different types of competition. The following are a quick break down of some of the more popular federations in America.

World Powerlifting Congress is the home of the WPC and it’s American branch the APF. These federations are considered to be the home of the strongest lifters in the world and are gateway federations for the only professional organization in powerlifting, the WPO (World Powerlifting Organization).Unlike the traditional federations the WPC/APF/WPC has evolved over the years and uses the latest in high-tech equipment such as the mono-lift and are also known for having less-restrictive policies in regards to lifting apparel, as well as varying drug policies.

USA Powerlifting is the official site of USA Powerlifting, which is the American branch for the IPF (International Powerlifting Federation). The USAPL allows only approved single ply equipment and has a very strict drug testing policy. It is also known for its strict judging (especially in the squat) making it a very different which federation than that of the APF or WPC. The USAPL does not use a monolift, instead preferring the traditional method of walking-out a max effort squat attempts from a squat stand.  

World Association of Bench and Deadlift will give you information regarding World Association of Bench and Deadlift (WABDL), a federation dedicated to bench press and deadlift specialist. You won’t find either a monolift or squat stands for the WABDL crowd, just the press and pull. The judging is considered (by many) to be less than strict, and there are several confusing rules regarding gear (for example, some brands of shirts must be single-ply, while others may be double-ply).

All in all, the WABDL federation is possibly the biggest federation around today, but also has the largest number of divisions available to lift in meaning there is often very little competition; just don’t tell that to any of the WABDL lifters!

International Powerlifting Association

You will also stumble across many meets hosted by the International Powerlifting Association ( This federation is mostly represented in the Midwest, but occasionally you will see meets pop up on the east and west coasts. The IPA has garnished a reputation for handing out gifts in the lifts with slack judging, but this depends widely on who is running the meet and where (which is true about any federation, really). It is very similar in to the WPC/APF in regards to rules expect that lifters can choose to lift in either tested or non-tested divisions.

American Powerlifting Association

Another popular federation is the American Powerlifting Association (APA) whose homepage is The APA floats somewhere in-between the APF and USAPL in regards to rules and lifting equipment with rules such as – no canvas material allowed, no bench shirts pulled down past the shoulders, and no use of briefs under a squat suit.  

The bottom line is this; no matter what your preference on drug testing, divisions or gear regulation, there is, more than likely, a federation that will cater to the bulk of your needs. The list above is only a partial list of powerlifting federations (the most popular in America), but there are literally dozens of various federations available at your disposal. Cruise sites, ask questions and watch a few meets –you’ll be on your way before you know it!

How Do I Train?

To reiterate, your first step to becoming a powerlifter is to search out and decide which federation or federations apply to you and attend a meet! When you have a pretty good idea of what federation you would like to be an active member of, it’s time to pick a meet and get to training. A word of the wise, to any and all beginners (and advanced lifters alike)…never lose sight of the fact that you are a work in progress, not a finished product! Everyone had to start somewhere, and it is often nowhere near where he or she are now. This sport is about baby steps, incremental advancements and consistency!

When you’ve decided on a meet and picked up a few pieces of equipment for your gym or dished out your life savings for a commercial gym membership, it’s time for you to train.

There are several different training styles (which I will touch on, albeit briefly, later on in the article) you can utilize, but the underlying component for any lifter and their success is a positive attitude!

You will make progress with any training program as long as you put every ounce of effort and dedication you have into it. There are no secrets, no special set or rep schemes –nothing replaces hard work and discipline! Powerlifting is difficult, it takes time and above all it takes work.

It isn’t always comfortable to be a powerlifter, but it should be noted that very few things worthwhile in life are easy; if it were easy everybody would do it.

Get your head in the right place, and get to work…pick up heavy things, put them down, eat good food and get some sleep. Rinse. Repeat.

Now, the best and biggest names of the sport will all tell you that powerlifting is one sport where you cannot afford to train the way someone else does without first finding out what works for you. There are various templates (or training philosophies) available to help you get started with figuring out how to train; Westside, Metal Militia, 5×5, Bulgarian Volume routines, etc. Arguably, however, the most popular methods of training are the Westside Barbell system, and the Metal Militia system (for bench only, although, they have recently begun to train their squatting and pulling with much success).

The Westside Barbell Method:

If you’ve read anything about powerlifting online or discussed training ideas with powerlifters you may have met, you’ve probably heard plenty about the Westside Barbell Method. Revolutionized and made available to the public for free, Louie Simmons is largely regarded as The Man when it comes to structuring successful training and getting freaky strong –as proven by the numerous records that have come out of his gym, Westside Barbell. The basic underlying principles of the Westside Barbell Method include the Maximal Effort Method (ME), which is maximal force against a maximal load, teaching the lifter to strain and hold form under heavy weight. The Dynamic Effort Method (DE), which is maximal force against a sub maximal load, teaching the lifter strong and violent reversal strength, as well as acceleration all the way through the top of the lift. The Westside Barbell Method uses specialty exercises, and has been largely responsible for the introduction and widespread use of the Glute-Ham-Raise (this isn’t to say that a GHR hasn’t been done before, but, it was nearly unheard of before Louie popularized it), as well as the pioneering of a Reverse Hyperextension Machine (created and patented by Simmons himself).

What makes the Westside Barbell Method tricky is that it requires the lifter to think, and, have a great idea of how his body responds to training, certain principles and specific exercises. The lifter, in essence, has to know how to gauge his or her progress based on how they feel. Accessory movements are largely decided by the lifter themselves, with the focus on building your weak points to better develop your overall strength. For the beginner lifter, this can be quite the task, and more often than not ends up with less than satisfactory results. This isn’t the fault of the training methodology, mind you, but a lack of experience and judgment on the part of the lifter –a common misconception.

For more information on the Westside Methods, check out Louie’s site at, as well as Dave Tate’s site, Both sites provide free articles (full of information) and Elite Fitness also provides a very useful Question & Answer forum.

Metal Militia: Bench Press With a Side of Evil

Bill Crawford and Sebastian Burns know how to bench press. More importantly, they know how to teach and develop the bench press –in anybody. They have traditionally been know to train for bench-only meets, however, the Metal Militia crew has since made the transition to competing in full power meets. Their squat training and deadlift training is relatively new and has yet to be explained in detail in any of their articles, but, it should be noted that the lifters that are a part of Metal Militia are very open when it comes to discussing training. If you head over to and shoot off a few E-mails, I’m sure any and all of your training questions will be answered.

The bench routine is a killer one, both in producing results and in beating the crap out of your body. The program relies heavily on full range of motion practice in your bench press shirt (which will be talked about later), utilizing triples, doubles and singles. Board presses (without the shirt) follow, and the workouts usually end with back work, trap work and some light tricep work. They do incorporate an accessory day in their workout week, which consists mainly of raw (sans shirt) pressing, decline pressing, more boards and more accessory work (back, traps, triceps, etc.). What makes Metal Militia difficult for most people is the volume (workouts tend to be lengthy), and the intensity on both days is fairly high (multiple rep-maxes on both days, personal record attempts, etc.). However, one cannot argue with results, and Metal Militia has shown the powerlifting world, again and again, that they know how to bench press big.

There are many more training programs out there (if I had to guess, I’d say a rough estimate would be just short of two-trillion various templates for your choosing), so don’t be afraid to experiment with various programs and ideas, as well as incorporating training philosophies from one program to another. A good example would be the ever-popular combination of Westside methodology for training your squat and deadlift, and Metal Militia training for your bench press. In any case, don’t get caught up in one system at the expense of experimentation. Remember, even a program that doesn’t yield results can be useful (how else will you learn what does not work for you?). This is especially true for beginners getting into the sport: experiment, experiment, experiment! Here is an example of a 3-day program that I followed early in my powerlifting career:

Day 1

Squat – free squat

Warm up

  • Week 1 – 60% 2 sets of 3 – briefs and wraps
  • Week 2 – 65% 2 sets of 3 – briefs and wraps
  • Week 3 – 70% 2 sets of 3 – briefs and wraps
  • Week 4 – 75% 2 sets of 2 – briefs and wraps
  • Week 5 – 80% 2 sets of 2 – briefs and wraps
  • Week 6 – 85% 2 sets of 2 – briefs and wraps
  • Week 7 – 90% 2 sets of 1 – full gear
  • Week 8 – 95% 2 sets of 1 – full gear
  • Week 9 – 50% – raw
  • Week10 – Meet 1st) 80% 2nd) 90% 3rd) 100% 4th)??

Accessories – Aim to add weight every week to the exercise

  • Leg Curls or Glute hams 3 x 10
  • Reverse Hypers or 45 hypers 3 x10
  • Abductors 2 x 10
  • Adductors 2 x 10
  • Seated Calf raises 2 x 20
  • Abs 5 x 10 – decline sit-up w/weight

Day 2


Warm up

  • Week 1 – 70% 1 sets of 2 –Shirted
  • Week 2 – 75% 1 set of 2 –Shirted
  • Week 3 – 80% 2 sets of 1 – Shirted
  • Week 4 – 75% 2 sets of 2 – Shirted
  • Week 5 – 80% 2 sets of 2 – Shirted
  • Week 6 – 85% 2 sets of 1 – Shirted
  • Week 7 – 90% 1 set of 1 – Shirted
  • Week 8 – 95% 1 set of 1 – Shirted
  • Week 9 – 70% 1 set of 1 – Shirted
  • Week 10 Meet day 1st) 80% 2nd) 90% 3) 100% 4th) ??

Accessories – Aim to add weight each week

  • Raw – 2 board / 3 board / 4 board (rotate) Work up to 3 rep max each week
  • Rack Lock outs – Work up to a 5 rep max each week
  • Pushdowns – 3×10
  • Front Raise 2×10
  • Side Raise 2×10
  • Rear Laterals 2×10

Day 3


Warm up

  • Week 1 – 75% 1 set of 2 – full gear
  • Week 2 – 80% 1 set of 2 – full gear
  • Week 3 – 85% 1 set of 2 – full gear
  • Week 4 – 90% 1 set of 2 – full gear
  • Week 5 – 80% 2 set of 2 – full gear
  • Week 6 – 85% 2 set of 2 – full gear
  • Week 7 – 90% 1 set of 1 – full gear
  • Week 8 – 95% 1 set of 1 – full gear
  • Week 9 – 75% 1 set of 1 – full gear
  • Week 10 – Meet 1st) 80% 2nd) 90% 3rd) 100% 4th)??

Accessories – try to add weight every week to the exercise

  • Pulldowns / Bent rows / seat rows (rotate) 3 x 10
  • Leg Curls or Glute hams 3 x 10
  • Reverse Hypers or 45 hypers 3 x 10
  • Abductors 3 x 10
  • Adductors 3 x 10
  • Abs 5 x 10 – Russian twists w/ weight

Powerlifting Gear: No, This Is Not a Debate Article

I’ll go ahead and preface this part of the article with my stance on powerlifting gear; it’s part of the sport, if you want to succeed (in geared powerlifting) you’re going to have to wear and learn gear. There. Done. I’ll save the arguments about whether it’s fair or not for the Wannabebig forums or a different article. For the time being I will give you a basic idea of what makes certain types of gear different than others.

Bench shirts: Denim Vs. Poly

Denim and the older Poly shirts were widely different from one another; with the poly providing more spring and rebound in the bottom of the lift, while denim provided more support and more “stopping power.” However, poly shirts have since been developed into serious pieces of equipment. The Inzer RageX and the various METAL shirts provide stopping power, rebound (that carries through the top of the lift) and a generous groove, which is much easier to learn and get a feel for, especially for the beginning lifter.

Bench Pressing using a Bench Shirt

The denim shirts (most popularly from Inzer and Karin) have also been developed into some pretty tough pieces of lifting gear. The easiest way to figure out what kind of gear is for you is to, again, experiment! More often than not, if you attend a few powerlifting meets some of the lifters there will usually have used gear that they will more than willing to part with. Personally, I’ve found several shirts in the garbage at meets, with a minor run or tear in the fabric that was only a few dollars to patch at the local upholstery store.

For a beginner, the newer poly and denim shirts can be quite intimidating, and rightly so –tough gear is no joke. All is not lost, however, as there are several “intro” shirts perfect for learning the fundamentals of bench press shirts. Inzer has a line of “Blast” shirts that are perfect for beginners – easy to use, easy to get on and off, and a very forgiving groove. Groove, while we’re talking about it, is the path the bar needs to take to get the most support from the shirt, for denims the groove is very strict, that is, you have to be right on the bubble of support or else you lose the press –and maybe the bar! For shirts with forgiving grooves, it means that you have a little bit of wiggle room, that is, the bar can float a small amount and still receive strong support from the shirt, making them much easier to use.

Squat Suits: The Modern Day Athletic Mummy

Almost as intimidating as a bench shirt is the squat suit, a piece of modern torture device that is the cause of much heartache and frustrating to get the hang of. Especially for beginners, which find it very difficult (and uncomfortable) to even get the suit on! Like the shirt conundrum, you have two basic choices in powerlifting squat suits, poly suits which provide less support but more rebound and spring, and canvas suits, which provide stopping power with great support but less rebound. However, also like shirts the new age poly and canvas suits have very similar characteristics. The new poly suits (Inzer T-Rex, METAL Ace, etc.) provide a great deal of rebound, but are thick and sturdy enough to also grant stopping power and support. Similarly, the new canvas design (available predominately by Inzer in their Leviathan) has poly inserts that make up sections of the suit, combining the rebound of poly with the unreal support and stopping power of traditional canvas.

Ultimately, squatting style will decide which suit works the best for any given lifter, with the general consensus being if you better at box squatting you are more appropriately suited for canvas (which “feels” much like a box squat), while a faster squatter who relies on rebound to reverse the squat will be better suited for a poly suit, taking full advantage of the pop from the suit.

For beginners, fortunately, there are several suits available, which are neither as difficult to use nor as expensive to purchase (the high end suits can cost you as much as 300 big ones…). Inzer has a line of single and double-ply (ply, in this case, means layers) poly suits that are dirt cheap but provide a fair amount of support for the cost, and Frantz also has low-end suits available for competitive prices. Again, if you hang around enough meets you will come across beginner suits…lifters who have spent time in the sport have to agree –who hasn’t owned a few Z-suits in their day!

Belts, Wraps and Shoes: Learn to Accessorize your Outfits

While the task of researching, learning and deciding what kind of suits and shirts are right for you may seem daunting enough, powerlifting gear (unfortunately!) doesn’t end there. Perhaps the most important aspect of gear would be the use of a belt; no, not the tapered bodybuilding-esque belts of the yester year, but instead a sturdy, 13mm single prong belt (available from numerous sources, including but not limited to Inzer or EliteFTS). I strongly feel that the best belt for any and all powerlifters is a 13mm (the available sizes are 10mm and 13mm, which refers to the thickness of the belt), single prong (compared to a double prong, making it twice as difficult to get both prongs in their holes –especially with a belt tightener) belt. To make sure your colors don’t clash, there are just short of three thousand (rough estimation) various colors available for your selection.

Pictured: Inzer Z Wrist wraps and Metal Black Wrist Straps
Pictured: Inzer Z Wrist wraps and Metal Black Wrist Straps

Wrist wraps, seconded only by the powerlifting belt, are the most important piece of equipment one could purchase and employ. Now, everybody has their personal opinions on wrist wraps, however I have found the biggest variable when it comes to wrist wrap support is how they are wrapped, not on the actual brand. Your basic choices are twelve, eighteen and thirty-six inch wraps (measurement are for length). Obviously, the longer the wrap the greater number of times you can wrap it around your wrist and forearm. If you’re looking for a little support for say, squatting, go for a shorter wrap, but for heavy pressing nothing beats the thirty-six inches.

Pictured: Inzer Z Wrist wraps and Metal Black Wrist Straps
Pictured: Inzer Z Wrist wraps and Metal Black Wrist Straps

Knee wraps are, perhaps, the most painful and annoying of all powerlifting gear for the majority of lifters. You have heard about people struggling in squat suits and bench shirts, but, there are a handful of lifters that cannot squat with knee wraps –and it doesn’t matter how long they practice! In any case, you again are presented with choices regarding brand as well as length. Now, there are more noticeable differences between various brands of knee wraps; some contain more rubber within the wrap, for example. For a beginner, I would strongly recommend picking up a pair of Inzer knee wraps, they are affordable and can really take a beating. I have had the same pair of Inzer knee wraps for nearly my entire powerlifting career! Similar to the wrist wraps, with knee wraps you have a choice of length: two meters and two and a half meters. Again, personal preferences prevail but remember the longer the wrap the more times around your knee, giving you more support.

Pictured: Inzer Z Knee Wraps and Metal Black Knee Wraps
Pictured: Inzer Z Knee Wraps and Metal Black Knee Wraps

When it comes to choosing belts, knee and wrist wraps, there are two things to consider. First, rules in your given federation (for example, some federations only allow two meter wraps, while the APF allows two and a half meter wraps) and second, trial and error. If you’ve started to train with powerlifters in your area (after researching and located federations in your area, and then getting in contact with local powerlifters…) you will, more often than not, be able to try used gear that your training partners have but are not using. Take advantage of this! As a beginner make it a point to always try gear –albeit wraps, suits, briefs or shirts. Nobody knows how you feel in gear better than you do!

Eating: Something to do Between Training Sessions

Now, anywhere you look online you will stumble across hundreds of diet articles, several catering towards powerlifters as a general population. However, diet (in this case we are referring to everything that goes into your mouth, not diet in the traditional sense, of trying to lose weight) is relatively simple. It isn’t easy – it’s simple. What I am getting at is that we all pretty much know and understand how we should be eating, but we often don’t. As a powerlifter, it is important to get enough calories in that you recover from training sessions during the week, this does not mean that powerlifting gives you the excuse to pack away McDonalds and pass your gut off as an essential part of powerlifting! Eat lean meats like chicken, fish and various cuts of beef. Add in a side of carbs and some veggies, think pasta, rice, potatoes, peas, corn, etc. For snacks, feel free to hammer protein powder; fruit (dried fruit is great) and nuts make great snacks as well. Don’t forget to increase your water intake, while avoiding empty calories from liquids like soda. Other than adding in a daily multi-vitamin supplement, there is little else you need to know (or worry about) when it comes to eating. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and make good food selections before trying to figure out nutrient macro and micro ratios. Louie Simmons was once asked how his lifters at Westside Barbell ate, and he answered, “our guys eat good.” Those four words nearly sum up the complicated nutrition considerations of powerlifters –just eat good.

I mentioned protein powder (check out Nitrean Protein), and I strongly feel that powders are a great way to sneak in more good calories and protein into a diet with ease. When it comes to selecting powders I usually go by price. You can find numerous supplement sites online, or pick up a tub of protein at your local nutrition store. I pick up a basic whey protein isolate mix – I pay about twenty bucks for five pounds of powder. There are very expensive brands out there at your disposal, but I’ve had more luck with a cheap generic supplement and spending more money on whole food. Creatine Monohydrate (check out Creatine 500) is, perhaps, the one supplement I would also recommend for beginners (not only of just powerlifters, but any lifter in general). It’s one of the most studied and scientifically backed up supplements available, and, it’s very reasonably priced.

Those are the basics when it comes to eating, and I am sure there will be more than enough experts who will recommend fancy diets and calorie calculators and micro-ratios…however I stand firm in my suggestion to keep it simple and eat good food. Don’t make it any more complicated if you don’t have to (and for what it’s worth, I’ve never had to)! There are times, though, when you should feel free to feed your sloppy side, that is, don’t shy away from a burger or pizza with the guys on Friday night! Eat well, drink a lot of water, and hit up the drive-through without guilt a couple times a month. Diet? Check.

Mobility & Flexibility: Buy Your Yoga Pants

I know what you’re thinking, you want to be strong and flexibility sounds like something for overweight women at Curves. While I did initially agree with you, I have since adopted a very accepting stance on the inclusion of flexibility and mobility work for powerlifters. In addition to aiding my lifts directly, the benefits of flexibility and mobility work carried over into my daily life. Tight shoulders and pecs, a stiff lower back and old man hips were plaguing me day in and day out. I initially wrote it off as part of the territory, you know, some discomfort that nobody can escape as a powerlifter. While that may be partly true, I didn’t realize how much pain I was putting myself through by avoiding girly flexibility work. I started adding few movements in my warm-up before each of my training sessions during the week -various movements with bands or kettlebells, and slowly added more and more movements over a period of months (as to not negatively affect my training). At home I would do a little foam rolling work, some dynamic mobility drills for my hips and shoulders, and (occasionally) some light movements with bands.

I could write a novel about the various drills and movements I currently make use of to increase my mobility and flexibility, however, this is a perfect time to make a plug for a few close friends of mine (who really know their stuff when it comes to warm-up and mobility). I urge powerlifters, beginner and elite lifter alike, to invest in the Magnificent Mobility DVD created by Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson, and the Inside-Out Warm-up DVD and manual by Mike Robertson and Bill Hartman. Anything and everything you need to know about how to perform various drills and movements as well as how to employ these movements into your current training routine are included in the above two products. Take care of your body and give back to the sport; buy Magnificent Mobility and Inside-Out today!

Looking Back: What I Wished I Would Have Known Sooner

This part of the article will be the easiest for me to write, being that I have about a billion things I wish I would have known back when I entered this sport. Instead of flooding you with endless paragraph after paragraph, I’ll go ahead and just list what comes to mind when I think about what I wish I would have known as a beginner…If you haven’t eaten in a while I’d go make a sandwich and get a water bottle before attempting to finish this in one sitting (consider yourself warned!).

  • I wish I had found strong people to train with right from day one. Training with stronger people than you is the one sure way to get better!
  • I wish I spent more time hammering the basics of lifting; presses, squat, pulls, rows, pull-ups and heavy abdominal work. I now find myself going back and making up for the foundation work I didn’t do before.
  • I wish I were more dedicated to performing vigorous warm-ups before every lifting session, and spending time stretching when I was finished. Like bullet number two, now I have to back track a little bit.
  • Extensions don’t build a big bench press –rely on boards, rack lockouts and full range of motion work in your shirts.
  • Find a Glute-ham-raise and a Reverse Hyperextension…there are exercises that try to duplicate these two machines, but “try” is all they do.
  • I thought I was working hard, when I realized I wasn’t I was floored. If you think you’re working hard enough, you aren’t. You’ll know when you’re working hard!
  • The one muscle group used in all three of the powerlifts is the back (lower, mid, upper, lats, traps, etc.), and I would be stronger than ever if I had spent more time building my back. Row, pull, shrug –build your back!
  • A fast lifter is a strong lifter! Do your speed work.
  • Ice is free and easy to use; don’t be afraid to ice elbows and joints daily –even if you’re not facing injuries. Pre-hab is much easier to deal with than rehab.
  • The Total-Gym will not get you strong. Chuck Norris lies!
  • The strength from yours hips gets to the bar through your body, or more appropriately, through your core. Do your heavy abdominal work –heavy situps and side bends. Save the bodyweight crunches for your girlfriend!
  • Do not get discouraged; everybody has a bad week, weeks or even months! It’s part of the sport and will teach you more than you could imagine. Learning how to overcome stagnation and plateaus is individual and cannot be taught.
  • Have fun! At the end of the day, this is why we do it –never forget it!

Written by AJ Roberts

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – So you wannabe a powerlifter discussion thread.

50 More Things I’ve learned

It’s almost two and half years have passed since I wrote 80 Things I’ve learned. During that time I’ve taken up two martial arts, competed in both and placed no less than third, have been blessed with a gorgeous daughter, started a private training business that includes a popular boot camp, added 100 pounds to my front squat, dropped 20 pounds in body weight, and am in the best physical shape of my life. Not, by any means, an earth-shattering list; however, my point is that things change with time, we change as people and we learn new things depending on the effort we put out in the game of life and work.

During the past two and half I’ve turbo-charged my knowledge and experience, and I’m back to share with you some of what I’ve learned.

1. Since taking up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo I’ve learned how to apply myself 110% in the gym. There’s only one motto to live by when I’m training in the gym, on the mat, or outside in the pouring rain.

It’s this: Hurt in practice so you don’t bleed in battle! (Quote taken from Spida Hunta of Enhancing Performance)

You cannot expect extraordinary results with an ordinary effort. The worst thing that can result from a training session is getting tired. That’s all. If you tear yourself down during practice and aim beyond your goal, when the time comes to compete, the only thing that should separate you between you and your opponent is skill.

Brad Imes moments before ending his bloody war with Mike Dexter by triangle choke at WEC 14, March 17. Imes later made it to the finals of TUF II.

2. Learn to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Generally speaking, the very things you don’t like doing are what you should be doing. In order to excel, learn to step outside your comfort zone.

3. Don’t just talk the talk—walk it and make sure you do a damn good job of it.

4. Webster’s dictionary defines a “mentor” as a trusted counselor, guide, tutor and/or coach. A mentor isn’t a jack-of-all-trades, doesn’t have a fancy sounding name (in fact they may sound too plain), or use big words when they’re trying to make a point. A mentor is someone who is passionate about what they do, they eat, breathe and sleep their work and will help you if you’re willing to put in the necessary work. They are kind, caring and respectful and will not withhold information that you would otherwise have to pay for.

They will push you to learn, to open your mind and embrace new concepts and ideas. They may even criticize you, and allow you to make mistakes, but only because they know it will push you to move forward in knowledge. They don’t give you answers; instead they give you the stepping-stones to come up conclusions that may be the answer. My mentor was Dr Siff. Sadly he is no longer here today. He passed away doing what he loved to do. Lifting iron.

I’m the really cool looking guy in the top left with his eyes shut standing behind Dr Mel Siff

5. Train your wrist extensors. A lot of what you do in everyday life is flexor- related, and so, the extensors become weak.

6. For martial artists it is imperative that abdominal static strength levels are high. Movements such as bracing before throwing an opponent, holding an opponent in the guard or in a pin are examples of the abdominal’s being utilized to a great degree. Don’t just squat and deadlift; add some isometric abdominal work as well.

For further information on how to build strong abdominal’s, check out my article – Strong Abdominals

7. The training of youth should be a fun experience. Incorporate games into their routines that’ll force them to lunge, jump, squat, dodge, twist, turn, leap, bound, and skip. All of these are essential bio motor skills needed for building a solid athletic foundation.

8. If you have injured your shoulder, or suffer from shoulder pain, put down the barbell and pick up some dumbbells. Remember, if it hurts, modify.

9. If you suffer from poor posture, row. If your shoulders are tight, row. If you have a weak upper back, row. Using a variation of rows will do your body a lot of good.

10. What is core training? The next time you’re at the pool, bring a five pound dumbbell along into the water and try treading water with it. That’s core training.

11. Adding a dynamic day to your program is a sure-fire way to increase force output.

12. Two simple pieces of equipment that will get you in the best shape of your life are a sack and a tire. Attach a rope to the tire and pull it a variety of different ways.

Fill the sack with sand and lift it, grip it, pull it and throw it.

13. Make your training enjoyable. There should be a fun element attached to some phase of your workouts. Otherwise, you’re not going to be able to stay motivated.

14. Body weight exercises combined as a circuit are an excellent way to condition the body. Don’t underestimate the power of body weight movements.

15. If your goal is maximal strength keep your reps under 8. Duh.

16. Take a nap everyday. It’ll speed up your recovery. I try to get at least a sixty-minute nap in each day.

17. The most successful trainees are those who apply themselves in the gym day after day. And don’t fool yourself into believing that anything other than a sensible combination of food, rest, and hard work will bring you better results.

18. Learn to accept responsibility for the current state of your body. Once you have done this, assume the responsibility for changing it.

19. If your willingness to excel both inside and outside the gym fades or waivers, so will your progress.

20. If you want to get bigger, stronger, faster, and leaner, you have to pay your dues. This means working hard inside the gym, and making smart choices outside.

21. In life you can get injured or plateau in your gym training or burn out. Your career will intrude and family life will stress you out. During these times rely only on yourself to buckle down and work toward building a better body. In the end, only you are responsible for making adjustments when times get tough.

22. One of the biggest thrills one can experience in the gym is to see progress being made. If you learn to approach your training rationally you will be continually thrilled over and over again.

23. Pull, push, press and rotate. Now do it using one side of your body. That’s a sure-fire recipe for increased strength.

24. Overweight people aren’t necessarily lazy. A lot of them have physiological issues and food happens to be the easiest way to cope with them.

25. If it’s a habit, chances are it’ll change you in some way. Make a habit of training hard in the gym.

26. Soft tissue work is a must. Whether you use a tennis ball, a golf ball, or a foam roller, get that soft tissue healthy.

27. 90% of the people I’ve trained and assessed have weak glutes. Make sure you get your butt in gear by doing activation, soft tissue and strength work for the glutes.

28. If you’re male who trains females, choose your words very carefully. Proper communication is paramount in establishing a good working relationship with your female clients.

29. Women are competitive. I learned this first-hand during the competitions I held in my boot camp.

30. Females tend to be quad-dominant, and they don’t use their butts all that much.

31. Just because you’re flexible doesn’t mean your soft tissue is healthy. A prime example of this can be seen in the figure skaters I coach. They’re all very flexible but have a lot of knots in their muscles.

32. Balance is generally related to how strong you are. Learning to stand on a Swiss ball only makes you better at standing on a ball and brings the chance of looking like a complete idiot if you fall. The stronger you are the better your balance is. You wonder why elderly folks are always falling down? It’s not necessarily because of poor balance. It has to do with strength levels.

33. Your training shouldn’t be dictated by the calendar. Use your biological calendar to design programs. Some people can get away with training 3 times a week while others can do 6.

34. Quoting Charles A Smith, “You never know how important good health is until you no longer have it.” Cherish what you have; you never know when you’re going to lose it.

35. Simple is not the same as easy. Getting stronger is simple. Choose your compound movements, rest until you’re ready to lift again, and keep your reps low. This is not an easy task.

36. Always use proper form and technique. It’ll keep the injuries down during competition. Most of my wins on the mat don’t look graceful, but because I practice proper form and technique in the gym I’m spared from getting seriously injured.

37. The type of training equipment you select doesn’t matter. It’s how you use it that ultimately counts.

38. Stuart McRobert said, “If you lift Mickey Mouse poundage’s, all you’re going to get is a Mickey Mouse body.” In other words, someone who can Dead lift 600 pounds is going to have a thick back and a strong pair of legs.

Does Mickey look like he can deadlift?

39. It is a privilege to be able to walk into a gym and lift weight, so we can better our bodies and increase the physical quality of our lives.

Don’t train hard year round. Learn to take a break from your training. Go read a book, take a hike, and indulge in fine food and drink. Don’t feel guilty about it. If you train hard you deserve the break and so does your body.

41. High rep training does work; it’s not just for muscle endurance. Throw in some 20 rep squats and deadlifts, and see what kind of results you get from them.

42. Yeah, the basics are boring and you know them inside and out. But guess what? They work! So, stick to the basics for guaranteed results.

43. A lot of people are great at dishing out advice. But when it comes to actually applying what they know—when there’s a time-line involved and money changes hands—well, that’s a whole different story.

44. Learn about all the different types of methods and techniques, but don’t necessarily follow them. Make changes that become your own, and that suit your body and your needs.

45. Stress is dangerous. Work, family, gym, and financial stress will eat you alive if you let them take over. Do something to de-stress; attend a yoga class, read a book, or just take some quiet time to reflect on where you are.

46. An exercise that is very good at developing the upper body is the Front Squat. The strength needed to stabilize the shoulder blades, keep the arms in a static position and the torso upright; all contribute to a strong and functional upper body. Plus it builds monstrous quads.

47. Swiss balls half full of water make for fun training. They also really force you to train your grip and abdominals.

Swiss Balls can force you to train your grip and abdominals

48. I love caffeine. I love it even more before workouts and competitions because it increases maximal output. In other words, this wonderful drug allows me to work harder for longer, which equates to more work getting done.

49. Combination’s, hybrids, and complexes are excellent ways to condition the body and reduce body fat.

50. Strong abs require you to be on your feet since most of what is done is in an upright position when throwing, twisting, flexing, and bracing. Use bands, cables, med balls, kegs, tires, or whatever – just stay on your feet when training your abs


So there you have it. These are some of the nuggets I’ve picked up along the way. Of course, I realize over time that the more I know, the more I need to know.

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – 50 More Things I’ve learned discussion thread.