Training, or Exercising?
When adding physical activity to your life, it’s important to first get clear on whether you want to exercise or train. Mark Rippetoe explains the difference very well:
Exercise is physical activity performed for the effect it produces today — right now. […] Exercise is physical activity done for its own sake, either during the workout or immediately after it’s through.
Training is physical activity performed for the purpose of satisfying a long-term performance goal, and is therefore about the process instead of the workouts themselves.
We make this distinction up front because the majority of information in this Wiki is targeted at those who want to train – who have some physique or performance goal that goes beyond simply being generally physically active or regularly getting in a workout.
If what you want is to exercise or be generally physically active, that’s great! It’s always better to get some physical activity in your life than to be totally sedentary. However, for the most part, the specifics are going to matter very little to you – you can do pretty much anything on any day and you’ll meet your goal.
The Importance of Having a Proven Program
Training without a program is like building a house without blueprints, and training without a proven program is like building a house designed by someone who isn’t an architect. Would you want to live in that house? Having a solid, proven workout routine to follow, rather than showing up at the gym and winging it or trying to create a program yourself, has the following important benefits:
- It provides structure and helps with scheduling.
- It makes sure you are getting enough rest and recovery between training sessions.
- It saves you time always knowing what to do when you get to the gym.
- It gives you a plan for continuing to drive progress over time, so you don’t stall and stagnate.
- It helps you know how hard to work in the gym, so you don’t work harder than you can handle or too little to make progress.
- It ensures you are not neglecting important muscles or muscle groups.
- It removes the need to spend excessive amounts of time doing research for answers to many questions about training.
In addition, it is important that your routine came from someone experienced – this means that it shouldn’t be some random dude’s Biceps 900 routine from a forum post, and you are almost better off not trying to create one yourself. There is no shame in “copying someone else’s homework” here – in fact, it’s exactly what you should do. It is very attractive to spend time constructing something more personal instead of following “a cookie cutter routine”, but you don’t get gains points for originality – it’s more likely you’ll get frustration from spinning your wheels.
Following a plan that is tried and true (with minor tweaks to make it fit your life or equipment access if needed) is always the best option. Here’s a good thread to read with some discussion on this subject – Is this subreddit over focused on programming? (r/Fitness)
To help understand this better, we strongly recommend reading the article Fuckarounditis by Martin Berkhan of LeanGains. This is about a 30 minute read, but don’t be daunted by the length – Over the years, uncountable numbers of r/Fitness users have found this piece to be one of the most important they’ve ever read. If you don’t have time to read it now, bookmark it and come back to it later.
Why You Should Do Strength Training
Strength training (most commonly done by lifting weights, but can also use resistance bands, machines, and bodyweight movements) is often misunderstood by people who are unfamiliar with it. This type of training is not just for aspiring powerlifters and bodybuilders, people who want to get “jacked” or “swole”, or for vanity. Gaining strength and muscle have numerous health and lifestyle benefits, and you don’t need to worry about becoming a “mass monster” because you start lifting weights. Building that much muscle is hard. For well rounded fitness pursuits, it’s a very good idea to do some strength training even if it’s not your primary focus. Here are some of the known benefits:
- Improved ability to manipulate / move objects in day-to-day life, including yourself
- Increased bone density and reduced risk of osteoporosis
- Improved balance and reduced risk of falls
- Can reduce symptoms of arthritis, back pain, obesity, heart disease, depression, and diabetes
- Can improve cognitive ability in older adults
- Can improve blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and HDL
- Can reduce risk of cancer
- Broadly reduces risk of injury
- Can help maintain joint flexibility
- Improved ability to control weight gain through increased calorie usage
Why You Should Do Cardio
Like strength training, cardiovascular exercise is an important component of a well rounded fitness pursuit and has numerous health benefits. It has long been a meme that “cardio kills gains”, but this is far from the truth, and avoiding cardio can even hold your strength training back. Two excellent articles from Stronger By Science to read on this:
- Cardio isn’t going to kill your gains. Need more evidence? You got it.
- Avoiding Cardio Could Be Holding You Back
Some of the benefits of doing cardio include:
- Improved heart and lung health
- Improved heart rate
- Improved recovery from strenuous activities and workouts
- Potentially reduced risk of dementia
- Improved immune system function
- May improve cholesterol levels
- May help prevent or manage diabetes
- May improve gut health
- May improve mental health and mood
Choosing the Right Routine
Because consistency over time is so important for getting results, above all else, your primary considerations when choosing a routine should be:
- What you can reasonably fit into your schedule, both in terms of time per workout and days per week.
- What equipment you have access to.
The internet is full of heated debates over what routine by which coach is the best. The truth is that Many Roads Lead To Rome and routine selection is rarely the make-or-break it’s made out to be – it’s the effort and consistency you put in. All of the routines on the Recommended Routines page are effective and reliable, so don’t sweat your choice and definitely don’t get hung up on trying to select what’s “optimal”.
Recommended Starting Plan
If you are new to strength training or exercise in general, r/Fitness recommends the following path:
- Start with the r/Fitness Basic Beginner Routine. This is a straightforward, bare-bones routine to help you get comfortable with fundamental barbell lifts which are a core component of most lifting routines, and includes guidelines for cardio and conditioning work. If your primary goal is strength training and/or muscle building, follow this plan for a maximum of 3 months. If you are already comfortable with the fundamental barbell lifts, you should probably skip this step.
- After 3 months, if your primary goal is strength training and/or muscle building, switch your routine to either 5/3/1 for Beginners or GZCLP and stick with this for at least 6 months.
- If that’s not your primary goal, you can do whatever you want for your routine going forward, including continuing the Basic Beginner. That may come off as flippant, but it’s genuine advice – don’t spend time and energy worrying about your routine choice if you just want to get a bit of regular strength training in and don’t want to take it very far.
- After at least 6 months, feel free to start looking at other routines if you’d like, or continue on with your current one until you feel it’s stopped working.
If you don’t have access to barbells and related equipment, it is strongly recommended that you try to get access to them as soon as possible. Many of the most reliable and effective strength training routines use barbell compound lifts as their bread and butter, and for good reason – they will give you the best bang for your buck and tend to be the most efficient. In the meantime, the r/BodyweightFitness Recommended Routine is the best alternative choice.