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Background:

36 year old male, currently weighing 90 kgs, size 36 waist, I go to gym 5 days per week for 45 mins in the morning as it's the only time I can motivate myself to go due to how my work commute and energy levels work out in a day. I've been steadily increasing my gym frequency since the end of 2014 (2 times a week) until now (5 times).

My aim is general fitness, strength and building an appropriate upper body - I don't need to have a super hero physique, but defined arms and chest would be good.

My weekly routine is as follows:

  • Monday - Cardio (5km run, treadmill at 1% gradient)
  • Tuesday - Strength (details below)
  • Wednesday - Cardio (5km run, as above)
  • Thursday - Cardio (5km run, as above)
  • Friday - Strength (details below)
  • Saturday - Rest
  • Sunday - Rest

My Strength Workout is as follows (in this order):

NB: 1 rep = 2s extension, 2s retraction (I read this is the correct way to work with weights), all named exercises are using Life Fitness Optima Series machines of the equivalent name/exercise.

  • 10 mins on Concept2 rowing machine at max tension (10) for warmup
  • Chest press 49kg - 10 reps
  • Triceps Extension 49kg - 10 reps
  • Bicep curl 35kg - 10 reps
  • Seated Row 49 kg - 10 reps
  • Lat pulldown 49 kg - 10 reps
  • Pectoral fly 42 kg - 10 reps
  • Rear deltoid 42 kg - 10 reps
  • Abdominal 49 kg - 10 reps
  • Finish with 12-13 mins walking at 4% incline

My questions:

  1. I recently moved from doing "Strength" once per week to twice per week (2 weeks ago) - when I was doing once per week I could easily do 49 kg across all machines. Am I doing something wrong or is my current inability to maintain that weight level due to needing further development or more rest?
  2. The gym instructor who did my gym orientation session said I should stay on circuit machines for a while until I feel ready to invest in a few personal training sessions with the gym weights trainer - considering that 49 kgs is almost the maximum weight on a few of these machines, how do you decide that moving to full-on weights training is appropriate?
  3. Is there a better and more strength related exercise that I could do instead of the 12-13 mins walking? By the time I reach this point, I am usually quite tired and would not be able to do another circuit at that weight level - is it worth doing the circuit again at a lower weight?
  • What is your level of training experience? Beginner, intermediate, advanced? – rrirower Mar 7 '17 at 13:42
  • Seeing as I don't know how to classify myself, I would say: Beginner. – toadflakz Mar 7 '17 at 13:58
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In my opinion, as a former trainer, I would suggest you might be over training given your own classification as a beginner. A common mistake for some beginners is to assume that more training (ie. volume) is better. It’s not. Muscular gains are not made while you are in the gym. Rather, they are made while your muscles have a chance to adapt and repair during rest.

  • You should assess yourself for signs of overtraining. Additionally, if you haven’t taken a training break for an extended period, consider a short break to refresh and recharge your training.
  • I agree with Alec in that you should use machines to supplement your training. Seek out a certified trainer from a reputable organization to assist you in learning proper training form with free weights.
  • I’m a bit biased when it comes to cardio/strength related exercises. I prefer to use a Concept2 rowing machine for that part of my work. Depending on its damper settings, a C2 rower provides the ability to get a strength and/or cardio workout. A similar rower may also help.
  • It is something to think about but I would not say that I am overtraining based on the list you posted - I generally feel great after the gym and the tiredness is temporary, I am sleeping well, I don't have excessive stiffness or pain in any part of my body, my appetite is roaring (more than before upping the days in the gym), I haven't been sick since December despite nearby co-workers being ill at least twice. By "Beginner", I would definitely say "I don't know what I'm doing with weight training" but I've been doing regular exercise for about 18 months (running, low weight circuits). – toadflakz Mar 7 '17 at 15:52
  • Also as an aside: I used to do some HIIT as part of my run and after trying to reintroduce it at the beginning of Feb, I stopped as I started getting knee, calf and ankle pain after two consecutive days. I rested the rest of the week (and weekend) and was fine with a straight run from then on. – toadflakz Mar 7 '17 at 15:57
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  1. You're not necessarily doing something wrong. Could be that you're experiencing lasting fatigue due to lasting calorie deficiency. How is your bodyweight? Have you been gaining or losing weight?

Also, we all have off-days. You're not supposed to always lift heavier, or even AS heavy as the last time. Could be you just had a particularly good day.

  1. I think you should have been training with free-weights the whole time, and used machines only as supplemental exercises. Although I agree that doing it under the supervision of a qualified trainer is the right way to go in the beginning. Learning proper technique and form is crucial, especially while you're forming habits.

  2. There are PLENTY of exercises you could do instead of walking, but I'd rather focus on getting into proper weight training first, before micro-managing. I feel at such early stages, it's important to get settled into the rules of thumb, before worrying about tweaking details. It's easy to get overwhelmed if you jump straight into the deep end of the pool, as they say.

So yes, I think two weeks is a very short time to gauge any progress, but if you're already lifting the entire stack on all the machines, you should be doing free weights instead, under supervision.

  • I've been maintaining the same weight for a while - I was 92 kg when I started in 2014, I dropped to 90 kg in 3 months and have been there ever since but my dimensions have changed - less flab on stomach, bigger legs overall, upper body is regaining muscle. I've been losing inches around my waist recently (been doing 5 day gym since January) and it feels like my arms have been getting bigger recently with the switch to the heavier weights (noticed that my arms are a bit tight in certain t-shirts). I am trying to restrict calorie intake to a certain extent - avg is about 1600 per day. – toadflakz Mar 7 '17 at 13:57
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Here's the problems I see:

1.) You've got conflicting goals

My aim is general fitness, strength and building an appropriate upper body - I don't need to have a super hero physique, but defined arms and chest would be good.

If your goal is aesthetics, you're going to need bigger muscles and less body-fat. The trick here is most folks can't lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. You need to pick one, do that for 3-6 months, then switch to the other. Either order works, you can grow some muscle, then strip fat, or vice-versa. Just pick one and stick with it.

2.) You don't do any lower-body weightlifting

Squat. Deadlift. Lunge. Do them. Do lots of them. You'll get more upper-body development if you do both upper-and-lower than just upper-body stuff. Lower-body movements tend to trigger more anabolic hormones.

3.) Too much cardio, not enough weightlifting

Cardio is great if the goal is 'Be able to do more cardio'. If you're training for a marathon, you better get running. If you can run a 5K, then you're probably pretty good in terms of general fitness. I'd go down to 1 day of cardio a week, and go with three days of weightlifting. You can narrow-down the rowing-machine warmup to 2-3 minutes, and cut-out the walking afterwards.

Speaking of which, you're not doing enough sets to really simulate muscle-growth. I usually 12-16 weightlifting sets per workout.

**4.) Find a real workout program **

You're running into a common problem. You started lifting, made some rapid progress, but now you're plateauing pretty bad. As others have stated, you need to change things up somewhat. A full program is beyond the scope of a post here, so I'd look into The New Rules of Lifting or Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength.

Both have solid, full-caliber programs to make you strong, lean, and muscular.

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