*** READ ME FIRST - Homework #1 for Newbies ***
You join IronMagazine Bodybuilding Forums filled with hope, looking for the perfect diet, the ultimate training plan and the "magic beans" that will swiftly transform your current form into the jacked and shredded physique of your dreams. In response, you are asked to describe your diet and your training - as if that has anything to do with it!!!
While there are a few key supplements can do much to help you achieve your goals, they won't undo an inappropriate diet and they won't substitute for a good workout plan. If they did, you would see a LOT more ripped, muscular bodies walking around!
To save you from yourself, I have devised a homework assignment to prepare you for these boards. You will come to understand why you are being asked all this as you work though the process - but if YOU come in with answers ready to these questions, WE will be in a MUCH better position to get you on the right track, right away.
Define your short and long term physique goals. If you want to get cut AND get muscular, treat these as if they're mutually exclusive events and pick one. If you're significantly overfat, plan to cut first, then build muscle. If you're just a little soft, but not truly fat, start building first.
I'll give you a little help here - figure out how "fat" you think you are. (click for calculator)
Most men will start to see traces of abs at about 10% bodyfat (it's about 20% for women) so do this: guess what weight you'd need to be right now if you were to see abs. Use 90% of this as your estimated lean mass (80% if you're female) - it'll be close enough for the purpose of planning your diet and setting a timeline for your goals.
For example, suppose Buddy joins up and doesn't know what to do to get started. He's 5'9" and weighs 205 lbs, and figures he's a little too juicy right now. He recalls a happier time when he weighted 180 and almost saw his gut disappear, so he guesses he'd see traces of abs at about 170 lbs. This would likely put him at about 10% bodyfat if he were to magically melt on the spot, and 90% of 170 lbs is 153 lbs.
Translating: Buddy weighs 205 lbs and carries about 155 lbs of lean mass. This means he is currently about 25% bodyfat, and needs to drop about 30-35 lbs to see any amount of definition, assuming he will neither gain nor lose muscle on the way down. If he's a novice and does everything right from the get-go, he may actually put on a bit of muscle while he cuts. If he does, he'll just hit goal sooner! The plan remains the same.
The other type of newbie is the hardgainer. These guys join and say "I need a supplement to gain weight; I'm too skinny and I can't gain weight". We will say the exact same thing to you as we did to Buddy: go to fitday and track your intake. I guarantee you are not eating enough food, and you are eating less than you think you are. You will use fitday to INCREASE your calories, where Buddy will use it to plan his cutting diet.
You will be asked "describe your diet" - what we mean is "how many calories, and how many grams of protein, carb and fat are you eating?". This breakdown of protein, carb and fat grams, and of total calories, is referred to as "your macros" or macronutrients. Interestingly, the key to both cutting and bulking is your diet - not your training. Go to FitDay - Free Weight Loss and Diet Journal and enter a few days' worth of food, estimating portion sizes as best you can. Nobody here will analyze your diet if you simply list the food you eat, so if you can't answer the question "what macros are you running", you won't get any love from us.
The following outline is something I refer to as the "do it yourself diet" - If you want to get your diet fixed up fast, once you've tracked for a few days, restructure your diet so you get in at least a gram of protein and at least a half a gram of fat per pound lean mass. 25g of fibre from your food isn't a bad idea either.
If you're too lazy to take this step, "maintenance" calories for most people is about 13-15 X their bodyweight. (for me, at 140 lbs my maintenance is 2100 - which is 15 X 140 lbs)
For example, suppose Buddy tracks on fitday, posts up his average for a week, and it looks like this:
Recall that buddy figures he's got about 155 lbs of lean mass - so his targets for protein and fat are at least 155 for protein and at least 80g for fat. His fats are high enough, but his protein is too low, so he decides to crank it up to 200g per day, because it helps suppress hunger and makes dieting more comfortable. His fats were well over half a gram per day and he likes them there, so he builds his cutting diet - a 20% reduction in calories, more protein, fat stays the same and the carbs drop:
This is a reasonable cutting diet, and Buddy will likely drop several pounds the first week because the carbs are lower and he'll drop glycogen and water. After this, he'll probably drop just over a pound a week, which is a good safe rate at which to lose fat for someone Buddy's size. Buddy could choose to increase this a little, initially, but as he leans out, the fat loss will slow and this isn't a race. He may find he gets a little more fat loss through exercise, but most of the deficit should come from diet.
The hardgainer will do the same thing, only he'll INCREASE the calories by 500 a day, or by 20% - if this is you, pick one and stick to it, see how you progress. If you don't gain in a couple of weeks, increase it by another 500 calories and see what happens. Eventually, you will gain weight. Oh, and if you have trouble getting in all those calories - knock back a few shots of olive oil over the day. You can blend it into your shakes. Easy calories.
We will ask you if you are training now. Most who are overfat think they need to do a ton of cardio (you don't) and figure they'll hit the heavy weights once they've dropped the fat (bad idea). Regardless if you're planning to get toned, get jacked or get ripped, the training is really pretty standard: focus on heavy compound movements, and train the whole body, not bodyparts. I usually suggest newbies read my basic whole body workout that I have posted up on my blog and here below - it consists of seven movements, using free weights:
1. Back Squat (quads, glutes, core)
Back Squat - YouTube
(for positioning: goblet squat)
2. Deadlift (hams, posterior chain)
Deadlifts - YouTube
Barbell Romanian Deadlift - YouTube
3. Vertical pushing (delts, tris)
Standing Shoulder Press - YouTube
Olympic bar corner press
4. Vertical pulling (lats, bis, abs)
Chins, weighted chins, negative self-assisted chins or lat pulldowns - always shoulder-width or narrower
Cross Fitness Upper Body Exercises : How to Do a Negative Pull Up Exercise - YouTube
5. Horizontal pushing (pecs, tris)
(flat or low-incline bench press, flat or low incline dumbbell press)
6. Horizontal pulling (back, bis)
one-arm dumbbell rows
Bent over rows
Bent over BB Rows - YouTube
7. Abs (Bosu ball crunches)(weighted: hold an upright dumbbell on your upper chest)
Optionally follow this workout with 20 minutes of any type of cardio you can stand. A walk is fine, and you can sip your post workout drink while you do it if you like.
Do the lifts as 3 sets of 5-8 reps for a few weeks, learn the form and get used to moving again.
When you've done all this and you feel you are ready to take the next step, come into the forum and ask us for diet and training tips. Your preparation will ensure YOU don't get flamed and WE don't develop aneurysms.
Note: This homework applies to newbie male OR female lifters, the overweight or the hardgainer alike.
So - if you are trying to help a girlfriend or your mom, email her this link. Just remember to start novice females with WAY lighter weights than you think is reasonable. We DO get strong, but we tend to start from much farther behind with regard to strength.
For example, a reasonable starting squat for a woman is "no added weight". A reasonable squat for that same woman a year later is an Olympic barbell loaded up to equal her bodyweight sitting on her delts. She might be able to start heavier and she might get to a respectably heavy squat sooner, but barring injuries or other physical limitations, this is a reasonable goal.
*****"First Cycle" Questions*****
Read this (and if you're really feeling brave, this) before you post - you'll get your questions answered more quickly, and it'll help the more trigger-happy posters from flaming your sorry ass into oblivion.