The Almighty did not write these unofficial Ten Commandments in stone and send them to me through the clouds. So, naturally, they will always be open to debate.
But having been in gyms for over 30 years and coaching clients in the beauty of strength training for the past 13 years, I’ve learned a thing or two about lifting weights like this pearl of wisdom of the great Dan John.
“If you want to get stronger, lift weights.”
This one is free because sometimes we overlook the obvious. Either way, there are a ton of options to get stronger. A quick Google search of the term bodybuilding yields 1,140,000,000 results. But this is a case of information overload, so IMO you have to see the 10,000 foot step major strength training in the minors.
Consider these bodybuilding rules as a guide to best navigating around barbells and dumbbells. I hope you and the man upstairs—and your gym owner—approve.
1. You will engage in progressive overload
This little thing called homeostasis means that the body is always trying to find a balance. If you’re doing the same sets, reps, and weights, the body says, “It’s easy. I know that; no need to stress. And that’s not the case. That’s not to say it doesn’t have health benefits, because it does.
But you won’t get stronger, and that’s the name of the game when it comes to bodybuilding. To get stronger, you have to overload the body, let the body recover, and presto, you’re stronger. Otherwise known as progressive charging. The best form of progressive overload is to put more weight on the bar, but it’s not the only way. You can
- Do more repetitions with the same weight.
- Perform more sets
- Finish your workouts sooner
- Increase the frequency of your workouts
- Add more time under tension by adding pauses, adding a half rep or increasing the tempo
Perform one or two of these methods per session, and you are sure to get stronger.
2. You need to warm up before every workout
You’ve all seen that guy who walks down the street, slams some weight on the bar and gets into it. This guy might think it’s a warm-up, but it’s not. You know what it is? A surefire way to hurt yourself. Maybe not that day, but it’s coming.
A good warm-up pumps blood from your internal organs to your active limbs and prepares your body for action. A warm-up will also:
- Raise your body temperature to prepare your body to move
- Delivers valuable blood flow and oxygen to muscles
- Helps you mentally prepare for training
- Promotes the release of synovial fluid in your joints to prepare them for lifting
- And since your muscles are warm, you are less likely to injure yourself.
It’s worth five minutes of your time.
3. You won’t train through pain
When you push the limits and work hard and heavy, there will be times when the body says enough is enough. This can take the form of joint pain, back pain, excessive muscle pain and reduced performance. Or you could get these things because of this little thing called life.
You then have a choice to make. You can ignore it and practice because it’s neither pain nor gain, right? Or you can choose another exercise or exercise method to train around the pain and not through it. Say a goblet squat instead of a back squat. You train the same movement without putting your body in the wringer.
You don’t have to be a hero when you’re strength training. Roll back and live to fight again another day.
4. You’ll never miss a Monday workout
Besides, who wants to miss International Bust Day?
Doing weight, bodyweight, or even, God forbid, cardio training sets the tone for the rest of the week. Certainly, this does not mean that hellfire and brimstone will rain down on you if you miss a Monday – life happens. What is at the heart of this commandment is consistency. Good things will happen if you train three times a week for 52 weeks of the year.
Trust me, I’m a trainer.
5. You won’t demonize cardio
Many lifters will argue that anything over five reps is cardio, and long-lasting cardio will devour your gains. The theory of cardio will eat your gains has long been debunked by various studies, but many weightlifters still believe in it. The trick with simultaneous training (strength and cardio) is finding your sweet spot.
If your goal is fat loss or hypertrophy, mixing in a few cardio sessions will burn some calories and help improve your recovery through a more efficient aerobic system. A more powerful aerobic motor will improve your recovery between sets and workouts when your goal is absolute strength.
And there’s this thing called heart disease that’s the biggest killer in the world. And doing regular cardio can help reduce your risk of dying. Remember that training isn’t always about muscles, it’s also about health.
6. You will share and take care of the equipment
It’s all part of being a good gym citizen because no one likes that guy who’s sitting on the bench playing on his phone while other lifters line up behind waiting. Or when a lifter uses the lat pull machine, sits on it for 3 minutes between sets and says no when asked if you can work. Nobody likes this guy.
The answer should always be yes; of course you can work. Just set it back to the weight it was on before. And let’s not start with people who don’t wipe their sweat off the machine or bench after use. That’s just rude, and while you’re at it, refer to commandment 8 because there’s no excuse for being lazy and inconsiderate.
7. You will use the squat rack as intended
The performance curls of weightlifters in the squat rack have been mimicked many times, and there have been numerous social media posts, including from yours truly. Now, no matter where you are in the squat rack curling debate, there is one thing that most lifters agree on. You can do bicep curls anywhere. Dumbbell squats, rack pull-ups and overhead presses, not so much.
So if you get a dirty look from the guy behind you while you’re curling the rack, finish your set, rerack the bar, and walk away.
And while we’re at it: To the guy who sets up his deadlifts in front of the squat rack so NOBODY can use it, please find a new gym.
8. You will pick up after yourself
Early on my opening morning gym days, I spent a lot of time picking up weight plates and dumbbells from the floor and unloading plates from machines and dumbbells. These lifters were lazy, didn’t care about others, or were too weak to stand aside. Many swear words were uttered under my breath and out loud.
Not only is it a health hazard to leave your weights on the floor, but it only takes a moment to do, and you’ll be lifting and burning extra calories as well. Besides, is it the right thing to do because your mom didn’t teach you to pick up after you?
Some beginners aren’t yet strong enough to lift heavy dumbbells off the floor or 45-pound plates from the barbell back into place. It is important to be considerate of everyone who visits the gym.
9. You won’t limit yourself to free weights
Dumbbells and dumbbells are the best tools for burning fat and building strength and muscle, but they’re not the only tools in the toolbox. Your body doesn’t know the difference between a dumbbell and a sandbag because resistance is resistance, no matter what form it takes.
As great as free weights are, there are times when you can’t face the bar or your joints turn the bird on you. If so, weight machines with a fixed range of motion and increased stability might be what the doctor ordered.
- Weightlifters often vilify weight machines as a waste of time, but they’re great for building muscle because the increased stability allows you to focus more on the muscle that’s working and do more reps.
- Resistance bands are also easier on your joints because when they are not stretched, they put less pressure on them. Their upward resistance (becomes harder as the band stretches) improves your lockout strength and makes you stronger where you are weakest, at the periphery.
- Kettlebells, sandbags, medicine, and stability balls are all beneficial. Limiting yourself to free weights will limit your gains and increase your boredom.
10. You will not shame others
There’s a reason shows like The Biggest Loser aren’t a thing. The screaming, screaming, and that go-hard-or-go-home mentality that tore these overweight people apart to rebuild them is out of step with today’s society.
Instead of shaming overweight people in the gym with stares, ridicule, and conversations behind their backs, offer them encouragement, guidance, and support on their weight loss journey. You never know what it took for them to get into the gym, so don’t scare them.
Also, before you record on your camera phone someone doing something silly because they don’t know any better, please stop. There are already enough practice chess videos on YouTube and social media for you to watch in your lifetime. No need to add more.
So before that person is about to hurt themselves, be polite, stop them, and offer advice on how to proceed. And think about how you would feel if someone recorded you doing something stupid. Thank goodness there were no camera phones in the heyday of my gym. Definitely.
Are they good enough to be set in stone? Maybe not, but if you follow these ten commandments, you’ll lift longer and harder and be a good gym citizen. Now only if these people would stop filling the gallon jug of water at the water cooler.