Diary of a Gym Monkey #0

So I’m back in sunny Norfolk, and the start of the holidays have been brilliant! Since being back I have:

  1. Successfully unpacked- you would not believe the HUGE amounts of crap that I brought back from university.
  2. Extracted my 2nd year results from my department- the words “blood” and “stone” come to mind, but it was worth it, apparently hard work does pay off eventually!
  3. Gotten back into the swing of driving- after several weeks away from home, I was feeling a bit rusty, but luckily driving is a bit like riding a bike, you pick it up quickly when you get back on, so to speak.
  4. Ranked 2nd place in a pub quiz at the Buck Inn, Norwich- a group of friends and I entered their very first quiz night. It was meant to be general knowledge but the 40 questions were disproportionately nautical-based… all seems a bit fishy really (I am SO sorry for that, but it had to be done).
  5. Braved a night out in Great Yarmouth- it’s not such a bad time when you’re with the right group of people, but luckily I was with a bunch of good friends so that was enjoyable.
  6. Started another summer painting- I’m doing another oil on beach wood. It will be of Southwold Pier, for my Aunt and Uncle, and based on this photo. (it’s outside in the garden, having the base layer dried by the glorious sunshine, at this very minute).

So all in all, I am LOVING being back home right now. However, I feel a bit bad that I haven’t yet gotten round to recording my newly focused exercise regime, which I mentioned in an earlier post. Now that I’m a bit more settled in, I don’t have an excuse, and will put it off no longer!

I have called this post “#0” for a reason. Basically, I have consulted with my mate who works in my local gym, and he has introduced me to a new exercise regime that I had planned to undertake. I can tell you now, it is very challenging, and completely different to any other programme I have ever done. But I want to wait a full week before I give any comments on it. Instead, this post is going to give a bit of background to the last few weeks of my exercise routine, so you can understand the base I’m building upon. This can be divided into two stages: the Pre-Exam Phase and the Summer Transition Phase.

Pre-Exam Phase

This is a pretty vague time frame, but essentially it covers the last term of my second year of university. This was a busy time for me, as during the 10 week term, I had essay deadlines and Spanish exams in the first 3-4 weeks, then the revision period (during which time I had lots of UCSB and US embassy business to sort), finishing up with my exams a couple of weeks ago. As such, I wanted to be able to exercise without eating into my revision schedule or whatever too much, because I had other more important things to prioritise.

As a result, my programmes tended to reflect this. Prior to the Pre-Exam Phase (so during the first and second terms of university), I would have 4-5 sessions per week, with muscle groups put together so the primary and secondary muscles were different. If that’s mumbo jumbo, let me explain. When you exercise one of the bigger muscle groups, like the back, you still exercise another support muscle group, in this case, the biceps. Therefore, in terms 1 and 2, when I exercised my back, I would also exercise my triceps (because my biceps were already being exercised by the back exercises). This would work the opposite way as well: when exercising my shoulders (with triceps as the support muscle group), then I would work the biceps as well. Moreover, as you are hitting separate, unrelated groups, you can make effective  use of the time because even after a heavy exercise on the main muscle group (the back), your triceps will have been resting and so you can still work the secondary muscle group efficiently (in theory). This is a pretty standard workout configuration, but as you focus on 1 or 2 individual muscle groups, this requires more visits to the gym. A typical workout could be the following:

  1. Chest Press
  2. Hammer Curls
  3. Flys
  4. 21s
  5. Dumbbell Pullover
  6. Reverse Bicep Curls

This wasn’t really suitable for the Pre-Exam Phase because I had other priorities, like I said. During this phase, I was aiming to make fewer visits to the gym, about 3-4 (4 at the most), but instead, do workouts that encompassed much more compound moves and attempt to hit nearly all the main muscle groups in every workout. Therefore, I would normally start with a compound move that worked several muscles (like squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, press-ups etc) then do some exercises that worked around them. Moreover, I tended to do fewer exercises but do them in a manner that made them challenging. For example, by reducing the rest time between sets, or emphasising the negative action of an exercise (this just means being slower on the lowering phase than the lifting phase). Moreover, I would finish each workout with a cardio or ab session, alternating between the two with every session. The aim of this type of workout was not to make gains as such, rather I just wanted to keep my fitness levels, tone, weight and size at a similar level. Whilst I was fairly successful in achieving this, it is a bit frustrating not to make any real progress in terms of physical appearance or strength gains. Still, it was interesting to use so many compound moves, some of which I’d never really incorporated into my workouts (notably squats and deadlifts had never featured in any of my workouts before!) A typical workout might be the following:

  1. Squats
  2. Wide-grip pull-ups
  3. T Press-up
  4. French Press
  5. Plank

Summer Transition Phase

This was the layover time between finishing my exams and heading back home. I essentially went back to the same workout structure that I had in term 1 and 2 (in the pre-pre-exam phase!!), but changed the way I enacted the workout. I used a method called hypertrophy drop sets, which are a fantastic way to gain muscle relatively quickly. This involves doing about 4 exercises per session, 2 each for the primary and secondary groups (back and triceps / chest and biceps etc). However, what makes it a good workout is you aim for 5 sets of 8-10 reps, of a pretty high weight, but the fifth set you do straight after the fourth set, with a lower weight. Hence the “drop” sets. That last set is always challenging if you’ve been using an adequately heavy weight for the first 4 sets, but it feels great and because it’s only 4 exercises, you can be in and out of the gym in no time. Again, I was just fitting abs and cardio around the workouts, with only a slight change to my cardio. Instead of going for 30-40 minutes on the tredmill or X trainer at a steady, but medium pace; I would go for shorter more intense interval training sessions. These included 20 minute sessions, where I would alternate between 1 minute of fast sprinting, and 3 minutes of jogging to recover, 5 times, with a short warm down at the end of this for about 3-5 minutes. An example of a hypertrophy drop set workout could be the following:

  1. Chest Press / Incline Press / Decline Press (alternate)
  2. EZ Bar Curls / Standing Curls
  3. Flys / Incline Flys / Decline Flys (alternate)
  4. Hammer Curls / 21s

This felt great to be back in the game and training in a more focused and challenging way, especially as I felt myself getting stronger very quickly. It also feels good to change your exercise regime because your body has muscle memory, so it gets used to the same old exercises. Eventually the exercises no longer challenge your muscles and you plateau. This website explains it very well, and gives some tips on how to avoid it. The best way to avoid muscle memory is to change up your exercise regime every few weeks, forcing your body to adapt to new challenges.

Diet and weight

That’s where I was until a few days ago when I began my new workout regime, which I will describe to you and give my initial impressions of in the near future. The last thing I think I should mention is my weight and diet. When I say “diet”, I don’t mean a weight loss programme, in fact I’m trying to do the opposite and gain mass. I’ve always eaten relatively healthily, and have had an athletic/slim build since I was about 16, but my main vices include:

  1. ALCOHOL- cannot emphasise this enough, but alcohol is the numero uno faltering point of many peoples’ diets. Just google the calories of some of your favourite drinks, you might be a bit horrified, I warn you. especially if you go on £20-30 nights out with many many drinks, the calories tally up.  
  2. Kebabs- Linked to the above. The formula for me on a night out can be summarised like this: More Drink + Later Night = Increased chance of Kebab purchase. Again, they are SO bad for you. Large Doner kebabs have AN ENTIRE WINE GLASS OF FAT IN THEM. Just bear that in mind on your next night out, I know I will!
  3. Cheese- very fatty but so yummy.
  4. Doritos- every time my Dad and I watch a film together, we can easily get through a large bag of these. Not good. Especially with the amounts of DVDs we watch…
But this summer I plan to keep a better diet and try and reduce some of these vices. I won’t eliminate them, because I’m not trying to lose weight, and it’s good to have some treats to look forward to. Otherwise, I plan to have a lean protein based diet, with lots of tuna, chicken, turkey and other high protein/low fat meats, without completely ignoring the beneficial red meats. I will also use some basic supplements, namely the wonderfully cheap Impact Whey Protein provided by myprotein.com. I usually take this after every workout, sometimes as part of an extra meal during the day, and before I go to bed. I use this to help gain mass, but also the additional protein is used to help repair muscles more quickly, aiding recovery. I.E, I don’t want to be hobbling around like a man beyond my years, bent over double because my back still hasn’t recovered 3 days after a workout. Not cool for a guy of 20.

Luckily, I weighed myself just after my exams so I could list my starting weight  whenever I got round to this first post. After exams I was: 10 stone 13 lbs, or just under 70kgs. That’s pretty light, but I put that down to a lighter salad / oily fish / fruit and veg-based diet that I had during my exams, in an attempt to fuel my brain. As Tesco says in it’s adverts, “every little helps”! Also I wasn’t drinking very much during exams (boy-oh-boy did we sort that problem out when that last exam finished up though). I hope to gain about half a stone by the end of summer, as I have been at 11 stone 4/5lbs before when exercising properly, and want to make advances on that figure.

So there we are! That’s the base I hope my new programme will let me build upon!

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