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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Weightlifting Workout Guidelines

You've learned the basic types of resistance exercise, which generally form the basis of any workout program; now it's time to start putting a program together. We'll be going through this process for several days, possibly the rest of the month, because:
  • there are a few exercises I'm going to recommend you include, no matter what your workout looks like;
  • we'll have to add some golf-specific exercises;
  • we still have to look at aerobics, which your workout should also include; and
  • there are a few odds-and-ends you might want to add occasionally for variety.
Although I have said that I generally prefer workouts without weightlifting, I know some of you are going to want to hit the big iron... and that's perfectly ok. The goal here is to design a program you can stick with, and if weights get your motor running, then by all means go for it! I used a weightlifting program successfully for several months (I eventually got tired of it), so I decided to postpone my personal guidelines until tomorrow and give you some guidelines instead that will help you get started lifting without hurting yourself.

First of all, realize that if you choose weightlifting, this will be the primary thing you do for a workout. I know you hear the Bowflex® guys saying you can get a full workout in only 30 minutes, three times a week; and I won't disagree. The big deal here is that those workouts are going to be tough, and you will need time to recuperate from them. By the time you add some aerobics and flexibility training, along with some golf-specific exercises, your workout time will be pretty full. (And yes, while I have said in past posts that stretching and strengthening can be combined, weightlifting places such a demand on your muscles that you almost have to do your stretching workouts separately. Don't sweat it, it's just the nature of the beast.)

Preferably you'll want to get some nutrition before your workout; a protein milkshake 60-90 minutes before your workout should make sure you have plenty of energy. I was trying to gain weight, so I tried to get around 700 calories in this one; you may not need that much. The big thing here is that you don't need some powder with questionable additives. I used plain old 100% whey powder and an equal amount of low sugar/low fat weight gain powder, both chocolate since I'm a chocoholic. (Weight gain powder containers are notorious for saying you need several cups for 8 ounces of milk; I used the same small scoop that came with the whey powder, and used only one scoop.)

I mixed the powders in 8 to 10 ounces of skim milk, then added one spoon of toasted wheat germ, a banana, and sometimes a pack of Carnation® Instant Breakfast mix, a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, or some yogurt. One other thing I added that might not settle well on your stomach was a half-cup of uncooked instant oatmeal; when blended, it made the shake a bit gritty, but it was a good substitute for breakfast. I suspect the extra fiber really helped me, although it might give some people gas. Books like Dr. Susan Kleiner's Power Eating can give you other preworkout eating ideas.

If you're trying to gain weight, you probably need to eat more than you think. I started out weighing between 155 and 160 lbs, but I had to eat 3500-4000 calories a day to keep gaining! Since I was trying to eat a fairly low-fat diet, it was a huge volume of food. I suspect that was part of the reason I finally got tired of weights; I had really high metabolism and had to eat so much, it got to be a real drag. If I was doing it now, I would allow more fat in my diet. At any rate, you'll have to make sure you get enough food. I'll talk more about diet later in the month, but here's a sobering fact for you: If you're trying to maintain your weight while working out, you may need to eat 15-20 calories per pound if you're male, 13-15 if you're female. By comparison, I had to eat upwards of 24 calories per pound to gain weight! (Just for reference, those figures came from Dr. Pam Smith's Eat Well, Live Well and Dr. Susan Kleiner's Power Eating.)

Be sure you start and end your workouts with some aerobics. (Aerobics are exercises like running, walking, swimming, biking, etc. We'll talk about aerobics later this month.) You don't have to do a whole lot; 8 to 10 minutes of easy work on a treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike to warm up before your workout, and another 12 to 15 at the end; the end workout can be a little harder if your body is up to it. If you want to see good results from your workout, your body needs to be warmed up when you start lifting.

Don't work out more than four times a week, and don't work your entire body every day. No matter what you may hear, you can't completely separate your upper body workout from your lower body workout. However, you can do exercises that use your legs (like squats or military presses) one day and exercises that focus on your arms (like curls and tricep presses) the next. I did these two workouts, took a day off, then did those two again, and took two more days off. Convenient, eh? If you find that you're still tired when it's time to start a new two-day cycle, either take an extra day off or reduce the length of your workout.

While you don't have to do tons of exercises, you do need to work opposing muscles on the same day. For example, work biceps and triceps together, traps and lats (upper back/shoulders and the big back muscles) together, etc. Don't overdo it and strain your muscles; pain is NOT good. And don't do heavy weights with one muscle and light weights with its opposite; that's a recipe for muscle imbalance and pain.

How many reps and sets should you do? If you're just starting out, limit yourself to two sets of repetitions; you can go to three after you've been working out for a while. As for reps, here's a general guideline:
  • 5-10 reps/set: heavy weights/build huge bulk
  • 10-15 reps/set: medium weights/build some bulk and strength
  • 15-20 reps/set: light weights/build strength and endurance
Skip the 5-10 rep sets; those are for Mr. Universe. Go with the 10-15 rep sets for most muscle groups, and the 15-20 rep sets for muscles that are really weak. This will give you the fastest results for your efforts.

Finally, make sure to learn the proper way to perform the exercises, which also means learning how to breathe; holding your breath during reps is a good way to hurt yourself. And don't forget to stay hydrated during your workout. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to absorb any water you drink; so if you wait until you're thirsty, you've probably waited too long. Sip a little when you're changing to a new exercise, and you'll probably be ok.

Those are your weightlifting basics. If you decide you really want to hit the gym, it's a good idea to find some place that provides an advisor while you get started. But at least now you know enough to avoid the worst mistakes.


  1. Wow, that's thorough - thanks! I'm glad you point out that you CAN only do 3 times a week for 30 minutes but it's going to be a quite challenging workout.

    There is definitely more than one school of thought about whether or not to work out more than one section in a day (e.g. arms and legs). As I worked out with many different fitness types (including those big muscle types on Venice Beach, circuit training fans, and pro athletes) it was really interesting to see all of the different perspecitves. Fortunately, over the years I have found what works for me. I wish that on everyone - to find what keeps you fit and interested.

    Really, I think the bottom line is a healthy lifestyle where you incorporate plenty of activity and have regular exercise that keeps you engaged.

  2. I agree entirely, Apryl. Different people can handle different amounts of exercise, but my perspective comes from someone who had trouble bulking up at all. I was pretty sickly as a kid, constantly coming down with croup, asthma, etc. One of my most vivid childhood memories is getting a penicillin shot in the middle of the night on a stairwell in my doctor's house! I was in the 8th grade before I finally reached 100 lbs, and I just couldn't seem to gain weight.

    That's why I set the guidelines up the way I did in this post. This isn't the only way to train, but it's the method that finally allowed me to gain some weight, so I figure it's a good starting point for most people. At least it should prevent them from hurting themselves until they can figure out what works for them.