“I’ve learned more in the gym than I ever did in school.”
I hate that line.
So the gym taught you how to read and spell and do long division and understand the 100 or so historical references in the song We Didn’t Start The Fire?
Ayatollahs in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan. That’s some gym you belong to, sport.
On the contrary, gyms have rarely been the epicenter of intelligence in my experience.
Hell, even the weight room at my old university gym had a sign that said, “Rack you’re weights when your finnished, dummies!”
Fact is, what we learn has nothing to do with any particular environment, but passion. We soak up knowledge on subjects that interest us.
Send two guys – a music geek and a celebrity hound – on a 3-day trip to New York City.
One guy will stalk DJ Cool Herc through the Bronx, retracing the early roots of hip-hop, while the other will lurk around 5th Avenue hoping to knock ever-surly Alec Baldwin off his bicycle and grab a selfie.
Same environment – vastly different experience.
Still, I’d be lying if the gym didn’t teach me something new every day. Sometimes even exercises that I’ve performed for two decades will surprise me with something new, like a beleaguered wife deciding to give her husband the Friday night 50 Shades of Grey experience.
This is just some of the stuff I’ve learned relatively recently.
1. The Dip Still Sucks But Is Also Awesome
I have a love-hate thing going with dips. Pound for pound there’s no better exercise for the triceps and it’s no slouch at conditioning the pecs, either. As such, I used to get all amped-up and perform full range motion dips with 90 pounds strapped under my junk. It made for an arresting gym visual – and hopelessly messed up shoulders.
So injury forced me to abandon the exercise, replacing it with what felt like a dorky assortment of extension and cable movements and narrow grip presses. Until I realized that dips and I could still have a relationship – just the rules would have to change.
New Rules for Dips
• Do not go below 90 degrees (forearm parallel to the floor). While a full range of motion (biceps to forearms) is better, you greatly increase the risk of injury. Which sucks.
• Keep tension on the triceps. As you lower, imagine the triceps being loaded like a spring.
• Emphasize the lockout i.e., squeeze your gibbley triceps at the top for a full second.
• Play with slow eccentrics for hypertrophy. I find 8-10 seconds works well. If my shoulders are feeling particularly grumpy I’ll even skip the concentric portion of the rep and just do these.
• Add mid-rep pauses. Pause for a full second at different points along the eccentric range.
If you opt to do full ROM dips, I wouldn’t do them with overhead presses in the same rotation unless you have exceptional shoulder health and integrity. You’ve been warned.
2. Less Warm-up, More Warm-up Sets
This is something training twice a day helped drive home.
With two daily gym trips I’m seriously tapped for time. Quite literally, every minute counts. So when I audited my routine to try to get me in and out faster, the first thing I cut back on was my dynamic warm-up.
Now a targeted, five-minute dynamic warm-up is a great idea. Especially if you move like the Tin-Man. However, 20 minutes of redundant drills before you even get under the bar is dumb as hell.
Time-crunch aside, where I didn’t make any cuts was in the number of warm-up sets of the first “big” exercise I do. These are essential.
Warm-up sets aren’t just about raising body temperature and preparing the joints – they’re also a rehearsal for the work you’re about to do. That’s why 800-pound squatters often still start with an empty bar – some even a broomstick.
Here’s what a warm-up should look like for a squat hypertrophy workout, assuming the workout calls for 4 sets of 5 with 335 pounds.
Rest only as long as the time it takes to add weight between sets.
Empty Bar x 5 (lifter will often sit at the bottom, open up the hips, etc.)
Empty Bar x 5-7
Set 1) 135 x 5
Set 2) 185 x 5
Set 3) 225 x 5
Set 4) 275 x 3
Set 5) 295 x 2
Set 6) 315 x 1
Set 7) 335 x 4 (first work-set)
Notice the reps decrease as the load increases, but no set is above 5 reps — why gas yourself before quality work even begins? The jumps in weight also get smaller as the work weight gets closer.
An argument can be made that even the above warm-up is too fast. Perhaps. An argument can also be made that Pepsi is better than Coke.
3. A New Way to Use Music
For years I was anti-music while working out. If I ever owned a gym it would be like Sal’s Famous Pizza in Do The Right Thing:
“You come into Sal’s, there’s no music. No rap, no music, no music, no music.”
I’ve found that if you train in an environment of relative silence – just the sweet sound of hard work and encouragement – you can get into “the zone” that much faster. Especially if every athlete in the gym is on the same page. It’s like the collective focus cranks up the energy to a new high.
There’s also the theory that music “confuses” the brain, making it more difficult to get a “mind muscle connection,” which affects how well you engage a particular muscle. I don’t know about that but there might be something to it.
Great theory. Then I signed up at my current gym, Fitness Dickhole, and Africa by Toto is playing in the background. I broke down and bought headphones.
However, music is still a potential source of distraction. So what I dog is listen to the same house music mix (Kenny Dope, holler!), whenever I train.
Yes. Every. Single. Time.
It’s been 4 months and I know every kick drum and piano riff. You’d think I’d be sick to death of it – and if I played it the car I sure as hell would be – but when I lift I don’t even “hear” it anymore. It’s just white noise; something that blocks the annoying sounds of the gym while filling my ears with an up-tempo beat.
In fact, it almost has a meditative, focusing quality, because when I hear the opening bars, it means it’s time to go to work. I can’t believe how well this works.
I don’t know about teaching an old dog new tricks, but an old bro? That’s a different story.