“The greatest feeling you can get in a gym or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym is the pump. Let’s say you train your biceps, blood is rushing in to your muscles and that’s what we call the pump. Your muscles get a really tight feeling like your skin is going to explode any minute and its really tight and its like someone is blowing air into your muscle and it just blows up and it feels different, it feels fantastic. It’s as satisfying to me as cumming is, you know, as in having sex with a woman and cumming. So can you believe how much I am in heaven? I am like getting the feeling of cumming in the gym; I’m getting the feeling of cumming at home; I’m getting the feeling of cumming backstage; when I pump up, when I pose out in front of 5000 people I get the same feeling, so I am cumming day and night. It’s terrific, right? So you know, I am in heaven.” – Arnold
Sure I used an absurdly long quote to start this one, but guess what? The gyms in New Jersey have been closed for an absurdly long time — since mid March to be precise — and now, by the grace of god and after weeks of foot dragging by Phil Murphy, they are finally opening once again.
It’ll be a clusterfuck at first I’m sure; with masks and distancing and temperatures being taken, but fuck it, I’m fine with all of that, just get me back into a motherfucking gym. By the way, I realize this isn’t even good or creative writing. I’m just elated that gyms are finally back and need to shout it from the mountain tops.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten the verbal cumming out of the way, let’s talk about what we need to do for a successful return to the gym. The coronavirus lockdown was a bitch, but it wasn’t an excuse to half-ass your workouts. I used Crossfit Hoboken’s outdoor WODs on Instagram as a guide and supplemented those with copious amounts of pull ups and hill runs, and if you followed my advice, you would have done the same. If you chose to be a lazy sack of shit and binge watched your way through lockdown, then shame on you, but the good news is you aren’t beyond saving.
Generally speaking, I don’t believe in a ‘one size fits all’ approach to training, but given the fact that most of us have been without a proper gym — no heavy deads, squats, or presses — for months, even those who kept their fitness levels up will need to readjust to the stimulus and stress that comes from hitting the weights. With that in mind, the program that I am going to recommend for everyone is incredibly basic, time tested, and designed by a gentleman whose name carries just a bit of weight in the training world; Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe.
Starting Strength is technically a ‘beginner program’ but if you’re a veteran lifter and you haven’t been lifting heavy for 5 months, then go ahead and hit the reset button with 12 weeks of Starting Strength, before moving on to a more advanced program. If you’re a couch potato who figures he should get to the gym because exercise is good for your immune system, then Starting Strength is perfect because it will literally start you on the path to getting strong. You’ll focus on big ‘bang for your buck’ movements like squats, cleans, deadlifts, presses, and chin ups and add weight each week until you reach week 12, at which point you will be a buff, sexy motherfucker — or at least buffer and sexier than you were 3 months ago.
If you are a reasonably advanced lifter and you spent your time in lockdown doing pull ups and kettlebell swings and generally trying to stay in shape, then I’m gonna go ahead and say that it is totally fine to add some extra vanity work to the program. So if you finish your work for the day and want to hit some curls or tricep pushdowns, or some delt flyes and lat raises, go for it. My suggestion for programming those movements would be to start with very light weights for high reps. That will create the kind of microtrauma needed for muscle growth without causing the kind of neural fatigue that comes from heavy weights.
Starting Strength is of course a strength program, so you will still need to address conditioning and mobility. I’ve personally developed a new appreciation for working out outside, so a big part of me wants to keep doing hill runs for conditioning. However, the summer is ending and as the Starks are want to say ‘Winter Is Coming’, which means sooner or later you’re gonna want to move your condo indoors. You don’t need to spend hours on the treadmill to burn fat, in fact just a few minutes of high intensity work following your lift will suffice, but if it’s gonna suffice, then you need to fucking crank it.
For those returning to the gym in shape, you can jump right into barbell/dumbell/kettlebell complexes, tabata workouts, and cardio machine sprints on day one. If you loafed your way through lockdown, then spend the first few weeks doing long slow distances on the treadmill (or outside if it’s still nice out), before jumping into a more intense conditioning program.
There are a million articles out there on Tabata workouts and complexes, but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Here are my preferred complex and Tabata workouts:
Complex: 2×10, go all the way through the complex once to complete the first set, rest 60 seconds and repeat. Barbell deadlift, bent over row, hang clean, push press, back squat.
Start with a very light weight because this will kick your ass. Every four weeks add another set, so month two will be 3×10 and month three will be 4×10. You can do this with dumbells or kettlebells as well, just make sure the movements are multi-jointed to adequately tax the system.
Tabata: Tabata workouts involve 20 seconds of movement followed by 10 seconds of rest. So one minute of work is 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest. Start with 4 minutes and add an extra minute every two weeks. You can use a single movement all the way through or a combination, but the effort for 20 seconds should be all out and the movement should once again be multi-jointed to create the desired training effect, so be sure to pick an appropriate weight (it might just be your bodyweight to start, and that’s fine!). My preference is for dumbbell squats, kettle bell swings, and weighted jump rope.
Mobility and Flexibility
Do some yoga too! You don’t need to move to an ashram in Punjabi and start hooking up with some stinky ass dude named Ravi to reap the benefits of yoga. Just take 20 minutes a day, a couple days a week and follow one of the many hot chicks on YouTube with a yoga channel. My personal favorite is Yoga With Adrienne. Yoga is the shit. It will improve your mobility, flexibility, core strength, muscle tone, and mental health. Put on some tunes, burn some incense in your living room, and get your namaste on motherfucker.
With yoga in mind, we should also talk about warm ups. If you warm up the right way, you will get more out of your workout and feel better walking around when you aren’t in the gym. A lot of those pesky little back, shoulder, and hip problems that come from doing sedentary desk work all day can also be addressed through a good warm up. This, once again, is a ‘no need to reinvent the wheel’ situation. For a pre-lift warm-up, look no further than Joe DeFranco’s Limber 11 or his Agile 8. You’ll be foam rolling and performing bodyweight movements to get the blood flowing and joints lubricated before smashing weights, and it isn’t particularly time consuming either.
Now let’s tie it all together with some good ole’ nutrition. I know it’s football season, and NFL Sundays were designed for beer, high calorie snacks, and sitting on your ass. Fine with me, I love football and I love junk food and beer. But there is no physiological free lunch, so everything you will put in your body will have an effect of some kind. A reasonable guide to nutrition that you can apply for the rest of your life is 85/15. This means that 85 percent of what goes into your body should consist of nutrient dense food and supplements, the other 15 percent is whatever makes your taste buds and belly happy. If you eat 3 meals a day this means that you have room for 3 ‘cheat’ type meals every week, just be honest with yourself about how much pizza and beer you’re consuming during those meals. You can yourself a little extra help by doing some empty stomach conditioning and yoga on game day to jack up your metabolism before punishing your liver and digestive track with an afternoon of fun.
If you want to look good naked, you can’t go wrong with these foods:
Proteins: Steak, chicken, ground beef, ground pork, salmon, tuna, shrimp, eggs, bacon (for fun, but not too much)
Fruits, Vegetables, other things that grow in the earth: Broccoli, peppers, onions, spinach, mushrooms, avocados, apples, berries, nuts, beans, garlic, potatoes, oranges, ginger, lemons, and limes
Etc: White rice (great versatile carb that tastes good with most protein/veggie combos), corn tortillas, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, sea salt, almond milk, various teas (I like mint, chamomile, green, and pomegranate), coffee.
If you would like to add some basic supplements, then throw in some whey protein and creatine monohydrate. You don’t need some stupid, overpriced pre-workout with the word Explode on the label. It’s just expensive caffeine, go with black coffee instead. I also take ZMA before bed and the occasional l-Theanine capsule for mental clarity and mood.
And that’s that. Once you’ve completed 12 weeks on this program you can move on to something a little more advanced. In the meantime, enjoy getting back in the gym for it has been far too long since we pumped our guns while taking in an eyeful of yoga pants wrapped ass cheeks. Happy lifting to you fellas!