(This was mostly written as a part of a quick writing session at the Lurkshop. Thanks to Evgeny, whose handle I do not know, for some refinements and suggestions!)

Most of the complexity in fitness- meal timings! ice baths! macro-meso-microcycle periodization! buy my special turbopowderjuice!- is either of questionable value or is about squeezing out that last few percent that a professional athlete has to care about.

For the rest of us, it mostly doesn't matter.[1]

Here are a bunch of short and simple tips accumulated across my years of gradually doing less dumb things. This list won't include much in the way of specific movement recommendations and won't talk much about managing weight loss; it's mostly focused on the Meta of Gains.

  1. Do not hurt yourself
    • you cannot become Swole if you are swollen
    • different movements have different risk profiles; stuff that feels weird, unstable, or painful should be red flags (these will vary by individual and over time)
  2. Being overweight and weak hurts in ways that fade into the background and you might not even know there is a comfier way of being; being pathologically weak hurts in ways that you notice now and it ruins your quality of life.[2]
  3. Any exercise is transformatively better than no exercise
    • a 67 year old lady with heart problems and arthritis can go from constant pain and being barely able to walk to weighted squats, with only <2 sets a day, in 2 years, without dietary changes: strength matters[3]
  4. Doctors often underemphasize strength training in their advice to patients.[4] They tend to advise easy things like walking. That's better than nothing[5], but you can go beyond that and get major benefits!
  5. Mobility is good, but not an unalloyed good.
    • target strength over range of motion- it's good for your various strings to not snap as soon as a joint goes a little beyond its comfort zone, but you need to be able to control the joint in that position too.
    • my joints are VERY loosey goosey by default; it can make for uncomfortable party tricks, but it's much less fun when my hip gets slightly misaligned or my knee flops out mid-step and then crushes some soft tissues when weight returns. Getting stronger has made these incidents much, much rarer!
  6. If a type of training makes you feel exhausted and terribad, you may come to dread it, and then may procrastinate or not do it at all.[6] Don't chase a path of ostensibly maximum Gains that, through suffering, actually results in zero Gains.
  7. The first time you do a new exercise, or a new level of intensity on a familiar exercise, expect soreness. Soreness is often correlated with, but is not the same thing as, Gains, and I personally dislike constantly grunting and moaning. Being consistent will tend to make soreness fade over a week or so.
  8. Countless youtube videos have been made about whether you should do sets with lots of reps with light weight or a few reps with heavy weight. Both will yield Gains, so long as it is hard.
    • "hard" here means you're approaching an inability to do the thing. Hard is not the same thing as uncomfortable; sometimes you can keep doing an intensely uncomfortable thing for a lot longer than you'd like to (try some wall sits!).
    • 6 to 15 reps per set, each set approaching within 0-3 reps of failure, is a common and reasonable recommendation. Going outside of this range is okay too if you feel like it would be useful in context.
    • I tend to use lower rep counts (and thus higher weight) because doing 40 reps to near failure is unpleasant
  9. Consider preferring light weights and higher reps when practicing more complex movements. As you become more skilled at the movement, you can increase the weight and lower the reps.
  10. Your muscles will adapt to what you ask of them. To encourage Gains as your muscles become more capable, ask more of them.
    • try doing that one extra rep if you think you can manage it safely, and if you can, try doing that many on later sets too.
    • try to toss a few extra kilos on the bar/dumbbell and see how it goes. Obey do not hurt yourself.
  11. Volume matters. At the same level of intensity for each set, doing more sets will tend to provide more stimulus for Gains.
    • a good default is around 10 sets per muscle group per week. Remember, beginners can get gain muscle on much less, and even one set per week is much better than zero!
    • it's difficult to recover from 20+ sets per muscle group per week, and some muscle groups in some people may tolerate even less.
  12. Rest matters. If you find that things start to ache in non-quite-just-muscle-sore-ish ways, and you feel generally beat up, and/or you notice you are actually getting weaker on some movements- you may need to back off a bit. Your volume may have exceeded what you can currently recover from. Or you might be getting sick.
    • Sleep matters! Gains demand sufficient sleep!
  13. Frequency matters. Hitting the same muscle group more than one time a week will tend to outperform not doing so. The upper bound on tolerable frequency depends on the individual, the muscle group, and the stimulus; probably leave at least the occasional day where a particular muscle doesn't need to do much.
  14. Frequency matters in more than one way. If your workouts are gigantic assblasting monoliths, you may grow to dread them. 25 minute daily chunks may feel much easier.
    • if you have the environment for it, consider splitting it even further- I tend to exercise every single day, with each day's training split across at least four sessions.
    • this strategy benefits hugely from a home gym, working from home, and not getting sweaty easily.
  15. Home gyms may be more possible than you expect. You can do a lot in a small space with some adjustable dumbells and an adjustable bench.
    • a pullup bar of some sort would be a nice addition, but isn't mandatory.[7][8]
  16. Maintaining Gains is far, far easier than gaining Gains. You can likely avoid strength loss indefinitely even with less than a fifth the volume required to build those Gains in the first place.
  17. It is possible to lose your Gains if you do not continue exposing your body to Gains stimuli, but your body does still remember the Gains. Becoming Swole a second time is typically easier than becoming Swole the first time.[9]
    • consider Gaining Swoleness early when you are physiologically advantaged to do so. (but do not lament if you did not! your path simply requires a little more virtuous struggle.)
  18. Age related muscle loss can kill you (falls, becoming bedridden, etc.). It is also slow, and even mild exercise can help keep you functional (or rescue you from current decrepitude). Senior Gains may be the most impactful type of Gains.
  19. Do not feel bad about skipping a workout if you're sick or injured. The Gains will forgive you, so long as you return when you are able.
  20. If your back was hurting and you decided to work out anyway, and it started to hurt more, and you've repeated this many times and it's gotten much worse, what are you doing, stop it, you're going to cause an overuse injury in your back that's going to take 2 years to recover from
    • while I knew this 5 years ago, I still did it and that was dumb.
  21. Compound movements[10] can save you time by requiring fewer total sets, but aren't required.
  22. There are always options. One of your wrists bothering you when doing a barbell overhead press? Have an odd muscle imbalance? Doing squats to failure makes you want to go unconscious? Destroying your shins because you can't quite figure out how to do a conventional deadlift?[11], You can just do something else![12]
  23. Optimize for your actual goals, not just muscle mass above all else.[13]
    • each exercise you do gives you a certain level of Gains stimulus, and costs a certain level of fatigue. The amount of each varies by exercise and person. Don't feel like you have to do a specific exercise that makes you feel horrible because it provides Gains; you can almost certainly get 80%+ of those Gains without suffering elsewhere.
  24. Be realistic about your Gains.
    • someone completely new to exercise, with an extremely good exercise program, with extremely good diet, with genetic advantages, may hit 10 kilos of added muscle in their first year. Do not be discouraged if you don't reach this.
    • a lot of highly visible Hella Swole people use steroids or similar drugs. It's possible for a fully sedentary person using these drugs to add more muscle than a natural bodybuilder who works out all the time. Do not expect to match Enhanced Gains.[14]
  25. Do not worry about getting too bulky.
    • even the most genetically and hormonally advantaged man will not be ambushed by Gains.
    • if you're a lady, definitely do not worry about getting surprised by excess upper body muscle mass.
    • you can always just exercise less!
  26. If you look at strength standards and find that you're way behind where you should be for your training experience, or you're constantly fatigued to an extreme degree, or you find yourself going into hypoglycemia during fairly short strength workouts, or exercising makes you just want to immediately go to sleep, or other unpleasant things, there may be something wrong. Consider talking to a doctor about it.[15]
  27. As a beginner, you can gain muscle while losing fat fairly easily if you're overweight. It gets harder later, but you don't really need to worry about that yet.
  28. Even if you don't lose a single gram of body fat, gaining strength is still useful.
  29. If you are underweight and having trouble gaining muscle, there's a good chance you just need to eat more food. If you carefully measure it and you're really eating like 5000 calories at 60 kilos and you're not gaining any fat or muscle, consider talking to a doctor.
  30. Eat protein rich food. If you fail to hit 2g per kilo of bodyweight you're not going to just wither away, but it's actually pretty easy to hit and helps avoid a potential bottleneck.
    • consider whey protein supplements.
  31. Don't worry about timing protein shakes and whatnot. Whatever difference exists won't matter to you unless your professional coach for the Olympics is telling you otherwise.
  32. Cardio is fine. Unless you're doing something weird and extreme, don't worry about "killing your gains." If you like running, go for it.
    • don't get hit by a car.
  33. Consider adding sprints as a strength-focused augmentation to running.
    • even if you've got a lot of lower body strength, the first time you do hard sprints may cause a surprising amount of soreness in all sorts of muscles you didn't know could feel that sore.
    • ease into it!
  34. Don't do crazy stuff like trying to run a marathon without training for it. You can seriously injure yourself.
  35. If a new workout destroyed you and you're ultra sore, and then your pee turns brown, seek emergency medical attention.
  36. Do not kill yourself.
    • stuff like a heavy bench press can kill you; if your wrist twitches at the top and the bar falls out of your grip, do not expect a spotter to catch and dyno-deadlift the bar, and do not expect your ribcage or neck to resist the bar. If you're serious about Gains, just use the appropriate equipment to stop you from dying or use a movement that won't kill you.
    • prefer avoiding true failure when your body is the only thing between a heavy object and the ground.

Go forth and attain Gains.

  1. ^

    Or, depending on what you're throwing your money and time at, it could be a net negative... unless you just really enjoy the Rituals of Gains for their own sake.

  2. ^

    Ask me how I know!

  3. ^

    Obey 'do not kill yourself' first and foremost; she does not try to do crazy 1RM deadlifts or anything else that would go poorly with her specific medical conditions!

  4. ^

    I suspect this is largely because telling a patient "hey just get ripped bro" is not the most clinically effective intervention.

  5. ^

    I do not mean to imply walking is near useless! I try to get outside and walk at least 10 miles a week on top of the rest. Audiobooks, podcasts, language apps and such are all solid options to add a bit of productivity to the walk if you want it.

  6. ^

    I do not recommend GVT with a deadlifts + squats day, unless you enjoy suffering.

  7. ^

    It's nice to hit both vertical and horizontal pulling motions to cover things more thoroughly, but if you work your way up to bodyweight bent over rows, you're probably gonna be able to do a fair number of pullups.

  8. ^

     I haven't tried the door-hung pullup bars. Practice due caution when hanging from questionably supported things.

  9. ^

    It appears this effect is related to muscle nuclei persisting even when the fibers atrophy.

  10. ^

    "Compound" movements are those which involve several muscle groups at once, like bench presses and deadlifts.

  11. ^

    Hex bar/trap bar deadlifts are a nice compromise between deadlifts and squats. If you're not practicing for powerlifting, but you want a really heavy lower body movement, consider doing it instead of conventional deadlifts/squats. Most people I've observed tend to do hex bar/trap bar deadlifts reasonably by default.

  12. ^

    I don't even do conventional deadlifts, squats, or barbell benches anymore! They're fine if you like them, but I've just found a different set of movements I prefer. As long as you're picking movements reasonably, the strength transfers: I'm much stronger on conventional deadlifts than I used to be, even though I don't do them.

  13. ^

    Unless that is your actual goal for some reason.

  14. ^

    and unfortunately, Enhanced Gains currently come with a nasty side effect profile. Unless your only goal in life is Gains, probably avoid.

  15. ^

    Who knows, you might be like me and have a weird kind of hypothyroidism, a sleep disorder, and other fun things! I wasted decades feeling absolutely horrible because I thought that was normal! It's not! Don't do what I did!


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(I considered not using tortured wordplay in the title of this post, but I failed my will save.)