by Robert Maxwell
Breathing & Bracing
Far too many inexperienced lifters hit the weights without understanding how to lift correctly and safely. They often have pieces of knowledge from gym buddies, like "keep your back straight, bro!", but lack the full picture. A huge part of that picture is proper breathing and bracing during all lifts. If you're interested in pumping iron and getting stronger, you must realize that there is no such thing as a barbell lift that works exclusively one muscle group. Sure, squats might hit the legs hardest, but the barbell is resting on your back and core, not your legs. Fail to stay tight and strong in these places, and the movement will be weak, inefficient and dangerous. Enter breathing and bracing. As a new lifter, you might have heard differing ideas about how and when to breathe while moving a heavy barbell. I'm here to tell you there's only one correct way. Take a deep breath just before taking the weight, forcing the air into your belly. Hold that breath, then brace your core muscles as hard as you can, as if you're about to take a punch in the gut. In this inflated, braced position, perform the first rep. Let the breath out as you finish the movement, then repeat the procedure for every subsequent rep, staying as tight and braced as possible while moving the weight. You'll be stronger this way, and far less likely to hurt your back or other things.
Eating to Grow
Generally speaking, guys I train fall into one of two categories when it comes to nutrition. The first is made up of guys somewhat overweight, eating whatever they want whenever they want, and feeling strongly that this is the best way to get strong. It's true that strength gains nearly always need a caloric surplus (eating more than your burn) to happen, but that doesn't mean shovelling in KFC and ice cream is optimal. The other group is underweight, lean guys who know they should gain some (muscular) weight, but don't seem able to do so. The first group needs to eat less and better, focussing on high quality protein sources, healthy fats, lots of veggies and complex carbs. Guys in the second group need to eat more. Much more than they think is reasonable. Loads of protein and carbs, veggies and fats. Way more than they're used to eating. Both groups should look at their bodies and the scale regularly with their goals in mind, and make minor adjustments as necessary. Yes, both groups will need to exert willpower. There is no magical diet or pill that will make achieving your goals easy.
Progress is Slow
To be perfectly honest, after more than a decade of training, this is something I'm still struggling with. When you're passionate about something, it's natural to want fast results. Trouble is, sometimes hard work and enthusiasm can't make up for a lack of time and patience. Sometimes, if not reined in, they do the opposite. Training too hard for too long because of out-of-control enthusiasm will get you injured. That's why self-control is so important. If you're the type who must force yourself to the gym, this isn't a problem you're likely to have. But chances are if you're reading this, you're not this type. You're the type who loves training and wants to do everything possible to maximize results. If this is you, having a birds eye view of the long game is crucial.