I’ve been training at Maximum Fitness in North Scottsdale this week. If any of my readers find themselves in the North Scottsdale area, I highly recommend training at Maximum as it’s a dinosaur of a gym. I’ve been training in commercial gyms since I was 15 years old, and assuming I’ve tried 3 gyms per month (not unrealistic) for 20 years this comes to 720 total gyms that I’ve attended. Maximum Fitness is without a doubt one of the best commercial gyms I’ve ever trained at – they have six different power racks, a platform, a reverse hyper, a 45 degree hyper, a horizontal back extension, a Prowler, a hex bar, rings and trx’s, plenty of benches, dumbbells, kettlebells, plyo boxes, tons of different machines including hammer strength equipment, and much, much more. Gyms like these are a dying breed and I applaud the owners for sticking to their guns.

Today I saw a young lifter who reminded me of myself when I was his age. He’s probably 21 years old and was training legs. He must have performed around 40 sets while I was there, wandering aimlessly from one exercise to the next. I watched him do barbell quarter squats, box jumps, hack squats, the power runner machine, leg press, deadlifts, leg curls, leg extensions, single leg squats and calf raises.  I’m sure he did more exercises than this as I wasn’t watching him the entire time and he had already started training before I arrived. He watched me perform hip thrusts and asked me a few questions about them, then declared that he was going to add them into his routine next time he trained.

I think many of us started out this way. We learned an exercise and incorporated it into our routines. No exercises were subtracted from our routines, but each week another exercise was added in until we were performing around 20 different exercises with around 50 sets per bodypart. Many of us finally worked up the courage to talk to an experienced lifter and ask for advice, or we stumbled onto a good website or magazine that directed us toward a more efficient route.

This guy was skinny and weak, and sadly he won’t be getting much bigger or stronger the way he trains. I’m pretty sure he fails to utilize progressive overload and simply trains on a whim without any rhyme or reason to his sessions. He quarter squatted with 135 lbs and deadlifted with 135 lbs.

I wanted very badly to tell the kid what was up. I considered advising him to just do 3 lower body exercises this year – the full squat, conventional deadlift, and hip thrust, and to make sure he went up 5-10 lbs each month for his top set. But I didn’t say anything. I have a policy at commercial gyms – I don’t offer unsolicited advice. I answered the kid’s questions about hip thrusts and hopefully he’ll continue to pick my brain so I can steer him in the right direction in the following weeks.

If you’re a newbie, focus on getting much stronger at the big basic compound exercises rather than attempting to perform every single exercise for each bodypart. It’s certainly fine to add in some isolation movements, but if you’re like this kid and you’re still squatting and deadlifting 135 lbs one year from now, then chances are you’ll look exactly the same. It’s far more fruitful to move from using 135 lbs to using 225 lbs for your heavy sets over the course of a year even if you’re only performing a couple of movements than to hammer away at every exercise in the book yet fail to move up in resistance.

22 Comments

  • Juliet says:

    Believe it or not, we have one of those rare commercial gyms in my area and it will be the single thing I miss most about this town when I move for graduate school next summer. (Perhaps not all of those things are there but we have several cages, 3 platforms, tires, trx, kettlebells, an ungodly number of oly bars just lying about… anyway…) I often see a lot of kids like the one you described and I always invariably end up biting my tongue to keep my mouth shut. Aside from it being obnoxious on my part, I don’t think I’d even have enough experience to qualify giving such advice.

    I can relate though… it really wasn’t *that* long ago that I was too far off the mark. Every time I trained my sessions consisted of many more exercises than they should have. Since I’ve backed off on volume, I’ve seen such great improvements in strength/mobility/movement/whatever. Everything.

    • Bret says:

      Juliet – out of curiosity in which area will you be going into for grad school? Glad you saw the light regarding your training, BC

      • Juliet says:

        Nutritional biochemistry and it’s relation to obesity. More specifically, how dietary fat intake impacts inflammation in the gut. My background is in biology and chemistry, but I love nutrition and exercise – I’m hoping to mesh my passion with my nerd half.

  • Philip says:

    As you say it’s a difficult decision whether to give new gym members advice, I think the best you can do is be approachable as possible and shift heaps of tin in Squats and Deads, then they’ll notice you, and so their journey begins….

    • Bret says:

      Good call Phillip. I definitely try to be as approachable as humanly possible and my deadlift and hip thrust (but not so much squat) strength are usually what invoke conversation (in this case the kid couldn’t believe how much weight I was deadlifting and then hip thrusting).

  • Craig says:

    it must be that time of the year, I just blogged about something similar. These kids post ‘form check’ videos at websites and end up taking advice from other kids with little to no practical experience. In the meantime, the “experts” among these beginners write complicated spreadsheets to program their next workout where if they’re using over 200lbs in anything it’s a huge surprise. “cybernetic auto-regulation”??? Whatever happened to tracking sets, reps, and poundages and adding weight to the bar and setting a PR when you feel good?

    And I’m envious of your gym! By the way, are you still deadlifting with a mixed grip or have you switched to hook grip?

    • Bret says:

      Craig – I actually believe that what you just wrote is the essence of cybernetic auto-regulation, it’s just that most folks don’t understand it.

      I’m actually doing mixed grip deadlifts again…did hook for a while and was liking it but I stopped. This time around I alternate between left sides and right sides. When I got the injury I had done way too much volume for it that week (the set prior to my injury I held it at the top for around a 15 second static hold to strengthen my grip, I’d been doing Zercher squats and carries the previous two weeks, I was doing barbell curls and chins as well)so now that I don’t do very much work that stresses my biceps tendon I’m not very worried about the mixed grip.

      • DB1 says:

        Bret, you know your body I suppose. But this sounds like a crackhead going back to the pipe. Stick with the hook grip! That bicep is predisposed now for reinjury. Guess I am not using your policy of not doling out advice, ha ha..Just be careful, my friend. There’s nothing “hardcore” about going on the shelf..

        • Bret says:

          DB1 – Haha! It does sound crazy…I know, but the doc said that it heals back stronger than normal – they drill a hole through the bone, fish the tendon through it, and sew it to a button on the other side (it’s called the endobutton technique). So trust me I’m not just being an idiot (or more accurately – more of an idiot than usual ;)). Thanks for looking out for me, it is appreciated. – BC

  • Eric says:

    It is funny how many kids/adults I find do the same thing in gyms. I worked at a local YMCA and these two kids, twins, would spend over two hours lifting weights, high volume, lack of ROM on every exercise, etc. They made progress in their programs only because they were progressive, but definitely weren’t maximising their time like they could. As you stated, even though I worked there I usually won’t bring up correct training methods to people unless asked, as it is none of my business unless it becomes a safely hazard. . Great article.

    • Bret says:

      Well at least the twins were progressive…this guy I watched I’m sure just uses the same weight each time. He thinks that just going through the motions and doing tons of exercises is the secret to building muscle, when in actuality you have to get much stronger to build appreciable muscle mass (which we all realize eventually).

  • Chad says:

    Thanks Bret, this post is an early Christmas gift! I live about twenty minutes from this place and have been looking for a gym like this since I moved to the valley. Although, my current gym is pretty sweet since I’m the only guy using the power rack 🙂

    • Bret says:

      Glad to be of help Chad! They’ll give you a free workout if it’s your first time so make sure you check it out as I’m certain you’ll love it.

  • Neil says:

    When i just started exercises and getting into fitness I can still remember how hard it was to get stable advice and getting my feet on the ground. There are so many diferent views and opinions

  • Ted says:

    Merry Christmas to Bret and all the readers!

    Are you guys religious, and do you believe that your faith in God gives you an extra boost when training – or life in general – gets tough?

    Best wishes from Germany,
    Ted

  • Rob El says:

    Ben said: “But I didn’t say anything. I have a policy at commercial gyms – I don’t offer unsolicited advice.”

    Reply: Could you elaborate more on this, perhaps in comments, or in a separate blog post?

  • Tom says:

    Hey bret
    Just wondering, why the policy on not giving unsolicited advice in commercial gyms? Im intrigued to hear your reasoning.
    Thanks

    • Bradley says:

      I’m wondering about this too, is it because you see so much improper technique that you wouldn’t have time for your own workout? I sometimes found that giving a little bit of knowledge can help getting clients..

  • Amy says:

    Guys go the other way, too–lifting way too much out of nowhere, with no warm up, no nothin’. I watched a guy out of the corner of my eye the other day, sure he wasn’t going to bench what he loaded, and by golly, he got stuck under his bar. I saved him, and, knowing no guy wants to be saved by a girl, added something about how it happens to all of us. It really does–we all have off days when we can’t lift our best–but there are certainly steps you can take to avoid such a scenario.

  • Brandon says:

    Do you still workout here? Been going for about a week now and I’m really digging it! Funny I stumbled on this randomly!

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