I’m Andon Keller: Coding geek. Introspective adventurer. Community builder. And ... intense advocate for leveling-up in life via weightlifting. After years of trying to gain muscle, I turned a corner, became comfortable in the gym, and have been refining my personal recipes to bring on the growth.
My goal here is to share the mindset and strategy adjustments that have made weight training one of my favorite activities. This is a combination of my personal experiences and the most important elements I’ve learned from muscle building professionals.
This is written from the perspective of a late twenty-something who wanted to put on muscle: If your goals differ or you are in a different situation, my experience and advice might not apply. Once you're done with this article, check out Weightlifting 102 for more advanced tips.
Mindset, motivation, and approach
- If you feel at all intimidated or out of place at the gym, your first goal should be to get comfortable using the equipment and feeling confident in your form. Becoming confident in what you are doing and how you are doing it is crucial to enjoying the gym.
- Reading articles online about which rep/set scheme and which program to do is mentally exhausting and confusing because almost all form techniques and weight-training program designs have tradeoffs.
Almost never is one set of advice “right” and others “wrong.” As a beginner, reading online advice left me dazed and confused … which just amped up my intimidation and anxiety. One day I stopped reading fitness articles altogether—and, by no coincidence, this is when my personal relationship with the gym began.
- Getting caught up in a quick turnaround in your body is a recipe for disaster. Yes, you want results, but we know that getting too eager and not having a long-term plan is a great way to fail.
Your first goal is to get comfortable with the gym and bake it into your routine. Let's get this out of the way now: No, in six months you are not going to look like a muscle god. One of the first things I do with weight training for beginners is getting them to imagine how they’ll look next summer, not this summer.
Next summer. Ditch your short-term fantasies now. Your new short-term fantasy is loving your gym sessions. Let’s get you there, and then you are on a runaway train of fitness.
Friend time becomes gym time
I had a conundrum: I had no gym mentors, but I could tell I pushed myself harder when I had a gym partner to spot me and comment on my form. So … I made the gym my social headquarters. I convinced my friends to work out with me at least once or twice.
Whenever they wanted to hang, I'd suggest the gym instead of a bar or restaurant. It became understood that hanging with me usually started at the gym and ended with a huge post-weightlifting training workout meal.
This was such a win: I don’t have to squeeze in gym time on top of friend time; we’re spending quality time talking about our lives between sets, and we are making each other better, stronger. Gym time has legitimately added to my relationships. Voila! My friends morphed into weightlifting gym partners and, within weeks, I went from zero workout partners to four.
Eliminate intimidation by nerding out
As a novice, I was so uncomfortable in the gym. So, what did I do? I became the expert, and I made it fun. When I have downtime, I find myself watching YouTube (usually something entertaining or interesting to me). So I made a rule: Instead of news, politics, or comedy when I turn to YouTube, I’ll watch gym tips. Voila!
Time-sucking entertainment was replaced with something much more important to me: learning how to lift correctly in the gym. There is a lot of power here. For one, I like improving, so learning all the extreme, detailed perfection of these moves and how to execute them? That keeps me focused and gives me something to work on.
If I'm intensely focused on the angle of my bicep, there isn't room to worry about what someone else in the gym thinks of me. And, as humans, we frequently turn to small bits of digital entertainment. Change your default content to gym tips … and blammo—filler entertainment turns into gym confidence.
Another pro here: These weight-training videos get me excited about the gym. When I learn something new in a video, I add it to a To-Do list because I'm excited to get in the gym and try it. Anything you can do to increase your excitement and pleasure out of the gym is a win.
Where to start weightlifting training?
There is a ton of conflicting content out there. Below are my favorite YouTube channels for weight training and fitness advice, in order of how I prioritize them. Too much content can be confusing. If you are new to the game, I would start with the first recommendation below and add more in later when you are more comfortable bringing in more voices.
Athlean X: Mindset, technique, and form
Still, to this day, my most trusted source for gym advice. Here is why:
- Jeff Cavalier effectively instills Intention into your workouts. He focuses on getting the most bang for your buck while taking care of your body. He's effective and he's a physical therapist, making his advice great for muscles and for living injury-free.
- He really digs into what you are trying to get out of a move and gives you advice around it. Instead of just doing a curl to do a curl, Jeff outlines the most effective angle, the most effective stance, and the mental cues and concepts that help you seriously stimulate the muscle you are working.
- I seriously attribute my transition from intermediate to advanced lifter to Jeff's advice on peak contractions (focusing on a one-second all-out squeeze for each rep). He is the reason I am able to get more results with less weight.
Jeff Nippard: Scientific approach & advanced techniques
Jeff Nippard backs almost all his advice with scientific studies and provides a thorough analysis of the studies that inform his advice. Because he takes time to explain various interpretations of studies, I understand his thinking and it ultimately increases my trust.
After years of watching Jeff, I’ve chosen to pay for a few of his weightlifting and workout programs, and I’ve been really happy with them. I’d recommend Jeff Nippard to those who have at least a year of confident, consistent lifting under their belts.
Mike Thurston: Motivation and no-nonsense explanations
Mike is an insanely gifted bodybuilder, and I mostly go to him for motivation and no-nonsense advice that sometimes you just need to hear. Mike does an excellent job of explaining and talking through what you need to know without complicating it.
He is practical and direct, and his personality is entertaining. His videos make it feel like you’re hanging with a friend vs. educating yourself.
What to wear during weightlifting workouts?
There's something to be said about compression athletic wear. Athletes and fitness aficionados swear by compression leggings, making them an essential part of their training and competing apparel.
The science is in, and compression gear has proven benefits. It helps optimize performance during weight training workouts, improves muscle support, and speeds up recovery.
When you work your muscles hard, fluid and white blood cells rush to the area to repair the muscle tissue. This can lead to swelling and soreness. By constricting the muscles, compression leggings reduce fluid buildup. This means less soreness.
Compression gear also boosts blood flow, which helps removes creatine kinase, an enzyme that causes achy muscles. All this is to say "You have to try Matador Meggings." They will help you unlock your true potential while you work out, especially on leg days.
A key to changing any behavior is making the target behavior desirable. So, how do you make the gym, a place of potential anxiety, work, and pain enjoyable? You redesign how your body reacts to stimulus.
Later you'll read about peak contractions (squeezing the muscle so hard that it burns and hurts at the top of everything rep). Knowing this was going to be a key part of my gym experience, I re-framed how I think of that burning sensation.
I personally am very motivated by sex, so I taught myself to think of that burn as sexual pleasure. Almost orgasmic. It took me a while, but after framing that squeeze as a pleasurable, enjoyable climax portion of each rep, I found that it was much easier to get myself there and stay there. What an extraordinary achievement: reprogramming pain into pleasure!
I also view gym time as a direct investment in myself. Think about how much we invest outside of ourselves: We pour incredible amounts of energy into our careers, our partners, our families, our friends, our schedules, our homes … the list goes on.
Going to a gym is selfish: These are some of the few hours a day I directly invest in just me. No one else. I encourage you to explore ways to make weightlifting a pleasurable experience. The way you think about the gym will have a huge impact on your success.
Goals, Decisions, Strategy
There are very specific scenarios where this is not true, but to keep things simple: It is extremely unlikely that you will be able to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Bulking requires a calorie surplus (extra calories are used to build the muscle) and cutting requires a calorie deficit (fewer calories than needed, triggering the body to eat at its fat).
For the sake of mental ease, I strongly recommend focusing on one goal at a time, and, as you’ll see, I have a preferred order as well ...
More muscle makes getting lean easier. More muscles mean more calories being burned in a given day. If you bulk up and gain a bunch of muscle, on a daily basis, you will burn more calories. Just like an engine: The more power, the more fuel it consumes. It is much easier to get thin:
- If your body burns 1,700 calories a day, limiting intake to 1,500 calories a day would force your body to explore fat for energy. For many of us, decreasing our calories can look like too many salads, feelings of starvation, a breakdown of willpower … i.e., eating a ton of calories when the plan was not to. Deep dieting like this can be painful and require a ton of willpower.
- But … If you spend two years just focusing on building muscle, you might burn 2,400 calories a day. To get the body to start eating at the fat, you could drop to 2,200 calories a day to trim down. Instead of salads and hunger, that could mean just switching from high-calorie protein to low-calorie protein in your post-workout shakes.
When I cut, I usually don’t change my food intake; instead, I just swap the kind of protein in my post-workout shakes. Doesn’t that sound like an easier, more pleasurable route to seeing your abs?
Wrapping it up
Reaching fitness goals beyond what I thought possible has proven to improve quality of life across the board: I am more able, more confident, healthier, and more social. Integrating fitness and weight training into your life is legitimately a short-term and long-term happiness hack and in so many aspects of life. Being fit gives you an advantage.
I hope you, too, overcome gym anxieties and fears by full-boring this adventure and becoming an expert in lifting. It has been a foundational part of enjoying life.
To find the perfect compression athletic wear for weight training, weightlifting, and other workouts, please feel free to visit Matador Meggings’ online store or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for further assistance.