Aw shit…it’s another “top 20” or “20 things” list about training. Great. Well, yes and no. This list comes from a young member of the fitness world. I’m a junior in college studying to be a trainer, and I plan to get my CSCS this summer. In addition, I’m the creator and co-host of The FitCast, a podcast where I have the best in the business discuss training and nutrition. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s jump into it.

In the last six years, I’ve learned a great deal about nutrition, weight lifting, and life, and over the past year of doing The FitCast, I’ve accelerated my learning tenfold. I’ve attended every seminar that I could afford to go to such as the L.A. Strength Seminar with Alwyn Cosgrove, Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, Dr. John Berardi, and Dan John. I also attended the fitness seminar of the year—Ryan Lee’s boot camp (which had hundreds of attendees). I want to share with you what I’ve learned from my personal training and from these great minds along the way.

#1: Supplements are great but stick with the necessities.

1.1: Protein shakes are fine.

Guess what? Your liver isn’t going to fail because you drink whey protein shakes. However, it will fail if you consume six or more alcoholic drinks a day (maybe we shouldn’t be criticizing protein shakes so much). So don’t worry about having one or two whey shakes a day. You could be doing much worse things to your body. Whey protein is cheap and very effective, and you can take it anywhere in case you need some extra protein.

1.2: You need carbohydrate sources.

You NEED to be taking in carbohydrates with your protein during pre- and post-workout nutrition. The most common ratio of carbohydrates to protein is 2:1. Keep in mind that even if you’re shooting for fat loss, you should still put carbs in with your pre- and post-workout shakes and stick to this 2:1 ratio. Including carbohydrates in your shake will have no effect on your fat loss, and because of the increase in lean muscle mass, it will actually help you become leaner much faster. My favorite carbohydrate source is Gatorade powder. It’s cheap, it has a variety of flavors, and you can get it almost anywhere.

1.3: Creatine monohydrates are great.

Creatine is great. It’s like your favorite relative. You never have anything bad to say about it. In the past ten years, creatine has become a staple supplement in the fitness world. It has shown clear benefits for people who lift weights and for those whose goals include things like running marathons. Time and time again, study after study, creatine has proven that it works plain and simple. When adding creatine to your diet (most likely in your pre- and post-workout drinks), you’ll notice faster lean muscle gains, strength increases, and faster muscle recovery. Not too shabby for $5 a month. One final pro when it comes to creatine is that it’s OK to take five grams a day or 20 grams a day. Personally, I’ve noticed that without changing my training regimen or diet, 20 grams of creatine per day was much more effective than five grams. The worst case scenario of taking upwards of 20 grams of creatine is that you might pee it out. For a few weeks, try increasing your dose of creatine and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised.

1.5: Take fish oils.

Again, this is another supplement that I have nothing bad to say about it. Fish oil does so much that even regular couch potatoes should take the stuff. The number one reason to take fish oil is that it promotes a healthy heart. Fish oil has also been shown to help with fat loss and decreasing inflammation.

1.6: Take a multivitamin.

Do I really need to talk about this?

1.7: Avoid everything with a shiny label.

This isn’t always true, but it’s a good primer. If it’s not on the list above, it most likely holds false promises. Fat loss pills, super carbohydrate creatine muscle exploding substance X, can anyone say nitric oxide supplements? Most are crap, and some will even give you diarrhea. That’s fun for the whole family.

#2: You can’t burn fat cells.

Hold it! What is this kid talking about? Has he gone crazy from all that creatine? Well, no. When you lose weight and lower your body fat percentage, you’re just shrinking those fat cells. For example (and think of this as an example only), lets say a 250 lb man has 1000 fat cells. That same man gets his diet in check and starts hitting the weights and doing intervals. After six months, he’s down to 200 lbs, but his fat cell number will stay at 1000. He hasn’t lost any fat cells. He’s just shrunk them down. This explains why overweight people who lose weight gain that weight back so rapidly. For those of us who were formally fat (like myself), keep in mind that nutrition is extremely important post fat loss.

#3: You should understand why you lift the way that you do.

Have you ever heard someone say something like this—“Hey man, I’m going to get so jacked and have ripped abs from this new five sets of five program I’m doing”? This may even sound like you. You need to understand the philosophy of your workout and why you’re doing it. A large percentage of people who lift are using cookie cutter programs from books, magazines, and websites. Now, before I get hundreds of emails for bashing these, I think most of these programs are great as long as you’re getting them from good sources such as T-Nation and Elite FTS or authors like Craig Ballantyne, Alwyn Cosgrove, and Chad Waterbury. But you must read the whole article or book to understand why the templates are set up this way. After three or four years of lifting, you should have enough knowledge about each program’s philosophy to apply it to workouts that you create for yourself.

#4: Have a basic knowledge of kinesiology.

This was one thing that Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson really hammered into my head. For those who are in the fitness industry, kinesiology is a requirement, not a prerequisite or an optional course. (Sorry Eric, I stole that from you.) Professional trainer or not, as a lifter, if you don’t know your way around the human body, you’re really hurting yourself. Even just knowing the main muscle systems (deltoids, triceps, biceps, pectorals major/minor, obloquies, trapeziuses, latissimus dorsi, erector spine, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and psoai) will make you much more effective when it comes to program design.

#5: Nutrition is 80 percent of the fight.

I was thinking of making this number one, but you should already know this. Get your diet in check. Track your calories and macronutrient ratios (protein/carbs/fat) at for free. Also read every article that nutritionists Dr. John Berardi and Dr. Chris Mohr have written. If you do this, you’ll be good to go.

#6: Change it up.

Again, this is something that you should already be doing. After 4–8 weeks, your muscles will adapt to the exercises and set/rep scheme that you’re doing. If you do the same thing for more than eight weeks, don’t expect any body composition changes or strength increases. Simple modifications such as changing the repetitions from three sets of ten to eight sets of three will be a huge shock to your body.

#7: Don’t look like a jackass in the gym.

7.1: Don’t curl in the squat rack.

I hope you’ve heard this one before. If you get in the way of a big dude and his squat rack when you’re doing barbell curls with 10 lbs on each side, things will get ugly. This is the biggest pet peeve of everyone who lifts.

7.2: Don’t slam the weights on the floor after each set.

Why do people do this? If you can push the weight you should be able to control it and place it on the ground after a set. Not only is the dangerous for you (do you like it when your shoulder gets dislocated?) and others around you, but you also look like a meathead ass-hole and hopefully you will get kicked out of your gym.

#8: Dress your feet for success.

Wear Nike Frees. The idea behind the Nike Frees is that they replicate the effect of being barefoot. These are the best shoes that you can buy for your body. Yes, I said body, not feet. Mike Robertson came up to me at Ryan Lee’s Boot Camp and asked me if my calves were tight. After some analysis, they clearly were. I’d been wearing Nike Shox, and because of them, I had tight calves. The elevation of my heels caused me to constantly flex my calves. Because of this strain, it caused back pain. A tight muscle in your body can have a large impact on the other muscles in your body. Your body needs to compensate for this tightness and will cause a strain elsewhere. Don’t underestimate the importance of your footwear in regards to lifting. Think about your feet when you squat or deadlift. You can find Nike Frees online or in most Foot Locker stores. As always, Converse All-Stars are a great second option.

#9: Why don’t you foam roll?

This has been the most important addition to my routine in the past year. Since I’ve started foam rolling pre- and post-workout, I haven’t had any muscle tightness or injuries, and my recovery time is quicker. Again, Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson really convinced me to spend the time doing this every day. For less than $20, you can get a foam roller, which is your ticket to soft tissue massage. This is easily the best piece of training equipment I’ve ever purchased.

#10: Take a day off once a week.

Your body needs to recover. If you don’t, your CNS will burn out and you’ll see your lifts plateau or drop. Take this day to spend time with your family and friends or unwind and watch the ball game. Don’t do anything too intense like skiing or basketball. However, it’s fine to take a walk or leisurely bike ride.

#11: Wear headphones when lifting.

When you’re lifting, it should be your primary focus for that time period. You shouldn’t be talking about the weather or the latest Red Sox win with a friend. If you don’t have one, get a CD player or MP3 player and pop in some “motivational” music. For some, that might be ACDC or Jay-Z or Green Day. Whatever works for you. Not only will this keep you focused on your workout, but studies have shown that listening to music can actually improve your performance. If you ask me, that’s the only reason I need.

#12: Consider risk versus reward.

I don’t know exactly how Eric Cressey put it, but I’ll do my best—“Why are you doing dumbbell curls on a Bosu ball with one leg bent and your eyes closed while whistling Dixie?” Just weigh the risks versus the rewards when it comes to exercises. Be smart and use some common sense.

#13: Get out of the gym once in a while.

Did you know that you can get a great workout outside? If it’s a nice day out, why not skip the trip to the gym and go to the park instead and do a body weight workout. Or you can jump in the ocean and swim for a bit with the family. I won’t list off the infinite possibilities. Just do it. You might even get a tan from it, not to mention some Vitamin D synthesis.

#14: Learn from the best.

Read as much as you can. Read everything from sites like T-Nation and EliteFTS. Alwyn Cosgrove told me that you can’t become dumber from reading. Just don’t believe everything that you read. He’s a pretty bright guy if you ask me. There are some great books to check out including Alwyn Cosgrove and Lou Schuler’s The New Rules of Lifting, Chad Waterbury’s Muscle Revolution, and Charles Staley’s Muscle Logic. There are many other great books available, some for less than $20. Also, read everything by Mike Boyle. That guy is a genius.

#15: Choose your goal.

Here’s another contender for the number one slot. If you don’t have a goal, what the hell are you doing? You need to have a focus, whether that’s fat loss, hypertrophy, or strength gains. Evaluate your goals and go from there. This will also keep you from bouncing from program to program, which is an old problem of mine.

#16: Make time for it.

Time management may be the most important skill that people need to master in today’s world. Most people work fifty or more hours a week, and they have family, friends, and other social commitments. It can be very hard to find time to get to the gym. You may have to sacrifice some things in order to meet your fitness goals. Just make sure you’re sacrificing the right things.

#17: “Steroids are bad.”

Who doesn’t love that line from Mark McGwire? I just wrote a paper on steroids for my addiction class, and after doing the research, I concluded that steroids just aren’t worth the risk (remember risk versus reward?). Here’s a nice list of side effects for men: short temper, increased acne, gynecomastia (man boobs), depression, baldness, and decreased testes size. The side effects for women include permanent baldness, breast size reduction, facial hair production, and a deeper voice. Both men and women can receive permanent damage to their vital organs, and many of these issues come from hormone imbalances. As testosterone goes up so does estrogen. You shouldn’t mess with your hormones. Get the results you’re seeking with heavy lifting, clean eating, and proper legal supplementation.

#18: Learn how to lift properly.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help regarding your technique. Something as simple as correcting your bench press technique can result in huge improvements in your 1RM. In my college gym, the majority of people squat incorrectly. They bring their heels off the ground, they don’t go deep enough, and their pelvic tilt is incorrect causing them to bend their back (a very painful sight). When I was 17, I paid $100 for three personal training sessions so that I could learn how to perform the squat, deadlift, and Olympic lifts properly. That $100 helped improve my lifts, and more importantly, saved me from seriously injuring myself.

#19: Chose your gym wisely.

19.1: How many squat racks?

Squat racks are huge. Many gyms only have one. If this is the case, you had better get up at 4:00 am to train or prepare to get in line to squat, deadlift, or do any Olympic lifts.

19.2: Is it crowded?

Visit your prospective gym and see what it looks like during the busy hours (typically 8:00–11:00 am and 5:00–8:00 pm). This can be a major factor if you have to train during those times.

19.3: Check the hours of operation.

Make sure your gym will be open if you need to workout at 5:00 am or on the weekends.

19.4: Build your own home gym.

Mike Robertson just wrote a great in-deptfor on his experience putting together his home gym. This is a great read if you’re contemplating this idea.

#20: Lift.

If your goal is fat loss, lift. If your goal is bigger muscles, lift. If your goal is to be stronger, lift.

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