This guide will help you look better, feel better, and be healthier. It will tell you everything you need to know on how to lose fat, gain muscle, get 'toned', increase your endurance, become stronger, become faster, and eat healthier. It will help you if you're skinny, fat, young, old, male, or female. It doesn't matter, we are all human and we all share the same fundamental biology. The following information is aimed at beginners but may also be useful for the more experienced. If you're new, don't feel threatened by the abundance of information. As you become more familiar with the basics of fitness, nutrition, and how the body works everything will start making a lot more sense.
This is a comprehensive guide, and although it may seem like a long read, you need to read all of it. Every word. If you lack the motivation to read through this relatively short guide, you likely lack the motivation to see your fitness goals through anyway. This guide contains everything need to know to acquire an attractive, strong, and healthy physique. The fitness industry is one of the most manipulative industries there is and the fitness world is filled with misinformation and marketing that will send you home with no results and an empty wallet, constantly trying to sell you the next big fitness miracle. This guide is free of charge, free of lies, and intended to educate and inform you, so read it all. Additionally, anything outside this guide is nonessential information and unessesary beyond satisfying your own curiosity.
The guide starts by covering the two most importance factors by far: Diet and Exercise. It is then followed by a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section. The first two sections assume no prior knowledge and should be easily understood by absolute beginners, explaining essential concepts as well as touching on things such as supplementation and stretching. Unless you are already fairly advanced, read them. The FAQ answers most common questions, covers most misconceptions, and debunks most common myths. The FAQ is not intended for the advanced, but it should serve as a handy reference (especially the citations).
Before beginning, just know that there's a Table of Contents at the top of the page for an overview to quickly find specific sections.
For the ultra summarized version, you can fast forward to the Diet Cliffs and the Routines sections (both of them); that will cover the basics in ~10 lines, but a lot of time was spent creating this guide to help you so I recommend reading it through, and it won't even take long.
First, two things should be clear:
- Persistence. You need this. You don’t have to stick to the following 100% of the time; but every little bit you slip up detracts from your overall results. The amount of time and effort you put into developing and maintaining your physical fitness is directly proportional to what you will get out of it and the magnitude of the results you will see. If you follow this advice only some of the time, you will only get some of the results. In the end, the wrong thing done consistently often times nets more results than the right thing done sparingly. Pick something and stick to it, and start right now. NO EXCUSES.
- Patience. This takes time. You can lose about 1-2lbs of fat a week, or alternatively build up to .5lbs of muscle as a male, and less as a female. That's 25lbs In a year, go pick up 25lbs of meat at the supermarket and imagine that on your body. In a year you’ll look way better than you do now and in 3 you’ll look pretty exceptional assuming you are consistent and motivated. We know how the body works, we know what can be done, and we know how long it takes. This is not a couple of month process or something you do for a little bit to get fit then abandon completely expecting to stay at that level of fitness. Do not look for the easy-out, the miracle, or the fitness secret someone wants to sell you. You want results not false promises, stick to a routine and diet and see it through.
What can we achieve? How do we manage to get in shape and healthier? Well, there are two major points:
- Muscle development and maintenance. You want this. Muscle is the "firm" part of you. Steroid abusers have gotten gaining muscle mass a bad rep. As long as you do not abuse steroids you will never look "too big" or "bulky". You will look more athletic, more active, more defined, and healthier. Humans are hard wired to appreciate athletic bodies, of both genders. Muscle mass and strength also makes you less prone to injury, makes daily physical activities easier, and helps prevent many conditions of day to day life like obesity, metabolic syndrome, and many of the negative effects of aging.  If you are a skinny guy or girl wanting to have that tight butt, defined shoulders and a firm chest, muscle buildup will be your prime concern. If you are a fat guy or girl it is more about muscle maintenance, without which you’ll look like a new kind of shit once you’ve stopped looking like your current kind of shit.
- Fat loss. Too much fat is flat out unhealthy, but it also looks bad. If you want to look more defined, want a six pack, want to lose your love handles, you need to lose fat whether you are overweight or not. Fat makes you look flabby. It is also a major cause of or contributor to a bunch of things that will make your life shorter and less fun. If you are fat, or female, fat loss this is your prime concern. However you always need worry about muscle maintenance. #
People often get worried about getting TOO muscular or TOO defined. That’s pretty idiotic. Once you are muscular or defined enough, you just stop trying to get even more muscular or defined. It will be hard enough to even get there, you will hardly achieve more than that. There are hard biological limits to how much and how fast you can build muscle without chemical enhancement. The maximum amount of muscle you can carry is likely far below what you think, especially so for females. Do not let some irrational fear get in the way of your fitness and health.
Generally somewhat less sought after things:
- Cardiovascular health. This is good. It pretty much makes everything else function better. It balances your hormones, makes your brain function well, and just makes you better at everything you do, including burning fat and building muscle. More detail on this later.
- Posture. Keeps you injury free and makes you look better. More later.
- Mental health. Many of us report the gym is the only thing that keeps us sane. Well, I guess that doesn’t sound too promising, but having such an ordering factor in your life, and learning how to master pain through discipline, is a good thing to get. Also a good place for anger relief.
- General health/staying disease free. Changing your diet and exercising will also prevent many of the other conditions that can make life suck, change the way people interact with you for the better, and increase your attractiveness.
That said, let’s start talking diet & exercise.
The main components of correct dieting are: to eat more protein, more vegetables, the right amount of calories, and eat more traditionally prepared and less overprocessed food. All of these are important. There Cliffs at the end of this, but first, let’s break them down into detail.
First of all: the body needs basically two things through diet: energy which come from macronutrients (Carbs, Fat and Protein) and Essential Micronutrients (Various vitamins, minerals, water, amino acids, and certain lipids). The difference between energy needs of the body and the energy content of the diet determine whether you're going to lose fat or gain mass. Essential nutrients are needed because the body can't synthesize them by itself. You want to eat the right amount of energy (Measured in Calories) whilst eating a generally nutritious diet. Most people eat too many calories and not enough essential nutrients, but you can also eat too few calories or too much of a certain micronutrient.
There is also various things that are neither essential nor caloric.
I won’t go into detail over how much of each of the many, many chemicals you actually want to eat. Instead, I am going to tell you what kind of food you should eat, and how much of it.
EVERYBODY: Eat more good stuff, and eat less not-so-good stuff. Eat less in general to lose weight, and eat more in general to gain weight.
Eat more protein.
Take your bodyweight in pounds,    that’s how many grams of high-quality  protein you want to eat every day, at least (e.g. if you weigh 150lbs, eat 150g of protein each day). These are the reasons why you want to eat more protein:
- It helps you build muscle.
- It fills you up so you’re less hungry, moreso than pretty much anything else you could eat.  
- It supports lean body mass (muscle) over flabby and unhealthy body mass (fat), making you lose more fat and less muscle on a diet. 
- It helps keep off weight lost, combatting the yoyo diet effect.
- It is neither carbs (which can give some people blood sugar/insulin problems ) or fat (which can do just the same, interestingly enough ); and they use more energy to process than these two, so of all the choices, they are just the most diet friendly.
Your aunts crazy ramblings about such amounts of protein being unhealthy are just that, rumors   . And so is the idea that the body would somehow waste protein (pee out chicken breast or what?) if you eat more than 30g per meal. There is no empirical evidence for any of that stuff being true. You can easily eat more than 300, 400g of protein per day, and while it might even help, it is not needed. These 100, 200 or more grams of protein will seem like a lot, especially since I said they should be of high quality - that means pretty much that it should be something like muscle (meats), egg, milk protein (animal sources - most plant sources of protein are pretty bad   ); so here’s some tips on how to hit that goal: for every meal, start with a protein base before you add other ingredients. A protein base can be anything that is mostly protein (usually, about 20g protein and less than 100 kcal per 100g - read labels), like:
- Fish (tuna canned in water, or salmon, are favorites, but most fish is pretty good. Fatty fish is perfect!)
- Poultry (frozen skinless boneless fat free chicken breast, turkey breast, some deli)
- Lean red meat (steak can be a good choice)
- Fat free low sugar dairy (no-fat cheese, cottage cheese, cottage/quark cheese, protein powder - not some magical drug, it’s basically dry skim sugar free milk)
- Egg whites (1 yolk for taste)
Variety can't hurt with protein sources, so eat poultry one day and fish the next day if you like.
If you’re overweight/wanting to lose fat, try to make meals that have about 10g protein per 100 kcal, or better. If however you can allow more calories because you are trying to build muscle, consider:
- Fatty meats (Thighs instead of breasts, non-lean cuts of steak, etc)
- Plenty of whole eggs (No, the yolks aren't bad)
- Most dairy (especially cheese, plain yoghurt, cottage cheese, and whole milk)
If you get a few less than (lb*grams/2*kg*grams), that won’t kill you; but getting more than that number is only going to help.
Eat more vegetables.
The government recommends you to eat 5 servings of them per day, and I’d say that’s a good start. This is why you want to eat more vegetables:
- Like protein, for its low calories, it fills you up so you’re less hungry. 
- It protects you against pretty much every disease you can think of. 
- They are rich in almost every essential micronutrient you are not already getting from your protein food.
- It'll prevent you from hating having to go to the toilet after we’ve just put you on this high protein diet.
Eat the right amount of calories.
- Eat MORE of everything else if you want to gain muscle.    
- Eat LESS of everything else if you want to lose fat.   
No, you can’t do both at the same time - at least not unless you’re a total beginner (for a short while), or on certain drugs, or willing to wait a decade to see significant changes. The body just does not do that. Various hormones (especially insulin) and pathways (especially mTor) position your body either in a systemically anabolic   or catabolic  mode. All you can do is try to make the best lean to fat mass ratio of the changes you’re inducing. How? As shown above - first of all, by eating a lot of protein. Secondly by exercising, which you will see in the next chapter.
Gaining muscle (aka Bulking). (add this tomorrow under counting calories)
- Yeah, we’ve heard all your "I eat a lot and I’m still skinny!“ stories. In fact, I’ve told that story myself, before I actually sat down and learned what eating a lot REALLY meant. I recommend counting calories, at least for a while. If you want to gain weight, go for (16-18*[your bodyweight in pounds]) calories per day, every day, for many, many weeks, and months (i.e. say you're 150lbs, you eat 16-18*150, so 2400-2700 kcal per day). You want to gain about 4lbs per month. More and you’re just getting extra fat, less and you’re not building muscle fast enough; so adjust calories accordingly, upwards to ensure growth, or downwards to prevent excessive fat gains. Yes, you’re gonna build some fat; that’s the way things are. Yes, you will probably have to eat way more than you are comfortable with. Deal with it.
Losing fat (aka Cutting). (add this tomorrow under counting calories)
- Again, keep protein high to spare lean body mass, but you want to reduce your carbs and fats. Fat has a very specific role in the body: make up for the deficit between the energy you use for moving around and general metabolism (yes, sleeping and even browsing 4chan burn calories), and the energy you get from the food you eat if the latter is less than the former. So you want to eat less energy so the body has to access it’s energy storage: bodyfat. No, there is NO safe way for surgery to target specific fat deposits; you have to lose fat all over. To lose fat, eat 10-12*[current bodyweight in lbs] kcal per day (say you're 200lbs; you eat 2000-2400 kcal/day). Adjust this number while you lose weight. Yes, you're going to lose some muscle; that's the way things are. Yes, you will still need to lift weights 3x per week whilst cutting. Yes, you will probably have to eat way less than you are comfortable with. Deal with it.
If you are not gaining/losing/maintaining weight on these calories, you are most likely counting wrong. Alternatively, you might be one of the very few rare exceptions. Either way, simply adjust the number like the next step.
Cutting OR bulking, weigh yourself each fortnight to adjust your calories to your new bodyweight. You should be shooting for around 1lb weight loss/gain per week. Much more than that and you're putting on too much fat, much less and you're losing too much muscle.
Many people use a calorie calculator for this. I use Cronometer, others use Fitday. A very useful website that allows you to get the nutrition of foods is WolframAlpha. (i.e. if you wanted to find the nutritional content of 1cup of cottage cheese, just type "1cup cottage cheese" and it will generate your results)
If you don't understand how to read the nutrition label, read this.
Focus your meals on traditionally prepared food.
Like, you can eat a slice of pizza just fine, and a cup of soda won’t kill you; but if all you eat is pizza and soda and pringles and whathaveyou, you will look like somebody who eats nothing but pizza and soda and pringles, and you’ll die like such a person, too.  
- This again keeps you more full than highly processed stuff, for less calories
- This usually is the best method to make the nutrients in the food (minerals, vitamins and some other stuff) available to the body.  Both raw food,   and overprocessed food, are nutrient poor; raw eggs for example have half the bioavailable protein of cooked ones. - it’s actually cheaper in the long run.
- It avoids most of the controversial things argued about in health circles, like trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, refined starches, and just plain old fat, sugar or starch bombs.
So: eat skim yoghurt with fruit instead of ice cream. Eat grilled fish with baked potatos with the skin and lemon juice instead of fish sticks with french fries. Drink tea or water instead of soda or OJ.
There is a bunch of discussion about certain pieces of food being bad, and others good. As a rule of thumb, if it was part of a traditional diet, if you could make it by hand, it is good (eggs, butter, olive oil, oatmeal, fruit, …), if not, not (margarine, soda, pizza, gummi bears …).
Putting this together, a typical piece of food for a fat loss diet should look like this: a good protein base (a lean steak, or some fish, or a protein shake … see the list above), a lot of vegetables, a bit of fat (some olive oil or butter) and starches (grains, pasta …) or sugars (fruit). For example, a chicken breast + vegetables stir fry with a diet fruit yoghurt on the side. Between meals, snack on fruit or vegetables (carrot sticks, cucumber slices … I personally love bell pepper). If you want to eat for muscle mass gains, add a bunch of good fats and/or starches - pasta, oatmeal, eggs, olive oil are all common suggestions. Find something that’s tasty for you and enjoy it.Also, there’s a recipe section further down.
- 1g/bw in lbs of protein per day
- Lots of vegetables (5+ servings)
- Focus on traditionally prepared food
- (16-18*bw in lbs) kcal/day for building muscle, or even more if you are not gaining weight
- (10-12*bw in lbs) kcal/day for losing fat, or even less if you are not losing weight
- Adjust calories fortnightly
- Find some way to actually stick to doing these
- A lot of talk is made about carbs vs fats. First of all, the topic is less important than most think, which is why it didn’t get its own heading here; secondly, it hugely depends on you. Get your protein and vegetables, and then see how many carbs and fats (and maybe even more protein) you want to add to get the rest of your calories from. Experiment a bit, see what works best. This is not even remotely as important as the other topics. Oftentimes, more active, and leaner people may want proportionally more carbs, and more sedentary, and fatter people proportionally less carbs. Just get a mix of all and you'll be fine.
Water (do this tomorrow)
- It was examined that people should be drinking more water. Two thirds of our bodyweight is made up of water. Water is vital because it gives us the ability to absorb nutrients from food and transfer them throughout the body. Drinking water replaces lost fluids from the body during perspiration, urination and other bodily functions. Mental and physical tiredness is a short term side-effect of dehydration with long term dehydration leading to the risk of kidney stones.
- To calculate how much water you should be having each day: take your bodyweight in lbs and halve it. You should be having that number of lbs in oz of water each day. (e.g. If you weigh 200lbs, halve it. 100lbs = 100oz. 100oz = 2.9L - A person that weighs 200lbs should be drinking 2.9L a day).
- Keto, Zone, That Weird Thing Your Mom Does, No Fat, No Protein, I know them all and I don’t care. Many of these are centered around carb vs fat balance, others are about a specific piece of food. As you should know, there is no evidence for either of these being even remotely as relevant as what I've written about for the last 1000 pages. If I thought they were worth a mention, I wouldn’t have bothered to type up all of this text. If you believe in these diets, go do them, remember that in the end, it’s about persistence, patience, protein and calories . If your diet of choice gets these 4 right, it will work. If not, it wont.
Meal frequency/Meal timing. (add this tomorrow under "how often should i eat?")
- When you eat and how many times per day you eat is IRRELEVANT. Now, stop asking.
-              
- There is no advantage or disadvantage to eating 1 time a day versus 9 times per day every, eating every 2-3 hours or only eating once at the end of the day, eating a big breakfast and not eating a breakfast.
- The only exception is hunger and physical energy. As long as you get all your foods in by the end of the day, you're okay. It all comes down to personal preference. Experiment and see what works best for you.
- Similar with meals before bed; if you eat a bigass serving of pasta, you might have problems falling asleep, but that's about it. The idea that eating after X pm was worse than eating before is a myth.
- The changes happening in your body will depend mostly on calories and protein. Carbs/fats and meal timing are more about sticking to the diet you choose - find whatever feels best for you, gives you the most energy, and fits into your day.
Around workout nutrition.
- This topic gets a lot of attention, mostly from people trying to make a living out of selling post workout supplements. Guess what, they’re biased as fuck. Basically, have some protein and carbs 1-3 hours before, and some protein and carbs 0-1.5 hours after. It doesn't need to be IMMEDIATE . In fact, you don't even NEED protein post workout assuming you're not lifting in a fasted state. You can follow this protocol if you need exact numbers. Regular food is just fine, if not superior to supplements. If you can’t stomach anything around workouts, get a whey shake and some carb source like banana.
- Even while dieting to lose fat, you want to eat protein and carbs around workouts, ESPECIALLY protein, but also some, albeit possibly less, carbs; eating some before will allow you to train harder, and you want to eat some afterwards because working out induces both protein synthesis as well as breakdown, and to inhibit this, some carbs and a good serving of protein are sufficient.
- Cook in advance.
- Buy smart. Don’t buy chocolate chips if you want to lose weight, because you WILL probably eat them. Don’t forget to buy food for the weekend if you want to gain weight, watch your fridge. (A trick is to always eat before you go shopping so you don't buy something out of hunger)
- Find recipes that work for the above key components. See below.
- Find recipes that are tasty. If you don’t like your food, you’re gonna eat something else, and that would hinder your progress. There’s people saying "if it tastes good, spit it out“. I think these people are a bit weird.
- Try to fit in eating out, family time etc. Don’t become a shut-in. Well, I guess chances are you already are one right? But let’s at least pretend.
- Watch how you personally react to certain foods, what gives you energy, what makes you hungry…
- Most supplements are useless. Especially most that do not consist of a single ingredient are. What oftentimes does make sense is supplementing your diet with things that you lack. Remember, always put diet, training and rest before supplementation. This goes for spending money as well. Always spend money on the gym bill and food before buying supplements.
- Notable things you might think about (I usually buy off the shelf, others swear by higher quality things):
- Fish Oil.If you don’t eat much fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, …), you are most likely deficient in omega-3 fatty acids (EPA/DHA; ignore ALA as your body has to convert it). Get some fish oil. This will make you smarter, less sick, reduces risk of disease , improves mood , helps with fat loss and you will recover better, along with a plethora of other health benefits. A total intake of EPA/DHA of 1.8-3.0 grams per day is suggested. Don't forget to count the calories from your fish oil either, each gram of fat is still 9 calories.
- Vitamin D. We usually get this from sunlight. If you are not tanned, chances are you’re deficient in this. Most people are. Get your blood levels measured, or take your chances and just get some. Vitamin D is involved in pretty much everything. If you’re deficient in it, supplementing it helps your bones, prevents cancers, raises testosterone levels and … everything. There is, again, some granny scare about Vitamin D being poison, but it's actually quite hard to poison yourself on vitamin D as you would need to take more than 10000 IU/day. Make sure you buy it in Vitamin D3 form (Cholecalceferol). Taking one 5000IU capsule a day is sufficient. Take it with meals or with your fish oil.
- Protein powder. If you don’t easily get enough from food, get some cheap whey, casein, or milk protein. Which type you get doesn't matter. These are quite convenient, and almost as nutrient rich as regular food. You don’t need them, despite for what supplement sellers tell you, whole food sources of protein are equivalent or better compared to whey or BCAAs/Amino Acids; but some convenient powder ain’t bad either. They only serve as one purpose, and that's a meal replacement.
- Magnesium, folate, fiber, zinc, vitamin C: most people are not getting as many of these as they should. Depending on how your diet is, consider supplementing these while you adjust your diet.
- Conveniently, all of these are pretty cheap. Especially Vitamin D. Fish Oil and Vitamin D are two things everybody should supplement. Everything else is optional.
- The exceptions to the "supplements suck" rule are few:
- Creatine will help a bit with strength and it's safe.  Get it in monohydrate form only - it is just as effective (or more) as the other forms, and a lot cheaper. Just take 5g (1tsp) every day, at any time. No need to load or cycle. See here if you want a deeper understanding of the biochemical workings.
- Ephedrine, and especially the ephedrine + caffeine combo (EC Stack), helps with losing fat. Go here, and more advanced info here. Don't fuck this up, Ephedrine is a drug and may be illegal and/or dangerous. For people in the US, you cannot buy Ephedrine directly - most people get it via over-the-counter Bronkaid.
- Almost everything else that is not illegal sucks. Illegal drugs, like steroids for muscle gains and fat loss, and clenbuterol/albuterol/t3 and DNP, are of unquestionable effectivity, allowing their consuments to gain mass, strength and cut fat way quicker than the natural trainee, even without training themselves at all, but many feel scared by their illegality and the abuse potential - done wrong, these WILL hurt you.
- A multivitamin/mineral supplement isn't as important as people believe it to be. The dosages of the ingredients are of negligible effect. Although it never hurts to supplement a cheap multi as a backup, don't spend a large amount of money buying "special formulations". Get your nutrients through your food.
- Lastly, stay away from pre-workout supplements, they are bad for you. You don't need the extra energy, especially if you're a teenager. You may like the pump, but you will just end up becoming dependant on them. They're also a waste of money. Just use caffeine If you need more energy, it also increases blood flow. Just have a large cup of strong coffee before training. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, preparing it for training, increases aerobic endurance and strength increases.
Lifting heavy weightsNo, girl/pretty boy - you won't turn into a 400lbs bulldozer over night if you dare touch a barbell. I KNOW you want to look lean and defined first and foremost, and that is just why I put this section here - though the guys who actually WANT to resemble a bulldozer have to start the same as everybody else, for now. So everybody should do resistance training, because it:
- Supports lean mass over flabby mass 
- Helps a lot with losing fat 
- Helps a lot with building muscle
- Keeps your metabolism running, even while you rest (it usually slows down when you diet, making dieting harder) - more than cardio by itself
- If done correctly, makes you stronger and healthier,  improves your posture and prevents injuries, especially falls and fractures by strengthening your bones,  making it important for the elderly, and for women - it helps prevent the yoyo effect
Yes, even if you are fat, or female, you want to lift weights. Saying "I just want to look toned/I don’t want to look like a bodybuilder“ means you should go to a gym. I am not trying to convince you any more than by saying this: if you don’t want to lift weights, go read another guide. One that lies to you, because even if your goal is looking like a dancer, olympic athlete, MMA fighter or animu character, lifting weights is part of the path.
The three key components of weightlifting
- Aim for balance - work the legs, the front, the back, the core, the limbs; push and pull, flex and extend. I don’t think much of excessively focussing on certain bodyparts. A balanced body is a healthy and attractive body. If you only care about getting bigger arms, go read another guide.
- Train progressively   - you have to increase the loading parameters over time or nothing will happen. As a beginner, you want to add weight to your exercises every week at least. If you don’t add weight over time, your body is not going to change. It is an adaption process. You lift heavy, your body adapts to the stress, you the lift heavier and you keep lifting heavier until you can lift the heaviest you can lift. Track your lifts on a notepad every workout.
- Stay safe and injury free- educate yourself on proper form, watch videos, make videos of yourself and show them around. Bad lifting can hurt you, and won’t make you any better. See here for some reference cards. If you want a deeper understanding of the main lifts, I highly recommending reading Starting Strength. Also, if you can't control the weight on the way down, it's too heavy. Don't just drop it.
Generally, you want to take a balanced selection of mostly multi-joint (compound), full-body exercises, and do a few heavy, but secure sets per exercise per week, doing each exercise about twice a week, keep good form, starting with a manageable weight and trying to consistently increase the weight on the main lifts. Later on, you would add some assistance exercises for specific purposes, but the money lies in becoming able to do these compound exercises for about 5-8 reps with ever increasing weight. Any routine and training scheme that allows you to do this is good, anything that doesn’t most likely bad. A routine like this will allow you to lose fat and therefore look more defined/toned, or build muscle/gain bodymass, depending on your diet.
People smarter than me have written up...
Routines that are pretty good
No matter your goals, you could start out with one of these:
- Starting Strength aka SS (Minimalist and a classic. This one has worked countless times already. Also check out the accompanying book. Check the extensive wiki, and here to answer all of your questions.)
- Stronglifts (a variation on the above theme)
- Lyle McDonalds generic beginner programs
- Arthur Jones' beginner program (a different approach, but good)
- Reg Parks beginners 5x5 (bit high in volume, well rounded)
- Kristas beginner workout (aimed at girls)
- Stripped 5x5 (6 compound exercises with dumbbell alternatives for most exercises. Easy for beginners to learn to perform correctly.)
Any workout regimen that works the full body 2-3x per week with low rep, few sets(optimal is 3) of heavy compound movements (Squats, Bench Press, Rows, Overhead Press and Deadlifts) with added weight periodically is generally optimum for beginners. You will gain a load of strength and size which is great for a beginner aiming to look better and stay healthy and in shape.
Warm up properly for each compound exercise. Warming up is done to warm up the muscles and joints and get your CNS fired up to move some heavy weight. Read this for more info. Basically, you want to AT LEAST do 3 warmup sets sets for each compound exercise. It should look something like this:
- 12 reps of the empty bar to in-grain the movement pattern (don't slop out on your form here)
- then 5 reps at 50% of the starting weight of the first work set
- then 4 reps at 70%
- followed by 2 reps of 90%
- and then do your max sets
So, if your first work set is 200 pounds for 8 reps, you would do 1x12 bar, 100x5, 140x3, 180x2 and then 200x8.
Don't time your rests between sets, that's stupid. Every set is unique. You should rest as long as you need for your body to feel ready to complete the next set. This could mean a 1 minute rest, or a 10 minute rest. Shorter rests don't help muscle gains.  Although 3-5 minutes are best for strength gains. 
Try to do good reps, focusing on good form over exhaustion. Whenever you more or less comfortably hit the upper range of the indicated rep range, add weight the next workout; this is a good sign and shows you are inducing physical adaptions, like muscular hypertrophy (if you are eating a surplus) or at least improved neural efficiency. Stick with this reduced selection for now, focus and persistence are the key words. You may later want to add additional exercises if you realize you need them. Especially consider adding leg curls or Glute-Ham-Raises, arm curls, weighted crunches or planks, and explosive lifts like power cleans. You may also notice that one exercise simply does not work for you, in which case you can switch to a substitute, like DB bench press, front squats, barbell rows, upright rows or push presses, romanian deadlifts or low bar squats, chinups or pullups.
Once you do not gain anymore on these routines, do something else. As long as you are, keep doing these, because nothing will work any better than this; once you stall, switch to more appropriate routines, with slower, but more manageable progressions. There is no sense in going to an advanced routine now; nothing will give you as many results as a correctly applied beginner routine.
More advanced routines.
- Madcow 5x5 (3 days/week) - this is a full body general strength/powerlifting program aimed at the intermediate lifter. This is a good routine to do after SS. There's also a stripped version here.
- Jim Wendlers 5/3/1 (3 or 4 days/week) - this is a rather typical powerlifting/athleticism program. You can find the answers to common 5/3/1 questions here.
- Joe DeFrancos Badass (3 days/week) - this is a bodybuilding/athleticism program.
- The Texas Method (read: Practical Programming) - excellent for after SS
Anything beyond this is, well, beyond this.
Anything that is not mentioned up here, especially anything that claims to be some revolutionary and special way to build muscle, is probably a stupid fad. Focus on the 3 key components. Yes, this means hard work. It also means results.
Do it. Like, just do some. It’s good for you. Pick something you can stick to and that does not injure you; similar to weight training, safety, persistence and progression are key. I recommend taking up a sport. I am especially fond of swimming and martial arts, because they are balanced and fun. Contact and mixed sports are generally preferable. Hell, you can dance for all I care. Mixing it up is just as effective as focusing on one, and arguably more fun. Alternatively, get something more structured, like couch 2 5k or fartlek.
You should do some cardio both when trying to lose fat, and when trying to build muscle. Cardio:
- Helps stabilize hormone levels (increasing testosterone and increasing insulin sensitivity)
- Improves working capacity and recovery
- Helps the body fuel calories away from the fat cells and into the muscle
- Helps with weight maintenance/preventing the yoyo effect
- Generally keeps you healthy, protecting your brain from the detremential effects of aging, improves sexual health…
- Burns calories - not all that many, but a significant amount. If you do a lot of cardio, you can and should compensate by eating a bit more. For burning fat alone, it doesn’t matter if you do easy stuff for a long time (take a 1.5 hour walk), or hard stuff for a short time (hard runs for 30 minutes). Like with resistance training, pick whatever is safe and what you can stick to.
Cardio is neither required for burning fat , nor prohibited when building muscle - that's just an excuse by lazy people. All in all, resistance training is more important for looking pretty (yes, even for girls and pretty boys), but for general health, cardio is essential.
Oh, and doing cardio in a fasted state provides no benefit, contrary to popular belief.
Somewhere between cardio and resistance training are the various conditioning programs. Calisthenics are NOT a replacement for resistance training because they do not induce the various benefits laid out above to the same degree, and their effect on body composition is especially limited; however, they can round out your program. Worth checking out are Ross Enamait and Pavel Tsatsouline.
"I am a VEGETARIAN! WHAT DO I DO?"
- Your main problems are protein, and to a lesser extent, some minerals and meat. If you just don’t eat meat, you can do fine getting lots of dairy/protein powder, eggs, and some tofu. If you’re a vegan, I frankly can’t help you. Read up on pea, hemp, lentil and soy protein and see what your chances are; the evidence is fairly clear that milk proteins are just better for our goals than these   . I'd say vegan protein sources aren't ever gonna be as good as animal sources, but good luck either way.
All questions concerning specific food.
- "IS (specific food item X) GOOD?"
- "IS (specific food item Y) BAD?"
- (Eggs, Fuckin' Acai Berries, Vitamin Water, …)
- Most of what you can read on the internet about various good or bad foods, and especially the rationale behind it, is retarded. Most of all, no food is magic (it’s about your whole diet, always), and close to no food is the devil (it’s all about moderation). I think I’ve given a sufficient, convenient tool for usually deciding if something can help you or not with what I wrote in the diet chapter above; basically, check: does it help you hit your protein targets? Does it help you hit your calorie targets (by keeping you full, or hungry, for its calories)? Is it real, traditional food so it gives you some micronutrients? Has your personal experience with it been good? If yes, go for it. If not, you can probably still eat some of it, but it shouldn't be a staple food.
- …Seriously. Acai Berries? How gullible are you people?
Any question focusing on Insulin! Glycaemic Index!
- Forget about it. Insulin is vastly misunderstood by the usual internet fitness writers. It is one of several key players, not the only culprit; it only mediates what your diet and exercise do anyways; there are alternative pathways that are just as important; if you try to shape your body by controlling insulin, the body will just use another pathway to bring you to where you should be.
- Insulin, or various foods and their effects on insulin, are often blamed for obesity and, at times, every other bad thing. This is in part because on a mixed diet (carbs and fat), insulin is the hormone that mostly regulates bodyfat storage, and insulin resistance is a common and dangerous symptom of obesity. However, on a carb free diet, the body won’t simply waste nutrients either, and other pathways will be used to get fat if you eat enough; and insulin resistance is caused by eating excess fat alternatively to excess carbs, too. Most people that are fat today got fat by eating carbs and fat combined; but that only means that they ate a lot of fat and carbs, not that combining fat and carbs, or eating carbs at all, makes you fat. They would have gotten as fat on a carb free diet, and almost as fat on a fat free diet, assuming the calories stay the same.
- Insulin also causes satiety, prevents muscle catabolism, increases free testosterone levels and, most of all, a healthy, exercising and well-eating individual will be able to control their blood sugar and insulin levels quite well enough anyways.
- Current insulin levels are usually a symptom of what you are doing, not a cause of what’s happening to you. So stop worrying about it and focus on exercise and good food instead. For a more in depth answer (quoting Anonymous):
- "The hormones insulin and glucagon work antagonistically (insulin encourages lipogenesis and discourages lipolysis, glucagon does the opposite) to keep the blood glucose concentration constant. As the blood glucose concentration decreases, glucagon secretion increases and fat is released from adipocytes so that it can be used for energy and to increase glucose levels. As the glucose concentration increases, insulin secretion increases, and glucose is removed from the blood to be stored in adipocytes. If you eat maintenance calories, the end result is one of balance - there will be no net fat gain or fat loss. If you eat above maintenance then insulin wins and the extra energy is stored as fat (or used for muscle). If you eat below maintenance then glucagon wins and there will be a net loss of fat. There is no way around this mechanism, this system is pretty much infallible by necessity.
- As I've said before, the only hormones that can directly cause or prevent obesity are ones which affect the amount of energy you take in (leptin, for example) or the amount of energy you spend (by increasing activity or by increasing metabolism). Under normal circumstances (i.e., in the absence of metabolic disorders and in the absence of a caloric surplus or deficit) insulin and glucagon will perfectly balance each other and you will not gain or lose any fat."
- If you still believe in Insulin as the main player, you’re an uneducated, quasi-religious nutjob.
- High-GI food has been wrongly implicated of being fattening; and low-GI diets have been wrongly thought to be more filling. This is flat out wrong and mainly stems from the fact that researchers used to use highly processed food to represent high-GI food, and less processed food to represent low-GI food. Even the GI - insulin connection is way more complex than carbophobics usually think.
General ketogenic diets/Atkins.
- First, refer to the general principles of dieting . If your keto diet fits in there, it's gonna work.
- Some people however claim that ketosis is inherently better than a carb based or carb inclusive diet. The evidence however is farily conclusive: while many people consume too many carbs and need to cut back on them, and while some people simply feel better on a low carb or even ketogenic diet, feeling less hunger and less bloat, others do not, with many reporting adverse reactions to keto and low carb, and on average, ketogenic diets do not burn more fat or spare muscle better than non ketogenic diets.  Any claimed benefit of ketogenic diets that would work for everyone is mostly mediated by the higher protein content in comparison to regular diets; and obviously, you can also eat a low fat high carb high protein diet, and many people are doing just this and benefiting from it.
- For the wrong idea that low carb is inherently better than moderate or high carb, refer to the chapter on macronutrient ratios . Again: different things work for different people. You will have to experiment a bit.
- You could almost take the chapter on Insulin and replace the word Insulin with fructose/SFA, and you have your answer.
- Again: anything is bad in excess, and good in moderation. Usually, you will get an excess of certain things if you eat too much overprocessed, modern food; you will get appropriate, healthy amounts of stuff if you eat a traditionally prepared, moderated diet.
- You will not get excess fructose from eating fruit, or excess saturated fat from eating fish and eggs. You will get excess fructose from drinking soda 24/7, and from eating pizza and burgers all day. It is less a question of things with chemical names, and more a question of apples and oranges (or rather, apples and candy).
"Why aren’t you advocating (Cyclical) Ketogenic Diets/Paleo diets/Zone Diet/This Crazy Stuff My Favourite Bodybuilder Does?"
- Because they are just one way to achieve the general, supervening principles outlined in the general diet chapter. Where they diverge from said chapter, they are wrong, where they agree, they are redundant, where they cover different topics, they are just personal preferences.
"Isn’t excess protein bad?"
- No. Read this again.
- These don’t cause cancer. They also don’t directly contribute to obesity. They do not raise insulin or blood sugar significantly. They have close to 0 calories and not many bioavailable nutrients, and that’s pretty much what they contribute to your fat loss diet; nothing good, nothing bad. There is a lot of un-substantiated myths about diet soda.
- The only thing that can be said about them is that they might keep you in a habit of preferring overly sweet food. But generally speaking, unless you really need the calories, they are a lot more healthy than their sugar filled alternatives.
"I’ve stopped losing weight!" / "I’ve regained 20lbs over the weekend!"
- Firstly, you need to know that muscle tissue is actually heavier than fat, so as you lose fat and gain muscle, your weight will actually go up. This is normal; especially in the beginning when you lose the most fat and gain the most muscle.
- Chill out and relax. Stuff cannot rush, everything in getting in shape land happens slowly. In the short term, water deposits will contribute way more to what the scale shows than fat loss or gains. Coincidentally, stress levels cause water retention, so getting all panicky over the scale weight is a good way to downward spiral into an eating disorder.
- If you ARE plateauing, or even gaining weight for two or so weeks, first, check if you are actually still eating a calorie deficit (less than 13, 14*bw cals/day). If not, adjust. If yes, maybe it’s time to take some time off and relax. Try eating at maintenance calories, and just generally taking things easy for a while (one or more days, up to two weeks). This will readjust various hormones, normalize water levels and hopefully restart fat loss.
- Brown vs. White Rice, Sweet Potatos vs. Regular Potatoes, Organic vs. Conventional, “Clean” eating vs. Mixed diets...
- This is mostly down to taste preferences. The nutritional differences between the alternatives are neglible (really; check the labels). I know the internet says otherwise, but the cold hard numbers are what matters. You may eat the pricier option if it gives you a smug sense of superiority, I don’t really care, just don’t act as if it was necessary or optimal unless you can bring specific numbers to the table (say, item X has 120% more of nutrient Y than item Z).
- Generally speaking, if you eat lots of the protein foods mentioned above, and lots of vegetables, and maybe supplement some vitamin D and fish oil, you got your nutrients covered. And if you don’t, you most likely don’t, and how crappy your rice tastes won’t change a thing.
"Is supplement X any good?"
- Probably not. Read the general chapter on supplements. #
- Honestly, you’ll most likely gain more out of working out a bit harder and eating a bit better than by even thinking about this supplement.
- Unless your supplement is an illegal anabolic steroid.
"I want the quickest way to lose weight that is not completely idiotic!"
- The quickest legal way is something called PSMF by Lyle McDonald. The quickest way, period, is adding illegal drugs to your exercise+diet combo. I don’t really know much about drugs, but googling clenbuterol + DNP + Cytomel/T3 is probably where you would start. Just remember that drugs are drugs and may be illegal and are most definitely dangerous. Seriously dude, people have died taking that stuff. Don't be stupid.
- If you have horrible DOMS right now:
- Eat. Sleep. Eat. A lot. Next workout, go to the gym. Carefully do your warmups. If you can do them in good form, carefully add weight and keep doing your workout as long as proper form is maintained. If you can't, go home and try again ASAP. No crying, no excuses; but also, no being stupid and injuring yourself.
- Over time, you won't get DOMS anymore if you keep doing the exercise. If you stop doing them, you will get DOMS anew, so keep training, to fight away the DOMS at first, and to keep it away later. Most other stuff doesn't work.
- If you want DOMS because you think it's important for muscle growth, It's not.
I want to train more often!
- If you want to train more often, chances are you're not adding weight often enough to your routine. Every routine posted in this FAQ will become quite horribly exhausting if you do it by the book, which implies regularily adding weight to all of your lifts.
- You don't grow while working out, you grow while you recover. And you can actually out-train your own recovery by going too hard and too often.
- As a guideline, if your lifts are steadily improving (while gaining weight) or maintaining (while losing weight), you're doing good. If not, you have a problem.
Recovery / Sleep!
- Recovery is about a bunch of factors. Your brain, your mind, your individual muscles and joints, the body as a whole all need recovery from training.
- Sleep enough, reduce stress, eat enough, choose a sensible routine. That's the main factors.
- Sleeping is a vital aspect of muscle building. You cannot fully recover without getting enough sleep, along with it filling a plethora of other detrimental needs for your health. Get 8-9 hours per night. Have a set bed time and wake up time - your body responds well to having a regular time to sleep. Your sleep cycle and amounts of REM sleep adjust to however you sleep. If you sleep and wake erratically, you cannot adjust. Also, avoid any more than 11 hours sleep as it provides a negative hormonal environment within the body. Read here for more info.
"How can I get prevent calluses on my hands?"
Kids and barbells
- Unless you are training for a specific sport and your trainer tells you to, don’t do it, It’s a fad. The hype around HIIT for general fitness stems from a misunderstanding of some preliminary research. I know HIIT is more fun and less sucky than regular cardio; I personally like doing it a lot more than said cardio; but generally, standard cardio is just more effective AND efficient for burning fat and maintaining muscle, as well as parameters of health and performance/endurance and fat burning capabilities, and will not interfere with your recovery as much.
- Two topics are brought up again and again when it comes to HIIT: EPOC/afterburn, which is negligible with HIIT ; and Vo2max, which most anybody gets wrong.  I wish it were so simple, but 4 minutes of pushups and pauses is not going to do much to you. You gotta put in a bit more effort. 
"Is resistance training routine X good?"
- Even though the parameters of successful training routines are more or less well known    - I don't know if this exact routine is good. If it is for beginners - does it look pretty similar to the ones I’ve linked to above? If yes, it’s probably good. If it’s not for beginners - have you ever done a routine similar to the beginner routines I linked to? If yes, you should be able to decide if your routine X is good.
If not, just do one of the things I linked to instead.
Crossfit/Insanity/p90x/Convict Conditioning/current internet hype workout
- Fuck ‘em. They may have their uses, but they are not optimal, and generally, not even sufficient for the goals I’m talking about here. They are also marketing campaigns.
"Is exercise X good/bad?"
When choosing exercises, consider these three:
- Can you do it safely, and in good form?
- Can you progress (add more weight over time)?
- Does it hit the intended muscles?
If you can answer “yes” three times, chances are it’s a good exercise. Every exercise can injure you if done wrong, and most every exercise will keep you healthy if you do it right. Exercises I usually see done wrong which I don’t recommend, either because I don’t think learning proper form is efficient, or because the movement itself has some biomechanic problem, are: leg raises and situps (target the hip flexors, not the abs), freeweight pullovers or flys, and triceps kickbacks and overhead extensions (stupid path of resistance + superior compound alternatives), back extension lever machines (in contrast to the quite healthy back extension bench, the resisting machine WILL fuck your back), barbell rows (good movement, but usually done wrong), good mornings (more dangerous than the just as, or even more, useful romanian deadlift)
- Some exercises which are often done wrong have gotten an undeservedly bad rap about it: upright rows (row with a wide grip and don’t bring the elbows higher than the shoulders), bench press (keep the shoulder blades pinched together and down, don’t use too wide of a grip, don’t touch too high).
Bodybuilding workout myths:
"You need high reps/high volume for muscular hypertrophy!"
- You don't. Strength training causes hypertrophy in every fiber type. So-called sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is greatly limited in extend; in the end, you need to get stronger,   and for that, you need the low-moderate rep range. Some high rep work on top to round it off won't hurt, but the focus should be in the 5-8 range; although you can grow on anything, as long as it improves the weight you can lift for ~1-20 reps.
- Rep range selection depends in large part on exercise selection. You can't do snatches for high reps, and you can't do strict lateral raises for low reps. Generally speaking, you want to do technical/power work and maximal strength lifts for low reps, your main exercises (bench press, squats …) for moderate reps (5-8) and your assistance exercises for high reps (8-20).
- For more advanced trainees, specification, doing more work below 5rm, and more work above 8rm, becomes more and more important, but as a beginner, you can for a while stay in this rep range.
- An exception to this rule are steroids; with steroids, you can grow on literally anything.
Bodypart Splits/"I need to dedicate a whole day to my chest to work it from every angle and give it enough volume!"
- No you don't. Too much volume and too low frequency are hurtful for hypertrophy. Try to hit every bodypart with about around 2 times a week with 30-60 reps each, split across 3 or 4 workouts a week.    Look at the routines I linked to in the exercise chaper.
"I don’t care about strength, I only want to get bigger!"
- Size comes from food. Ensuring that size is muscle comes from lifting weights that are heavy enough to stimulate growth.
"You need isolation exercises for a balanced physique!"/"You need compound exercises for a balanced physique!"
- No. Read  again.
"I hurt myself while lifting, what should I do?" (put this in question about soreness part of the lyle article)
- Depends on the severity. See here. If the pain doesn't go away, you should see your doctor.
"WHO THE FUCK IS TO BLAME FOR THIS SHIT?!??"
Mostly me, some skinny kid from the internet. I go by the name harsh, or the trip !.ImGayqHTs, on 4chans /fit/. Tuna has also helped me out. He's less skinny, but also smaller than I am, and wears glasses, whereas I am wearing contacts, come at me bro
Clerisy also did a lot of things. Thanks for the more recent stuff you did, it's a great help.
Quadrasaurus-Rex involuntarily contributed parts, too (for now, only the part about abs). I hope he don't eat me if he finds out I stole his shit.
me finally wiki this stupid text file this wiki.