I get asked a lot about exercise. People who choose the the ketogenic diet and lifestyle will almost always experience energy like they’ve never had before, so they want to try to exercise. Of course, many first-time ketoers have never really gone to the gym and don’t know where to start.
So the short answer is: Lifting heavy is the place to start. It’s also very confusing for most people who are unfamiliar with the idea. Muscles only do one thing. They contract. Certain muscle contract so that you can bring things closer to your body. Other muscles contract so that you can push things away.
It’s no more complicated than that.
So the idea of lifting heavy is to use those natural movements (push or pull) and add enough weight so that it forces your body to adapt to the stress and get stronger.
Does that make sense?
Okay. So there are some movements that are better than others in terms of benefit. Those movements are known as “compound movements.” They are called that because they utilize LARGE muscles and muscle groups. So what are the compound movements?
Bench press/push up
Works your: Chest and triceps
This is typically a favorite of guys. It involved using your chest and triceps (the rear part of your upper arm) to push stuff away from you. The reality, though, is this is more for vanity than for actual real-world necessity. Of course, there are some times when pushing things off of you would be important, but most of the time, this kind of movement isn’t a day-to-day sort of thing.
Works your Entire leg, except your calves
Squats are the big lift. They use the biggest muscles (the legs) and they cause the most pain. The pain is because they muscles are huge, so the nerves are too. Because doing squats is painful (not in a bad way), many people skip the squats. Don’t be that person.
Pull down/pull up
Works your: Upper back and biceps
These exercises are essentially the same thing. Pulling things to you is a much more realistic movement (think…hugs), so this is a very good exercise for everyone. One of the problems with back exercises is that you can see the result. Because people tend to want to see the results, they don’t put as much of an emphasis on back exercises. Don’t be that person.
Works your: Lower back, upper back, trapezius, legs, core, and forearms
I cannot emphasize this enough…it’s SUPER important that you have proper form when doing deadlifts
This is, next to the squat, the most compound of the compound movements. It works a bunch of muscles and it is completely functional (think…hey, I have to pick that heavy bag up off the floor). But form is incredibly important. DO NOT try to lift too much with this. You will hurt yourself. And I will find you. And I will poke you in your eye. You can pick the eye, but one of your eyes will be poked.
There are also some beneficial movements that are not compound. Those include:
Works your: Biceps
Works your triceps
Both of these exercises are incredibly valuable. They work your arms, which makes them stronger, which allows you to lift more in the compound movements.
So to create a lifting program, you pick a few exercises that target the individual muscle groups and you do those on the specific days.
So what does it mean to lift heavy? Heavy is relative. You have to start somewhere, so I recommend you start with light weights to figure out where you are. At first, it’s very much trial and error.
Here’s the general rule: if you can do a particular movement for more than 8-10 reps, you need to increase the weight. If you cannot do the movement for more than 4 reps, it’s too heavy. So if you can do between 5-8 reps of a movement, but no more…that’s the sweet spot. That’s heavy lifting.
For some people that means a 5 lb. dumbbell. For others, that means a 400 lb. bench press. It’s all relative to what you can do.
For most exercises, you would probably do 3-5 sets. If you’re lifting heavy, you’ll likely decrease the weight every set. If you’re lifting heavy, you won’t be able to do more that 3-5 sets.
However, squats are an exception. You can do 5-8 sets (you don’t have to, but you are not hurting anything by doing more, because leg muscles are so strong).
Okay, so now here’s a sample workout (let’s assume you lift three days a week):
Monday: Chest and Triceps
Benchpress: 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Lunges: 5 sets of 8-10 reps
Friday: Back and Biceps
Pull downs: 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Curls: 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Lifting heavy stuff isn’t complicated. It’s really simple. You just have to find the right combination of exercises and weights and just get real strong.