Just your average gym

I don’t get out to commercial gyms that often. My own home setup is a power rack, barbell, a few hundred kilos of plates, some spinlock dumbbells, a bench, and a bike; which is more than many gyms offer. Thus, I only really step into a commercial gym when traveling or if I’m on holiday. But every one of these gyms has a list of people that inhabit them.

The average gym always seems to have these people. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are moving around to each gym, training multiple times a day, every day, all over the country. I doubt they travel internationally, as I’m sure other countries can come up with their own stereotypes. Please note, these stereotypes don’t seem to apply to powerlifting and weightlifting gyms, probably due to screening at the door by a guy that looks like he ate a bouncer.

Skinny guys lifting in the mirror
I think the reason the skinny guys have to watch themselves so closely in the mirror is due to their lack of muscle, thus needing to be closer to see it working.

Woman who clearly doesn’t want to be there
She will usually be wandering around the gym aimlessly, doing as little as possible, sometimes arguing with her personal trainer about not being able to do any more reps, let alone sets.

Guy who clearly doesn’t want to be there
This guy will usually be middle aged and portly, who was driven to the gym and wheeled through the door on a fridge trolley by his physician, with direct instructions to exercise before he drops dead of a cholesterol induced heart attack.

Person busy checking their phone whilst sitting on machine
This has changed over time, as it used to be the person reading a magazine or newspaper, but now with smart phones people can sit on $5,000 worth of equipment for 30 minutes whilst they check their messages and read Buzzfeed.

Resident couple who spend as much time flirting and smooching as working out
You just know that if there weren’t quite so many people around they’d be having sex on every piece of equipment in the gym. Even the tricep machine.

Big fish in small pond
Often fat, but not always, this is the strongest guy in the gym, which is really not saying much because all the other strong people have left for gyms that have more weight plates.

The clueless lifter
Curling in the squat rack, squatting on a bosu ball, turning every exercise machine into a low back and biceps station: someone shoot them and put them out of their misery.

Mr/Ms/Mrs Overly Revealing Clothing
Since skins, yoga pants, string tees and sports bras became a thing, some people have taken advantage of their gym toned and surgically enhanced bodies with a new found love for revealing as much as possible whilst still technically wearing gym clothes.

Mr Hairgel
Usually, but not always, works as a personal trainer and has artfully styled hair that appears to be doubling as a crash helmet for those heavy pressing days.

Miss/Ms Makeup
Because you need makeup in the gym, not to mention dozens of trips to the bathroom to remedy the sweat streaks as the natural enemies duke it out during the workout.

People there to socialize not workout
Usually moving in loud packs discussing how wasted they got on the weekend. Can also be single people flirting with one another, or single people flirting with clearly married people in a vain attempt to get laid.

See also:


Does performing an additional weightlifting set not increase progress by more than 5%?

Exrx, a widely-known exercise resource site, claims in its article Low Volume Progressive Intensity Training:

By performing an additional set (50% to 100% more sets) only 0 to 5% more progress will be observed. Each additional set yields even less progress to a point of diminishing return.

Is this statement supported by any research?


Many of the low volume or high intensity styled programs make claims about diminishing returns from extra work. The easiest way to address this question is to look at the science of training volume. I agree with one of the commenter’s (Dave) that exercise science is not always a solid science, but his recommendation replaces measurement with opinion.

Volume vs HIT: The Answer There have been many studies that have sought to understand whether it is better to use a single set, many sets, how many sets, etc. Most of the training programs used by athletes today are based upon periodized programs developed by the former eastern block Olympic coaches. But there are two issues: strength and hypertrophy.

Firstly a strength training meta-analysis by James Krieger (Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 23(6):1890-1901, September 2009) found that 2-3 sets led to 46% greater strength gains than 1 set.

There has been considerable debate over the optimal number of sets per exercise to improve musculoskeletal strength during a resistance exercise program. The purpose of this study was to use hierarchical, random-effects meta-regression to compare the effects of single and multiple sets per exercise on dynamic strength. English-language studies comparing single with multiple sets per exercise, while controlling for other variables, were considered eligible for inclusion. The analysis comprised 92 effect sizes (ESs) nested within 30 treatment groups and 14 studies. Multiple sets were associated with a larger ES than a single set (difference = 0.26 +/- 0.05; confidence interval [CI]: 0.15, 0.37; p < 0.0001). In a dose-response model, 2 to 3 sets per exercise were associated with a significantly greater ES than 1 set (difference = 0.25 +/- 0.06; CI: 0.14, 0.37; p = 0.0001). There was no significant difference between 1 set per exercise and 4 to 6 sets per exercise (difference = 0.35 +/- 0.25; CI: -0.05, 0.74; p = 0.17) or between 2 to 3 sets per exercise and 4 to 6 sets per exercise (difference = 0.09 +/- 0.20; CI: -0.31, 0.50; p = 0.64). There were no interactions between set volume and training program duration, subject training status, or whether the upper or lower body was trained. Sensitivity analysis revealed no highly influential studies, and no evidence of publication bias was observed. In conclusion, 2 to 3 sets per exercise are associated with 46% greater strength gains than 1 set, in both trained and untrained subjects.

Now the low volume claims are for diminishing returns after the first set. This is clearly not the case, but there is a point that no more strength is gained (4-6 sets) by performing more work. I won’t address it here, but it is to do with how fast the body can restore ATP and how much micro-trauma has been induced.

Hypertrophy is the second part of weight training. Krieger again performed a meta-analysis of the research (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: April 2010 – Volume 24 – Issue 4 – pp 1150-1159) and found that increasing the number of sets increased the amount of hypertrophy by 40% (up to 6 sets).

Previous meta-analyses have compared the effects of single to multiple sets on strength, but analyses on muscle hypertrophy are lacking. The purpose of this study was to use multilevel meta-regression to compare the effects of single and multiple sets per exercise on muscle hypertrophy. The analysis comprised 55 effect sizes (ESs), nested within 19 treatment groups and 8 studies. Multiple sets were associated with a larger ES than a single set (difference = 0.10 ± 0.04; confidence interval [CI]: 0.02, 0.19; p = 0.016). In a dose-response model, there was a trend for 2-3 sets per exercise to be associated with a greater ES than 1 set (difference = 0.09 ± 0.05; CI: −0.02, 0.20; p = 0.09), and a trend for 4-6 sets per exercise to be associated with a greater ES than 1 set (difference = 0.20 ± 0.11; CI: −0.04, 0.43; p = 0.096). Both of these trends were significant when considering permutation test p values (p < 0.01). There was no significant difference between 2-3 sets per exercise and 4-6 sets per exercise (difference = 0.10 ± 0.10; CI: −0.09, 0.30; p = 0.29). There was a tendency for increasing ESs for an increasing number of sets (0.24 for 1 set, 0.34 for 2-3 sets, and 0.44 for 4-6 sets). Sensitivity analysis revealed no highly influential studies that affected the magnitude of the observed differences, but one study did slightly influence the level of significance and CI width. No evidence of publication bias was observed. In conclusion, multiple sets are associated with 40% greater hypertrophy-related ESs than 1 set, in both trained and untrained subjects.

So there is no science to support the claim that doing more sets will only see small increases in returns. It is possible the person making this claim has not understood the conclusions of studies such as the ones I have cited, but it is more likely that the claims are unfounded.

Cardio vs. weight lifting for weight loss

There are a lot of people who either claim that cardio or weight lifting is the key to losing weight. For example an article questioning the need for cardio or an article claiming that cardio is the key to weight loss.

The cardio folks usually point out the “afterburner” effect, where the body continues to burn calories even after the workout. And weight lifting people mention that muscles burn more calories than fat, so more muscle is the key.

Are there studies showing if either one is true? Or are both needed? And what about interval training?


This is a tough question to answer as there are a lot of ifs and buts.

Weight loss is all about caloric deficit, expend more energy than you consume and you lose weight. Most people do this by dieting, but the body tends to readjust the resting metabolic rate so that you don’t lose too much reserves. Thus exercise plus diet is needed for weight loss to be effective.

How effective is ‘Diet Only’ versus ‘Diet plus Exercise’ for Weight Loss? Most studies demonstrate that when diet (caloric restriction) and physical activity are combined in a weight management program, encouraging results in weight loss occur. Donnelly and colleagues (2009) explain that a weight loss program design may create an energy deficit (e.g., 500 to 1500) composed of exercise (e.g., 250 kilocalories/day) and caloric restriction (e.g., 250 kilocalories/day) for the daily caloric deficit total (500 kilocalories in this example). In studies where investigators introduce an energy deficit of 700 to 1000 kilocalories per day, ‘diet only’ and ‘diet plus exercise’ result in similar losses. Donnelly explains that this is due to metabolic adaptations that “diminish any additive effect of energy expenditure from physical activity on weight loss”. However, in investigations where the energy deficit is 500-700 kilocalories/day, the ‘diet plus exercise’ group is about 20% greater than the ‘diet only’ intervention.

So weight loss needs to be related to your activity and diet in order to understand your basal metabolism. But weight loss isn’t just about bodyweight as it is about losing bodyfat (as muscle is useful for maintaining basal metabolism and body function). When you calculate this you are able to figure out how many calories need to be removed from the diet in order to lose fat. See here. There are also strategies that can change your metabolism.

Exercise is usually broken down into two categories: cardio and weight training. There are many benefits to both and generally both are recommended for long term health. Weight training is known to burn fat.

This study is the first to directly show that resistance exercise increases adipose tissue lipolysis and thus contributes to improved body composition. This boost in lipolysis is apparently due to the excitatory effect of resistance training on specific hormones (e.g., epinephrine, norepinephrine and growth hormone). As this study design was completed with trained male subjects, it is hoped that the methods and procedures will be completed with other subject populations (e.g., females, untrained persons, youth, seniors, overweight, etc.) in future research.

For cardio training, there is obviously fat burning taking place. The amount of fat burning that occurs is related to the intensity of the cardio.

In summary, that data clearly show that exercise intensity is the main factor in determining the magnitude and duration of EPOC following aerobic exercise. Thus, when developing a cardiorespiratory exercise prescription for weight maintenance and weight loss, the influence of exercise intensity on EPOC and its potential contribution to total caloric expenditure should be taken into consideration.

The same is true of weightlifting (from the same article):

The data on resistance training and EPOC suggest that EPOC is distinctly influenced by the intensity of the resistance training program.

The actual amount of post activity “fat burning” will be related to the intensity and duration of the exercise done. Weightlifting has advantages in terms of encouraging muscle satellite cell accumulation that sustains and grows muscle. Cardio has the benefit that it can be performed for longer durations than weightlifting. So the essential answer will come down to the individual and their strength and fitness.

Essentially any exercise program should incorporate both cardio and weight training for weight loss, especially targeting fat loss.

For more articles on fitness and metabolism see here.

Further question: Hey, do you think I can get the source on your statement that “the body tends to readjust the resting metabolic rate so that you don’t lose too much reserves.”? I’m rather curious about this. – Joel Cornett

Reply: Joel, there is a lot of research related to metabolic rate and how it changes under dieting and exercise regimes. It is quite a complex topic because it depends upon many factors. Someone who has just started dieting will be different from someone who is active already in terms of responses. Here is one paper that looks at the overweight people and weight control. I linked to Kravitz’s other articles that cover some of the athlete side of metabolism in the last link.

Training Masterclass #4

We have come to the last in the Training Masterclass videos. In the previous three Training Masterclass posts (12, 3) I presented my friend Dan and his training videos. I hope that you have all learnt about back training, blasting that chest, and performing a chin-up that will impress friends. The last in this series is arguably the most important: legs.

Call them legs, wheels, pins, gams, or do-hickies, but training the legs is very important. Your legs are your key mobility tool and also the number one device in the fight against obesity. Us desk jockeys spend a lot of time sitting down, a lot of time with the legs doing nothing. It’s definitely time to learn how to bring the sexy in the leg department.

Training Masterclass #3

In the previous two Training Masterclass posts (1, 2) I presented my friend Dan and his training videos. We have seen what it takes to train the chest and perfect the chin-up. This post is about the back.

Now back and bicep training is very important. Us desk jockeys spend a lot of time sitting down, a lot of time with internally rotated shoulders – just think of all the time you spend typing. Training the back properly will aid in keeping you healthy by offsetting your poor work posture. Training the biceps is important because everyone wants a nice set of guns.


As a bonus feature I am including the Clean & Jerk. This is probably the single best exercise ever invented, next to the exercise in futility.

Training Master-class #2

You only have your health, and possibly access to some poor Indian’s kidneys, so we would all be wise to try and keep fit and healthy. Last time I presented the first in a series of training videos to help us desk jockey’s. This is video two in the training master-class, brought to you by my friend Dan/Rocky.

Mighty Pec Blasting Chest Power!!

See you all under a barbell somewhere soon.