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Exercise and fitness are big business. Everybody suggests joining a gym to exercise and lose weight. I'm not part of the "gym to lose weight" group. It's just another way of tricking people into believing they can purchase weight loss. I lost 40 lbs without going to the gym. Reducing calorie reduces weight. Gym enthusiasts push fat calorie burn from cardio workouts. Truth is, less is burned in a 30 minute workout than realized. A typical cardio workout will burn 200-400 calories depending on weight. A Burger King Whopper sandwich contains 710 calories. Simply cutting a Whopper from the diet could be the same as 2 or more cardio workouts depending on body weight. Calories stored as fat begin to burn 20-30 minutes into a cardio workout. In other words, 2/3 of a 30 minute workout or more will be burning the good, energy calories from the body. The remaining 1/3 or less of your effort will go after the areas where fat is stored.

Here's where I confuse you. Yes, after bashing the big business of fitness in the paragraph above I'm sharing that I go to the gym very frequently. In fact, six 45 minute workouts each week. Remember I told you I lost 40 pounds? Although no longer fat, my body looked unhealthy and too skinny. The weight that came off was fat and muscle. Muscle loss can change an overweight body into its frail opposite. So, with my diet keeping my weight in check, I began the process of rebuilding muscle or what the business moguls would never like to admit, using the gym to gain weight.

Circuit training was my initial method of muscle gain. I trained 3-5 days each week on LifeCircuit, Nautalis and other similar machines. They built my initial muscle base. I later found, after much time wasted, this to be very limiting. Not that I ran out of resistance on any of the machines but rather I hit a plateau and began getting hurt too frequently outside of the gym.

Plateaus are caused when muscles are stretched or ripped but not given enough time to recover. This causes months or longer of training at the same strength level. Muscle growth requires time for repair.

Injury was a result of the very strict motions of circuit machines. They strengthen the muscle to work a very specific direction. The supporting muscles are not developed so any variation from this motion can cause injury to those supporting muscles due to a false sense of strength. Injuries were caused outside the gym as the false sense of strength often lead to pushing, lifting and stressing more weight than the supporting muscles could handle during normal home projects and activities.

Weight training on a staggered schedule was my change. I worked a single muscle group 4-6 separate ways to ensure it's strengthened in multiple directions. I used a 6-workout schedule to ensure I offered each muscle group a full week to recover before stressing it again.

My most recent change was following an article in the August 2004 issue of Menís Fitness titled, ďBody-Part Training Is DeadĒ. The short version of the article was that itís impossible to isolate muscles. That translates into not enough rest time for muscles when training body parts (arms, chest, shoulders, back, legs). Instead the article recommends training by 6 major movement patterns (Horizontal push, horizontal pull, vertical push, vertical pull, quad-dominant and hip-dominant). The current exercise plan is listed below.

Work out schedule: 4 sets of 10 reps of each of the following:

Horizontal Pushes & Horizontal Pulls (Monday): Bench Press, Incline Bench Press, Decline Bench Press, Fly, Pec Dec Fly, Lever Triceps Dip, Cable Seated Row and T-Bar

Quad-dominants (Tuesday): Squats, Hack Squats, Lever Leg Extensions, Lever Lying Leg Curls, Lever Seated Calf Raise and Sled Standing Calf Raise

Vertical Pushes and Vertical Pulls (Wednesday): Smith Shoulder Press, Smith Upright Rows, Shrugs, Chicken Dance, Lat Pull Down, Chin-Up

Hip-dominants (Thursday): Deadlift, Tibia, Adductor and Abductor

Abs (Multiday): Ball Sit-ups, Ball Push-ups, Ab Roller, Leg lifts, weighted obliques, Dip crunches, Dip leg lifts, hanging leg lifts.

Cardio is not currently part of my gym fitness routine. Like dieting, cardio does not specifically burn fat. Weight training increases my heart rate to encourage healthy circulation therefore I do not need to risk muscle loss during a cardio workout. I ski twice a week in the winter, play soccer once a week in the spring, summer and fall and play volleyball at least once a week year round. Although this isn't the same as a treadmill, elliptical trainer or bike, it does constitute a cardio type workout that probably invalidates a non-cardio fitness plan.

Scales are the standard for checking weight. Unfortunately muscle weighs more than fat so weight training can cause a healthy weight gain that is misrepresented by a scale. The true test of lean muscle mass is body composition. A percentage body fat calculation is not easy to have done on a regular basis. I prefer the full length mirror. A body built of lean muscle mass will look considerably different than that of a person using diet alone. Use the mirror and forget about the meaningless numbers on the scale.