Ask an Expert: Can supplements substitute for strength training?

Q: “I’m an 18-year-old male and I would like to start working out to gain mass, as well as definition. What would be the best and safest supplement to use to get quick results?”

Answer from Mike Boggs, BS, MBA, CSCS (certified strength-conditioning specialist), fitness specialist, Providence Fitness Services:

Unfortunately, there are no over-the-counter supplements that will help you gain muscle without exercise.

Exercise (specifically strength training), backed by good nutritional habits, is the only way to add muscle to your frame. The fact that you are “very skinny” may have to do with your genetic makeup or body type – there are limits to the amount of muscle some people can gain, even with a proper strength-training routine. Your age may be playing a role, too – you may have several years of physical maturing to do before you’ll be able to add muscle – particularly muscle that is visibly noticeable – to your frame.

These are just maybes, though, and you shouldn’t let these possibilities discourage you from working toward all of the health benefits that a strength-training program offers. At 16, you say that you’re already too busy to exercise regularly. But as you get older, life is only going to get busier. Maintaining your health now – through regular exercise and good nutrition – will give you the energy to accomplish everything you want in life, as well as the good health to enjoy it.

Tackling the time crunch.
Your biggest challenge, from the sound of your question, is finding the time to start exercising. Trust me – you are not alone. A perceived lack of time is one of the most common reasons why people fail to start or to stick with an exercise program. 

Where might you find some time?
The most popular time for exercise is first thing in the morning, before the day’s responsibilities take over. Try getting up half an hour earlier to exercise before school. If that’s just not possible, then you could try hitting the gym during your study hall; doing a quick home workout as soon as you get home from school; signing up for a strength-training class as your P.E. elective at school, or taking a class after school at your local fitness facility. Take a look at how much time you spend in front of the TV or computer every day and see if you can give up some of that time for exercise.

If every minute of your day is booked with school, work and activities, then you may need to consider dropping one of your extracurricular activities to make time for your health and fitness. It all depends on your priorities. People who do manage to exercise regularly employ the force of habit. They make their exercise program a priority in their daily and weekly routine.

If building a stronger, fitter body is important to you, then you’ll need to make exercise a priority. Once it’s a priority, you can turn it into a habit and gradually build and expand on your program until you have a consistent, challenging routine that is part of your weekly life.

Getting started.
If you don’t have time to commit to a full strength-training routine right away, then try, at least, to start building your general fitness level. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and it will get you one step closer to your goal. 

Here are some exercises that will help you get into shape and prepare your body for taking the next step toward a strength-training program, once your schedule opens up.

Perform this routine every other day:
  • Pushups – perform as many as you can, using proper form.
    • Rest and repeat for a total of three sets. For variety, try putting your feet up on a bench or incorporating a stability ball.
  • Lunges – perform as many as you can, using proper form.
    • Rest and repeat for a total of three sets. For variety, try “walking lunges,” stringing the lunges together as you cross the room.
  • Prone plank – support your body on your toes and forearms, horizontally, like a bench, and hold the position as long as you can. For variety, try side planks.
  • Abdominal crunches – perform as many as you can, using proper form.
    • Rest and repeat for a total of three sets.

Ask your P.E. teacher or a fitness trainer to show you the right way to do these exercises.

I hope you’ll try to work some of these strategies into your life. You may find that once you complete your routine, you feel so energized that you want to keep going – especially when you start to feel and see results. There’s nothing like results to motivate you to make workouts a priority and a habit – and once your health is a priority, it’s amazing how simple it becomes to make time for it.

December 2006