This thread (and this forum) is what you make of it. There are so many variables that are involved in you reaching this thread that I won't even attempt to list them all -- although I'd imagine that the top three are being lost, being fat or scrawny, and being bored.

This thread is meant for questions and discussion on the most basic and most advanced of fitness topics, no matter your goals or experience. This is actually the short version of the FAQ. Try to pace yourself and not get overwhelmed by the breadth of it all. If you want a longer introduction, because you are uncomfortable for whatever reason, or you think you're right about everything but you're seeing no results, read the longer introduction here.

Many of us have been obese, and many of us have been exceedingly skinny (see: Physical Transformations Thread). There are amputees amongst us (hi backpanther), those who work with athletes on a professional level (Alfalfa), terrorists (Viviviv) and some of us are even powerlifters who enjoy having casual sex with men in public bathrooms (cavefish). We don't know what Liface does, but we're trying to figure it out.

We all have one thing in common: We started. It doesn't matter from where, it doesn't matter how, it doesn't matter why. We did not let "paralysis of analysis" stop us, we did not use our genes as a shield, we got over excuses, realizing that rationalization of laziness gets you absolutely nowhere, and we started.

And we persevered through the unexpected. From injury (my discs thank for you cleaning weight incorrectly) to illness (somebody's probably died, I don't know), from military deployment to being captured by a rogue group of ren faire enthusiasts -- we continued. We hope you'll be able to take the leap today and start -- but you can't let starting be enough for you. And you can't start with such recklessness that you burn out or you hurt yourself, and lose all that initial enthusiasm.

If you want to discuss something related specifically to you and your body, please provide your height, weight, experience, serious injuries and age if you think any of that information would make a difference. If you've been training regularly for 12 years you will have to work differently than someone who's been training for 3 months. If you're 47 you'll have to train differently than a 26 year old. If you're 387lbs you're going to have to delay weight training and even most aerobic activity until you get that weight down.

Other Guides
Alfalfa's Nutrition/Rest/Supplement Beginner Guide
Official Watch and Weight Wiki

Links to Specialized W&W Threads
Girls can (and should) lift weights too!

The Running Thread 2008: The Trial of Miles
I'd HIIT that! The High Intensity Interval Training thread.

Triathlons: If At First You Don't Succeed, Tri and Tri Again

The Weight Loss Megathread v. 4.0

Cool Shit You've Seen in Gyms
Stupid Shit You've Seen in Gyms: Vol III

What Supplements Are You Using?
Protein Powder Recommendations

The Powerlifting Thread! Men in Magic Underwear
The Olympic Lifting Thread! Tight Snatches & Public Jerking

Weight Watchers
The Metabolic Diet

Writeup of modified "Starting Strength" workout - sean10mm
Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but don't nobody wanna train like one - cavefish
Alfalfa's Moderate to Advanced - Size & Strength Routine

Q: Hay W&W I want to gain muscle

Diet -- Food determines how big you are. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will get bigger. If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will get smaller. If you eat exactly as much as you burn (maintenance), you will stay the same. Regardless of your metabolism, body composition, genetics, or whatever, your body must obey the laws of thermodynamics. At the end of the day, everything is calories in and calories out. Read that again because it is the only way to make your body what you want. THE ONLY WAY TO GAIN OR LOSE WEIGHT IS TO EAT MORE OR LESS ENERGY THAN YOU USE. Get your diet in order before you do anything else.

Exercise --
To lose weight (fat) -- Exercise can help you lose weight because not only do you burn calories while you're doing the activity, your body also burns calories repairing your muscle during the next 48 hours. If you only want to lose weight, don't worry about getting huge if you exercise -- if you're eating less than you burn, you can't get bigger. You should be doing some type of cardio to help burn extra fat, but also lifting weights, so your body gains muscle, which will passively burn even more calories.
To gain weight (muscle) -- Exercise can also help you gain weight (muscle), if you eat more so that after a workout, your body will rebuild your muscles with that extra energy. Eat a lot (with lots of protein), do compound lifts, and be consistent. You want to be doing squats, pullups, bench, deadlifts, dips, and rows. A deadlift uses 70% of the muscles in your body at once, but a bicep curl uses about 5% -- which do you think is the better plan? Don't worry about doing things most other people at the gym are not doing. Most of them aren't going to see the results you will.

Sleep -- Sleep as much as you need; you can't expect to see results if you shortchange your body. Sleeping is as important as training, probably more. A basic rule of thumb is about 8 hours, although it can vary.

CONSISTENCY IS KEY. Go to the gym even if you feel shitty, eat good food even if you are tired of it, go to bed instead of playing video games all night. BE CONSISTENT.

You Can't Out-Train a Crappy Diet, Effort Trumps Training Programs.

[img]http://img.waffleimages.com/c10372c75ecce1a8735d7465e5a93d47a8608eab/lifteatsleep.gif[/img]
This is you doing following the above advice.

Q: Hay w&w I want to lose weight
A: Read the answer above, and make sure you're eating less than you're burning.

As every treadmill-strolling magazine-reading girl knows, you can do cardio to burn calories -- but it's not as efficient as weight training. When you lift weights, you build muscle, which raises your resting metabolism -- so you burn more calories even when you're sleeping. Research has shown 95% of dieters gain their weight back within a year, but if you build muscle, it's much easier to retain your weight loss.

Diet will always be the key to losing fat. Many people go overboard and think they'll lose weight fastest by restricting themselves to only a few hundred calories a day, but you should actually aim for only 500-1000 fewer calories than your personal maintenance level. Figure out how many calories you burn (BMR & Harris-Benedict Equation) and go from there. If you only nibble celery and granola bars for a total of 900 calories a day, you're doing it wrong. For more on what you should be doing instead, see the "Nutrition" and "Why Severe Calorie Restriction (Low Calorie Diets) Is Unhealthy" sections below.

Why being overweight is so dangerous
If you're fat and you're reading this, you already know it's not a great idea, health-wise, to be fat. If you really need more convincing, check this out.

Can we put all this on another page?

Obesity is the catalyst of several medical conditions: Sydrome "X" (diabetes mellitus type 2, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and triglyceride levels) which leads to congestive heart failure, enlarged heart and its associated arrhythmias and dizziness, cor pulmonale, varicose veins, pulmonary embolism, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), menstrual disorders, infertility, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), fatty liver disease, cholelithiasis (gallstones), hernia, colorectal cancer, urinary incontinence, glomerulopathy, hypogonadism (male), breast cancer (female), uterine cancer (female), stillbirth, increased insulin resistance, dyspnea, obstructive sleep apnea, hypoventilation syndrome, Pickwickian syndrome, asthma, hyperuricemia (which predisposes to gout), immobility, osteoarthritis, low back pain, stroke, meralgia paresthetica, headache, carpal tunnel syndrome, dementia, kidney failure, stretch marks, acanthosis nigricans, lymphedema, cellulitis, carbuncles, intertrig and joint damage.

  • Destruction of the body's "hormonal harmony": Obesity causes insulin resistance which means that your insulin doesn't work the way it's supposed to. Your pancreas tries to compensate by secreting more insulin, but after a while it gets exhausted and you develop diabetes. Aromatisation of testosterone to estrogen in fat tissue is a undesirable side effect. Fat filtration will also cause the endocrine (hormone producing- insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin) part of the pancreas to respond poorly to hormones, and your natural production suffers as a result.
  • Fat tissue produces different forms of identified and unidentified toxic substances that have a terrible effect on different regulatory systems in the body, which results in poor regulation of blood pressure (increase) and cholesterol (increase). This predisposes for filled arteries in the heart and brain (heart attack, stroke), by accumulation of oxidised LDL-cholesterol in the artery walls that when absorbing chalk swells up and breaks.
  • Fat tissue inhibits different parts of the immune system, both directly and indirectly, due to inhibition of the signalling roads between immune cells. Since your immune system fights cancer cells, the risk for cancer and inflammatory diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obtrustive pulmonary disease, osteoarthritis) increase drastically.
  • Fat is not limited to the subcutaneous fat you see in the mirror. If your obesity reaches a certain threshold the fat itself will 'float' out into your internal organs and start storing itself in your liver, heart, intestines and even muscles. This leads to reduced organ function.
  • The obese carry a significant amount of weight, while the knuckles, joints, muscles and tendons often are severely undertrained and can't handle it. This leads to premature wearing and damages the skeletal and connective tissue.

TL;DR: Obesity will wind you, crush your joints, make you unfuckable and infertile and will eventually slowly and painfully lead to diseases that will kill you.

Exercise
  • Exercise determines HOW you gain or lose weight, and your body composition (fat:lean mass) generally. With diet alone, you can get down to, say, 120 pounds. But do you want to be 120 pounds of lean muscle, or 120 pounds of gross, flabby loser ("skinnyfat")? Exercise dictates this outcome.
  • Exercise burns calories and raises metabolism, which makes it easier to lose weight in conjunction with diet.
  • Exercise promotes strength and wellness. It conditions your body, your heart, increases the efficacy of your central nervous system and neuromuscular junctions, relieves stress and depression, helps to control blood pressure and can help to fix poor posture.

Exercise makes it easier to lose weight, and plays a big role in the composition of your body. There are two main kinds of exercise, cardiovascular (aka cardio, aerobic) and weight lifting (aka weights, anaerobic, lifting, resistance training, etc.)

Cardio: Any type of exercise that sustains an elevated heart rate consistently for a long period of time, such as running, cycling, or elliptical machine

Weightlifting: Anything involving resistance. There is a significant difference between free weights (dumbbells, barbells not on a machine, etc) and nautilus/smith machines, and we'll touch on that later.

Cardio vs. Weights

For most people, meeting their fitness goals requires that they do some of both, not one or the other.

Let's start with the case for weight lifting, because its seems to have the most misconceptions associated with it.

  • Are you trying to lose weight? Lift weights. Lifting burns tons of calories, increases EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, how many calories you burn in the hours/days after exercise) and lifting weights while dieting will cause you to retain more muscle and lose more fat than just diet and/or cardio. Because the name of the game when it comes to not looking awful is FAT LOSS, not weight loss. Do you want to be that guy who loses lots of weight and still looks like that skinny fat guy George Michael fucked in a forest? I don't think so.
  • Are you just trying to "tone up"? Lift weights. Note: "Toning" is a nonsense term invented by women's fitness magazines and should never be used seriously. In reality, one doesn't actually "tone" anything. One can only lose fat and gain muscle, and lifting weights helps do both by burning calories and promoting muscle growth. One gets huge by eating huge, not lifting weights; lifting just determines how much of the weight is muscle as opposed to fat.
  • Are you a woman? Lift weights, because all the other benefits still apply to you. The section On Bullshit: for Women explains misconceptions about this.

Lifting weights also makes you stronger than cardio, increases bone density and strength (not kidding, have your grandfather do deadlifts) and will do more than almost anything to make you look good naked.

But what about cardio? For one thing, it burns lots of calories. But cardio is also good for everyone because it improves your overall endurance and ability to exert yourself over an extended period. As the name implies, it also improves cardiovascular conditioning; that is to say your heart and the surrounding tissue and arteries. Basically, your ability to perform pretty much any kind of physical activity is helped by being in good cardiovascular health, and it makes it less likely that you will eventually die from your heart exploding.

The general suggestion is to alternate weights and cardio, for instance doing 3 days of weights, 2 days of cardio, and taking the other 2 days off. Doing both on the same day tends to cause one or the other to suffer from reduced effort, and generally burns people out. If you absolutely must do both on the same day, try to separate it by at least 8 hours.

On Bullshit
Three words about cardio: intensity matters. If your goal is fat loss (as opposed to general cardiovascular health), 3 hours running slowly on a treadmill will help you only as much as 20 minutes of high intensity interval training doing sprints on a track, and you will have wasted all that time. There is more discussion of this in other threads.

About weightlifting: The general feeling is machines are safer than free weights, right? Well, sure. If you're afraid of controlling free weights. There's also a greater chance you'll fuck something up if you don't know what you're doing with free weights, since the purpose of machines is to control the movements.

Problem is, you control free weights every second of every day. The groceries, carrying something up stairs, bending over to pick something up, moving a chair. Your arms are free weights, your legs are free weights, everything they move is a free weight. There is no machine to control the movement unnaturally, your body moves the way it wants to. Opening a door is about the closest you will come to a controlled, 'mechanized' action. A free weight is anything that is not bolted to something else -- including you.

You have an incredibly complex musculature as a human. The shoulder girdle is the most complex area of them all because of all the motions that are required of it. Fingers bend and straighten the same as your knees and your elbows. Your shoulder moves everywhere. The ankle, the neck and the wrist are similar to the shoulder girdle, but none of them are as intricate, or as fragile. None of them are used as often as the shoulder girdle, either.

So let's say you do side raises with cables and that's it. Or machine flies. You're working very few muscles within the shoulder girdle, and not activating the entirety of it. Do you know what you're doing?

You're creating muscle imbalances.

Why is this bad?

Stand up. Yes, out of your computer chair, I know it's difficult. And bend over. Doesn't matter if you squat down, doesn't matter if you just bend at the waist. Touch the floor. If you squat, you'll feel your quads and hamstrings, and if you bend from the waist you'll feel your quads and hamstrings activating anyway to stabilize you. Maybe touching the floor from the waist position required you to extend your shoulder a little, and you felt it in your deltoid.

That movement requires almost the entirety of your musculature to perform. And you're isolating muscles in the gym. Do you see why this is a problem? What happens when the quads are so much more dominant than the hamstrings and you try to carry something heavy? The quads signal to the brain that they can handle the load, but the hamstrings can't. Those muscle imbalances: they lead to castastrophic injuries. Almost every "blown out back" you'll personally hear about happening to relatives or your friends parents comes from something mundane. By not engaging the entirety of your musculature in resistance exercise you are effectively attempting to "min/max" it. It doesn't work when you're trying to build a base level of strength. There's a reason firefighters have such ridiculously strong backs and your uncle Fred managed to blow his out by bending over to pick up the paper.

So this takes us to the big three. The three exercises all powerlifters perform in competition. The deadlift, the bench press and the squat. You probably think deadlifts fuck up your back (you might not even know what they are), the bench press you more than likely already do on a machine and the squat, god knows, is dangerous for your knees.

I'm not going to give you an essay on this, but I'll list some reasons why this is horseshit. Starting with the deadlift: you only injure your back often if you have a weak back. What is one of the primary exercises athletes use for full-body strength? The deadlift. What is the motion firefighters and dockworkers and strongmen competitors use to pick heavy things off the ground? Bend the legs, head forward and back up with a slight arch, grab with the arms, lift off with the legs and straighten out the back so you're standing regularly. The deadlift.

There is a reason that flabby middle-aged men who look like they've never lifted more than 75 pounds and middle-aged women and just-certified-today Bally's personal trainers tell you the deadlift is dangerous, while strength and conditioning coaches, athletes, physical therapists, GOOD chiropractors and doctors who focus on sports medicine tell you it's great for you. The reason is that one group is a bunch of god damn morons and the other isn't.

How about the squat? If you get in a squatting position with hundreds of pounds and only move a few inches down, yeah, that's quite the strain on the knee. What happens when you drop to parallel, though, or you go below the knee? The load transitions. The load transitions off the knee, and on the way up the knee only provides flexion. Once the knee is below or at the quad, the load moves onto the quad. The quadricep is designed to take load. There is no problem there.

You probably already do the bench press, if you're male, anyway. Therefore, I have nothing to say to you. There was a book written called Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. If you care for the science (really, the physics more than anything) behind the deadlift and the squat, and why doing it and doing them properly is arguably more beneficial than anything else you should probably pick it up.

On Bullshit for Women

With very few exceptions, the principles of diet and exercise are the same for men and women. I recognize this is hard for women to accept, especially with little understanding of the science behind exercise.

The truth is, women can't gain muscle at anywhere near the rate of men, no matter how hard they lift. Men naturally produce testosterone (you, of course, produce estrogen), and the fact that we have 60% more upper body muscle mass on average (yes, even the lanky little nerd you know has significantly more potential for growth in the upper body) means you will never become "big and bulky" if you don't use growth hormones and steroids.

Getting huge doesn't just happen to men, forget women. Every female fitness magazine you read is garbage. It's not hyperbole. Every single one. They are bad. Men's Health isn't really highly regarded, but you are honestly way better off reading it than you are pretty much any other fitness magazine geared towards your sex. They fixate on things like spot reduction (a myth discussed below) and bosu balls (CORE TRAINING OH EM GEE), light little weights and hours spent doing cardio.

Light weights don't do anything for you but build muscle... slowly. You might say the point of this is to avoid you getting big and bulky like a female bodybuilder. You, as a woman, genetically have a "cap" on muscle mass. You will NOT get big. What's the point then of reaching your potential slow (or really, never reaching your potential at all) when you could reach it faster with heavy weights?

Heavy weights actually cause the bone to become more dense. Bone density is a major issue for women. Heavy weights build muscle, muscle requires more calories to maintain than fat, therefore muscle increases your metabolism.

Every woman in Hollywood who is considered "hot" does resistance training. They do intervals in cardio. Genetically you are predisposed against ever getting large without the help of chemistry. Do not worry about big weights making you big. They will build muscle, which will burn fat faster, help with cellulite, increase bone density, give you 'shape' and they're the only thing that can fix flabby arms for women over 30.

Stumptuous is the best weightlifting site geared towards women. It has everything from exercise descriptions to dealing with women's issues to sample routines.

Nutrition

Before going into the nitty gritty of calorie counting and so forth, you can improve your health a great deal by changing the staples of your diet and your patterns of eating. This sounds like a big deal, but is actually pretty simple and relatively painless.

First, the obvious stuff: fast food and soda. As in, cut that stuff out.

Fast food is almost always extremely unhealthy, high in saturated fat and trans fat, very calorie-dense, and should thus be avoided by everyone. The occasional burger is harmless in the grand scheme of things, but if fast food is a staple of your diet, cut it out or you will almost certainly never accomplish a damn thing fitness-wise. You may have read about some bodybuilder dude eating McDonald's for a month and gaining muscle. Guess what? He was already a fucking bodybuilder. You can't get away with that.

Soda is the other thing that should be eliminated by everyone. Soda is extremely calorie-dense, has no nutritional value, and for various reasons you should not be dumping massive amounts of simple sugars into your system. There is debate over if diet soda is neutral or still bad for you; my suggestion is to limit that garbage, too. DRINK WATER! If you absolutely need something else, milk and tea is acceptable, but it's still ingesting liquid calories. Getting calories from liquids is not ideal, because they're too easy to drink and they're not as satiating as whole foods.

Many people stop being fatasses just by cutting out soda, dropping fast food and quitting their peanut butter M&Ms addiction. Aside from being made of unhealthy ingredients, fast food and soda are so awful because they make it easy to ingest a tremendous amount of calories without actually filling you up. Having some garbage is fine a few times a month and won't turn you into Captain Poopsock with 17 level 80 characters in World of Warcraft, but for too many people who are going to be reading this it is their diet.

What to Eat

Your dietary staples should include:
  • Lean animal protein sources, including but not limited to:
    • Most turkey and chicken in general, especially if it is skinless. Turkey and chicken breasts especially. Contrary to dumb internet rumors, going to the deli counter to have them slice up a roasted or smoked turkey breast for you is also fine.
    • Ground turkey, chicken, beef or pork that is >90% lean
    • Virtually all forms of fish, even the fattier fishes are very good for you. Canned fish is still often packed in oil, however, which should be avoided.
    • Whole eggs. The unhealthiness of whole eggs is a myth; contrary to past assumptions, they have no impact on heart disease at all. The main reason for this is that cholesterol in food does not impact the actual cholesterol level in your blood; almost all your cholesterol is made in your liver, based mainly on your saturated fat & trans fat consumption.
  • Whole grains, including but not limited to:
    • Whole wheat bread, bagels, rolls, etc. Note that "whole grain" breads are often not really. Make sure the first ingredient is whole-wheat flour (or oat or whatever), not enriched flour.
    • Whole wheat pasta
    • Brown rice
    • Oatmeal (steel-cut is better than Quaker, and MUCH better than those instant packets full of sugar)
    • Whole grain breakfast cereals like Cheerios and Grape Nuts
  • Virtually all fruits and vegetables, including beans and dry-roasted nuts.
  • Healthy fats like olive oil (for sauces, dressings & low-temperature cooking) and canola oil (for high-temperature cooking), and Omega-3 rich fishes. Almost all nuts are high in good fats.
  • Low fat dairy products like skim milk, low fat/nonfat yogurt and reduced fat cheeses. Just be aware that some reduced fat cheeses are still relatively high in saturated fat.
  • Protein powder. Although this is technically a "supplement", it's a cheap way to raise protein intake and can be added to things like pancakes, waffles, yogurt and breakfast cereal.

For the Ladies

Women's nutrition is 99% the same as men's. Some exceptions to note:
  • You need fewer calories than the typical man of your height. A side effect of this is that nutrition labels for a 2,000 calorie diet may be closer to your values than to a man's.
  • Make sure you are getting enough iron. Iron deficiency anemia is very common in young women. Be aware that a woman's RDA for iron is 50% higher than that for men (15mg vs 10mg), and USRDA numbers should generally be considered bare-minimums to prevent malnutrition, not ideal targets for optimum performance.
  • It is generally accepted that women need more calcium and vitamin D, because they are more prone to osteoporosis. However, keep in mind that if you really overdo this, you can get kidney stones, which are really painful.
  • Folic acid is a highly recommended supplement for pregnant women. But if you're pregnant, you should already be talking to a doctor about supplements and vitamins and shit, instead of a bunch of dudes on the internet.

Why Severe Calorie Restriction (Low Calorie Diets) Is Unhealthy

Weight loss is largely a matter of reducing calories and increasing activity. So if 500 fewer calories a day than you need to maintain is good, 2000 less is better, right? Not really. Because below a certain threshold, your body thinks you are one of those starving refugees on TV, and does a bunch of things that hurt your long-term weight loss.

Read that again: starving is a bad way to lose weight. This isn't an after-school program about the dangers of eating disorders, it's just a fact. Eating too little can be as bad as eating too much.

Why this is so:
  • Your metabolism slows down. Your body will burn fewer calories to maintain itself, primarily drawing first from the glycogen stores, and you will feel awful. This is horrible for weight loss because as soon as you quit starving yourself, you'll gain weight fast because your metabolism has bottomed out.
  • You will lose muscle more than fat. Your body will naturally try to conserve fat and cannibalize muscle if it thinks it is outright starving. This is bad because your real goal is FAT loss, not weight loss. This is how you have people who lose 100 pounds and reach their "ideal" weight, but still look like shit with their shirt off. Also, losing muscle slows your metabolism down even further, amplifying the giant horrible rebound effect once you quit starving yourself.
  • Your life will be a living hell. You'll eventually feel horrible, the diet will fail, and you'll binge eat and regain everything you lost, and then some. Food is fuel, and that fuel is what powers the brain.

You want to run a clear-cut, but tolerable calorie deficit to sustain weight loss over the long term. Very obese people may be put on very low calorie diets by their doctor, but these are medically supervised and designed for people who need to lose weight now or suffer severe health problems.

More info on bad dieting:
http://exrx.net/FatLoss/WhyDietsFail.html
http://www.t-nation.com/readTopic.do?id=1392804

Supplements And You

You should know, for the most part, what the definition of supplementation is. This isn't going to be a long section because there are plenty of threads on it, but I'll give you the gist. The most common, and such.

Multivitamins:
Pros: Makes up for a shitty diet and helps with deficiencies you might not know you have.
Cons: If you already have a solid diet (two servings of vegetables a day at a MINIMUM, various protein sources, healthy fats) it's basically pissing away money. If you already have a high concentration of something in your diet it can push you past an amount your body can tolerate.

Fatty Acids: Fish Oil/Cod Oil/Flaxseed Oil/Omega 3's/DHA EPA CLA:
Pros: Helps with inflammation, your mood, fat loss, omega-3:omega-6 balance
Cons: At a certain level it may cause blood thinning. It hasn't really been observed at all up to 15 grams (more than you'll probably ever take), and no one is sure when it starts becoming dangerous. If you're already on blood thinners check with your doctor.

Fiber:
Pros: Helps with cholesterol levels, intestine regulation
Cons: Uh, it makes you shit? So if you shit a lot and you're not constipated, don't take it or you will shit more.

Creatine:
Pros: Increases anaerobic threshold (increased volume, better recovery)
Cons: Can cause water weight retention, not really all that needed for beginners, people are stupid about how much to take/when to take it/what to take it with

Caffine/Yohimbine:
Pros: Natural fat burners, energy without the crashing sugars cause
Cons: Take too much and your heart explodes. Probably.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs):
Pros: Stops catabolisation, better muscle recovery when taken after/before workouts
Cons: If you're reading this you don't need them.

Beta-Alanine:
Pros: Increases workout intensity. Face tingles.
Cons: Taking too much can give you a headache. You don't need it.

What Do I Do Now?

Well, you should probably read the megathread and start participating in the discussion:

Exercise & Diet Discussion & Questions

There are links to programs, it can get you start on weight lifting, there's in-depth information about mobility/posture/warmups, and most importantly the link sections will get you "right" in the form of your diet.

Q: What the fuck is a deadlift/military press/benchpress/triceps extention?
A: http://exrx.net/Lists/MMale.html (this site has GIFs and descriptions for almost every known exercise)

How the fuck do I deadlift?
http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/mastering_the_deadlift_part_i
http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/mastering_the_deadlift_part_ii

How the fuck do I benchpress?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQutODgl2J4

How the fuck do I squat?
http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=BB93CDE1A1B331C3

Q: All I want is abs.
A: Having visible abs has very little to do with doing abdominal exercises, and a whole lot to do with how much body fat you have. Ab exercises are irrelevant if your abdominals are obfuscated by layers of fat. If you do weighted ab exercises you're going to increase the size of your abdominal muscles- UNDERNEATH THE FAT. It will just push the fat farther out. You will look fatter. Do you understand? To see abs, you must get your bodyfat down. Bodyfat melts away, out come the abs. It's like they bloom. Once you aren't a fat disgusting pig. All things considered, abs are a muscle and can be trained just like any other.

Q: I Want To Lose Fat In/Around <Insert Body Area/Part> (Spot Reduction)
You cannot spot reduce. You can spot gain (it's stupid unless you're reaching an intermediate-advanced level), but you can't spot reduce. Bodyfat is bodyfat. For some people it 'congregates' more in certain areas (men traditionally around the stomach and chest, women traditionally around the hips and thighs), but it's a total fat level that you're carrying. Fat is not in any one place, it is not muscle. It travels. If you lose fat in one place (the only way to do this is through surgery, basically) the fat from the rest of your body will fill that area back in.

Q: I want to convert some of this fat to muscle!
A: It is physiologically impossible to turn fat into muscle. You've probably heard it thousands of times: it is impossible. It does not happen. There is not a process in the body that can convert fat to muscle. You can lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, but fat does not turn into muscle. Fat is fat. You burn it off.

Q: I want to get toned!
A:
TONED DOES NOT MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS

When people say they want to get "toned", they mean they want to lose bodyfat or gain muscle. Toned is referring to muscle tone, and you only see muscle tone if you A) have any appreciable muscle mass, B) don't have layers of fat over that appreciable muscle mass. To "tone" is way of saying you simply want to increase the visibility of your muscle tone. Stop using this word incorrectly, it drives everyone insane.

Q: I'm going to the gym for the first time, what gym etiquette should I know?
A:
  • Don't work out directly in front of the dumbbell rack (preventing other people from accessing the weights)
  • Don't work out 2 inches away from someone else. People need space.
  • Do re-rack your weights when you're done with them.
  • If someone is doing a lift and checking their form in a mirror, don't start working out between them and the mirror.
  • If someone is taking a long time on something you need to use, you can always ask to "work in" between their sets, but if they're lifting way more weight than you, it's kind of rude to expect them to say yes, because they'll have to de-rack/re-rack all that weight.
  • Don't do exercises in the power cage that don't require being in a power cage, like curls or presses (unless there are multiple cages that are free). You can do your curls anywhere, but someone else needs that cage to squat in.
  • Don't make loud, exaggerated noises. Sometimes, you'll really be pushed to your limits and you might make a grunt or something, which is fine, but I'm talking about the kind of people that do it just to get attention. Fortunately, that doesn't apply to women that often.
  • Don't approach people in the middle of their set to talk to them. They're trying to focus on a lift and the distraction might throw them off.
  • If there's no obvious place to do floor exercises like deadlifts or cleans, it's okay to move stuff around to make space, as long as you put it back when you're done.
  • Don't be afraid to ask someone else to spot you.
  • Don't be afraid to give a spot if asked! Even if you're a newbie, you can spot someone benching 300 pounds, because you really only need about 50 pounds of force to help them out if they struggle.
  • Don't be afraid to talk to other people in the room if you think they're knowledgeable.

Q: I have no motivation
A: Look at the Display Transformations megathread. Here in W&W, fatties and scrawnies can all get healthy and strong. Even, dare we say, sexy.

Q: How long will it take me to get ripped?
A: Years. Put in a few years of eating good clean food and working hard in the gym and you will look great. You don't "win" by getting to your goal the fastest, you win by getting there and then staying there the longest.

Q: Newbie gains?
A: If you have never done much exercise/sport before, the first 3-6 months you will progress very rapidly. Be sure to feed and rest well to take full advantage of these newbie gains.

Q: I want supplements but some of them seem bunk
A: Whey, fish oil, multivitamin are useful. Creatine helps a little bit but is totally unnecessary. Everything else is mostly snake oil. Remember, supplements are only 10% of the picture at the maximum. Get your diet and lifting routine in order before you even begin to think about supplements. Obsessing over the perfect supplement stack has been the downfall of quite a few lifters.

Answered above in more depth - maybe put in this paragraph and link to the above?

Q: Where do I learn to do exercises, won't I get hurt?
A: exercise sites, programs not as important as exercises, exrx.net or whatever. You probably won't get hurt, just feel it out and use just the bar or very light dbs at first. If you are really worried find and ask a trainer to help you, just to correct your form on the exercise plan you've brought (ignore their inevitable sales pitch and their bosu balls).
Youtube videos are pretty good for learning form (but make sure everyone isn't mocking the guy in the comments).


Q. HALP I WENT LIFTING FOR THE FIRST TIME YESTERDAY AND I HURT ALL OVER.
A. This is DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), and it's normal to get it 12-48 hours after lifting if you're a beginner, if you've taken a significant amount of time off, or if you've suddenly increased volume or intensity. The individual pains last a day or two, and you'll stop getting it entirely after two or three weeks. It is completely okay to work out with DOMS. Just take an aspirin if you're feeling wimpy.

Q: My trainer said ...
A: Trainers are almost always tools whose main job is to sell memberships, working out is second to that.

Q: What should I eat?
A: Good recipes

Q. Will tuna (or other fish) give me mercury poisoning?
A. No, unless you're eating ludicrous amounts. 1-2 cans per day is fine for the typical lifter (pregnant women are an exception). Also, albacore has much more mercury than regular tuna.

Q. Will the phytoestrogens in soy give me man-boobs and destroy my muscle?
A. No, unless you're eating ludicrous amounts. Vegans shouldn't rely on it as their only protein, but eating normal quantities of tofu is fine. Whey is still a superior protein in most cases because it has a better amino acid distribution and is absorbed more easily.

Q. Diet soda: useful tool or rat poison?
A. There's always a shitstorm whenever someone asks this. Rough consensus: the cancer scares are bullshit, it's certainly better than regular soda, it's probably worse than water. The main harm seems to be psychological - people need to condition themselves off sweet crap and they aren't doing this if they still drink soda.

ADVANCED BELOW THIS LINE:

FOOD - recipes, grams of protein/food and associated cost. EAT REAL FOOD NOT SHAKES.

Advanced - buying weights - get them used/secondhand (craigslist) they are just as good and very cheap
gym deals - 24 hour fitness - $600 for 3 years then $24/year after that -- maybe eliminate this section since it will vary so much by location?
avoid curves
questions to ask a gym - can I deadlift, can I use chalk

straps, grip exercises

COMMON QUESTIONS:

Q: What about bodyweight exercises?
A: Won't make you strong, won't pack on muscle, won't help you lose much weight. Will get you better at doing pushups/whatever. Pullups are the only useful bodyweight exercises. Also burpees will kick your ass.

Q: I AM LEAVING ON VACATION FOR X DAYS WILL I LOSE ALL MY GAINZ -
A: No not really, eat like we tell you to eat while you are gone and come back and lift hard. You shouldn't be more than 10-20% weaker and that will correct itself. After a week or so of working out you will be right back where you were, assuming your vacation was short enough (we're not talking about months here).

Q: I demand scientific proof
A: there is not a ton of research on muscle building you have to just believe or try for yourself our suggestions. Here is some stuff we know to be true/conventional, 5 reps is ideal for strength building, between 8 and 10 reps is better for building mass. If you miss a rep or add a rep it doesn't matter and depending on the rep scheme you go with it won't affect your progress more then .0001% overall so DONT STRESS.

Protien absorption per lb of bodyweight - I heard your intestines can't use more then x grams of protein at once

Q: How do I do squats correctly?
A: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=C03D688F10C4DE1F&page=1

Q: I am afraid of weights after watching weightlifting accident on youtube.
A: Don't be afraid. You won't be able to hurt yourself with the weight you lift for a number of years. And even then it is really hard to hurt yourself except with pressing exercises. Your body naturally moves out of the way.


Q: I weigh more at night than in the morning
A: Depending on what you eat during the day, and when you shit, your weight can fluctuate by up to 5-10 lbs. Just try to weigh yourself at the same time every time (e.g. always first thing in the morning, always after your shower, whatever).

Q: HTFU?
A: Harden the Fuck up. It means stop worrying, stop analyzing things, stop bitching, and just move the weight. You can do it.

Q: Stretching?
A: Yes, do it, link to stretches, some do it before, some do it after, some do it in between sets. The first 2 ideas are probably the better times to stretch.

Q: pre-Workout supplements (like spike, etc)
A: The generally accepted answer is what is working in these is the 200+mg of caffeine. Save yourself some money and buy generic caffeine pills from a drug store and use them on days you are feeling tired/weak.

Q: Will eating fat make me fat?
A: No. The low-fat diet fad of the 80s is still alive in the minds of many confused housewives but it doesn't work. Fat is good for you. You need fat. You want fat. Fat is calorie-dense though, so if you are losing weight, make sure you aren't eating more calories then you burn.

Q: How do I get abs? (covered above)
A: You lose weight. Doing crunches, leg lifts, situps, etc will not help you to get abs. Getting a lowerbodyfat is the only thing that works.

Q. I should get those sweet lifting gloves, right?
A. No. They're useless and actually make your grip weaker. Buy chalk.

Q. I should wear one of those sweet belts to lift, right?
A. No, unless you're deadlifting a tremendous amount of weight (double your bodyweight, bare minimum). When you're learning the exercise (or if you're doing bench presses!) it's only going to hurt your form and make you look like a fool.

Q. I should use that sweet pad when I squat, right?
A. No, it messes up your form and looks stupid. Get used to supporting the bar on your back and shoulder muscles, it's a much more natural position once you get used to it.

Q: Toning? (answered above)
A: A lie.

Q: Spot reducing (removing just the fat in your neck/right leg/abs/etc)(answered above)
A: A lie. Your body loses weight all over not where you want it to.

Q: I am a boy/girl afraid of getting bodybuilder-huge from weight training.(answered above)
A: It won't happen. It really really really won't happen. Really. It won't. It takes a decade of perfect food/training/rest/steroids. It won't happen.

Q: HIIT?
A: Don't worry about it yet.

Q: Do I need equipment? Belt, shoes, UNDERARMOR THERMAL TSHIRT, etc?
A: Nope, that is the great thing about weights you need some weights and thats it. Maybe some gloves if you are a prissy girly girl.

Q: Workout while sick?
A: The general advice is if the sickness is above the neck, workout as normal. If it is something else consider a light workout or skipping. Some say it will actually help. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/25/health/nutrition/25best.html?_r=1

Q. I'm lazy and demand results without effort, should I do steroids?
A. Don't even consider them unless you've been working out and eating right for several years. They're a tool for people approaching their natural limits, not a way of skipping all the hard work.

Q: What is a squat rack? What is a power cage?
Squat rack
[timg]http://img.waffleimages.com/6a3af7cf846bf1cacb18b6409ac3e652cdb8f546/40120_squat_rack.png[/timg]

Power cage
[timg]http://img.waffleimages.com/2b44335698448a3ac1693c590b47f092e840116c/DF820.jpg[/timg]

Q: Nutrition timing?
A: There are certain times to eat certain types of food that are more ideal for your body. The basis are, fat before bed (because it is slow digesting and feeds your body throughout the night), no carbs a few hours before bed, fast digesting protein when you wake up (a whey shake is ideal), carbs about an hour before you workout to give you energy supplies for the workout and lastly after working out you want fast digesting protein (whey) and carbs, maybe glucose if you're into tiny details (this is the place for gummy worms).

Q: I am a girl? (answered above)
A: Everything applies to you that is said here all the same. Most of your gender doesn't know how to manage weight properly and eats salads and does pilates. If you follow this FAQ you will make much better progress much faster then them.

Q: I can't eat 6 meals a day because it is impractical.
A: When we say 6 meals we don't mean balanced five-course dinners every time. Some of them are more like big snacks that you can eat on the run, in class, whatever. People bring tupperware with tuna, hardboiled eggs, sandwiches, nuts and fruit, whatever fits into your overall game plan and macro ratio.

My friend gained 40 lb of muscle in three months, how can I?
Unless he was on steroids, no he didn't. "Under the best possible circumstances (perfect diet, training, supplementation, and recovery strategies) the average male body can manufacture between 0.25 and 0.5 pounds of dry muscle tissue per week. That is the amount your natural body chemistry will allow you to build. So we're talking about around one or two pounds per month. It may not sound like much, but that can add up to twelve to twenty pounds over one year of training."(Source 1) (Source 2).

Should I pay to get a personal trainer?
No.

Morning or night cardio - doesnt matter

A trainer who really knows their stuff (i.e. is a competitive powerlifter or bodybuilder, and looks like it) can be good for helping you check your form. But a) you don't need this to get started and b) the guys at your local Ballys aren't them.

My scale says I am X% bodyfat.
The bodyfat readings on scales are notoriously unreliable and inconsistent. It's based on electrical conductivity, which unfortunately changes every time you pee or drink a glass of water. The only reliable way of determining bf% is dunking yourself in water, which is kind of expensive and rare. You can try to approximate it with the measurement method, which is at least more consistent than the fancy scale.

I like to wear raw denim/selvage jeans, and I'm scared that if I lift, my thighs will get huge.
You can do a routine until you notice that your thighs are getting too big and then stop doing leg work. Also, you can look into buying straight-legged jeans or jeans with a bigger thigh, like KMWs, APC Rescues, or Cheap Monday Lattjo Lajban.

What's the deal with the Bowflex?
Bowflex uses rods to provide resistance, which makes it inferior to lifting freeweights because it does not work the stabilizer muscles. It also costs about the same or more as buying a weight bench, squat rack, and a set of free weights. If you have one lying around, go ahead and use it, but no one ever got swole using a Bowflex.

Useful links
A body fat % reference page