Guys who have been working out for a few years love the minutiae of their pursuit : the array of exercises they use, the configurations they use them in, the frequency with which they use them. But at the heart of a successful strength-training regimen are these 10-basic principles.
Do you do resistance training with light weights and high reps as a form of cardiovascular exercise ? If so, you will certainly build muscular endurance and burn lots of calories, but in a way you are giving yourself the worst of both worlds. Research has shown that weight training doesn t increase aerobic fitness and that you won’t build much muscle using light weights. In fact, you will build little or none if you are working with less than 50 per cent of your one-rep max, the amount of weight you can lift once with good form.
The best aerobic activities use the biggest muscles at low intensity for long periods of time of running, swimming, cycling, stairclimbing. The goal is to improve your heart ’s "stroke volume" of the amount of blood it can pump with one beat of so that it needs fewer beats to get blood into your working parts. This allows you to train harder and longer, in turn letting you burn more calories.
The goal of resistance training, on the other hand, is to make your muscles, connective tissues and bones bigger and stronger. This not only makes everyday tasks easier, it heads off the physical deterioration often associated with aging. As an added benefit, bigger muscles need more energy to sustain themselves, so the more muscular you are, the more calories you burn on a moment-by-moment basis. Resistance training is most effective when done in short bursts of intense effort, stressing the muscles and then giving them a brief chance to recuperate before you stress them again.
So the best strategy is to keep your resistance training and aerobic sessions separate. You can still do them consecutively during the same workout .The research shows that if you do cardio work first, your performance in the weight room won’t suffer much. But doing them simultaneously is a self-defeating strategy.
When you lift a weight, your muscles divide themselves into three teams. One team actually takes on the heavy lifting. If you are doing a bench press, for example, your pectorals, triceps and front deltoids have to move the weight. Another team of muscles act to stabilize your body and keep the bar or dumbbells in the correct trajectory. A third team sits on the sidelines until there ’s something for them to do.
When you do that same exercise on a machine, your chest, triceps and front delts still have to push the weight, but many of your stabilizing muscles get a free pass; that leaves two full teams either sitting it out or taking it easy. The machine with its pulleys, cams, tracks and cables keeps the weight in the only possible trajectory. When fewer muscles are needed to do as task, fewer muscles are needed to do a task, fewer muscles get recruited.
What is that a problem ? Because strength is about two things. It ’s about building bigger muscle fibres, of course, but it ’s also about recruiting more motor units muscle fibres plus nerves to do a job. This is why, when you first start out in the weight room, you get stronger but not bigger. Your body is learning to recruit more motor units to lift heavy objects. Once your body has exhausted all the possibilities for motor-unit recruitment, its next strategy is to make muscle fibres bigger.
But the process does’nt end there. Your body will always look for the easiest way to do something, so if you want to keep improving your strength and musculature, you have to keep making your body do the hardest possible thing which inevitably means choosing free weights over machines.
Machines have their place, of course. They are excellent for isolating muscles, they are generally safer, and they allow you to work your muscles through different ranges of motion. Just don’t use them in lieu of the real mass-building exercises, like squats, dumbbell rows and bench presses.
As you know, both heavy, mass-building exercises and lighter, muscle-isolating moves have their advantages. But unless you have a specific reason for doing an isolation exercise first (when pre-exhausting muscle, for example), you should do the mass-building moves first. Here ’s why : To move heavier weights effectively, you need to be at your strongest. That ’s near the beginning of your workout, when your muscles are warmed up but not yet fatigued. So the most effective workouts involve heavy training first, then isolation moves afterward or in separate sessions.
Stretching before exercise is a good idea, but it makes muscles tired. And no set of stretches fully prepares you for weight-training movements. The best way to prepare your muscles for an exercise is to do that exercise with an extremely light weight for a fairly high number of reps .
When we talk about weight training, rest comes in two forms. First, there ’s the rest you take between sets. If you go all-out, on a set, you are going to use most of the energy immediately available to your working muscles. To produce that energy, your muscles also make lactic acid, a byproduct of exercise that causes "the burn." Resting between sets does two things : It allows some energy to build up, and it lets the new blood flowing into the working muscles flush out of the lactic acid.
Generally, you need about 30 to 60 seconds for these recuperative processes to take place, a little longer if you are pushing really heavy weight on a mass-building exercise like the squat or bench press. And don’t take the word "rest" too literally; to help wash out the lactic acid, you should move around between sets, and also briefly stretch the working muscles.
Rest between workouts is as important as rest between sets. Exercise stimulates development but muscles get bigger and stronger in between workouts, when your body is adding protein to the muscle fibres. You should always give individual muscle groups at least 48 hours to recover between workouts, and it ’s generally a bad idea to train more than five days in a row.
Even if your goal in working out is simply to look and feel better, rather than to play professional football or bench press 500 pounds, you won’t get the results you want if you don’t challenge your muscles. If getting bigger isn’t a goal, you have to push them to get stronger, because if they are not getting stronger they are probably getting weaker. But nobody can train with that kind of intensity all the time. If you try, you risk injury and overtraining. Either way, you still end up getting weaker.
One way to avoid this is by cycling heavy and lighter workouts for each body part. Work on developing mass and strength one workout, and then the next time you train that body part, try isolation-type movements with lighter weights and higher reps. For example, instead of doing heavy barbell do machines flyes the next time you work pecs. Of, if you do squats in one leg workout, you may want to do leg presses and leg extensions in the next.
When a personal trainer is certified by the Aerobic and Fitness Association of America, one of the things he taught is how to get clients to work out on their own, rather than relying on the trainer forever.
A good trainer can help you avoid years of trial and error, teaching you the best techniques and helping you create the most productive programs, but your ultimate goal should be to learn how to train yourself. After all, only you know how hard you are working and how much your muscles can take. So once you know the exercises and techniques, you have to set your own standard for intensity. You can’t take this kind of responsibility when a trainer is programming your workouts.
A good workout partner, on the other hand, will push you and help keep you motivated, but he won’t be responsible for designing your program, nor culpable if you don’t reach your goals. He will give you a spot when you need it, encourage you to try heavier weights, may be even inject some healthy competition into your program.
That does’nt mean you can use a trainer from time to time to teach you some new techniqueswhen the old ones have grown stale, or to take a refresher course on form. Like a good shrink, a good trainer should be there when you need him, but you should’nt need him all the time.
If you train hard for any length of time, you are probably going to get a minor injury or two pulled muscles, achy joints, tendinitis. That kind of pain is different from the soreness you get a day or two after a good workout. Soreness is something you can work through.
But an actual injury to a muscle, tendon or ligament is different. Putting stress on an injured body part makes it worse. Period. And if you keep making it worse, a minor, one-time injury can easily turn into a serious and chronic one.
What to do about an injury? If it ’s minor and the area only hurts when you use it, the answer is : don’t use it. Give it time to recover. If it ’s your back that ’s injured, you probably should see a doctor. But whatever you do, don’t work through" the injury. You will only make it worse.
One important ingredient in any exercise program is consistency. Whatever you do, you need to keep doing it over a period of time to achieve results. But that doesn’t mean all your workouts should be identical. In fact, when you do the same thing day after day, week after week, you begin to perform exercises strictly out of habit, without paying much attention to what you are doing. This leads to a loss of intensity and, eventually, a lack of enthusiasm.
The solution is to occasionally vary your workouts. Once a while, go through a workout backward (breaking rule 3). Try working a body part using totally different exercises or equipment (breaking rule 2). How about building an entire workout around one exercise 10 sets of bench presses, say, or nothing but squats on the day you work your legs ?
For aerobic exercise, try the treadmill instead of the stationary bike. Or get out of the gym entirely and try a real bicycle instead of a stationary bike. Or go out on a Saturday and hike for a couple of hours through some rugged terrain. That will get your heart rate up.
Basic approaches to training are basic because they work. You don’t want to stray too far from what you find productive. But if you don’t stray at all, it will stop working. Your body and mind will thank you for a break.
Almost anyone who undertakes a serious exercise program can expect to see results in a fairly short time. The less trained and developed you are when you start, the more room there is for improvement. But when you have been at it for a while, you will encounter diminishing returns. The more progress you make, the more difficult it is to make additional progress.
Nonetheless, when you look at your fitness program in the long term, you have to believe it ’s possible to make gains on a continuing basis. From one year to the next, you should always expect to see positive changes in your strength, endurance, appearance and/or sports performance. These changes may not come as quickly as you like, but over time you will continue to improve. If you don it, you should rethink your problem.
There is always something else you can try. Not losing body fat ? Crank up the cardio and adjust your diet. Not getting stronger ? Include more power exercises. Certain body parts not looking as good as others ? Make the laggards a priority. Working as hard as possible without results ? Do some research, work with a trainer, find the techniques that will help you break through to the next level.
Never just go through the motions. The point of exercise is to improve your body and physical capabilities. Demand it from yourself, and don’t accept anything else.
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