Over the years I have observed thousands of people training in almost every kind of gym. Watching someone work out, it is simple to almost instantly evaluate the level of their experience. Advanced lifters are easy to spot by their intensity and attention to form and focus. Intermediate trainees show signs of progress although they are often found chatting around the squat rack.
In the third and largest group are beginners and usually they are completely lost. They don’t understand the basic techniques, the principle of progressive overload or how to design an effective program. They go haphazardly through the motions, flirt with injury, see minimal improvement and usually drop out.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY! The fundamental principles of weight training are simple. Here are the top five that will take you a long way toward becoming lean, strong and fit.
1. FORM AND FUNCTION. You have to understand the movement and the purpose of each exercise. Books or online videos are good learning tools if you pay attention to the details. Forget about the “muscle mags”. The quickest way to get off to a good start is to hire an experienced certified personal trainer who is willing to teach you how to lift. With each exercise, make sure you understand exactly which muscles you are training and learn to feel them work.
2. SLOW DOWN. This is related to form but deserves special attention. Throughout the entire exercise, you must be in complete control of the weight. Most trainees perform the movements too quickly. When you swing a heavy weight out of control you increase the risk of injury, but you also allow inertia to do the work instead of fully challenging the muscle.
TEMPO is important. Use a weight that allows you to perform the exercise in a controlled and steady manner. A good norm is to lower the weight to a count of three (3), raise powerfully to a count of one (1) and pause in the contracted position for a one (1) count before lowering again. This can be expressed as a 3.1.1 cadence.
3. COMPOUND EXERCISES. Trash your body building magazines that show champions doing hundreds of bicep curls and focus on exercises that develop full-body strength and conditioning. Additionally, most people are concerned with burning calories and losing weight. This is done by emphasizing basic, compound exercises. These are the ones that work the body’s largest muscle groups in conjunction with one another.
Primary muscles are the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus, back, chest and shoulders. The primary compound exercises are squats, deadlifts, bench presses, rowing and overhead presses. DO NOT waste time doing isolation exercises for biceps, triceps, forearms and the individual small muscles of the shoulder. These are worked adequately as part of the large compound movements.
4. USE THE CORRECT WEIGHT. Beginners use too little weight and then, if they are bold, progress to using weights that are too heavy. The definition of the correct weight is one that challenges you to work VERY HARD on the last repetition of your exercise but allows you to do so in PERFECT FORM. If the weight is too light you will not overload the muscle sufficiently to stimulate growth. If the weight is too heavy you will cheat, swinging and swaying and allowing inertia to do the work for you.
5. EXERCISE PERSISTENCE AND PATIENCE. All good things are earned and take time. PERSISTENCE says that consistency is critical and that you will see real results in about twelve weeks if . you DON’T SKIP WORKOUTS and if you challenge yourself to work hard during every session.
PATIENCE says that you should not switch to a new workout plan every time you see one in a magazine. Give your current routine a chance to work. Patience also says that more is not necessarily better. You need at least forty-eight hours rest between weight workouts and when you are stronger you may need seventy-two hours or more to recover. Get a good night’s sleep and CLEAN UP YOUR DIET, especially if you want to lose weight.
Resistance training is the fastest way to lose weight, change your body shape, increase strength and improve your health. You can do it if you learn to make a sport out of it (or better yet, a game). Take the time to learn proper technique, apply a high degree of vigor to every workout and see just how good you can get.
And always remember “Be Strong . Be Lean”.