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Weight Training 

Getting The Most Out Of Weight Training
by Michael J. Merlino, ACE, BSMI (CPFT, RES), Cooper Institute
Owner, Merlino Fitness, MerlinoFitness.com

This article was originally published in the October, 1998 issue of Houston Sports News magazine.

Americans are beginning to realize that an effective exercise program encompassing both cardiovascular workouts and weight training is essential to losing weight, staying in shape, and reducing their risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease. Visit any Houston gym at peak time and it is obvious that many are using weight training to increase muscle tone and get fit. Although weight training can be very beneficial, it is somewhat confusing to the beginner and can be inefficient and even dangerous to the avid weight trainer if poor technique is used. After all, working specific muscle groups is much more involved than jumping on a treadmill and hitting the start button. Here are a few basic tips that may help you get better results from your own workouts. These tips are based on simple physics, biomechanics and what I have learned and applied with my own clients. By following these principles, you can expect safer workouts, improved results, and save time in the gym.

Stabilization
The most important part of your routine should be stabilizing your spine before you start any lifting movement. Maintain the natural arch in your lower back, keep your shoulder blades down, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. No matter what the movement or what position your body is in (seated, standing, flat, incline, decline), the spine should remain stable for support and more efficient movement of the primary muscle group you are working.

Protect Joints
Most people don't think about joints when they are weight training, but a muscle does not contract or flex without joint movement. When performing an exercise, think about which joints should move and which ones should remain stable throughout the movement. Picture your joints as on/off switches, concentrating on the ones that should be working and turning off or stabilizing all of the rest. For example, if you are doing standing dumbbell bicep curls, the only joint in your body that should move is your elbow. Stabilize every other joint, especially your shoulders, lower back and spine. Also, listen to your body and avoid any movements that aggravate your joints. Ask the floor staff at your gym or a certified professional fitness trainer for safe alternatives that work the same muscle group without stressing your weaker joints or any nagging injuries.

Control Speed Of Movement
The simple 2-4 count method works well and has been proven to be the most efficient way to work the muscle and maintain muscle contractions. Use a 2 second count during the working or positive phase of movement when the muscle is shortening or contracting, and a 4 second count on the return or negative phase of the movement. Don't be surprised if you have to decrease the weight to stick with the count so as not to compromise your form. Practice the 2-4 count and concentrate more on quality movement. The amount of weight on the barbell or machine should be your last priority.

Flex With Every Rep
This sounds simple enough, but I have found that many people go through the motions without contracting or flexing the muscle they are trying to work. On the positive movement (when the muscle is shortening) squeeze the muscle and hold slightly (less than a second) before you start your negative movement (when the muscle is lengthening or stretching back out). A contraction is a terrible thing to waste, so flex with every repetition. Better contractions equal improved muscle growth and strength.

Feel The Burn
Push yourself 3 to 5 reps past "the burn". What I mean by "the burn" is the point within your set when you start to feel the muscle burn or the movement suddenly becomes much harder. For the average person, 12 to 17 repetitions to failure, or the point when you cannot complete the next repetition, should be the goal. Adjust the weight as you get stronger in order to continue challenging your muscles; progression is the key. Reach Failure - Failure with weight training is a good thing and may be the most important way to build quality muscle. If you aren't taking your reps to failure, or the point where you cannot complete another repetition, you may be cheating your body's muscle building ability.

Breathe!
Inhale and exhale with every rep. This is another weight training basic that many people do not practice. Muscles crave oxygen to recharge for the next rep, so start using this general rule. Exhale when the muscle is contracting or shortening, and inhale when the muscle is stretching back out. New studies suggest that reversing this order doesn't effect the muscle at all. When in doubt, do what is comfortable but inhale and exhale with every rep.

Budget Your Exercises
Unless you are training for the Olympics or a bodybuilding contest, there is no need to spend countless hours in the gym to attain results. Train every muscle group at least twice a week, always allowing at least 48 hours of recuperation time before working that same muscle group again. Perform at least one exercise for each muscle group. As far as sets are concerned, 2 per exercise is sufficient. Research has shown that performing more than 2 sets per exercise will not make that big of a difference in muscle or strength gain for the average lifter.

The Benefits of More Muscle
Beyond just looking better in your swimsuit, adding muscle to your frame has many health benefits. Resistance training develops neuromuscular function and coordination, improves posture, strengthens tendons and ligaments, and increases bone density. For those of you trying to lose weight, building muscle revs up metabolism so your body burns fat more efficiently when you do get on the treadmill or run outdorors. When it comes to weight loss, resistance training is a must. The average overweight person has the potential to burn 30 pounds of fat with the addition of 5 pounds of muscle on their frame within one year. Using some of these simple tips may help take you to the next fitness level or conquer your latest plateau. Always consult your physician before starting any weight training or cardiovascular fitness program.

Michael Merlino is a Certified Professional Fitness Trainer and owner of Merlino Fitness and MerlinoFitness.com. He trains his clients at the Houston Downtown YMCA and his private fitness studio. Michael can be reached at 713.523.2577 or e-mail him at michael@merlinofitness.com. Click on one of the links below for more information on Michael and his fitness services.

View Michael's Bio
View Merlino Fitness Services




Weight Training
Lat Pulldowns
Pulldowns are a great exercise for the back muscles but avoid pulling the bar behind the head. Pull the bar down in front of the body toward the collar bone and with the bar just below your chin. Pulling the bar behind the head puts undue stress on the shoulders and rotator cuff.
Running
Avoiding Shin Splints
Do you have lower leg pain or shin splints from running? Running on hard surfaces, worn out running shoes and weak calf muscles could be the culprit. Try running on soft trails, buying a new pair of running shoes or adding calf exercises to your weight training routine.
Walking
The Talk Test
A great way to make sure you are staying in your aerobic fat-burning range is the talk test. If you cannot comfortably carry on a conversation with your walking partner you probably need to bring down the intensity to assure yourself that you are burning fat.
Fat Burning
Your Anaerobic Threshold
A great way to make sure you are burning fat during cardio sessions is knowing your anaerobic threshold or where your heart rate zone needs to be to burn fat stores. Find a gym or fitness center that offers anaerobic/VO2 testing. Merlino Fitness offers anaerobic threshold testing every month. Check out the link below for more details.
Merlino Fitness Metabolic Testing
Nutrition
Keys to Weight Loss
If you are trying to drop weight make sure you incorporate the following to get you on your way. Drink lots of water, don't skip meals (especially breakfast), do not eat late night meals or snacks after 7 or 8 pm and build as much activity into your everyday life as you can. Michael also recommends joining weight watchers to anyone trying to lose weight and keep it off long term.
Nutritional Supplements
Stay Away From Ephedra!
The weight loss/energy supplement is in the news again. Supplement companies that market this controversial supplement claim it is safe although many have died from this dangerous supplement. Make sure you check the labels of your nutritional supplements as many are laced with ephedra, also known as ephedrine or ma huang (the actual herbal).
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