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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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 email@example.com. Click on one of the
links below for more information on Michael and his fitness services.
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