Despite what is commonly observed in most health clubs, proper strength training is more than just hoisting heavy weights and loud grunting. Efficient strength training is not just about a certain number of sets and reps, or a routine taken from a fitness magazine. In order for your strength training to be most effective, keep in mind:
1. Warm up before you pump up.
Never exercise a cold muscle. Walk/jog in place, jump rope, swing the arms back and forth, or walk up and down a flight of stairs for about a minute or two. This will safely prepare the muscles for the workload that is to follow.
2. The last rep of any set should be very difficult.
Remember that the point of resistance training is to OVERLOAD the muscles. Muscles will only get stronger if they need to due to progressive training. Therefore…
3. Use the heaviest weight possible.
The little 2-3 lb. pink plastic weights in those Jane Fonda videos should be tossed in the trash…along with those 1980’s leg warmer/headband sets. Invest in a set of solid, well-constructed dumbbells in a variety of sizes that you consider light, medium and heavy. Grab the heaviest weights you can manage during the exercise but ALWAYS…
4. Perform exercises with proper posture and good form.
Never try to throw a weight into position. Stand with your feet apart, a slight bend in the knees, keep your back straight and chest high. If you are lying on a bench or machine, always keep your back straight and lower back supported and feet flat on the floor. Utilize core strength during all exercise; it is the base of all your strength training work.
5. Good form is important throughout the entire workout, not just during the exercise.
Dropping a weight on your foot is not only embarrassing in a crowded health club, it will definitely put you out of commission for a while. Use your legs when lifting a weight off the ground or loading up a barbell for a set. Maintain support in your abdominals and lower back. The same goes for picking up a back of groceries, a stuffed suitcase or a toddler.
6. Remember to BREATHE.
Holding your breath while performing an exercise can cause a marked spike in blood pressure. Exhale on the contraction, inhale on the release. Keep breathing throughout the exercise.
7. Contract the muscle.
At the top of each movement, contract the muscles that you are using. For example, when you perform a biceps curl, contract your biceps as hard as you can at the top of the movement, when your elbow is flexed, before lowering the weight. The contraction is the first step in the stimulation of growth.
8. Focus on the muscle, not the movement.
Instead of thinking about trying to lift the weight, focus on what the muscle feels like as the weight is being lifted. This will help you to perform the exercises much more efficiently.
9. Negatives are a good thing.
When a muscle shortens during an exercise, it is called the concentric, or positive phase of contraction; When it lengthens, it is called the eccentric or negative phase. Research shows that the muscle can be up to 40% stronger in this negative phase. Capitalize on this fact for a more effective workout. For example, raise the lower arm in a biceps curl on a count of 1-2-3. Then, lower the weight in a slower movement, 1-2-3-4-5.
10. Use variety.
The body is very adaptive. Performing the same routine over and over is not only boring, but your body will get used to the routine and quit responding. Change your exercises, the order in which you do them, the number or sets and reps, or change the weights. In one workout you may use weights, another you may use resistance bands, in another, machines. Make every workout different in some way.
11. Feed Your Muscles.
After a workout be sure to feed your muscles so they can grow. Wait no more than one hour before eating a balanced meal containing not only protein (i.e., eggs, chicken, fish) but complex carbohydrates (i.e., whole grains, green vegetables). For convenience you may opt to have a protein shake as an after workout meal.
It’s important to think quality rather than quantity during weight training. Like everything else, how we do something is just as important as what we do. Focus on effective weight training principles throughout your workout and your strength training will give you the results you want.