Wednesday, August 23, 2006

DF Tip #20: The Thirteen Commandments of Lifting Weights, Part II

wtsOkay, boys and girls. Last week I covered some of the basics: frequency, exercises, food, stretching and the like. This week we get just slightly more subtle. Fear not, we’re still talking about weight training here, a practice that's about as subtle as a freight train and only slightly less noisy. Still, now we're talking about things like rest and variation and duration, which are going to require just a little more cranial work to fully grasp and incorporate into your workouts. And of course I've got a little tip in there about heavy weights -- had to drag that old saw out at least one more time -- and then that final one, The Kicker, that I promised last time... happy reading.

Another progress killer is lack of rest. This could mean resting between workouts (at least 48 hours between workouts for the same muscle group), or getting enough sleep on a regular basis. Everyone has a set point -- I know people who drag if they don't get ten hours, still others who are whirlwinds on five. Figure out what you need and stick with it. When you weight train, your body needs it even more than normal. Like children, we'd all be a little better off if we had a bedtime that we stuck to.

9) THOU SHALT LIFT FOR NO MORE THAN AN HOUR AT A TIME. After an hour, you're hormonally tapped out. Studies have shown that testosterone, the hormone responsible for muscle growth and strength increases (yes, in women too), drops off dramatically after 60 minutes of hard weight training. Moreover, the glycogen in your muscles is also on empty at that point, and if you've been working hard, as you should be, you'll be just plain exhausted, too. So keep your workouts down to an hour or less, including warmup, stretching, abs, and easy cardio work. It's the best way to keep yourself gaining continuously. One exception is low-intensity cardio work, which can be kept up for longer periods -- but that's the subject of another tip.

Have I told you the tale of the client whose former trainer had given him just two workouts in THREE YEARS? Probably I have, because it appalls me so much. I rarely give a client the same workout twice. Now you don't have to be that imaginative -- that's part of what people pay me for -- but always, always, look for ways to shake things up -- with new exercises, different rep schemes, more challenging weights, etc. Need I mention again the S.A.I.D. principle? The body Adapts Specifically to the Demands you Impose upon it. No new demands? No adaptation. Meaning no changes: no new muscle, no fat loss.

11) THOUGH GÜNTER MAY FRIGHTEN YOU, THOU SHALT NOT FEAR THE HEAVY WEIGHTS. Challenging weights are the lifeblood of improvement in the gym. Granted, you CAN try doing an exercise on one of those colored bouncy balls and give yourself a balance challenge; you CAN do additional sets of the same weight you've always used; you CAN do myriad other things that will provide a new stimulus to the muscle. Yoga teachers and calisthenics devotees like military instructors like to say that you can't do anything with weights that you can't already do with your own body weight. That may be true, but there's no faster way to IMPROVE at a given movement than using an external resistance. That means weight. Ideally, heavy weights that make you fail at 8-12 reps. Don't be afraid of them.

12) FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS SPOT REDUCTION. Because so many otherwise intelligent people come to the gym saying they want to "work their abs so they can get a six-pack," I feel obliged to again say that working your abs will contribute only modestly to your efforts to build a defined midsection. Yes, abdominal exercises are important for all kinds of reasons, but you're not going to be able to see definition in the abs without lowering your bodyfat -- through hard weight training, healthy eating, and regular cardio work. Sure, you'll tighten up the muscles underneath any lingering fat deposits with sit-ups, leg-lifts and the like. But if you want to see the fruits of your labors, spend no more than 5-10 minutes of your gym time on abs and the rest on the exercises described in last week's Commandment #3.

13) ALL COMMANDMENTS ARE VIOLABLE. EXPERIMENT WITH WHAT WORKS FOR YOU AS WELL. Isn't that just an awful way to close this list? By saying that, hey, none of this might work for you at all? Well, I wouldn't be completely honest with you if I didn't say that in my day I've seen exceptions to just about everything I've recommended above. I've seen people build great physiques on machines. I've seen people progress like lightning lifting no more than five-pound weights. I've known people who have made great progress over many years doing almost the exact same thing in the gym year in and year out. Ultimately, everyone's body is different. If that wasn't true, everyone would do exactly the same workout and I'd be out of a job.

A lot of what I do comes down to figuring out what combination of weight, sets, reps, effort, rest, food and other factors is just right for the body in front of me. And that should be your goal as well: to figure out what makes your body respond, what gives you the best results in the least time, always remembering the 10th commandment that nothing works forever. These are the basics, but remember that your body is a unique organism and may very well respond uniquely to exercise.

All the more reason to get out there and experiment. Have fun!


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