We train with weights for a number of reasons. Be that to lose weight or perhaps gain it. To become stronger and more powerful or perhaps to tighten up those flabby muscles or to simply bulk up.
However, there is far more to gain than simply appearances. It is what lies beneath that also contributes to a total body gain. Weight training increases our bone density and it strengthens the heart. It also slows down the ageing process and maintains our functionality.
However, there are a number of mistakes that are commonly made that will inhibit the gains you seek.
Rocking up to the gym and using the same weights day in day out will not give you gains in strength. You need to challenge the body in increments.
Whatever your starting weight your body rapidly adapts to that weight, so it is vital that you increase the weight or the way you train the muscle group in question.
This is a simple fix. Let’s use legs as an example and the classic squat. If the barbell is set at 30 kgs you need to slowly progress the weight up. An example being if you have been training with 30kgs doing 12 reps then increasing the weight to 35 and reducing the reps to 8-10. Once the weight feels as easy as the 30 kgs increase the reps back up to 12 reps and once you feel comfortable with that then increase by another 2.5 to 5 kgs once again dropping the reps. Progression to a meaningful weight can be accomplished this way quite quickly and most importantly it is safe. Allowing the body to be challenged in increments and recover afterwards.
Altering the squat by changing equipment is also effective. For example, working on your Range of Movement (ROM) can be done simple by altering the manner in which we train. Change the barbell for a kettle bell and performing a Goblet squat with a wider stance. This will open up the hips and allow us to come down further. It will also add some much-needed focus on the core as we focus to maintain balance and power.
Personal bests are a point at which you attain a maximum weight usually for one rep; the One Rep Max (1RM).
This can be a risky strategy especially if you are training alone. A true 1RM is exhausting and requires you to use every fibre of your muscle to complete the movement. If things go wrong and you cannot complete the rep, then it doesn’t take a genius to predict an injury. Don’t overload your body!
It is NOT as effective as the progressive overload and will diminished returns on your goals and increase the risk of a serious injury.
1RM is a reference point to where you are now and where you want to be. If you train with a trainer then they will do a 1RM on your first session and, of course because it’s your first session the weight will not be that high.
So, if you want to progress then the trick is to set your goals first. Time those goals e.g. Bench press 40 kgs by Christmas. Write out those goals and then train the body and tweak your technique to progressively achieve that goal within the time frame. Slow and steady wins the race.
This is a constant bug bear to me especially with clients who want to squeeze as much into their session as possible. Either because they are impatient, or they are conscious of the fact that time is money. Their money at that!
Your goals and rest times must be aligned, or your progress will be stalled and once again you run the risk of injury because of fatigue.
Problem solved; get your watch out and time your rests. Aim for 60 to 90 seconds for those wanting to grow muscle or 2 to 5 minutes for those seeking strength and power. Too much rest can be equally detrimental as the warmed muscles get cold and tight, so put you phone away and focus on the task in hand ; training.
Like everything else in the gym have a plan, time that plan and stick to it.
Not mixing it up is one of the most common mistakes. Only practicing bench press with a bar and never mixing it up. Training your big back muscles with a Lat pull down machine. Training the core by planking and more planking. One, it’s boring. Two it halts progress and three is does not challenge and locks the body into a fixed ROM’s that will not improve you overall functionality.
Mix it up. A bench press with a dumbbell can be fun. You may not be able to shift as much weight as the barbell because each arm has to work independently but you will engage far more core muscles because of the weight shift. Those core supporting muscles are crucial especially as we age. Speaking of the core a plank is a classic core exercise and that I can get but how about taking that plank and rotating it from side to side and making the whole thing a dynamic exercise. If you have never considered Pilates, then give it a go. Teaching the body to activate to core is vital. Encouraging is to tighten the core like a corset will allow us to brace more effectively.
I could write a book on core exercises.
Simple. 45 to 60 minutes tops. Get in and get out, job done.
ROM again. If you don’t use it, you will lose it. Every joint in the body needs to be able to move freely and that includes the joints of the spine. Poor mobility of the joints leads to compensation behaviour which in turn could place undue stress on the lower back and spine. Elsewhere in the body tightness of the hips or poor ankle mobility can cause issues in these areas but also at the knee. Most knee troubles are caused by the hip or the ankle and if you are really unlucky both.
All this can be avoided by simply doing a little bit of maintenance work every day. Cat to Cow pose for the spine, Threading the needle (simply reaching through one arm under the other while in child’s pose) for the shoulders or gentle slow lunges deepening the lunges slowly as you go. Remember the hip joint is a piece of fabulous bioengineering and has the potential to move in, out, up, down and around in circles. If you can’t do that you need to start to fix it.
Get thee to a yoga or Pilates class. If there is a Flexibility class in your gym try and get to it. Once a week if possible.
No matter what your goals are they simply won’t happen if your body and mind is tired. Let’s get medical. A hormone is realised while we sleep that repairs our tired body and that hormone is GROWTH HORMONE.
So, if you are planning a big night out with your mates and will be hitting the clubs in the small hours, it’s probably not a great idea to do a big leg session the following day.
If you have issues with sleep, then see your GP. Try to find a treatment that is none pharmaceutical like hypnotherapy or simply keeping yourself away from your devices. No white /blue screens from 6pm onwards.
Finally consider your pre bed routine; don’t work to the very end of the night, instead allow the body and mind to slow down and prepare for sleep. A warm drink or even a shower beforehand. Try, if you can, to black out your room as much as possible and keep the room cool. Think of it like sleeping in a cave.