Monday, December 11, 2006

The First "5 Hard & Fast Rules of Strength Training"

1. Be compliant and work hard.
Provided the “X’s” and “O’s” are in place, simply making a concerted effort to “do something,” do it on a regular schedule, and do it as hard as you can at the time will go a long way to maximizing your potential. It’s 80% of the battle and the first requisite if anything is to be gained. Yes, there are specifics (type of exercises, number of reps, rep speed, weight loads, nutritional intake, etc.), but they are secondary to showing up and exuding effort as there are literally numerous ways to train.

2. Train with intensity (of effort).
Relative to the hard work aspect of point number one, its strength training! You’re trying to create overload in the muscles, and proper overload means forcing the muscles to work beyond their existing capacity. This is not easy and manifests itself in temporary pain, discomfort, heavy breathing, light-headedness, etc. due to the intense effort put forth. High reps, low reps, dumbbells, machines, one set or 3 sets, somewhere in the endeavor a high degree of effort must be expended so the recruited muscle fibers adapt and improve their quality if maximum gains are to be obtained.

3. Be safe.
The manner by which you train is a controllable variable in your long-term health and well-being. Exercise stresses the muscles, joints, and energy systems to create a positive adaptation to these stresses. Using proper exercise form is mandatory if one desires to train over the long-term. Proper body alignment/posture and controlled speed of movement through a safe range of motion makes the exercise safe not only during individual training sessions, but over all sessions year after year. The whole bouncing, yanking, and ballistic/explosive lifting debate ends abruptly here. Likewise, training loads, session volume, and number of training session per period need to fit so they do not over-stress and lead to chronic injuries and regression.

4. Use basic exercise movements.
One does not need to perform any complicated exercises nor a multitude of any
exercise each and every workout. The “Big Four” can go a long way for the upper body: a chest push, a seated/bent-over row, an overhead push, and a pull down/pull up. Throw in another pushing and pulling angle (i.e., incline press and upright row) -- or a direct triceps and biceps exercise – and it’s still simple and time-efficient. For the legs, a multi-joint glute/quad exercise and a hamstring exercise are the bare minimum such as a squat, dead lift, or leg press and a prone/seated leg curl or stiff-leg dead lift (RDL). A second multi-joint glute/quad exercise (i.e., lunge, single-leg squat/leg press) and direct calf work can also be added provided the total workout volume is not overly taxing.

5. If in doubt, SLOW DOWN!
Lift fast or lift slow? Who is right? The optimal speed-of-exercise camps are out there, and each espouses its own recommendations. The truth is, working to achieve a maximum number of repetitions in a set is the key to achieving optimal overload, regardless of exercise speed. In both cases – moving intentionally fast and slow, significant recruitment of muscle fibers will occur if one simply attempts to achieve maximum repetitions in the set. But here’s the key point of this issue: too fast creates too much momentum and lessens the tension on the muscles and increases the risk of muscle/joint trauma due to the excessive acceleration (and consequent deceleration). So, if in doubt, SLOW DOWN! You will not SAFELY recruit the higher threshold fiber types any better when moving a resistance fast as compared to moving it slower.
Move fast outside the weight room if you’re a an athlete practicing a sport (which by the way can result in injury, and often times does, but it is a risk you take when you play sports!). - Tom Kelso, Strength Coach, SLU