Saturday, November 24, 2018

My Undeniable Truths of Weight Training for Beginners - Part 2 - Do the Hard Exercises - By RJ Hicks, BS Exercise Science, CSCS

One of the biggest mistakes I see is the use of ineffective exercises. Although many exercises are effective, there are some exercises much more effective than others. For a program to be productive and yield the greatest results, a trainee must train using the most effective exercises. For maximum results in size and strength, train the hard exercises.

Multi joint exercises vs single joint exercises

The hard exercises are the major compound multi joint movements. They are the most systematically demanding, involve the most muscle mass and carry the most potential for poundage progression (or greater increases in strength). These are the exercises many trainees like to avoid, simply because they are uncomfortable and hard to do. This is a huge mistake! A routine of squats, dead lifts, rows, dips, pull ups, presses and bench will do more to transform your muscular size and strength than any number of lateral raises, cable cross overs or hack squats. The foundation of the routine should be built on the hard exercises. Squat, deadlift, leg press or any variation of the three should be a stable in your lower body training. Presses, rows, chins/pull downs, flat/incline bench and dips should be the primary exercises in your upper body training, with pullovers, shrugs and barbell curls as a close secondary. Keep the hard exercises as the meat and potatoes of the workout, leave the single joint exercises for dessert.

The easy exercises are often, but not always, the single joint exercises. It is common for beginner trainees to choose to perform single joint exercises for most of their routine. Most single joint exercises are nothing more than a pumping exercise in my book. The whole toning, sculpting and shaping theory is a myth that DISTRACTS many trainees from using the hard exercises. Muscles adapt through progressive overload (stress), not through pumping. The pump these trainees experience is a temporary rush of blood that bloats a muscle, doing little in the long term for muscular size and strength. Toners and phonies primarily use pumping exercises, because they “feel” good and are the EASIER to do.

You can get a painful burn on leg extensions and watch your quads swell up, but it is nothing compared to the total body metabolic shock your body would undergo from a hard set of 10-12 repetitions on the trap bar deadlift. Pumping exercise involve less muscle activation, less weight and less metabolic stress. Often, you’ll see trainees perform hack squats instead of squats or skip overhead pressing and go straight to lateral flies. This is a sin for serious trainees. No real long-term gains in size and strength are made by pumping exercises for the natural trainee, because there is a lack of mechanical stress on the muscles. Be wary of exercise routines filled with single joint exercises as they distract you from the hard exercises and never substitute them for the hard exercises you can do safely.

Rehabilitation, tinkering and special circumstances

The best exercises to train with are the hard exercises you can do safely. If an exercise hurts, don’t do it. Not everyone can squat in a safe manor due to long limbs or previous injuries. The pendulum Squat, trap bar/DB deadlift, Hammer Strength horizontal leg press, or a belt squat can serve as a good substitution for the barbell squats. Substituting a belt squat due to injury is acceptable, substituting a hack squat because it is more comfortable is not. The same is true with single joint exercises, if you cannot do the multi-joint exercise, but can target the muscle with a single joint exercise, do what you can! A lateral raise will never compare to an overhead press, but it will be far more productive than doing nothing for the shoulders.

Not all single joint exercises are bad. Some parts of the body are best trained with single joint movements such as the neck, calves, rotator cuffs, forearms/hands and midsection. Bob Whelan ( refers to these as your tinkering exercises. He often sequences them in after multiple compound exercises, strategically using them as built in rest. They are of low intensity compared to the major compound exercises, but important in keeping the entire body strong none-the-less. Any serious strength training program should include these exercises a majority of the time.

Sometimes extra work is needed due to a lagging muscle group. While the major compound exercises advantage is in the amount of muscle mass they work, not all the muscles are worked equally. Sometimes the best way to bring a lagging muscle up to par is to train it with a single joint exercise, but don’t overdo it. Single joint exercises have the advantage of what's known as the “direct effect” and can force all the mechanical stress on the targeted muscle. The lateral raise is a great example of an exercise with a “direct effect” upon the shoulders. If you feel it is of physiological/psychological benefit, great! Add it in to the end of the routine, if it doesn’t take away hard exercises. To summarize, you can train single joint exercises IN ADDITION to the hard exercises AFTER all the hard exercises have been completed.

Final walk-through

If you’re a beginner, train the basic hard exercises. If you’re a middle age adult, train the basic hard exercises. If you’re an athlete train the basic hard exercises. If you want to look strong and be strong, train the basic hard exercises.

Editors Note: This is great RJ! Awesome job on this!
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Friday, November 16, 2018

Staying Motivated - By Jim Duggan

     As I am writing this, I am looking out my window at the snow on the ground from the first snowstorm of the season.  The snow, cold temperatures, and gloomy forecast remind me of two things.  First, that this is just the beginning, a preview of what's to come during the next few months.  Second, the holidays are rapidly approaching.   This is reinforced by the large Christmas display at the local Home Depot, the Christmas music playing at the bank, as well as the holiday light display along Pitkin Avenue in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where I work.
     For many trainees, the holidays pose a significant problem.  Staying on a workout regimen. Finding time to train.  How to avoid overeating and other indulgences.  Finding the motivation to train hard. It's very easy to fall into a rut.  Miss a couple workouts, fall off your diet, and you can easily see how quickly your progress can slow down or even stop.  And once you stop it will become difficult to resume a training program.
     Once you hit a snag, you can become dejected and lose your drive to train.  Once your drive is stymied, your progress comes to a halt.  Now, there are ways to deal with a training slump.  One method that has worked for some people is to take a brief layoff from working out.  I say "some people" because I don't believe in taking layoffs. Layoffs have just never been something that worked for me. There are those who benefit greatly from an occasional break from training, and if you are one of those individuals, then a scheduled layoff of a week or so will help recharge your body, and energize your training.   I've never liked taking time off from working out.  Doing nothing can become a habit.  Besides, the worst part of doing nothing is that you never know when you're finished ( sorry for the lame joke.)  Seriously, becoming lazy, or sedentary,  even if only for a brief period, can lead to longer periods of inactivity. I don't believe in backsliding- whether it be in lifting, or life itself. The only way is to keep going.  Even if your lifting may have hit an inevitable "sticking point," there are other ways to improve your strength, health, and appearance without burning yourself out.  Instead of taking a day off, go for a vigorous walk.  Engage in some of other form of physical activity on your "off days."  This will provide your body with some sort of exercise.  It will also give you the motivation to follow healthy eating habits.  If you stick to an exercise program, then you will have the incentive to be disciplined during the holidays when temptation- in the form of too much food- is everywhere.
     The hardest part of staying disciplined is to make up your mind decisively and just do it.  Decide that you want to continue to make progress, and that nothing will stop you from achieving your goals.  Then work out your plan, and do it.  Ambition plus effort equals success.
     There are ways to stay motivated during this time of year.  Since it isn't beach season ( at least here in New York), one has to be creative in developing a plan to maintain training enthusiasm.  One way, if you happen to train in a commercial gym, is to think of how empty the gym will be in December.  The lack of crowds ( toners, pumpers, gym bros, etc.) means that there will be less nonsense and no waiting for equipment and machines.  Imagine how crowded things will be in January, when the Resolutioners invade the gym.  Now, think about how much you can accomplish during December when you have the gym to yourself.
     Now, back to the training itself. What if you have a bad workout? My answer to that is "So what?"  Every person who has ever lifted weights has experienced the occasional "off day."  This is particularly true for drug-free lifters.  Let's face it.  A bad workout every once in a while is a fact of life. It's not a reason to panic, or become dejected.  Learn from it, and move on.  Now, if you have a succession of bad workouts, then it maybe time to analyze what you're doing.  Are you getting enough sleep? Are you getting proper nutrition? Again, the holiday season can bring about bad habits, and halt progress.  Overcome that which will stop your progress.
     Of course, one of the best ways to get out of a rut is to not fall into one in the first place.  Discipline yourself into not only training consistently, but into putting everything you have into each and every workout. Every set and every rep. Don't sleepwalk through your workout.
     Setting goals will help keep you focused. Not only long-term goals but short-term as well.  Remember, the most worthwhile goals will never be achieved without a systematic plan of action.  Great things cannot happen if you do not make them happen. That heavy barbell will not lift itself.
     There is one trick to maintain motivation that I first read about ten years ago.  Since most people make resolutions for the new year, and subsequently begin working towards those goals after January 1st, what's wrong with getting an early jump on the year ahead? Who says you have to wait until January to begin your quest for Strength and Health?  Why not start now? You'll gain a healthy head start on everyone else.  And you'll feel better about yourself in the process.
     Once a man ( or woman) gives up, he/she is beaten.  You can't be beaten as long as you continue to fight.  Fight for your goals, fight for the things you want in life.  Strength and Health are noble pursuits that are worth fighting for.
     Don't use the holiday season as an excuse to skip's a poor one.  Keep lifting.  You'll be glad you did.

Editor's Note: Great article Jim.
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