My goal is client success and education. Having shed 50 pounds and 20% body fat, I understand the potential physical and mental challenges. I been competing in triathlon for several years and have successfully completed every distance, from sprint to Ironman, and continue to race in pursuit of faster times. I am a graduate of the University of La Verne (BS Athletic Training) and of Chico State University (MA with honors, Sports Medicine).
Strength Training Basics
An overview of strength training: the machines, techniques and it's place in your season.
By Manny Escalante, Jr. MA, ATC, CPT
I will begin this series on weight lifting by covering some basic topics. Whether you are new to the environment or a gym rat, these will start us on the same page. Note that the article was initially written with the endurance athlete being the target audience. The issues are important to persons from all walks of life, so they have been made available here.
Some weightlifting benefits
Weightlifting is good. But it seems that men in our sport, and most women, have a phobia of getting too big. Men will get big if they focus their training and eating on getting big. Women need not worry since they lack the necessary amount of testosterone to really bulk up. The bodybuilder types you see train very hard to get that way, and some may have even experimented with supplements such as steroids. Lifting will make you stronger, a better athlete, and it helps prevent injuries. Weight lifting increases your muscle mass, and as a result, your metabolism increases. A higher metabolism means more calories are being burnt throughout the day; a key factor when trying to decrease body fat. Your well-structured, periodized program will fall right into place with the delicate balance of your season.
And age-old question
Free weights vs. machines. I say if the grass seems greener, buy property on both sides of the fence. Your training program should incorporate both types of equipment. Machines are a great safe way to build base strength. They allow for controlled, concentrated movements and can always be done without a spotter. Even though they seem simple, make sure you are keeping proper form, and have the seats adjusted correctly.
Just as learning to change a flat is essential for riding, free weights (i.e. barbells, dumbbells) are essential to your strength program. Free weights are unstable, forcing you not only to lift them but to control them as well. Free weights are more functional (they can more closely resemble our everyday activities) and require a bit more attention to detail. If you are training with heavy weight, be sure to get a spotter, and it does not have to be your friend-any meathead at the gym will do. Just ask, most are happy to help.
How many joints?
Multiple joints or single joint (not the Cheech and Chong type)? Go figure that a single joint exercise only involves moving one joint (think knee extension). A multi-joint exercise uses multiple joints (squat, bench press) and thus recruits more muscles. Except during off-season lifting when you can spend more time in the gym, your program should focus on multi-joint exercises. These resemble the activities of our sport and allow a greater development of strength. Single joint exercises have a place (time allowing, injury rehabilitation, burnouts, pre-fatiguing), but if you are short on time then suffer through another set of lunges and quit looking at yourself doing bicep curls.
What about my form?
Good form. There is not a good way to write about form. Long descriptions are boring, confusing, and hardly convey the message. Future articles will provide pictures and some descriptions. An indispensable reference is Fredric Delavier’s Strength Training Anatomy (He also wrote one for women, but it is not any better, get the original). That being said, we will discuss some points on form, speed, and breathing.
Learn proper technique and save yourself from injury and wasted efforts. Not only should you work to understand proper mechanics, but also which muscle is being targeted, why it is working, the effectiveness of the exercise, and its applicability to your sport. Above all else, learn proper form. By all means avoid time saving techniques such as bicep curls and back extensions, squats and hip folds, or rows and trunk twists. This list of improperly done exercises is seemingly endless. Decide which body part you are focusing on, and be meticulous with technique. Bad form often results from trying to lift too heavy, from being tired, or from being lazy.
Along with form is exercise speed. With the exception of ballistic lifts such as the clean and lift, lifting should be done slowly, and always controlled. A common way of cheating (and getting bad form or injured) is to let the weight drop. Gravity should not bring the weight down, your muscles should! Imagine yourself seated, slowly and forcefully contracting your quadriceps to extend your knee, then WHAM! Down go the weights and bang on the stack- up again and you repeat. Excellent display of bad form. A good guide is completing the first part of the exercise in 2 seconds, then returning to the start in 4 seconds. This seems harder because it is. Congratulations- you are on your way to proper form. Later we will discuss the eccentric and concentric concepts of muscle contractions.
You have to breath to live, so why do people forget that oh-so-simple rule when weight lifting? The time to exhale is during the forceful part of the lift. It seems backward and unnatural, but proper breathing helps tremendously. Usually your breaths should coincide with the push for chest/leg press, the pull for back exercises, and the up phase of your squats.
Yes you do know how much weight you should lift. You get stronger, though not necessarily bigger, by lifting heavy weight. The weight you choose is determined by the number of repetitions you can complete. You will see the most strength gains when you fail after lifting between 6-8 repetitions. A good strength maintenance rep range is 10-12. Those just beginning a program can pick a weight that allows them to complete 2-15 repetitions. Don’t be scared to go heavy in the weight room, allow yourself rest in between (30-45 seconds for 12-15 reps, 45-90 for 10-12, and 90+ for 6-8), and remember to vary your workout. Change your routine accordingly with different exercises, sets (from 2-4) and reps (from 6-12).
Your body’s reminder that you lifted weights. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) occurs from 48-72 hours after you strength training session. Muscle tissue is broken down when you weight lift, and it is repaired while you rest. In resting, you make your strength gains. Instead of trying to avoid the soreness by not lifting at all or not lifting heavy enough, understand and accept it. Do not do a heavy leg day on Monday and try big ring hill repeats on Wednesday. Those who are new to strength training will be sore for a few sessions. Those who challenge themselves properly will also be sore. Both will live to see another day, and they will be stronger for it.
If the pain seems unbearable, don’t sit still. Try some type of light activity. Re-examine your session and modify as needed.
Your gym is not a coffee house. News flash-you are at the gym to work! Maybe you spend too much time in the weight room because you are busy chatter boxing, TV watching, water fountain touring, or eye goggling. Get in, get out, and go home. Leave your cell phone in the locker room, and save last night’s date details for your instant message buddy. Take a few minutes before your session to make your program. If your equipment is taken, start on something else, or ask to work in (Most everybody is happy to comply-and you should too). The key is to keep the sessions consistent, effective, and short. With a little experience and some planning, your only marathon sessions will be after 26.2 miles on a road, and not at your gym.
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