Weight Lifters: It is Okay To Take A Break Now And Then

As a personal trainer, people expect me to yell at them, blow the whistle, make sure they’re working hard enough, and all that jazz. I do a fair amount of that–I believe in giving people what they want, and that’s usually what they need from me. But just as often I have to tell people to dial it back and quit pushing themselves so hard. That knocks them for a loop.

They even protest and argue about it. “But I’m getting such great results!” They’re usually right. It is because they’re getting such great fitness results that they need to back off now and then. I’m speaking sort of as a hypocrite here. I’m addicted to training. I love to go to the gym and wear myself out. But I’m old enough now to know that there is a price to be paid for going too hard, for too long. Sometimes this becomes apparent in one terrible incident, such as an injury that arrives uninvited and without warning. This can happen even during a relatively safe movement like the pull-up.

Sometimes it’s just the cumulative fatigue that sets in and slowly saps the will to train from you. This happens to me a lot more than injuries. I always lift safely, but I haven’t always lifted wisely. Once someone gets into a great training routine, sometimes the missing component becomes what they were doing so much of before their gym-life: resting! They’ve gone from constant rest and a sedentary lifestyle to driving themselves too hard, at too great a cost.

There is a balance. It isn’t hard to find. This is usually how I gauge my own overtraining and the state of my nervous system: if I want to lift, I’m usually okay. But if I’m not looking forward to really getting after it, that’s usually a signal that I should stay home and get some sleep and food.

It’s okay to ease up sometimes. Not only is it okay, it might be just the thing you need to fight through the plateaus that we all hit. Enjoy it! That’s the whole point of training!

Don’t Be A Fool, Stay In Front

Pic: GreenBeanPrime

I walk into gyms all over the world and see people ripping that bar down behind their neck during Lat pull downs. If it weren’t for my superior self-control, the fitness trainer at that club would have that exact bar knocking ever so gently against their head as a quiet little reminder.

You may have been told that you should do it in front of your head, but not been given an explanation as to why…and besides, it doesn’t hurt you, and you’ve also been told that it targets your Lats better if you do it behind your neck. So…

Why Is Doing A Lat pull Behind Your Head So Bad?

Lat pull downs behind the neck are unnecessary and dangerous. From a biomechanical point of view, they are putting your shoulder into a very bad position. The glenohumeral joint (your shoulder joint) is built for mobility, not stability. When the bar is down behind your head, your shoulder is externally rotating, quite severely. This in itself creates risk. You are also putting your shoulder into adduction, extension and abduction (don’t worry if this makes no sense to you, basically your shoulder is in a really abnormal, unnatural and totally crappy position). This places a lot of stress through the front and the back of a joint that really isn’t that stable to begin with.

There is also increased stress on your external rotators (small muscles in the shoulder that play a VERY big role in the control of the joint) to stabilize the your shoulder. Damage to these results in a long and painful rehabilitation in which most upper body exercises are restricted. The position you are putting your shoulder into is pretty bad without weight; add a few kg’s to that and you are really looking at trouble.

Another added risk is your neck safety. Straining forward during a Lat pull behind the neck is common. Necks are delicate, and there is simply no need to be in this position. A lot of people do this exercise ballistically (really really fast and bouncy), and if you get a little over excited, may cause some cervical damage…let’s not even begin to think about what will damage will occur to your neck if the cable breaks (yes, that does happen).

Am I Sacrificing Benefits For Safety?

No. Not one little bit. Really…nothing at all. And yes, it’s proven. Studies have shown that the front Lat pull down works the Lats and the muscles of your back just as effectively as its scary sister, the behind the neck monster. In fact, one study showed that Front Lat pull downs resulted in the greatest Lat activity.

If you are doing Lat pull downs behind your head, stop…it ain’t worth it.

No Time to Exercise? Cut Your Workout in Half

Pic:Almighty Photography

Exercise is on your list of priorities…just maybe a little further down than it needs to be. You have so many things to do in a day how can you possibly fit exercise in? Once your schedule gets a little lighter you’ll be laughing you way to good health, right?

Lack of time is one of the biggest reasons people cite for not participating in exercise. Besides the fact that there are a million things you can do at home or at work, there are a few ways to cut your workout time down in the gym, but still get the benefits of your long workout.

Cut Down Cardio

What if you could do 45 minutes of work on the treadmill/ bike, or 15 minutes, and burn more calories? Sounds wonderful eh. It’s called Interval Training. Interval training can help you improve your cardiovascular fitness, increase your speed, improve your overall power, reach new exercise levels, and burn many more calories. There are so many examples of ways you can do Interval Training; I’m going to leave that for another post.

What is Interval Training?

Basically it means you do a period of hard work, and a period of easy work, and repeat. For example, you could do a 10 minute workout on the bike. Start with 2 minutes of spinning on an easy level, but reasonably fast, and then up the level, still spinning fast but also pushing hard for 1 minute. Alternate this a few times, and you will find you are left with a pretty hard workout and a lot more calories burnt. This is only one small example of interval training, you can change the level, incline, speed, time…everything. It allows you to work a lot harder in a smaller amount of time. Because you are pushing hard during the intense phase, you will burn more calories from that workout, get more fitness benefits, and have a raised metabolism for longer after the workout. Look out for a more detailed post on Interval Training in the near future for some more examples.

Slash Your Strength Training

A simple way to cut down strength training time is supersets. Supersetting allows you to do the same workout, work the same muscles and get exactly the same benefits as a normal workout. It also allows you to burn a few more calories, as you will be working more and resting less.

What is a Superset?

A superset is when one exercise is done directly after another, without a rest break. Wait, my trainer tells me I need to rest to get the benefits? Yes, you do. The trick is to superset different muscle groups. For example, you could superset an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise. Do a set of Bench, and then do a set of Leg Press. When you do your set of Leg Press, you are resting for the Bench, and vice versa. Another example, and probably an easier way to organize your program is alternating opposing muscle groups. For example, Bench, with Seated Row. Bench uses your Pecs, Triceps and Anterior Deltoids. Seated Row uses your upper back muscles (Rhomboids, Traps, Posterior Deltoids, etc). You will be resting the chest group when you do your Seated Row, and vice verca.

Supersetting your exercises is a way to basically cut your exercise time in half, but still get the same benefits from strength training. You need to take care that your are not exercising any muscles groups that are the same in your superset, this will lead to over training and over development of that muscles, and it will be way too fatigued to actually lift as much as it can. Check with your trainer to make sure you aren’t doubling up.

Now that you have no excuse for a lack of time at the gym, go and get to it, try some intervals training and supersetting.