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12 Days of Fitness 2014: Day 2 – Common Strength Training Mistakes to Avoid

(This is Part 2 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

too-lightEven before my days as a fitness professional, I spent a lot of time in gyms, including backyard, basement, garage, as well as brick and mortar buildings. Through my own experiences and subsequent educational background, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about how the muscles work, how they adapt, and how they grow. But despite all of that, I still learn something new every day that just keeps it that much more fascinating. So imagine my disbelief and frustration when I see those who are clearly investing the time to lift weights, whether it be to build strength, change the shape of their body, or improve some level of performance, and they’re going about it all wrong. It’s not just about proper form either as there are exceptions and individual characteristics to consider (we’re not all built the same) in each case. The lifter from beginner to the experienced is guilty of making the mistakes too as it pertains to strength training and here are a list of some of the most common ones to avoid.

Using Too Much Mr. Mo-Mentum

Certain power movements require some momentum to complete but not every day, standard lifts. I’ve witnessed way too often when a person uses way too much momentum and swinging when they lift. Momentum doesn’t work a muscle through the full range of motion. Instead, it works towards improving your reversal strength. When you lower a weight down (eccentric contraction) and immediately reverse it (concentric contraction), there is a large amount of stored kinetic energy. This energy acts like a spring and ends up neglecting the beginning of the concentric phase of the movement. It’s like driving a manual transmission without first taking your foot off of the gas to step on the clutch.

Pumping Ego Instead of Muscles

A lot of people, men in particular, are afraid to use the amount of weight they should be using rather than the weight they’re attempting to lift. They’re more afraid to be thought of as weak rather than sensible as they proceed to load up a bar with weight they can’t lift correctly. Train smart and progressively by using the right amount of weight and don’t worry what others think. If being in a contest is what you want, there are plenty that you go train for.

Using a Reduced Range of Motion

There are times when partial reps have a benefit – like when you’re trying to train your sticking points. For most people though, they should be lowering the weight and raising it through the full range of motion. Unless you want to get really good at doing quarter squats or partial pull-ups, you must carry the load from beginning to end as much distance as safely possible.

Neglecting the Lower Body

Men are by far more guilty of this than women are. It’s the beach body mentality – arms and chest get priority. Unless you want to look like Mr. Potato Head standing on tooth picks, you need to be training your lower body with the same intensity as your upper. Your quads, hamstrings, hips, and glutes are huge muscles – much bigger than your chest, biceps, and triceps. Adding muscle to these areas will do amazing things for your physique.

Not Having a Plan of Periodization or Progressive Overload

I’ve seen this way too many times when you can tell the day of the week by the body parts that are predominantly being worked in the weight room. With that, the same exercises done in the same order with the same weight for the same number of reps. If you’re going into the gym and doing the same thing each time, you’re never going to make any real progress. You must plan your workouts so that you’re continually getting stronger over a period of time. You might have to push forward with weight and then back off some before pushing forward again, but the overall trend should be up if your goal is to get stronger.

Unknowingly Creating Muscle Imbalances

Antagonistic muscles, the muscles that are opposite the muscles getting worked, need to be trained in balance. In addition, stabilizer muscles often get neglected, which keeps them weak and leads to injury when lifting heavy weight. Make sure all muscles in your body, however small or unnoticed, are being trained equally.

Trying to Spot Reduce With Exercise

Using the leg extension, leg curl, abductor/adductor, or glute machines aren’t going to help you tone up your butt and legs any better than any other exercise. That’s because fat loss cannot be targeted with a specific exercise. Fat loss is systemic, not localized. Use strength training to work your entire body and to create a metabolic environment that’s conducive to fat loss. Your diet will take care of the fat loss.

No Respect For Rest

You stimulate growth when you train, but you grow when you rest. Training and recovery are equally important. Your muscles must be recovered if they are to work at their max capacity. Depending on the intensity of your workout, the amount of work you did, and your diet, you may need 48 hours or more to fully recover.

Overdoing the Isolation Exercises

Isolation exercises are fun, but they are the long route to results. Compound movement exercises, such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, bench presses, etc., that use multiple muscle groups at once, are much more effective at building muscle and strength. Make the core of your strength training program composed of compound exercises, and then use the isolation movements to work on weak points to compliment the bigger muscles.

Not Doing a Proper Warm Up

The best way to avoid injuries when weight lifting is to be properly prepared. Warming up for weight lifting doesn’t get the attention it should as in other physical endeavors. You should at the very least get your heart rate up and blood to the muscles before asking them to move resistances heavier than they experience on a daily basis. Doing some dynamic warm-up exercises before a workout can help prevent injury and even improve performance.

See you tomorrow for Day 3 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.



The Importance of Warming Up Before You Exercise

Warm-up-of-high-brightness-led-manufacturersThe beauty of exercise science is that it is always evolving. We discover and learn new things almost daily. The problem is, what science unfolds and what becomes popular belief are very distant, thus causing more pseudo-science than what really needs to be understood. There are several exercise truths however that through the course of the relatively young modern fitness movement (began in the 1950s) has stood the test of time none more other than the concept of warming up before exercise.

Why Should You Warm Up?

In a few more weeks (perhaps even now in some areas) you will want to let your car warm up a few minutes prior to driving on your way to work. Why? The engine and mechanical parts work better if given just a few minutes to get things circulating and heated up. Your body is no different. Here are some of the reasons why warming up your body prior to exercise is important:

  • Reduces the risk of injury and optimizes physical performance by lubricating the joints through the production of synovial fluid.
  • Warms up the muscles by increasing blood flow through the muscles and increasing core temperature, thus making the muscles more pliable.
  • Improves motor unit recruitment of particular movement patterns suitable for the upcoming workout
  • Increases the rate of sweat production to keep the body temperature regulated.
  • Elevates the heart rate so there is less of an initial stress to the body as the workout begins.
  • Helps your mental preparation for the task, taking the time to get into the right mindset so that the workout does not become yet another mundane activity.

It is an all too common mistake by novice and veteran exercisers alike to skip or neglect a proper warm up prior to working out. Unfortunately, it could be the difference between a very effective and safe workout and a so-so workout that could possibly end up with an injury. But what constitutes an effective warm up?

What Makes A Warm Up?

There is a short answer and a slightly longer but more specific answer to this question. First the short. Simply anything that you can do that gets the body moving, whether it’s jumping jacks, marching in place, old school calisthenics (toe touches, windmills, etc.), walking on the treadmill for a few minutes, or simply pedaling the bike, anything you can do to go from a state of rest to one of sustained activity. Depending on the length of workout you have planned or the temperature or relative humidity of the surroundings, the warm up can be effective as short as two to three minutes or as much as five to ten minutes.  But for a more proper and effective warm up, the warm up will resemble more of a workout to the novice exerciser but a welcomed addition for the experienced. Here are the components of a more effective warm up:

  • Joint Mobility – Good mobility truly is the fountain of youth! The further you can move your joints through their active range of movement the more mobile you are. As we age we lose mobility through the joints and become less and less mobile. A good mobility routine will not only help to lubricate the joints with synovial fluid but it will also help to maintain a good level of joint mobility. The stiffer the joints become the more labored the movements become. You will improve your economy of movement by increasing your mobility. Your mobility also has a direct impact on the way your body moves as an integrated unit. If you have tight hips then your lower back will need to become more mobile in order to move fluidly.  Joint mobility should be approached systemically from head to toe spending more time on stiff joints and less time on mobile joints.
  • Movement Integration – Prepare the body for exercise by integrating your entire body. Your body consists of small stabilizer muscles that keep your joints in place and larger prime mover muscles that do all the work. The best way to improve this is to include movements that require balance and cross body movements.
  • Movement Preparation – Movement preparation involves practicing specific movements that mimic the movements that you will be using in your workout. You would not want to prepare for a squat workout while sitting riding a bike. Movement preparation based exercises not only copy the exact movement patterns in preparation for the workout but they also give you time to improve them.
  • Soft Tissue Work – It is very important to keep all of your soft tissue in good condition. Muscles, tendons and ligaments that have micro-tears, adhesions and scar tissue needs to be addressed and assisted in the recovery process. Self-myofascial techniques such as foam rollers or even just a tennis ball can help to improve muscle movement by helping to break up knots and tight spots.

The Final Stretch

For many years, we thought that stretching the muscle prior to activity reduced the chance of injury. Research now shows that stretching prior to exercise has no effect on rate of injury and can have a serious effect on muscle performance. Joint mobility movements are far better at the beginning of a workout than the old fashioned static stretching exercises. Regardless of the amount of time you have never skip your warm up. A warm up is an important part of your workout; it is not separate from your workout. There are other parts that you can skip – like checking your phone every 30 seconds,

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

2013 12 Days of Fitness is coming soon! Hard to believe but it’s getting close to that time of year again. This will be my fourth year writing the 12 Days of Fitness, a 12 day feature on my website where I write about helpful exercise and health topics to keep you focused and thinking about your fitness through the busy holiday season. I’m gratefully accepting topic ideas so if there’s something you’d like to see featured in any one of the 12 Days, just let me know by sending me an email. All suggestions are completely anonymous.


12 Days of Fitness Truth 2010: My Top 10 Workout Mistakes – Day 7

top10Got to hand it to David Letterman; he popularized the Top 10 list for more than twenty years and it never gets old.  So in tribute to keeping Top 10 lists entertaining, here’s my list of the Top 10 mistakes people make when working out.  Perhaps you are or have been guilty of a few.

…..drum roll

#10) Not properly warming up.  Stretching is not warming up; neither is tying your shoes.  A warm-up can be anywhere from 2 – 5 minutes and should involve total body movement to increase body core temperature

#9) Not fueling properly before a workout session.  Ever try to drive a car without fuel?  You’re not going very far.

#8) More is better.  The only thing “more” guarantees is more soreness, more potential for injury, more overtraining, more disappointment.  When it comes to training, the focus should always be on quality, not quantity.

#7) Holding onto the treadmill rails. Bet on about 40% less calories burned as well as imbalances to your posture. Do you get to hold on to anything while walking elsewhere?

#6) Using light weights. When you start a resistance training program, whether a man or woman, the resistance is going to be light.  But no one is getting more toned or stronger by lifting a light resistance that does not challenge the muscles to change.

#5) Poor form.  Exercise is meant to improve and strengthen the physical form of the body.  Bad form and technique will ultimately cause injury and bodily harm.

#4) Sticking only to exercises you’re comfortable with.  By adding no variety to the training, you can bet on little to no returns on time investment.

#3) Training only your favorite body parts.  Men, it’s the chest and arms.  Women, it’s the butt, thighs and arms.  Both sexes spend an inordinate amount of time with abs.  Neither are getting the results they’re looking for.

#2) No stretching at all.  Stretching is most important and most valuable AFTER the workout.  But skipping it all together does not do the body good.

…drum roll. And the Number 1 Workout Mistake people make is

#1) Erase the benefits of the workout by consuming crap afterwards, thinking that they’re earned the extra calories because they burned them off previously during the workout.  WRONG!

See you tomorrow for Day 8 of the 12 Days of Fitness Truth.