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Train Smarter, Not Harder

Posted Jan 15 2009 11:46pm
I really can’t take credit for the topics that I write about on this blog. Most of the time someone tips me off as to what to put into my next post. It is usually a friend, client or someone I just met that says something that makes me say to myself “I need to write about this topic”. They ask me a question about a topic that I thought was universally known, but obviously not. Sometimes, it is a bold statement about training that makes no sense at all from a scientific standpoint. Then sometimes, you get the person who brings up a big myth that reminds me “I need to let the world know this is false!”.

In this case, it was a friend talking about wanting to get her ass kicked in the gym. Although I am a big advocate of getting or kicking your ass in the gym, there is a smart way and dumb way to go about it. In this case it would have been a pretty dumb way. She had a free training session at a commercial gym, so went in to see the trainer. According to her, “I could have kicked my ass way more than he did, if I am with a trainer I expect to get pushed”. Now, this is a comment that under normal circumstances could make sense. The problem is, it was her FIRST session with this trainer. If the trainer had any clue about training people, the first session would be slow. In fact the first session is boring, it should consist of an assessment of some sort and maybe some exercises to further your assessment or to introduce a few exercises. The big problem I have with most commercial gyms is this free session thing they do to try and get more clients. Actually, its mainly the clients faults. Some expect to have the hardest workout of their lives, others are scared and want it easy. This leaves trainer in a bind because if they have a brain, they won’t put someone through a tough workout unless they have assessed and know how that persons body moves. Before I start rambling about this, lets get into some actual information you can take with you.

Since most people go about training in a not so educated way. Many believe the harder they work, the more results they will get. The problem with this is you see a whole lot of goofy exercises done very poorly at an insanely fast tempo.

The first issue is the exercise selection. You don’t have to pick the hardest exercises you know, string them together and do them non-stop until you want to puke. This is a sure way to get “overtrained”, basically you will break down at some point soon and be forced to take a week off or your body will be wrecked. Stick with the stuff you know, and do it correctly. Unless you are a bodybuilder, stick with multi-joint exercises. The more muscles you involve the better. Don’t take me wrong and get out of line doing everything you can at once. I am talking about things like a squat, dead lift or even a squat to overhead press.

I see people doing burpees or someone doing a power clean and it’s done so badly that I make a face in pain. The issue here is not the exercise selection but the technique they are using. If you see someone doing a complicated exercise and want to do it but you have never done it, I suggest two things. 1) Ask the best trainer at the gym how its done. A lot of trainers are lost when it comes to proper technique in many lifts, but every gym has a few trainers that know what their doing. Don’t worry they will be happy to help you out with one exercise. 2) Go home and Google it or watch a video of it on You Tube. If you don’t know the name of the exercise, ask the person who is doing it. If you Google or You Tube it, try and make sure a professional is demonstrating rather than someone just making a home video so they can be on the internet.

Tempo is a huge part of exercise that, not to many talk about or know about . Basically what I mean by this is the rate at which you lower (eccentric), pause (isometric) and raise (concentric) a weight or your body. For the sake of not writing a book right now I’ll give you the quick and dirty. You should alway look to overcome the weight as fast as possible. By overcome, I am talking about the hard part of an exercise where the weight really comes into play (concentric). If you are bench pressing it would be from the chest, pressing up. In a pull up it is when you are pulling up. In a squat it would be when you are on the way back to a standing position. Got it? Good. When I say “as fast as possible” I mean quick and under control. If you are using a lot of weight, you may not appear to be moving it fast at all, but you should be trying to move it as fast as you can. If the weight is lighter it shouldn’t be almost flying out of your hand. The eccentric (loading) part of the lift should be between 2-4 seconds. Depending on your goal, if it is weight loss or general fitness, stay around two seconds. If you want to get strong or ripped, stick with around four seconds. The isometric part, (which is when the weight stops briefly because of a change in direction) should be between 1-2 seconds usually. Tempo can make just about any exercise go from weight loss, to general strength, to hypertrophy, to max strength. So pay attention to it.

A couple other things are rest and total work load. You don’t have to go non-stop until the session ends. Take a rest in between every couple of exercises or even every exercise. If you are trying to lose weight you a 60 second rest after 2 or 3 exercises should be sufficient. If you want to put on mass go with around 90 seconds to two minutes. If you are looking to get as strong as possible, this can be any where from 2-5 minutes based on what your doing and how heavy it is. Also, don’t do 25 exercises when you get in the gym. Pick between 5-10 and do multiple sets of those.

Please understand that these are very abbreviated and somewhat watered down suggestions. I know some people may be upset at me for giving tips such as these because they aren’t all technically 100% correct. What I mean by this, is it gets way more complicated than what I just explained. If you don’t know much about exercise or are pretty new to it, these will be a good starter and give you more of an idea than most have. I am really trying to take very difficult and complex topics and break them down to where anyone can understand them. That is my goal of this whole blog. There would be no point in me getting all scientific and talking about things that go way over the average exercisers head. I hope you got something out of this, there’s more to come! Understand that a lot more goes into exercise than what appears on the surface.
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