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Weight Training Tips: How to Maximize Your Workout

Posted Aug 24 2008 1:49pm
DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Welcome to our webcast, I'm David Folk Thomas. Are you like me? Do you try to stay fit? You belong to a gym? It seems everybody does these days. If you're like me, you probably don't do it the correct way. I like to get in there, spend little time, just throw the weights on, and I'm sure I'm not coming close to doing the proper weights, reps, procedures, all of that. Joining us today, two guys who are going to set us all straight on the matter.

To my left is Jim Ramsay. He's the team trainer, the Athletic Trainer for the New York Rangers hockey team. So he's used to telling bigger guys than myself how to do things right. Sitting next to Jim is Dr. Jonathan Glashow. He's a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at Lennox Hill Hospital in New York. He's also a consult to the New York Rangers, as well as numerous olympic athletes. Gentlemen, thanks for joining us today on this webcast. Now let's start with you, Jim. Weights with reps, all that. How do you know what to do? You go in there and you say, "OK, let's throw some plates on there." How do you know how many times to do it and when to move on?

JIM RAMSAY: I guess the biggest thing that can't emphasize enough is, when an individual goes into a fitness facility they should talk with their fitness professional. Certified strength and conditioning people in the facilities can give people proper direction in terms of what they need to do. The number one issue when a person goes into that type of facility is goal setting. What do they want to achieve when they go into the facility? Do they want to lose weight? Do they want to basically get a fitter body? Do they play field hockey? Do they play La Crosse, do they play soccer? Or are they just a person who wants to get in better health? That's basically your first goal, goal setting, when you go into that facility.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Jonathan, add to that please.

JONATHAN GLASHOW, MD: I think it's a great mistake to go in without some professional advice if they have had none in the past, as Jim said. I think if in doubt, when embarking on a new exercise, to guess low rather than high. You try to get us to pinpoint a number of how much, how many reps. There are all kinds of theories. I guess in general between 10 on the low side and 15 on the high side for repetitions and I think that should be done comfortably and in the correct form. I think all too many people sacrifice form for weights, meaning they do far too much weight and their form suffers for that. So starting at a lesser weight with proper instruction, you can't overemphasize the goal orientation, but the proper form first, then build the weight later. You don't gain anything by doing these heavy weights with poor form. All these numbers are based upon doing things correctly. Isolating the muscle you want to work and doing it correctly prevents injury and you get more out of it.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Is the general rule of thumb that you start out, let's say on the bench press or any exercise you're going to do, and you load it up and then you increase from there? Is that always how you do it? You say, put x amount of weight and then you do that set and you rest, the next set you increase?

JIM RAMSAY: There's a lot of different terminology that you can use. The first days of weight training when you get involved, I like to refer to as the anatomical adaptation phase.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: I like to refer to it that way.

JIM RAMSAY: Exactly. Basically what that phase is, is it's allowing your body to become used to the training method that you're utilizing. During that phase there's going to be a lot of muscles soreness and aches and pains that people aren't used to feeling. Like Jonathan said, what we try to do there is, two to three sets of 10-15 repetitions. By the first set of 15 if we're doing a biceps curl, you should feel a little bit of fatigue in the muscle. If you don't then your weight's too light. Basically the first couple of sessions are going to be trial and error. So that individual's going to go in and if by 15 or 10 they can't lift it any more and maintain the proper positioning and form, then the weight is too heavy. So there's a lot of trial and error in that first adaptation phase.

Then basically, it's goal oriented. Basically trying to change the repetitions and the sets that you're doing and adding and taking away weight can basically work with what you're trying to achieve in terms of your goals.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: As far as when you're doing sets, you mentioned that maybe you're getting to a point where you can't do 15. I guess you always want to have a spotter, right? You want to say always work with a spotter. But how often at that last rep of any particular set do you want to be able to do that completely by yourself as you did the first one and just feel more fatigue, so to speak? Or do you want to have to struggle with it and have somebody help you?

JONATHAN GLASHOW, MD: I think what you're trying to bring out is the point of failure. I think one, at the end of their last set, by the end of those repetitions of the last set, achieve failure. Muscle failure, meaning you can no longer do that repetition properly without some slight assistance. I think that would be the ideal. I don't know Jim's feeling on that. It's slight differences among different people and different thoughts, but it would be my suggestion that by the end of their last set, toward the end reps that you should be at complete failure, and having the aid of a spotter at that point wouldn't be a bad thing. That means you've exhausted the muscle completely.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Go ahead and add to that.

JIM RAMSAY: I think that's excellent. The one aspect again there, is the learning phase. Having a spotter there and available, or a professional there available with you so that they can maintain your form while you're doing the exercise and there to provide a spot because when you're a beginning in the weight room, those weights can be very heavy and very dangerous and you can compromise yourself if you're lifting too heavy a weight. When you get to that failure point basically you've maxed out your muscle. The muscle has done everything that you've wanted it to do in proper form and you're going to achieve your goals through that failure aspect of the muscle.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Do you want to say if you're doing biceps curls, say, your second set, at the end of that, do you want to be failing there or do you want to just save that always for the last set of reps?

JIM RAMSAY: Jonathan might be able to add to this, but basically what we try to do there is, again, it depends on your goals and what phase of weight training you're in. What we try to do with younger individuals on our team is try to emphasize the three sets of 15 when they're starting out. That way the muscles can get used to being stressed in that manner to the fatigue. But later on when we're starting to stress heavier weights and maintaining form and that, then if we've achieved a little bit of failure too soon we have to adapt their weight. We try to emphasize three sets of 10, to three sets of 15. If they fatigue before that they're using too heavy a weight.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: How much time to do want to rest between sets?

JONATHAN: It's a good question and I think it depends on how heavy you're going and again, what the goals are. I think if you look at some body builders and their studies, when they do very heavy weights and very core muscle heavy weights, like the bench press or squats. They rest three to four minutes between sets. I think a very common mistake is maybe somebody like you, Dave, who goes in and wants to get out of the gym so quickly that they go from set to set to set and they don't give their body a chance to recoup. So if you don't wait at least a couple of minutes when doing significantly heavy sets I think you're cheating yourself because you're not giving your body an ability to replete or gain the substrates and chemicals within the muscles to have them contract maximally again.

So I think you have to wait. Maybe two minutes, maybe three. Jim's dealing with all the Ranger professionals. Some of the boxers that I see, we give a lot of time between. Others who want to do a lighter weight can recover more quickly. Sprinters, for instance. Maybe they don’t have to wait as long. It's variable.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: We've got a video clip right here of somebody doing some biceps curls and Jim, why don't you tell me, is he doing this at the proper speed? Sometimes you see people in there and they're going so fast and huffing and puffing. He looks like he's taking his time? Is he doing it the right way?

JIM RAMSAY: He's actually doing very well. He's maintaining a good tempo. Typically it's a two second lift and then a one second pause at the top and then a two or three second lower, or eccentric phase on the way down with a one second pause. So it's basically slow and under control. So you're basically maximizing the muscle. What we try to have people do is focus in on what they're doing. Like you, Dave, going in and ripping off a set of ten as fast as you can.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: I do it right sometimes.

JIM RAMSAY: Exactly. But basically what we're trying to do is emphasize a good tempo so that the athlete or individual feels the muscle working, focusing on their goal. To make that muscle work and work smoothly and basically comfortably as well as maintaining their form.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Jonathan, would you say -- I'll use myself as the whipping boy again -- that you go in and you think, "I'm just going to try to lift as many weights as possible, do it as quickly as possible, get out, and therefore I'm maximizing my workout." In reality, you're doing the exact opposite. How do you get somebody to know that it's more important to do it slower?

JONATHAN GLASHOW, MD: To use what Jim said, he's right on. The two key words that he mentioned are control and focus. I think it far better to control the weight at the proper resistance and focus on that muscle group, rather than do the absolute number. I mean, it's far better to do five or six reps the right way than 12 or 15 that use three muscles. In other words, and I think we may see a tape of this, if somebody, in doing a biceps exercise, incorporates their back muscles and their front shoulder muscles and everything else, they're not stressing their biceps nearly as much as if they used a much lighter weight and controlled and focused on the biceps properly.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: What about, you also hear about squeezing it out? Do want to tense your arms if it's a biceps curl? Do you want to really focus on that, or do you just want to lift it as normal?

JONATHAN GLASHOW, MD: I think the body has a very good memory, and if you train the muscle to work over it's complete arc of motion, when you go to use that muscle in some other event that you've trained for, whether it be hockey or baseball or football, it will remember being stressed under all those conditions. If you strengthen the muscle in a very limited range, it will be very good in that limited range, but you take it out of that range and it won't function as well. So in order to gain as much as possible you'd want to train that muscle through the entire range. Jim's tempo, up slow or up medium pace, hold, and control and slow down, I think is excellent.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: OK, and I think we have the clip you just alluded to a moment ago. What's this guy doing wrong?

JIM RAMSAY: Basically, this guy has too much weight on the bar. This would be you, Dave. What he's trying to do here is, he's trying to lift and create, again, his beach body, where he's going to have the big biceps and the big chest. He's giving up form to lift a heavier weight, which he's not benefiting from this at all. He's shrugging his shoulders up, he's arcing his back, he's lifting his chest to try to get the weight up. His biceps aren't doing half the work that they should be doing. When he dropped the weight down and did some concentration curls in a lighter weight he could focus and maintain that workload throughout the range of motion. Whereas there, he's creating a scenario for injury.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: The last thing -- we're almost out of time -- that I wanted to ask about. You always hear the higher the weight, building strength. The more reps, building size. Is that accurate or inaccurate?

JONATHAN GLASHOW, MD: I don't think it's quite that simple. The way the muscle builds is by breaking down muscle fibers and allowing the body to regrow those in a stronger way by giving them proper nutrition and rest time. So whether you do it with very high repetitions over many sets or you do it with a very heavy weight for a short amount of reps is a debate. I think it's probably best to do both and vary things.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: All right. Well, that's going to wrap this webcast up. So I want to thank my guests, Jim Ramsay and Dr. Jonathan Glashow. Remember, when you're going out to the gym -- and I think they were being a little too hard on me -- remember, basically focus on doing it slowly, properly, not that many reps, about 10-15 reps, about three sets of each exercise, and you'll get out of there, maximizing your time and looking a lot better at the beach. Thank you for joining us on this webcast. I'm David Folk Thomas. We'll see you next time.

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