Saturday, May 15, 2010

Are you choosing the right weight?

Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, performed a study at the gym in which they watched people choose weights. It led them to conclude that the majority of people were choosing weights that were far too light for their fitness level. Now, there's nothing wrong with being cautious and I realize that sometimes we just don't feel like pushing it, but if you want to make advances in muscle strength and weight loss—you need to lift appropriately.

However, the easiest way to get hurt is to lift weights that are far too heavy for you. It would be wrong of me to send you to the gym without a short course in choosing the proper weight. So let me begin:

First and foremost, recognize the difference between pushing and straining. Pushing your muscles throughout a workout is a good thing, provided you can hold proper form. The minute you break form, or the minute you experience any type of pain—that means you're straining, and it's a surefire sign that you're lifting a weight that is too heavy. It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that you need to pick a weight that allows you to push your muscles without straining them. And if the last two or three reps of your set are difficult but you can still hold form, then you're lifting the right weight.

So what's up with those last few reps being harder? Well, obviously your muscles are getting tired. More specifically, you're on your way to temporary muscle failure.

Temporary muscle failure occurs when you absolutely cannot complete one last rep. If you're lifting the right weight you won't necessarily get there by your predetermined amount of reps per exercise—and that's OK. You don't have to reach temporary muscle failure to make advances, however some people employ this method of training to push through a plateau. And if you want to do just that, you'll need to keep lifting those weights beyond those fast few difficult reps. It's a good technique, but extra caution must be used because it puts you at a higher risk for over training.

Words of advice: Training to temporary failure  breaks down your muscle fibers at a higher rate, which  means you absolutely have to give yourself ample time to recover. Never rain a muscle group to failure more than once a week. And always do so on the last set of the last exercise. Finally, if you're lifting to the point of failure, it means that at some point you won't be able to control the weight. Please have someone there to help you!

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