This is the final installment of my 3-part series; The Framework Of Fitness. I hope you have found value in it, and the messages have offered you some food for thought with your exercise program.
I’ll be back after the 1st of the year all kinds of new things to say about why we should, and why we sometimes shouldn’t live a fitness-driven lifestyle.
In Parts I and II of this series sets, I explored asking the right questions prior to assembling a protocol of strength training; how many days per week, how many repetitions per set, how many sets per exercise, exercises per workout, and so-on. Of course the most important question is, what it is that you are really trying to accomplish with strength training?
I used a broad brush stroke to suggest that (most) people engage in strength training to seek some combination of the following benefits:
- build strength
- tone muscles
- shape muscles
- increase flexibility
- add muscle mass
- decrease loss in bone density
With those values in mind, I will now explore the most asked question I hear on a weekly basis, which is also the most over-valued question in strength training,
“How much weight should I be lifting?”
I say over-valued, because the amount of weight lifted in a strength exercise is of much less significance than how that weight is lifted.
Leggo My Ego
Your body does not know how heavy a weight is, it only knows how heavy a weight feels. That feel can be amended by how the weight is manipulated during the course of the exercise; decreased speed and a more complete range of motion will allow the muscles to be sufficiently fatigued with a lesser weight.
My response to the question of how much weight should be lifted is a simple formula; the weight should be challenging, yet achievable. It’s really that simple. It should be up to you, through the process of trial and error, to determine what weight meets those criteria. It should be measured less in pounds, and more by feel.
If one is planning to do 10 repetitions of a strength exercise, then the weight selected might be heavy enough that the last repetition is challenging to complete, but not so much that proper exercise form be breached in order to complete the last rep. Through your workout life, you should regularly ask your body questions and take inventory of the answers. What will come of that process is the cultivation of your instincts, and the ability to determine for yourself whether you should add or subtract weight on a given exercise.
In strength training excellent form should be king. Runners often use the expression, respect the distance. I feel much the same way about the amount of weight one uses in a strength exercise. I like to think of this as gravity management.
If among your goals in the gym is to develop more strength outside the gym, your first priority should be mastering exercise form. Only when you can slow a weight down and control it through the eccentric phase of the exercise (the negative), can you begin to develop a strength which will leave the gym doors with you.
Consider: In life, you don’t lift things up and place them back down 10 times fast. More often, we hold things in place for longer periods of time, or move them more slowly. An example might be carrying bags of groceries up a flight of stairs with arms cocked half-way to support those bags. Most often, we slowly apply pressure to turn a wrench. These are among countless instances when being a master of gravity management can aid you much better than being a master of fast momentum-driven repetitions.
Speed Kills. Well, It Certainly Can Maim
Slowing your repetition speed down not only lends itself to increased strength outside the gym, but will also make you less likely to get injured within the course of your strength movements. In strength training, injuries are more likely to come from fast momentum-driven movements than from slow and controlled movements.
Another benefit of slow repetition speed is that it supports increased tendon strength; where muscles increase in density as they fuse to the bone. Increased tendon strength supports increased joint strength, which can reduce the risk of injury in athletic endeavors such as golf, tennis, running and cycling.
You Got The Look
Okay, so I do workout to look like I workout – I have never hidden that part of my agenda. Among the highest virtues of slow repetition speed, is that slow negatives, through a full range of motion, can influence and maximize the shape and the clarity of the muscles much more than fast sloppy repetitions can. It’s just a matter of dialing in; of forgetting all that is taking place outside your body, and concentrating on the muscles involved in a given strength exercise.
I won’t attempt to quantify this but to say, I believe there is a direct relationship between concentration in a strength exercise, and influencing the shape and tone of the muscles. I live it with myself, and have seen it with many clients I have trained over the years. Those who are able to dial in and connect with an exercise tend to better wear that exercise for others to see – Jenn Randolph, please validate that in the comments section.
There is no empirical research here. No sources to be cited. No institutionalized information gathering of any kind. Still, there is a great deal of thought and experience in this series, born of common sense and intuition – traits often ignored in the agenda-ridden world of fitness information.
Get to know your body through your body, not through somebody else’s values, ideals, or agenda – mine included. The better you become acquainted with your fitness instincts, the easier it will be to adapt the framework of your fitness to your ever-changing goals. Happy holidays to you all, and thank you for taking time to read my blog. Be well. rc
Thank you to all who have taken time to read what my daughter calls my, “fitness crap” in 2010.
Oh, and there is this amazing cover of a classic song by Gillian Welch joined by Old Crow Medicine Show. Enjoy…