You’ve read about it in magazines. You’ve seen athletes doing it. Perhaps you’ve even watched it on TV shows like The Biggest Loser.
So you probably know that those who are serious about changing their body or improving their fitness performance should seriously consider lifting weights.
At DF we call it strength training. And we’ve seen great results since including this type of training in our personal training programmes over the last 10 years.
But done wrong it can lead to frustration with slow progress, getting bored, giving up or worse – getting injured.
So, if you’re already reaping the benefits of strength training, or considering adding it in the mix, read on to discover how to avoid the 6 most common strength training pitfalls:
When posture goes out the window the wrong muscles get used to perform the exercise. And there’s only so long you can get away with that before niggles, aches and pains start develop.
For example, if you’re pulling a weight towards you (like in a cable row), but your shoulders keep shrugging up towards your ears then you’re putting a huge strain on the muscles around the neck (instead of the upper back).
And with our stress-heavy lifestyles who needs more tension in their neck and shoulders?
There’s nothing like using a mirror to watch your technique. I know a lot of people hate looking at themselves in the mirror, and that’s cool. We’re just using it to check posture and get some visual feedback on what your body is doing – relative to what it should be doing.
How do you know if you’ve got the right posture? While each exercise will have it nuances , there’s one universal rule that can be applied to all strength exercises: keep your back in a straight position (what us exercise nerds call a ‘neutral spine’)
The neutral spine position is the foundation for safe, effective strength training and the starting point for performing an effective lift.
Learning what each exercise is supposed to be working helps too.
Once you know which area an exercise should be working you at least then know where you should feel it. You can then adjust your technique and posture accordingly.
If it’s important for you to not be wasting your time try hiring a personal trainer. Get some tuition and feedback in the early stages to help you learn how the moves should be performed and where you should be feeling each exercise.
Like learning anything new, having a teacher helps fast track the process.
With resistance training the idea is to create tension in the muscle, which causes it to get firmer and stronger. When you lift quickly you use momentum and gravity to do the work. That means the muscles kinda get a free ride.
As a result they don’t have to get any stronger or firmer – some of the main goals of lifting weights, right?
The best way to do this is to lift in a controlled tempo. We’ve found using specific guidelines for a given exercise works best – say prescribing 3 seconds to lower the weight and 1 second to lift it gives a controlled lift where momentum and gravity take a back seat and your muscles get maximum benefit in minimum time.
Remember; ten slow controlled reps will be more effective than 20 reps done sloppily with the weight swinging up and down at speed.
Pain is your body’s signal that damage is being done. And a big cause of people not seeing results is injury – often caused by ignoring the early signs of pain.
Now, I’m not talking about the kind of muscle burning that’s uncomfortable while you’re doing an exercise. This is totally normal. And the discomfort indicates you’re getting to the edge of your comfort zone and your body’s likely to be better as a result of the exercise.
I’m talking about the sharp pain, or ongoing ache, usually felt in a joint like the knee or perhaps the lower back. The kind of pain that you still feel the next day long after you‘ve finished the exercise. The kind of pain that means damage is being done.
If asked ‘does it hurt’ and you say yes then it’s NOT the kind of pain you should push through.
But what about “No pain – no gain”? I hear you say. “Don’t I have to just push through it?”
I’m pretty sure this age old mantra refers to pushing through the discomfort you feel when you’re working your body a little more than usual. Not pushing through the ‘this is injuring you’ type of pain that’ll leave you worse off.
Find something different to do. Or if you’re working with a professional they’ll be able to modify an exercise slightly to work the same muscles in a way that won’t lead to injury.
In short – if it hurts (and you don’t want to take time off injured) stop doing that exercise.
The body only changes in response to new stress placed on it. So when you lift weights for the first time your body’ll make some changes (firmer, stronger, better performing muscles) so next time the same work will be a a little easier.
But here’s the catch; If you don’t make it harder again, the body no longer has a reason to change. Which means you stop seeing results.
Progress every few workouts by trying the next weight up. Alternatively you could use the same weight but add an extra rep or two to increase the total weight lifted in a session.
Make progression a habit. Keep track of what you achieved and aim to do just a little more than last time.
Just like your body gets used to the weights you lift, it gets used to the specific exercises you do too.
This means the same exercises that worked so well in month one won’t have the same impact in month two. And by month three they won’t be having much of an impact at all.
Changing it up every 4 weeks also prevents one of the biggest reasons people fail:
Not only does your body get used to certain exercises your brain does too. So we want to give it new challenges to take on, new exercises to master to keep the mind engaged in the process.
So just as you feel you’re getting to grips with your workout programme it’s time to advance the exercises to the next stage.
Scales. Either the bane of your life or your best friend, depending on how things are going.
Problem is when you’ve got strength training in the mix you’re going to be maintaining muscle, or maybe even gaining a little (we want this – muscle helps you perform better AND burn more fat).
So if bodyweight is all you’re measuring you might think you’re not making progress. Perhaps lose motivation and quit because you didn’t think what you were doing was working.
Equally as bad you might NOT be making progress, but believing that you’re ‘turning fat to muscle’. So you stick with a routine that’s not actually working to deliver the visible and tangible results you’re looking for.
In either case the outcome is the same:
No results. Motivation plummets. Fitness aspirations screech to a hault.
Note: Just debunking one of the fitness myths of old – Fat and muscle are totally seperate. One doesn’t turn into the other. Each can only be lost or gained independently of each other.
The scale alone doesn’t tell the whole story. And can lead to disappointment when in fact you’re making really good progress.
At Diligent Fitness our personal trainers have found it’s best to track progress using a number of indicators. Including body fat %, circumference measurements, monthly progress photos and fitness tests to name a few.
Having more than one measure gives you an overall snapshot of how your body is changing in response to the programme. And you can then modify and adjust exercise and eating habits accordingly.
Strength training is a key part of an effective exercise programme, when done the right way. To see great progress from your training be sure to…
Need a little more help? Request more info about our programmes, talk to a Diligent Fitness Personal Trainer and learn more about how we can help you get back in the best shape of your life too: