Rules of Engagement
Best practices for strength training, regardless of age or physical condition
“Before you tear down a fence make sure you know what it is there for.” The rules of fitness and strength training are much like that anonymous quote. Sure, you can question any rule at any time, but you had better make sure you know why that rule exists in the first place.
In the course of training my clients and in my own training sessions, I observe so many people in the gym violating the best principles of training. Sometimes that is downright dangerous. Other times it is merely an example of wasting valuable time (and
effort) performing exercises in a way that is not optimal for success. Long-established strength-training “best practices” are not rocket science. They were not dreamed up by some genius in a lab, but have been established by gym rats through decades of empirical testing in the weight room and the field of competition and confirmed (especially in recent years) by highly scientific testing methods.
Is there a time to break the rules? You bet! Silver screen legend Katharine Hepburn once observed, “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” But, seriously, you need to know the rules before you break them.
So here is a bit of free personal training advice. These principles are what I teach all my clients, regardless of age or physical condition.
PROPER WARM-UP Essential for safety and maximum efficiency. A good warm-up will include some cardio for core temperature warm-up, some light ab work and lower back work to warm up the core stabilizing muscles, and then the performance of the appropriate stretches for each muscle to be strength-trained that day.
FULL RANGE OF MOTION Though our muscles have an infinite number of positions within the range of the joint’s movement, for fitness purposes we are primarily concerned with full extension
(stretch position), midrange and full contraction positions. For maximum exercise efficiency and aesthetic results, we always employ a full range of motion.
LEARN EACH MUSCLE’S FUNCTION
• Kinesiology (study of a body’s movement). • Which muscles are flexors and which are extensors.
SOME DEFINITIONS: “SETS” AND “REPS”
• Rep (Repetition): One entire movement from extension through contraction and back again. • Set: The number of times an exercise repetition is performed (example: one set of 30 reps).
SET AND REP SCHEME Our goal: One light warm-up set of 30 reps followed by two “work” sets of a heavier weight for 20 reps. You should barely be able to finish the second work set. When you can complete that second work set during a few workouts, you will need to raise the weight for both work sets, then you
won’t be able to complete that last set and will have to work up to 20 reps again. Yeah, it’s tough. Get used to it.
AMOUNT OF WEIGHT/RESISTANCE If you can’t do 20 reps with it, it is too heavy. It is important to “feel the muscle and not the w eight.” Perfect exercise performance trumps the amount of w eight used. This is wher e a great many trainees go wrong.
TEMPO This is the speed with which the exercise movement is performed. • Concentric (the contraction movement): A count of “one,” or about a second, or faster. • Eccentric (muscle lengthens as it returns to start position): A count of “two,” or about twice as long as the concentric portion of the movement.
I OBSERVE SO MANY PEOPLE IN THE GYM VIOLATING THE BEST PRINCIPLES OF TRAINING.
TIMING BETWEEN SETS My clients take 30 to 60 seconds' rest between most sets (usually stretching the muscle during that time). A brisk pace is required for maximum efficiency and metabolic boost (burns calories, too!).
BREATHING Breath out during the concentric (hard) part of the movement and in during the eccentric (return). Breathing is very important in getting your timing correct. Holding your breath is dangerous and can increase blood pressure.
MIND-MUSCLE “CONNECTION” Very important to be fully “mindful” of the muscle being worked. For example: During curls, you are not just moving your lower arm up and down, you are consciously controlling the bicep muscle during each rep. These guidelines are appropriate for most trainees, from beginner to intermediate (two to three years' experience). As one gains experience, strength and conditioning, the intensity of your workouts should increase.
Remember: “No pain, no gain ... too much pain, no brain!” n Tony DiCosta is a Certified Personal Trainer and a fitness writer. As a competitive physique athlete in the Masters Divisions, Tony has been the Over-60 Florida state champion and holds numerous regional and international titles.