Rules of En­gage­ment

Best prac­tices for strength train­ing, re­gard­less of age or phys­i­cal con­di­tion

Times of the Islands - - Departments - BY TONY DICOSTA, C. P.T.

“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.


• Ki­ne­si­ol­ogy (study of a body’s move­ment). • Which mus­cles are flex­ors and which are ex­ten­sors.


• 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.


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.

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