- Your Body NEEDS Weight Training
- Effect of Exercise on Diet
- “Morning Starter” Exercise Program
- Training with Body Weight
- Abdominal Exercises
- Power Training to Release Growth Hormone
- 2-3-5, 7-11 Weight Training Program
- Avoid Overtraining
- A Short, 7-Day Workout Plan
- A Longer, 10-Day Program
- Keep a Training Record
Weight training, or any of it’s resistance-training cousins, is vital for maintaining bone mass, in addition to building muscle. And now that we know “sitting is the new smoking”, we know that you need some kind of resistance training to keep your muscles in shape, which means you not only look good, you want to be active — because a well-toned muscle is just itching to be doing something. So weight training in some form is something that you must build into your routine.
Originally published 1998
There are several surprises when it comes to weight training. Chief among them are:
- How vital it is if you really want to get into shape
- How few exercises are really needed to achieve the body you always wanted
- How quickly you go into “overtraining” if you do more than that
- How slowly results are achieved
- How good you feel, despite the slow growth process
How Vital is Weight Training?
Question: What does it mean to be really “alive”? Well, for starters it means being active. It means:
- Having a favorable strength-to-weight ratio that makes it possible to be active.
- Having the low fear of injury that lets you “go for it”.
Whether your goal is to stay alive in a dodgeball game, to keep your team alive in a tournament, to catch a jackrabbit for dinner, or to live your golden years, rather than merely existing through them, the right kind of weight training is a vital part of that process.
Whether you want to play a sport better, burn fat, or have a physique that people admire (including yourself, when you look in a mirror), you simply have to add weight training to your exercise regimen. Why? Well, the major reasons are:
- Weight training builds muscle.
- Muscle burns fat.
- More muscle lets you work harder at other activities, which burns more fat.
Surprisingly, nothing comes as close to weight training for building muscle. I discovered this fact quite by accident after years of training in volleyball and martial arts. I had surgery for an unrelated knee injury, and did lots of supervised recovery work using light weights and high repetitions (like 5 lbs for 50 reps).
When the recovery process was complete, I was amazed to discover how much stronger those muscles were. Things that had been difficult before, like holding my leg out straight, suddenly became easy! I began to wonder: If that small amount of traning had such a large effect, what would a lot of training do?? That experience began an exploration of weight training that has continued to this day.
Will it get you into shape?
Defining the body you want is all about creating a certain shape. What makes a desirable shape? Let’s review your choices. First, there’s fat. Fat has a shape. Its large, round, and it just sits there, jiggling once in a while. Fat is not the shape you want. So what about skinny? For answer, look at a skeleton. That is the ultimate “skinny”. Is that the shape you want? I think not. So, what’s left? Muscle! And how do you build muscle? Weight training! (For women, that muscle is covered with a thin layer of extra body fat that produces a smooth surface instead of angular bulk. But it is still muscle that provides the underlying shape!)
Note, though, that while weight training is important for building shape, its not all there is to it. You also need cardiovascular training and abdominal training. And you need to eat right, too. The trick is to balance all the different kinds of training you need to do and have enough energy left over for minor things like making a living and taking care of your family!
It would be nice to think that the equation was as simple as “build muscle, burn fat”, but its not. Its more like “build muscle, use muscle, burn fat”. And while you’re at it, eat right in order to do all of the above.
How Weight Training Helps
With weight training, you:
- Build the strength you need to be active
If you’re overweight to the point that exercise is difficult, then weight training is the first and most important thing you need to do. As your strength improves, you’ll be able to move your body more and more easily, and engage in the kinds of activities that keep body weight down.
- Build the strength you need for endurance
As you get stronger, your endurance improves. It seems odd, because we don’t tend to think of weight training as an activity that builds endurance. But as your muscles grow stronger, the same activities require less effort, which translates directly to endurance. In addition, stronger muscles stay in the aerobic zone longer, so a level of activity that previously had you out of breath becomes comfortably aerobic. So even though weight training is an anerobic activity (without oxygen, good for short bursts of intense efforts) it helps to prepare you for aerobic activity (with oxygen, good for long term sustained efforts).
- Build fast twitch muscle fiber
Whether you’re dodging a ball or chasing a jackrabbit, speed is the key. And fast muscular actions come from fast twitch muscle fibers. The right kind of weight training actually improves your speed even more than it improves your endurance. And that becomes even more important as we age. While slow twitch fibers tend to stay with us throughout our lives, fast twitch fibers disappear over time — unless we work to grow them and maintain them. Weight training is ideal for that purpose — but only the right kind of weight training.
- Build bone mass
The fear of injury is another impediment to activity that increases as we age, because bones get weaker and take longer to heal. But weight training applies the kinds of forces to the bones that are required for bone growth. Without those forces, bones invariably become weaker and more porus. With those forces, bone mass is maintained and even improved. So weight training is vital not only for keeping fast twitch muscle fibers, but also for maintaining bone mass.
- Improve healing
The healing process requires growth hormone, which signals the body to repair itself. The right kind of weight training promotes the release of growth hormone which, like a rising tide, raises all of the ships in the harbor. So strenuously exercising one part of the body can help to heal another part. And strenuously exercising the muscles can help to promote the internal grwoth and repair of internal organs and other parts of the bodily system.
Clearly, weight training is an important component of any exercise program. It’s not the only part — you still need cardiovascular training, endurance training, stretching, and the skills training that is relevant to your sport or activity — but the right kind of weight training is a vital part of your overall training program.
What Kind of Training Do You Need?
The exercises you need either use body weight, or free weights. Those exercise involve balancing, and using the small, stabilizer muscles that keep you balanced — and that prevent injury. Weights you hold in one hand are the easiest to avoid when dropped, so dumbbells, kettlebells, and clubbells are my favorite.
- You build the all important stabilizing muscles, and improve coordination.
- They let you use multiple muscle groups together, the way you do in life.
The machines are a great way to get started. When you’re a scrawny, skinny kid, the way I was, they’re a lot less intimidating than the free weights the jocks are using over in the corner. But those free weights build muscle you can use in real life. As Dr. Michael Colgan observed, no one ever got injured using exercise machines in the gym (that’s why gym owners like them) — but when you strengthen the main muscle without strengthening the stabilizers that surround it, you’re more likely to injure yourself out on the field.
So use the machines if you need to, to get started. But as soon as you can, graduate to the free weights!
How Many Exercises Do You Need?
Ideally, you would like to work out each muscle group in your body, once a week, or once every 10 days, as described in the next article in this series, 2-3-5, 7-11 Weight Training Program. And that goal can be accomplished with as few as four exercises, that work the major muscle groups:
- Bench Press
- Clean and Jerk
Of course, while effective, those exercises take a fair amount of training! So if you’re going to do them, be sure to get coaching from someone who is experienced. But I list them as an example, to show that you don’t need to be doing a lot of different exercises to get one heck of a good workout. Add some cardio to that list, and you have a body re-shaping program par excellence. (Other articles in this series provide exercises that aren’t quite as efficient, but which also don’t require the same kind of training!)
Protecting Your Back
For exercises that work the lower back, like deadlifts and the “good morning” exercise, you need to perform the exercise properly, in order to do it safely. The main idea is to keep your back flat, throughout the effort, but to be sure you’re doing that, you need to have someone coach you, and give you feedback. The good news is that, once you learn the technique, you’ll be able to lift heavy objects safely for the rest of life, without worrying about injury to your lower back. (One experienced athlete of my acquaintance pulled a back muscle while putting away the weights he was using. So this is a lesson you can and should all the time.)
Learn more: 2-3-5, 7-11 Weight Training Program
How Many Reps Do You Need?
The goal is to reach the point of momentary muscular fatigue. In plain English, “you can’t do one more rep”. So if you’ve done 4 repetitions, or reps, in the set you’re in, you’ve reached the point that you can’t do rep number 5. (Or maybe you just barely squeaked out rep number 4, in which case you don’t even try for rep number 5.)
Less that risks injury, more than that is not as effective for burning muscle
Colgan 7-10 days recovery time. So this program hits each muscle group once per week, which is about right. That’s a week of growth time for every weight-training session.
Your measurement of strength is weight times reps. When you get beyond the maximum reps in your range, you add weight. So if you are working in the 8-12 rep range, you add weight when you can do 13 reps. My growth rate allows me to do one additional rep each week. (If you’re in the prime of life you may grow faster, but count on about one rep per week.) So if you start out being able to do 8 reps at a given weight, it will take 6 weeks to move up to the next higher rate! That’s slow. But you feel good, so its not so bad.
It will take some experimentation at first to find the right weight for each exercise. Keeping a progess chart makes it easier to “dial in” on the right weight, adding or subtracting from week to week until you find yourself in the right range. After that, it lets you set the ideal weight for an exercise each week, without any guesswork.
The amount of weight to add depends on the exercise. For major muscle groups like the legs, when you are using both legs at the same time, you can add 10 lbs. Try this out for starters. If you use your training record to monitor yourself, you’ll figure out pretty quickly how much weight to add, to stay in your target range of 3-5 reps.
Why Does it Make You Feel So Good?
Although the process of building muscle is a long and slow, the benefits of doing it are immediate. First, there is the “pump” — the feeling your body has after weight training. The muscles are pumped full of blood. They are physically expanded in size, and they feel bigger, more massive.
Then there are the endorphins. Those wonderful little natural pain-killers that give you “runners high” after even a short weight training session.
Finally, there is the sense of confidence you get. You are building muscle and creating shape. You are taking charge of your destiny and building the future you want. You stand straighter and walk taller. And that may be the best reason of all to start weight training!
What about “Overtraining”?
Training is seductive. It feels good, and you see changes, so it’s pretty easy to get carried away and try to do too much. When you do, it can lead to overtraining.
Overtraining syndrome is a condition marked by fatigue, depression, lack of interest in or enthusiasm for work, sex, or just plain living. It’s subtle, it’s sneaky, and it sneaks up on you. You have to learn to recognize the early warning symptoms. and take a vacation for a week or two when they arrive. Its amazing how much better you feel.
Probably the hardest thing to do in my athletic endeavors has been to develop a sense of pace, to learn when its wiser to skip a workout instead of pushing through it, and still maintain a sense of consistency and progress. In fact, after decades, it’s a problem I’m still working on.
Hopefully, the regimen recommended in this series of articles will help shorten your learning curve or, with luck, avoid the problem entirely.
Learn more: Avoid Overtraining
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