I’ve spent years training myself and other people, in groups and one-to-one. The majority of the time I am coaching people who are new to weight training or have very patchy experience of training.
I have therefore evolved my top four concepts that everyone should get their head around when getting into weight training. These are the concepts that I communicate in my beginners’ weight training courses, like Ladies Who Lift.
1. Progressive resistance
The body is incredibly good at adapting to exercise. This means that when you do something challenging, the body is initially forced to change in response to the stress - like getting stronger or dropping fat.
However, the body quickly adapts to this challenge and stops changing. This is why so many people find it hard to get results in the gym. They’ve adapted quickly to the initial training but don’t know how to progress it.
Progressive resistance is finding ways continually to increase the challenge of the exercise. This can be done in various fashions: you can add weight; you can add volume (sets and reps); you can slow the tempo of the movement; you can change the mechanics of the movement to make it more difficult or increase range of motion; and so on.
If people go away with only one concept from my courses, I hope it’s this one, as I believe this is the one that will make the biggest difference to achieving your goals.
2. Movements not muscles
Because of the influence of bodybuilding on general gym-going, people tend to think in terms of muscle groups, such as chest, arms, back. Naturally most people have ‘problem areas’ that they would like to tackle. For example, many women want to know what exercises they can do for their upper arms.
I believe that unless you are specifically bodybuilding, you will have more success thinking about fundamental movements such as push, pull, squat and hip hinge, rather than muscle groups or individual muscles.
This is because in the big, free weight movements such as squat, pull up, deadlift and so on, the whole body is working hard in the movement; in a squat, the legs are the prime movers but the whole trunk is actively engaged, particularly the lats and abdominal muscles, so calling it a ‘leg’ exercise – or even a ‘quad’ exercise is not doing the movement justice!
When planning a training programme where the goal is strength, performance or fat loss, it is good practise to think about the correct balance of movements.
Changing the tempo (timing) of a rep has a significant impact. Slowing a rep down or including pauses in the rep can really increase the intensity of the rep, making you work much harder even with a lower weight than you normally use.
I like utilising tempo for beginners because most people have a tendency to rush their reps; having a tempo to keep to means that the rep is performed in a controlled manner and allows time to focus on technique. It also keeps you ‘honest’, i.e. stops you from rushing the last few reps in a hard set!
Overall, quality of training is vastly increased when attention is paid to tempo, and this will yield benefits beyond simply banging out the reps until you are done.
4. High intensity weight training
How many times have you heard (or even thought) that weight training is boring and it doesn’t feel like you are ‘really working’? How many people do you know who gravitate to running or aerobics because they think that this is the best way to raise heartrate and burn fat?
A key message I get across in Ladies Who Lift is that weight training can raise your heart rate through the roof and make you collapse on the floor in a sweaty mess - if you are doing it right!
There are many ways to achieve greater intensity with weights, including manipulating rest periods and tempo, moving with weight (carries, sled pulls), the right exercise selection and so on.
Getting into weight training
Weight training is, in my opinion, the best way to get stronger and leaner – increasing fitness and confidence as a side benefit.
It is my mission to help people understand what real weight training is like. It doesn’t have to be boring, it isn’t unproductive and it is for the many not just the few!
So apply these four concepts to your weight training and see your results go through the roof!
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