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Are you using the right weight?

Often, I am asked about what training split I do or what’s the best training approach to build the most amount of muscle. It’s quite a difficult question to answer as everyone reacts differently. I have changed my training style numerous times over the years, simply because my training needs have changed as I’ve progressed and matured. What worked when I was 20 doesn’t work now I’m in my 30s. It is not change for change sake, or following the status quo, it is change to keep me moving forward. There is however, one basic principle that is often overlooked in many weight trainers and bodybuilders, who are looking to add muscle. That is, using the right weight.

Before I start, this is not a debate about all training principles, nor is it an argument for strength training Vs bodybuilding, this is about muscle growth.

The weight is too light

I have been a personal trainer for many years and have racked up 10s of thousands of PT hours, so it is easy to say I’ve seen my fair share of clients lifting weights from all backgrounds and abilities. The main difference I see in my clients training is that when I’m with them, they train harder. I see countless people training in my gym going through the motions like it is a 30-year long marriage. To put it into basic terms, if you do not lift to a maximal effort you will not elicit a change. Too many people focus on the minutia instead of focusing on the areas that actually work. Muscles grow from a defence mechanism to stress exerted on them. Training to failure causes a significantly stressful environment inside the muscle that causes it to adapt. If you force a muscle to do something it doesn’t want to do, or is far beyond its normal function, it will grow, you have changed the normal working parameters of that muscle and have damaged it. Once damaged, the body will protect itself from damage by getting larger and more capable of dealing with that stress. For example, a long-distance runners’ body adapts to running; the more he runs and the further he goes, the better he gets at running faster for longer.

In the early stages of your gym life, your perceived exertion is far higher than your maximal exertion, therefore, you feel like you’re working harder than you are. The prime example is when I select a weight for a client and they perform 10 good reps with that weight, then, when they do the same workout on their own, they will report back that they couldn’t lift it. This is just a psychological barrier to exerting a maximal effort through your muscles, simply put, you don’t know how strong you are, and it takes a trainer to show you how to break through the mental plateau. For me, the best strategy to busting this self-limiting phenomenon is to; get a decent trainer, trust him or her to push you to your actual limit, get a solid training plan, and record your progress. This way you can see exactly what you did last time, and it should give you the confidence to replicate the intensity that you achieved with your trainer.

Train hard, push your limits, and trust yourself.

The weight is too heavy

I don’t see people training too heavily as frequently as people training too light, but it is however, still a problem. I usually witness people training too heavily when they’re in a group or are young males. It is your ego lifting as it becomes competitive. It is less of a hindrance to growth than too light, as generally you’re still drastically over-loading your body. The problems arise after an initial growth period, progression plateaus, or you get injured. Granted, if you are training for maximal strength, you do need to lift heavy weights, and that does mean your technique can get compromised. For hypertrophy (muscle growth), you need to target the muscle not necessarily the movement. Strength is all about moving a weight from A to B, hypertrophy is about overloading a muscle. This doesn’t always mean using the heaviest weight possible, it means use the appropriate weight. A classic example is training back. I see the most horrendous deadlifting technique with a fully rounded back, and, once lifted, the weight is dropped on the floor. The rounded back will cause an injury and prevent the glutes and hamstrings from assisting the movement, then, by dropping it on the floor it bypasses the negative phase of the lift which ironically would cause most muscle adaptation. The second neglected area in training is that people create momentum by swinging or bouncing the weights. If you don’t control the weight and generate a hard contraction against the load you will not get good blood flow nor create an environment within the muscle that will cause adaption. Lat pulls are a great example of seeing people overload with too much weight, I see them swing their body backwards and forwards to move the stack. Instead, try to pull the weight down while keeping your torso locked, and pause the bar at the bottom for a count of two seconds. The load you can move will reduce, but you will feel your back muscles work incredibly hard.

Reduce the weight, concentrate on both the lifting and the lowering phases of the movement, feel the contraction, and leave your ego at the door.

If you have any questions regarding lifting techniques or would like to discuss training contact me via the website

Keep on liftin’ Ali ‘Fat Al’ Stewart

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