Tips for Effective Weight Training

By Nathaniel

This article gives tips for effective weight training, a few helpful hints to any readers who are confused about their training. I introduce the key points that anyone can apply to their training. Hopefully this will improve everyone's success in weight training.


1. Intensity is the most important variable responsible for triggering a muscular adaptation.

There are many variables that can be manipulated in resistance training such as, volume, frequency, and the time that a muscle is under tension (Time Under Tension or Time Under Load). However, the most important variable is the intensity of the exercise. Intensity was defined by Arthur Jones as "possible momentary muscular effort exerted", and it was the most important discovery to resistance training because the concept defines the characteristics of anaerobic training and aerobic training. It doesn't matter if you have discovered the most powerful steroid or have the best equipment, if you do not train with a sufficient level of intensity to cause an adaptation, you will not adapt.

One of the best analogies that I have ever heard is explained by Mike Mentzer in "Heavy Duty 2". He points out that one can stand in front of a 60-Watt Light bulb for hours and never tan. What is required to achieve a tan is a brief amount of exposure time to a higher intensity stimulus, such as the sun or a tanning booth. Similar to weight training, the tanning booth must also be carefully regulated. Even 1 min longer than necessary to stimulate an adaptive response (i.e. tan), and you could burn. Anyone still unconvinced that intensity cannot be ignored, should take a step further and understand the logical implications of the opposite. That is, if intensity has little to do with exercise, aerobic exercise should have similar effects on the body that anaerobic exercise does. Or, aerobic training should have the same effects that complete rest has on the body. Don't you see? The level of intensity defines whether you are sitting down, walking, jogging, or sprinting. If it's not important, then how would one approach training? Actually, why even bother, you should be able to sit down and drink beer and achieve the same results as an Olympic gymnast.

Often advocates of sub failure training claim that training to failure is not a requirement to stimulate growth; that training to failure creates to great of an inroad (overtraining) and hampers results in a few hardgainers. They are correct, training to failure is not necessary to stimulate growth, however, they fail to realize that the goal of the resistance trainer is to disrupt homeostasis. Because your strength potential is limited, there will have to be a point where you train to failure. Eventually somewhere, sometime, someplace, you must train to failure, or, never progress, just as any athlete must push themselves to their limit to succeed. To clear up any confusion, I am not suggesting that sub failure training is a waste of time. Sub failure training does have its place among bodybuilders. However, the goal of the anaerobic athlete is to train with a high intensity. It's not an option; it's a must if one is to continue to train in an anaerobic environment. Which is why I believe that every set must be continued to a point of momentary muscular failure, with a sub failure workout inserted only on a bad day. If you are able to train to failure, train to failure. Leave your halfhearted attempts to training when you are not in the mood, or, probably a better solution, train the next day when you are in the mood.

A common slogan among HITers is that if one feels like should do another set; the first one wasn't hard enough. In case there are some novices reading these commandments who are not familiar with the concept intensity, Dr. Ken Leistner clearly creates an image of "HIT" training. "High-intensity training is going all-out, not almost all out. It is taking one set to one's absolute limit, not almost to the limit. It is using whatever equipment is available, not just a machine or group of machines. It is not the words of two or three men, but a commitment to work as hard as possible while in the gym without socializing, resting excessively between sets, or falling prey to the 'this isn't going to work so I'll copy the star' attitude".

2. Safety first in the gym.

You see it all the time, some guy who takes Arnolds "cheat" principle a bit to far in the gym doing his barbell curls. I often wonder if these intensity freaks understand that the reason one can continue the exercise, almost beyond failure, is because other muscle groups are doing the work. A barbell curl is for your biceps, not for your delts and lower back. Although the magazines are flooded with information on form, there are still quite a few interested in catering to their egos. I haven't quite discovered if they are seeking the attention of others, or being emotionally directed, since reaching failure is often enough to trigger the growth stimulus. I am not going to touch upon how much potential there is for injury when using improper form. Most people are well aware of the risks, but I am going to talk about form with forced reps, and talk a bit about rep cadence. I am not against using forced reps, rather I am against using improper form when using forced reps. You are not creating a deeper inroad into the muscle being worked, you are creating inroads into other muscles which are not suppose to be working. You can safely increase the intensity of the exercise once you reach failure by simply holding failure for 2-3 seconds, or taking a bit longer to perform the negative.

There is simply no reason to cheat when there are much more effective and safe methods of overload. For example, my chest responds best to about 30 seconds of tension. That is, I increase my strength the most, if I place enough tension on the muscle to reach failure in approx., 30 seconds.

However, this was a time when I was in love with weighted dips. I became fairly strong on the weighted dip, and reached a point where I had to stop dipping, for fear of injury. To make a long story short, I decided to increase my TUT, and it worked. My normal strength increases did not suffer as much as I expected, and my shoulders and elbows felt great. Just a note, this may not work with every body part. Most people have found that higher reps do work well for the legs, however my strength in the deadlift actually decreases if my TUT exceeds around 40-50 seconds. My point is that if similar results can be expected from using a bit lighter weight, perfecting the form, and therefore a longer TUT, why not? If results are similar, then I see absolutely no reason to risk injury. Or I guess more specifically, I should say that I don't believe that it is worth the pain that potentially could be suffered now or at a later date, just to impress a few big guys or some chicks who probably don't even care to know your name.

Now, this is probably one of the touchiest subjects in weight training, but you know that it has to be mentioned during a discussion on safety…rep cadence. I am only going to touch upon this subject, because rep speed is explained in greater detail further down the page. Yes, explosive weight training is more dangerous than slower controlled rep cadences. Notice that I did say "more dangerous than…" because I believe that most superslow advocates do exaggerate the potential for danger with explosive training. However, that's not the point. The point is that injuries are more likely to happen with faster rep cadences. Why? Because of inertia. An injury will only occur if the force placed on the tissues exceeds the strength of the tissue, and fast rep cadences do place more force on the tissues that what is prescribed.

I am not suggesting that everyone trains with one superslow rep, I have before and it was very boring. I basically compromise, taking 4-5 seconds to lift, 1-2 second pause, 4-5 second negative. I feel that this rep speed is slow enough to reduce injury, and eliminate most of the momentum that any moving object picks up, but yet fast enough to make my training enjoyable. Before I wrap this up, you may have noticed that I did not talk about belts, or other safety equipment. I don't believe in using anything but wrist straps for exercising. Belts do nothing but allow a person to lift more weight; I hardly see why they could reduce spinal injury at all. Some claim that the more weight you lift, the bigger you'll get. While that is true, it's not you that is actually lifting the weight. It would be like putting a big spring under your butt when you squat, so that you can lift more weight. Wraps are in a similar position. Put it this way, what is the point of being able to deadlift 500lbs, if you require a belt and some wraps? What practical purpose would that have in real life? The only aid I can see others using is wrist straps. Everyone can improve his or her grip strength, however, some people do not have strong hands. For example, a training partner of mine has very small joints and thin wrists. However, his back and legs are very powerful. He simply cannot train his back sufficiently without them.

3. Increase your size by increasing your strength.

Larger muscles will produce more force, since they are stronger muscles (strength is the ability to exert force). The point of resistance training is to exert force. Increase your muscles size, and it will produce more force. However, that is not the only way to increase your muscles ability to exert force. You can improve your neuromuscular system. Which is why some people believe that strength and size are not related. Often you'll come across someone who claims that they train to build larger muscles, that they are not concerned with strength because they are not interested in powerlifting. However, they are not understanding "weight training". How can a person who believes that there is no relationship between size and strength, proceed with their training? How does a sprinter gauge progress without a stopwatch? If he did clock his time, would a time of 15 seconds be an improvement over 18 seconds? You can only compare measurements. If last year I was deadlifting 315lbs, and presently deadlifting 405lbs, then I consider myself to be stronger, and therefore improving. To clarify the issue, I am not saying that a stronger muscle is a larger muscle, because strength can be defined as the muscles ability to exert force, which has other factors. I am saying that to become larger, one must become stronger.

A 300lbs Dorian Yates would be considerably stronger than when he weighed 200lbs. Therefore, since muscular gains are considerably slower than strength gains, one should always strive to increase strength.
As you start to develop your strength, you will notice that often you will encounter times where you increase your strength, with very little muscular gain. For some odd reason, the body may develop in spurts. I have noticed this, as well as a few others. This also led me to conclude that strength and size are related, but not proportional. One last point; do not cater to you emotions. Don't get stuck on an exercise that does not benefit you, simply because everyone claims it's a fundamental exercise. I use to Bench Press regularly. I thought that a big bench would lead to a big chest. All I developed were my triceps. Later, I discovered that Hammer strength equipment and weighted dips developed my chest the most, and I now cycle between these two exercises.

4. Slower the better.

There is quite a controversy going on about rep cadences. Some superslow advocates recommend rep speed of 20 seconds or more per rep, compared to others who claim that explosive training is the variable that is responsible for adaptation. Who is right? What is the best rep speed?

Well, the answer is up to the individual. Not everyone will enjoy slower training. I know that I found the 1 rep chin (30 seconds both ways) to be very boring. It also was difficult to make any meaningful measurements, since the slower movements require smooth motion, which may not be practical if you find you develop more strength with lower time under tensions (50 seconds or less). On the flip side, explosive lifting is dangerous. No one actually believes that the faster you lift a weight, the safer the exercise becomes. Just imagine your squatting with your 1 rep max. You drop to the bottom quickly, and with all your strength you try and reverse the direction of that weight, so that you can stand back up. Now, as the barbell drops, it picks up momentum. Keep in mind that as you drop, you may not be emphasizing the negative portion of the movement, since there would be little resistance on the muscle, which is very important. Now, the difficult part; stopping the weight. As the weight drops, it picks up momentum. Therefore it "feels" heavier. There is more force placed on your connective tissues than you are prescribing. Similar to the explosion upwards, you have to exert quite a bit of force to stop the weight, and change its direction. This can lead to injuries because the force placed on the tissues is not very controlled.

Slower movements allow a more "even" distribution of force on the muscles, throughout the range of motion. I generally stick with a 5 second positive, with a 5 second negative for all my larger body parts. Other muscle groups such as calves and forearms do not have the range of motion that squats or chins have, therefore I may move a bit faster. I have found that this rep cadence is fast enough to keep my concentration, but slow enough to reduce any stored energy that may build up.

To end the 4th commandment, I would like to clear up the myth that explosive lifting improves the speed at which your muscle contracts. A faster muscle is a stronger muscle. Let me phrase that a different way, from a different angle. A muscle cannot get faster, without improving its strength. Concepts do not exist in isolation, but as a group. That is, you cannot isolate speed, from strength. For example, a sprinters improvement in speed is the result of his increased strength (ability to exert force).

5. Take periodic layoffs.

I have found that periodic layoffs have prevented me from overtraining, and also restored my enthusiasm for the gym. I do not prescribe a time for a layoff; I usually just take one when I notice my improvements in strength diminishing. Which is why I made this a commandment. Anyone who has hit a plateau probably has been overtraining, not everyone, but quite a few. If you have noticed that you are not gaining strength like you use to, perhaps a 1-2 week layoff may be the cure to the problem.

Remember not to waste your time. You could get back into reading, knowledge will improve everyone's chance at success, because the more knowledge one has acquired, the better decisions one will make. There are quite a few interesting articles on the web that may interest you, or a book that has been catching your attention for some time. Go for walks, I am sure that your dog or girlfriend will enjoy the extra time outdoors.

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