There are many grey areas involved in lifting weights that cause a lot of confusion, injuries and above all - disappointment. This is because goals are not reached and expectations aren’t met. The lack of results doesn't stem from the amount of time spent working out, or how many supplements one takes in pursuit of ripped abs or bulging muscles, but in the Training Approach while in the gym.
What is Training Approach? It is your fundamental principle of technique, exercise choice, set structure, rest periods and exercise range. All these things must have strict rules and must be performed with a specific purpose in order to continually stimulate muscle growth. Here are the proper instructions and explanations needed to lift weights properly.
'Technique' refers to proper form needed to contract the correct muscles for that movement, i.e. Pectoral muscles for Chest exercises. There are many ways to perform an exercise, but very few right ways. Correct form is vital for stimulating the target muscles enough to induce muscle growth. If proper form cannot be used then the weight must be reduced.
Upper body pressing and fly movements:
- Upper arm 90 degrees to the body.
- Chest puffed up, lower back arched, shoulders down and back.
- Never drop elbows in towards the torso as this takes tension away from the Chest.
Upper body pulling movements:
- Arch the entire spine top to bottom.
- Keep Shoulders back as far as possible, never rounding the shoulders or dropping them forward.
- Drive the elbows as far back as possible, pinching shoulder blades together.
Lower Body Pressing movements:
- Feet shoulder width apart.
- Knees must point in same direction of the toes at all times.
- Never move knees inwards or outwards (side-to-side).
- Movement must go slightly beyond 90 degrees at the Knee joint.
- Isolation means single jointed exercise, only one joint is in movement.
- If unable to move only one joint, i.e. only elbows during bicep curls - the weight must be reduced.
- Do not pivot at any other joint as this reduces tension on target muscles, i.e. shoulder joint pivot during Bicep curls.
Building your body is not just about trying to build muscle, but building muscles in the right places - for aesthetic appeal (beauty), strength balance and optimal posture. The aim is width at the top and bottom of the body (shoulders + thighs), and narrowing of the centre of the body (waist/ stomach). We only choose exercises that target the desired muscles in the way we want, and ignore exercises that target undesired muscles.
Chest, Back, Legs + Calves, Back, Arms and Abs are the target areas. You need 4-5 Exercises per large muscle group (Chest, Back, Legs), 2-3 per small muscle group (Shoulders, Triceps, Biceps, Abs).
E.g. Dead Lifts are predominantly a back movement, but they have been known to thicken out the waist muscularly as huge amounts of pressure travels through the core. Thickening of the waist will reduce the illusion of size and shape of the upper body.
Squats are also not recommended for anyone taller than 170cm due to insufficient biomechanical movement and over emphasis on the Glute and lower back muscles. Over development of the Oblique muscles (side abs) can also cause waist enlargement, which is undesired.
What is a set? It is a group of repetitions on a particular exercise. How long is a set? A set is 30-40 seconds long, (can be longer when advanced). In repetitions this translates to 8- 12 repetitions per set for upper body, and 10-15 repetitions for lower body. Set Tempo also forms part of the set structure.
What is Set Tempo? It is the speed you perform the repetitions, and involves both raising the weight and lowering it. Our Tempo must be 2 seconds up (raising), 2 seconds down (lowering) - so an entire repetition should last 4 seconds. 10 repetitions = 40 seconds. The length of the set is fundamental, as the longer your muscles remain under tension the better. Perform 3-4 Sets per exercise.
The time you spend resting between sets and exercises is a factor that determines how Intense a workout is, which in turn describes how effective it is. Rest periods in between sets for upper body + calves is 30-45 seconds rest maximum, and 60-90 seconds for Legs. Beginners might need to work up to this over time, but resting any longer and the body recovers for too long and Intensity is drastically lost. The entire workout should only last 45mins.
All exercises are performed in what is called a 'Tension Window' - the section of the exercise range where maximum tension is exerted on the target muscles and no rest takes place. When performing an exercise with good form we must make sure that our muscles remain stimulated for the entire duration of the set.
To do this we must eliminate points of the movement where our muscles could rest, i.e. at the very top or very bottom of the movement. So, as a strict rule we will never fully extend or lockout our joints on any movement (except Tricep + Quad extensions), as this takes tension away from the muscle and onto the joints and tendons (dangerous + ineffective). Never lift weights with your ego, be methodical with your technique and train your muscles!