Separating Strength Training Fact from Fiction

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Separating Strength Training Fact from Fiction

August 19, 2013

Strength trainingDespite the sparkling clarity on certain topics in fitness, there are still some areas that can be confusing and misleading. Here are a few fictions surrounding strength training and the facts that help to set the record straight.

Fiction #1: You need someone to “show you the machines” when you join a health club.
Fact: You need someone to show you WHAT to do for what YOU want.

Machines—or any piece of fitness equipment, for that matter—are useless without knowing how to use them effectively to get the results that you want. Many people join a club and get the free walk-through of the machines and then start off on an often unsuccessful and short-lived quest for fitness.

A far better approach is to hire a personal trainer for a few sessions to show you what to do for what you want. It might be with some machines, but more than likely it will be with other pieces of equipment, which will provide a far more effective use of your limited training time and get you better results. Equipment does not care if you get results or not, but a fitness professional does.

Yes, I know training can be “expensive.” But a few sessions of education will cost less than what you will pay for a year of membership at most clubs. And if your trainer isn’t educating you, your trainer isn’t a trainer—he or she is just a workout partner. Keep an eye out for this and other signs that you need a new trainer.

Fiction #2: You must have perfect form or you will hurt yourself.
Fact: Life isn’t perfect so your form need not be either.

Most injuries in life occur out of the weight room. I’ve seen clients use perfect form on a deadlift and then go pick up their water bottle without a thought as to how they move as certainly the risk is lower when the load is lighter.

The reality is that using proper technique is essential. However, near the end of a set with a sufficiently challenging resistance (which is discussed more in Fiction #3), you might have a few reps that look less than perfect.

Most of the time when life calls on you to display strength, it is often in asymmetrical, sometimes less-than-perfect situations, so there is nothing wrong with that truth influencing your strength-training workouts. In general, more than a 10 percent drop-off in form is a dangerous and worthless rep, so that’s when it’s time to stop.  

Fiction #3: Your weights are too heavy.
Fact: Your weights are too light.

In general, this applies to women more than men. On countless occasions I’ve handed a female client a pair of 15- or 20-pound dumbbells, and upon the weight transferring to her hands she acts as if her arms almost fell off and groans about how heavy the weight is. Many of these same women have children whom they scoop up and carry around without a concern. This unbalanced, living, moving “weight” can often weigh 30-50 pounds—even more if the child is a bit older.

If human babies had little displays on their foreheads showing how much they weigh, no mother would ever pick up her child since the weight would be “too heavy.”

And incidentally, the frequency with which moms pick up their kids should eliminate the persistent belief that heavy weights bulk you up too much. We’ve been picking up our kids forever and we have not seen the entire female population of earth take on the appearance of bodybuilders.

Fiction #4: All you need to do is heavy barbell exercises.
Fact: You need to move better before you load heavier.

This fiction is a relatively recent one and it comes from cranky old strength coaches who don’t know how to do anything that doesn’t involve a barbell. It’s dinosaur thinking in a human world. When all you have is a barbell, every person on earth gets trained like a weightlifting competitor.

The seriously flawed idea that they ferociously cling to is that if someone doesn’t squat very well, then put a heavy-enough barbell on his shoulders and make him squat and he will be forced to correct the movement or he won’t be able to do it.

We have learned so much about how to optimize human function and how to alleviate some of the physical effects of the modern, inactive lifestyle that this approach is truly baffling. Old-school fitness thinkers can either do the hard work and learn about self-massage, corrective exercise techniques and core training, or they can take the easy road and vilify all of those modalities and stay rooted in limited, outdated notions of performance. When new facts challenge old thinking, old thinking can either rise to the challenge and grow or shrink from the challenge and dig in. Unfortunately, there’s more of the latter and less of the former.

When you make movement better by addressing whatever muscular restrictions or imbalances are present in someone’s body, he or she moves better. And then that person exercises better and gets better results. I’ve seen it with hundreds of my own clients since expanding my thinking and challenging myself.

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