Lifting – Know What, Why, How
1. Learn to brace, root and control your body before you try to lift dumbbells, barbells or other stupid shit. These are basics.
This is absolutely, first and foremost, necessary. If you can do these things properly, aggressively and appropraitely, you’ll be farther ahead than 85.9% of lifters out there in gyms these days already lifting those things.
+Bracing is creating and maintaining pressure through the abdominal cavity and trunk to stabilize the spine in loaded positions (ie deadlift, squat, picking up a pencil, etc). It’s incredibly important to learn this to:
- reduce risk of injury.
- enhance your strength and power
- not be an idiot lifter.
+Rooting is engaging the glutes, hamstrings and other musculature of the hips and lower body – through the feet – to increase:
- control and
- stability through the hips and lower body.
To do this, think of ripping the floor apart with your feet after you’ve gripped it with your feet.
You can think of ripping apart a piece of paper you’re standing on, or corkscrewing your feet into the ground.
You must keep three points of contact with the floor: For ease of explaining: big toe, little toe and heel.
+Learning to control your body in space (proprioception) is imperative to maintaining control of your body under load/pressure, etc. Knowing where your hand is without having to see it in a mirror during a shoulder press is kinda sorta important if you want to get the most out of muscular tension (ie strength and size/growth). People who do not figure this out tend to get hurt a lot, rarely see any kind of progress in their muscle and use their joints to power through a lot of lifts they have no business doing.
2. It’s about keeping shit tight, right and controlled. Again, basics.
As I said in my last point above – control. Controlling your body under load or for time is fucking important. Maintaining posture, muscle control/tension and stability for periods of time will help you lift without unnecessary injury risk. Also, it will enhance the muscle’s ability to bear loads (mechanical tension) and that is the point of lifting, isn’t it – lift heavier, better, without getting hurt, so you can continue to lift heavier and better to get stronger, look better naked and get swole and healthy?
Feeling the difference between your muscles and joints doing the work is a huge accomplishment for many. Dropping into squats without rooting (control) is a sure fire way to kill your knees, hips, low back and eventually progress. The body is an amazing system of compensatory actions. Can’t turn your muscle on? Your joint will take the brunt of it – for a while. When that while is up, welcome in the use of anti-inflammatories just to walk up a few stairs.
Luckily we’re moving out of the age of ego lifting and into a nice phase of lifting right, well, and keeping your body healthy for as long as possible.
I’d encourage you to build foundations in your lifting before you start loading a bar on your back, etc.
Tighten up your body, your movement, your activity. A dry noodle is tight. A cooked noodle is limp. Think about it.
3. Make things harder, not easier. Some Yoda shit right there.
Maybe it’s a bit fucked up, but when you’re in the right mindset to make this lifting work for you, you’re not going to lift something that’s easy to lift. You’re going to recognize that something is getting (not got) easier and you’re going to increase the difficulty, because there lies the progress. This isn’t to say that you’re going to put your 98 year old grandma under a loaded barbell and tell her to lift 5 lbs more each week. This means, when something becomes easy your body has adapted. That adaptation will stick around only until it becomes normal. Then progress stalls. To continue getting to your goal (differs for everyone) you’ll want to continually make things more difficult. It’s relative for everyone and increasing difficulty looks different for everyone as well. Perhaps it’s loading extra weight onto a bar, or kneeling, or doing unilateral work or adding reps, or sets or.… Whatever it means for you, make it more difficult.
4. Angles, Vectors, Axis of rotations, Levers and other things you need to know but will never talk about.
The body is made up of Ranges of Motion, angles, points of rotation (joints), lever systems (where a muscle inserts vs where it originates and how long or short that muscle can be to make the movement easier or harder). When you grasp the idea that muscles are supposed to stretch around a joint that opens or closes angles of that joint to make that muscle work harder or not so hard, the whole concept of form becomes way easier to understand.
Take the Romanian or Stiff Leg Deadlift. You WANT to feel your hamstrings tighten (lever) by increasing the tension from the hips to the knees by straightening the knees (axis of rotation) and hinging forward at the hips (axis of rotation) to “pull the slack out” of the hamstrings, therefore causing less injury to the low back and working the muscle you’re focused on (hamstrings) to get stronger, better.
Knowing and executing lifts with position in mind will increase your ability to create power and increase workload when able. Knowing proper and good position comes down to understanding – with some competency- angles, vectors, axis of rotations and levers. You don’t have to know names, or scientific terms, but understand how those things work in real life.
Understanding what muscles you’re trying to ‘work’ will also allow you to distinguish pain from muscle work. If you don’t know what you’re doing or how to do it, you can strain, pull and injure structures because not doing things right will cause other structures (tendons, ligaments, joints) to compensate for what you’re unable to do.
Sharp shooting pain is never ok, and pain in general is your body telling you to stop wtf you’re doing and figure it out. Don’t lift through pain. Use pain as a cue to fix what you’re doing wrong (I highly recommend you film your lifts and use a coach who knows biomechanics well to assess what you are or are not doing right, well, etc).
5. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your body be built in a week, month, year.
I can assure you, if you are looking for a ‘toned’ body, Ladies, or a jacked and swole physique, Fellas, you are going to be working for longer than a few weeks or months to achieve it.
Most people who come to me for help, bring me pictures or share Instagram accounts of athletes or celebrities with a substantial amount of muscle which took many many years of training and conscious food intake to grow. Never mind quite a few phases of building followed by dieting phases to burn fat to show that earned muscle.
The hard truth is that if you think this is a short period of getting ready for vacation and your body is going to be even close to how you want it to look, you’re fooling yourself.
This takes years. And after those years, it will take more years; mainly because once you start this activity things happen: you enjoy it, you crave it, you push harder you see results (sometimes not the results you were after, but nonetheless, results!).
Those who don’t find the enjoyment often are those who do not push themselves AND they do not educate themselves. They go into the gym and waste their time doing all the things, yet nothing productive and none of the things that would ACTUALLY work. Follow a plan, stay consistent, work on nutrition as much as you work on your lifting, make things progressively harder (see #8), repeat repeat repeat.
6. The easy way rarely lasts. The right way, isn’t always easy, but it sticks.
Sure, you could get a nice little box in the mail of detox tea. You could PayPal $350 for a month supply of saran wrap. You could follow Dr. Oz’s 5 days plan for fat loss with one herb that has been around for centuries yet only now we know about… seems real fuckin’ legit, Oz.
You certainly could do all that, then, you’d stop and gain all your weight back, have wasted $350 (hopefully you didn’t spend more!), and think Dr. Oz is a quack like most of the industries ‘doctors’.
If you truly want that banging body, or to get stronger, faster, powerful, or any other adjective you can put in there about your body, buckle in.
The principals to get your body where you want it to be are very simple. Not always easy. But simple.
People complicate these principals by making things seem ‘express’. There is no express way that will get you lasting results. You must work for it then… keep working for it.
+Progressive overload is imperative to increasing strength, size, etc. This principal says lift something til it starts to become easy, then make it more difficult (load, function, etc) and lift that until it starts to become easy then repeat the process.
+Basics ALWAYS out perform the latest fad exercise and diet.
+Simple. Plain and simple.
7. If there was one method that worked best, most coaches would be shit up a creek without a paddle.
There is no one perfect method. What you will stick to, enjoy (because what you enjoy you stick with) and find progress in is the method you should adhere to. And that method can change over time.
I know powerlifters who became CrossFit athletes, Bodybuilders who became Yoga instructors and every other combination. You don’t have to stick with the same things because that’s what you started with.
What you really need to do, instead of wandering aimlessly around the gym is to grab a text book (even if you have a coach) and learn basic anatomy. Familiarize yourself with the muscles of the body, how they work and what exercises to use to get the results you want. You don’t have to become an A&P Professor, but having an idea of why and how you’re doing what you’re doing will be invaluable. Not understanding what muscles you work when you do a squat or deadlift or any other weight bearing lift makes it really difficult to focus and work those particular muscles.
Basic knowledge first = advanced progress later.
8. Stop doing stupid shit!
Bosu Balls and single leg hops while spinning and throwing shit in the air with a barbell on your back is stupid shit. Say it with me “stupid shit!”. These things don’t make lifting more difficult to continue to make progress. These things are flat out stupid, ridiculous and make no sense to daily living. I’m not saying a BosuBall cannot be a productive tool to keep around and use from time to time, but stop making up things to do. The most powerful, strong, sexy ass lifters are those that continue with the same basic lifts, week after week, continually increasing the difficulty of those lifts – not making up new stupid shit to post to Instagram. Be smarter in your exercise selection. There is nothing sexy about becoming sexy in the gym.
Throw your hair up, Laides. Pull out the deodorant, Everyone. Put away the stringer tanks, Gents.
Get focused, get real, get results.
Get a simple diagram of the human muscular system from Amazon.
Or get some books on the topics.
If you need suggestions let me know, I’d be happy to give you a short list of my faves.
Lifting is not a past time. It’s part of taking care of yourself and your future. It’s imperative to know what you’re doing and doing it safely and effectively so you can continue to do it well into older years and stay injury free.
9. Toning is dumb af. You already have “muscle tone”. Google it.
If you really want to get the look you’re after, Ladies especially, you’re going to have to do some not pretty stuff. No more 1000 rep marathon sessions.
Think: grow, strong, power.
Add weight to your lifts and find the pleasure in struggling. If you’re able to crank out 20+ reps of anything without breaking a sweat – you’re doing it wrong.
Endurance: 12 + reps
Hypertrophy/Growth: 8-12 reps
Strength 3-8 reps
Power 1-3 reps
If you’re not struggling through these rep schemes to some degree, you’re lifting too light to get ‘toned’. Now, I’m not saying you should go so heavy you can’t hold proper form. You should go as heavy as you’re able and refer back to #3.
Get a baseline for your strength by assessing 1rep max, 3 rep max, 5 rep max, or other maximal rep schemes (don’t have to do all of ‘em. Just pick a rep scheme you like and see how much weight you can do for those reps). Then you can work your loads accordingly.
5rep max test on squats:
max weight you could do for 5 reps was 135lb.
Now have a day of high rep (12reps) at a lower weight (say 95lb)
Have a day of moderate reps (say 5) at just below 135 lbs (say 125) so you can do it but it’s not easy.
Then have a day of power reps (1-3) and go heavier than 135lb. (say 165)
Play with the number of sets of those reps.
But you should be working hard. That’s how you grow muscle.
10. HAVE FUN.
If you hate lifting, even after giving it the good ol’ college try, there is good news for you.
You don’t HAVE to do it. There are other ways of getting great exercise that builds bones, muscles, and can have great impact on your mental and emotional well being. That’s the key here, emotional and mental happiness. If you hate something, stop. If you enjoy it ok, keep doing it but figure out how to incorporate it into other activities that you love. Life is too short to hate what you’re doing
This is the stuff I see often in the gym and in training general and athletic populations. No one is immune to these things.
If you take this advice, great. If not, good luck.
At the risk of sounding like a total jerk, this is the stuff that could make or break your lifting career. Whether you’re here to look good naked (#LGN) or training for a bodybuilding show, powerlifting meet or marathon. These are principles that should be learned early and stuck to.
This could be a VERY advantageous activity for anyone looking to stay healthy into their later years and who want to be hella sexy, strong and feel good right now.
This list comes from a place of love for the lifter. Not hate and never hate for any other activity. Whatever you choose to do (Weight Lifting, Powerlifting, Crossfit, General Lifting), what you take from this article could benefit you in all sorts of ways.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions, concerns, etc.
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