04 November 2003

Are you pulling your weight?

Are you getting the full benefit from your workout?

You’re serious about your workout, but an hour, three times a week can begin to seem a bit boring, especially if you don’t develop biceps like Jean-Claude van Damme within three weeks.

Help is at hand. Here’s how to add a bit of variety to your time on the machines while ensuring you get the most out of every moment of misery and every drop of sweat. It’s also a good time to review the basic, which can help you avoid boredom, not to mention injury.

For starters, you might have reached what some gym-rats call a plateau, where you work out frantically without seeming to build any muscle. You might find that you’re not giving your body an opportunity to recover between workouts.

Try lifting slightly lighter weights for a while, even if it elicits ribbing from your fellow denizens of the weights room. You might find your body reacts by producing some muscle. That’ll shut them up.

Some other points to remember:

  • Even if your workout will be rushed, make time to warm up. Do some stretches, but instead of rushing it, ease into the stretch hold it for about 20 seconds. Then run on the treadmill or spend about 10 minutes cycling.
  • It’s also worth reminding yourself about how to breathe when lifting the weights. You always exhale when lifting the weight and inhale when lowering it.
  • Think through it: this may sound trite, but it works. Visualise yourself completing every move perfectly: “Lift smoothly, don’t rush it, don’t arch your back” and so on. It’ll take a while to get right, but once you get it right you’ll have developed a good habit you can stick with for years to come.
  • Ambush your body: try start off your workout on an exercise bike, with the “interval” routine. You cycle sedately for several minutes, then have a short burst of spectacular speed, then slow down again and repeat the whole thing. This is not for the blokes who like to read books on quantum physics while cycling. The sweat will only make the pages soggy.
  • Watch those hands: try shifting your grip to work the most muscles. A set of biceps curls can start with an overhand grip, which will concentrate on the oft-neglected brachialis muscle. Next, use an underhand grip, which everyone uses to build the biceps, the really big, round one on the front of your upper arm. Combining these two moves ought to give your arm bulk as well as definition.
  • Narrow it down: Your back muscles are strong. To develop properly they need a proper workout, so don’t be afraid to use heavy weights, as long as it’s the muscle that taking the strain and not the spine.
  • One of the better exercises available is the pull-down machine. If you choose a narrow grip with your palms facing toward you, your arms and shoulders will get more of a workout than your back. Keep your arms wide apart and your palms facing forwards, which will help build the latissimus dorsi muscles on the back.
  • Take it slow: We’ve all seen the show-offs who use their body weight to fling heavy sets of weights upwards and let them crash down again with a bang that measures on the Richter Scale and stuns small animals at 20 metres.
  • They might feel good about their workout, but they’re wasting their time. Instead, use a slightly lighter weight and lift and lower it slowly. Count like this: lift to the count of five, lower to the count of five, pausing for a moment and doing five repetitions like that. If you’re doing it correctly, your muscles will be screaming their protest by the second set. What’s more, you’ll pile on the muscle.
  • Finish up with some exhaustion: There’s a wonderfully wobbly feeling you get when you’ve had a good workout and all your muscles are lodging formal protests with the United Nations. There’s a sure way to achieve it, too. Finish your session on say, the bench press, although the pulldown machine will work just as well. Put more or less the heaviest set of weights you’d push and do two sets of ten. Remove say, ten kgs and do another set, then immediately continue to the point of exhaustion. You’ll feel like you’ve been hit by a train, but it’s at that point that you’ll be building endurance and strength.

Finally, remember that your body needs to rest and respect. You’re crazy to work out when you have flu’. Get enough sleep and enough electrolytes. Try soaking in a warm bath with some arnica in it. After a good workout your muscles need 48 hours to recover and build. Gentle swimming will help ease the knots without risking injury. So take it slowly. Just keep going.

(William Smook)


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