Not much that goes into strength training:, right? I mean, you just lift the weight and put it back down.
Actually, there’s more to strength training than a lot of people think, and knowing exactly what produces results and why are the keys to making the most of your time in the weight room.
Strength training is all about making muscles work against enough resistance repeatedly to gain strength. Using a biceps curl as our example, most people think the upward curling motion (the motion that makes the angle of the elbow joint smaller) is what makes you stronger. But actually, it’s the downward motion (the angle of joint becoming larger) that produces results.
Even though it may feel as if you are simply working with gravity on the downward movement, what’s actually happening is you are moving slower than gravity, causing the muscle to still contract, slowing the contraction. This pull in opposite directions causes tears in the muscle fibers. As fibers tear, you lose strength, which is why you may start to feel shaky until you eventually max out. The more resistance you fight against — like gravity plus a 10 pound dumbbell versus a 5 pound dumbbell — the harder your muscle contracts against that resistance and the more of those fibers that rip.
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Later, when those fibers heal, they heal stronger and closer together than before, like scar tissue. This is why, after a consistent strength training routine, you develop stronger, bigger muscles.
How can you use this information to your advantage?
Too much isn’t a good thing. Some fiber ripping is necessary, but too much and you’ll pull a muscle or tear it completely. Finding the right weight for you, one that will produce results but not injure you, is the goal. On average, you should be able to exercise with good form and perform 10 to 15 reps, but no more. If you have to sacrifice form to complete the reps, lower the weight and focus on proper form.
Slow down your reps, especially on the downward contraction. A slow, controlled, deliberate rep will give you more results than simply adding more weight.
Wait 48 hours in between strength training sessions to allow your muscles time to adequately heal before breaking them down again. If you like to lift everyday, alternate muscle groups, like upper body, abs and lower body so one group rests while the other is being worked.
Don’t forget to stretch. When those muscle fibers heal stronger and closer together, range of motion can suffer. To avoid losing flexibility as you gain strength, stretch to keep muscles and joints lose and limber.
Kelly Turner is a fitness expert and freelance writer. Reach her on Twitter: @KellyTurnerFit, and Instagram: @KellyTurner26