Muscle Fitness

Muscle Fitness

John Spencer Ellis (Author, TV Show Host, Trainer and CEO, National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association) gives expert video advice on: How do I design a strength training program?; How often each should I train each muscle group?; How much weight should I use when I train? and more...

Why is resistance training so important?

Strength training is important for many, many reasons. Number one: It increases bone density and strength and integrity of the bones. There's a certain type of exercise—strength training—that you can do called an axial-loaded movement. Your axial skeleton is, essentially, your spinal column, your rib cage, and so forth; everything but your arms and legs, if you want to look at it that way. And when you do a movement like a squat or a standing overhead press or a dead lift—those fundamental, basic movements—that stimulates bone density, and that's a good thing. Also, by increasing your muscle mass or muscle density, you'll increase your metabolism; so you can eat more calories and maintain your weight, or it's easier to maintain your weight or lose weight by just the resistance training itself. However, again, modifying your diet will help as well. Resistance training also improves your posture. If you just do cardiovascular training and don't do strength training, you may become thin, but you may also be flabby at the same time. So to maintain the structure and to really change your body the most, you must do resistance training

What is the difference between "muscular strength" and "muscular endurance"?

Muscular strength is the muscle's ability to contract, to lift a given weight, whether it's one, two, five, or up to ten times, for example. Muscular endurance is the muscle's ability to contract at a sub-maximal effort for an extended period of time.

Why is strength training important for weight loss?

Strength training is important for weight loss for one very important reason. It increases your metabolism. When you do cardiovascular training, you burn calories during the period of time that you're doing the cardiovascular session and a little bit afterwards. With strength training, you burn calories during the activity, burn more calories throughout the remainder of your day, and it improves your metabolism.

Is weight training necessary for women?

Attention women: you must lift weights. You won't bulk up, it is feminine. It is a good thing. If you want to reshape your body, more than any other activity, any other physical activity, any other fitness programme you can do, weight training will do it. However there's something even more important than that. As women get older, and men as well, but specifically women, calcium is not absorbed as it once was when you were younger due to the menopause and the change in oestrogen levels. As a result of that you're more susceptible to osteopenia and osteoporosis. Weight training can help. Please lift weights. It's absolutely imperative to stimulating metabolism, improving bone density, maintaining good posture and just overall health.

Are slow repetitions better for building strength?

Moving the weight slowly can be advantageous for building strength. However, if everything you do is really, really slow, in general terms, your body will learn to move really, really slowly. In some techniques today, it's exceptionally slow technique. However, what do you do in life that is that slow? That's the question I ask. So, there's no direct application to other things that you may be doing in life. In general terms, doing an exercise, like a bicep curl or a squat very slow will teach you technique; you can focus more on the muscle, it is easier to synchronise the breath with the movement. Those are all good things. I do think it's important to vary the tempo, the speed, and even the sequencing of the movements because your body will get bored and your mind will get bored as well, and it's very likely that you won't achieve the ultimate results that you desire if you stick with just one slow method of lifting weights.

What is the difference between "fixed resistance" and "variable resistance"?

The difference between fixed resistance and variable resistance is exactly what their name states. In a fixed resistance exercise, the amount of weight, or the amount of resistance, against the pull or the push is consistent from beginning to end. In a variable resistance exercise, the weight, or the resistance, may increase or decrease throughout the range of motion. This can be done in a couple of different ways. On a machine, for example, there may be a cam that makes a belt go over a larger surface, or a change in the fulcrum in the cam, which will change the amount of mechanical advantage or disadvantage of the machine, which in turn changes the amount of the resistance throughout the range of motion. This will be synchronised with the amount of strength increased or decreased in your joint as you go through the range of motion. Another way of having a variable resistance is in an exercise tube. The more you pull it towards you, for example, the tighter it will become. So, the tighter it will become pulling towards you, that's variable, and increasing resistance during the concentric, or the squeezing part of the motion. So, fixed resistance: constant. Variable resistance: changes the amount of resistance throughout the range of motion.

What is the "progressive overload principle" in weight training?

Overload, or progressive overload principle, is a systematic approach to gradually adding more weight than you're currently using in your resistance training or weight training method. And the theory behind progressive overload principle is your body acclimatises, and once it acclimatises, it already has figured out how to do it. Both neurologically and physiologically, the body learns how to handle that workload. So you have to progressively overload the muscle. This progressive overload then takes your body, takes your fitness, takes your muscle, to the next level, and it's done a progressive manner, and it's called progressive overload.

How often each should I train each muscle group?

The amount of times per week that you train each muscle group will depend on a number of factors. If you're just starting out, and you're exercising and weight lifting two to three times a week, it's probably at a low to moderate intensity. In such cases, you can probably exercise each of the muscle groups each time you go out, for example a Monday, a Wednesday, and a Friday. As you get more advanced, you start segmenting the body parts when you work out. You may do all pushing muscles one day and all pulling muscles the next, then take a break and then repeat that cycle if you do it four days a week. Or you may do all upper body one day and all lower body the next, then take a break; and then all upper body and then lower body. Advanced body builders, for example, will work out five to six days a week and they may only work one body part a day. Monday they're doing arms, Tuesday they're doing legs, Wednesday they're doing back and chest and so on; one each day. Due to the volume and the intensity of their workout being so great, it actually takes a whole week to recover to where they're ready to do it again. So, how frequently you do the resistance or the strength training is dependent on a number of factors; your ability, your health, your time, your commitment, and your goals.

How much weight should I use when I train?

The amount of weight that you choose to use during your exercise routine will depend on a number of factors. In general terms, when people want general conditioning and they're not training for any specific sport, approximately 10 to 12, perhaps 15 repetitions of each set would be appropriate. If you can do that with a weight that's challenging but still allows you to complete the given number of repetitions, then that's a good weight to use. Where your form is not compromised, you're still able to breathe appropriately, and its challenging by the time you're done with your designated number of repetitions 10,12 or 15, then you know you've done a good job. You feel it and yet you're still able to do good form. As a general rule, that's how you know you're using the correct weight.

How many repetitions should I do when I weight train?

How do you select your number of repetitions? Well, this will depend on a number of factors. What are your goals? How long have you been doing this? What had you done the weeks preceding? Most people who want general fitness; I'm speaking about an adult exerciser who wants general fitness, 10-12, perhaps 15 repetitions per set would be appropriate because you get enough to get into a rhythm of the exercise. It's not so much that you are not focusing on strength if you did, for example, a really light weight and you did 5-10 repetitions, which is a lot; that would be more for muscular endurance. We want resistance training to be primarily for strength and the way to do that, to gain optimum results for the general consumer, is about 10-12, perhaps 15 repetitions per set, and generally between 1-3 sets per exercise that you complete.

What is the proper way to breathe while strength training?

Breathing is so important for resistance or weight training, and often overlooked, or really misunderstood. And again, there are always exceptions. However, here are some generalizations. Whenever a muscle is shortening, for an example,doing the curl in your arm, when you're coming up out of a squat, when you're pushing away from you. Anytime that muscle is shortening, anytime you're lifting the weight or your body against gravity, that's when you exhale. When the muscle is elongating, when the weight is lowering, and when you're working with gravity coming back down in a squat for example, that's when you inhale. And, you synchronize it to where when the movement changes direction, so does your breath. There'll be a few exceptions, but for the most part this holds true for everything you do in weight training.

Should I train muscles in a particular order?

The order or sequence of your exercises must have a methodology to it to attain optimal results. There are always exceptions. However, as a general rule, if you are to be focusing on one muscle group - for example, we're working the chest - you would want to start out with fundamental, basic movements such as the bench press or the dumbbell chest press. As you get warmer, you can open up to more of a stretching position like a fly. Then, if you so choose, you can isolate more with a one-arm type of motion. Generally you'll do a primary multi-jointed motion first, so the shoulder and the elbow work in this motion, and then later you'd focus on a single-jointed motion, so it could be just a shoulder movement.

Should I warm up cool down and stretch for a strength training workout?

There is certainly an appropriate preparatory phase before you work out with weights, and then following the weight-training session as well. As a general rule, you just want to get your body warmer, your core temperature. It's going to make your body more pliable. Then you can do some general movements to get the fluid in your joints active, and it's called the Synovial fluid, and it's basically the lubricant, the WD4, if you will, for your joints. And so you need to make it warm, get the lubrication going, and then start out with a lighter weight. And then fairly quickly you can progress up to the heavier weight that you're ready for that day. Then after you've done your workout, whatever it is that you're going to do, then you can do your general cool down and some more static, relaxed stretching afterwards, because then it's okay if the muscles are a little more placid afterwards, because they don't have to be active, because you're done with your workout.

What equipment can I use for strength training?

Strength training, or resistance training, doesn't just have to be with weights, for example barbells and dumbells. It can be done with machines, it can be done with elastic tubes and bands, it can be done with exercise balls - the large exercise balls that bounce is the Swiss balls, and the smaller balls that are heavier: those are the medicine balls. There's a lot of different things that you can do, you can combine these different modalities of resistance training together to really have a lot of variety and fun. And remember, if you do something with two hands, potentially you can do it with one hand. If you do things on two legs, you potentially can do it on one leg, as well. If you can move forward with it, you can likely go backwards and to the side, as well. And you can do this, with again, the cables, the bands, the balls, the different straps, all the different things that are available in the gymnasium. So, you're only limited by your imagination and what is safe for you. So have some fun and explore the different ways there are for you to enjoy resistance training.

What exercise equipment is good for a home gym?

When you're developing your home gym, there are a few things that you can get that will make a tremendous difference for a minimal cost, and give you a wide variety of exercises. Number one is an exercise ball. There are various size balls. Some of them are 45, 55, 65, and 75 centimetres. You'll go, and when you're ready to buy them, there will be a chart that will show you, based on your height, which exercise ball is appropriate for you, and they're very inexpensive. The other thing is a medicine ball. Those are the smaller balls that are heavier, with which you can do throwing movements and twisting, jumping, crunches and all sorts of things like that. You'll want an exercise mat. Just with the mat and both of those balls, you can probably do 500 different exercises. For the cardiovascular equipment, you'll want to do whatever you like to do best. It doesn't matter if it burns 50 more calories than the one next to it in the store. If it's the one that you enjoy, it's most likely that it's the one that you will continue to do. There are also several infomercial-type products that are also very, very good for a home gym. So, do your research, try it out when you can, ask your friends, ask for feedback, and then put it all together. Have fun, and most importantly, use it and don't let it become your secondary coat rack.

What are some tips to using a treadmill?

When you use the treadmill you really only need to hang on to the handrails of the treadmill when absolutely necessary. You shouldn't just hang onto the handrails of the treadmill "because". Especially the one in front of the treadmill, because you want to allow your arms to swing in a natural gait with your legs as you run on the treadmill. So hanging onto the treadmill handrail and then leaning back really nullifies the benefit of the incline itself, if you are trying to add resistance or a challenge to the treadmill workout. So, hang on to the treadmill handrails only if necessary and try some of the different profiles or hill options that the treadmill may offer just to eliminate any chance of boredom and to also give yourself more opportunity to benefit from the treadmill itself.