This may seem like a no-brainer to a lot of you, but much of my career as a personal trainer has involved me reminding people of things they already know. These are things that they just forget – or put in the back of their mind – and need to be reminded of from time to time ?
THE RIGHT WEIGHT FOR YOUR MUSCLE
What I’m about to tell you may shock you.
The whole point of weight-lifting – or any type of resistance training – is to work the muscle you’re trying to target. I see people get so frustrated when I hand them eight-pound dumbbells instead of 10 or 12-pounders, then start calling themselves “weaklings” because they struggled with the eight-pounders thinking they should be able to use more weight.
I constantly remind my clients that the point of exercising isn’t to lift heavy weight, or to do full range of motion pull ups, push ups or squats. Yes, that may be the ultimate goal and an indication of physical strength after years of working up to it. But the primary goal of a strength-training workout is always to work the muscle! You work your muscles by means of exercise equipment, but these are just tools to help you work out better, or harder, or to challenge your muscles more than you could without the weight.
But the main point is always still to work the muscle.
DON’T BE SO JUDGEMENTAL
I am not sure why we tend to put judgements on weight, but in general it seems as if using a heavier weight is “good” and using a lighter weight is “bad.”
This isn’t always the case. In most instances (unless you are recovering from injury or modifying your training for some reason) you want to lift as heavy as possible while still being able to maintain proper form – which also means you should be feeling the movement in the muscle you’re targeting.
If I see someone using 20-pound dumbbells for shoulder presses, for example, and doing it completely wrong to the point they could hurt themselves, I know if they just backed off the weight they might be able to do it correctly and feel it in their shoulders instead of, say, their lower back. In contrast, if I see someone doing shoulder presses with 10-pound dumbbells using proper form and barely able to get out 10 reps, I know their shoulders are likely on fire!
If you are getting an amazing contraction or lactic acid burn in your shoudlers, who cares how much weight you are using? That is actually the weight I use for many of my exercises, such as incline rear delt flies (pinkies up), and seated static hold front raises. If I used any heavier weight, I would have to lift with my biceps and triceps which takes the emphasis off muscle I’m targeting.
THE RIGHT WEIGHT
I actually joke with some of my clients that I often think it is a GOOD thing when I see people having to use a lighter weight, not a bad thing. To me, this is an indication that they have a really good mind-muscle connection and are able to get effective, intense muscle contractions without much external help (equipment).
A good example of this is flexing or posing. When you flex, you’re working your muscles as you would when you are working out, you’re just doing it without any extra equipment. You can do lat pulldowns and rows, chest presses, shoulder presses, biceps curls, leg extensions, etc. without using any equipment at all just by flexing/contracting your muscles. This is called isometric contractions, but that’s a topic for another time.
Here are ways you can increase the intensity and quality of your workouts and while working those muscles to the max!
Don’t underestimate the importance of the mind-muscle connection. Keep your thoughts on your workout and your body, specifically the muscle or muscles you’re trying to target. When your mind starts to wander, the quality of your workout will suffer and you’ll wonder why you aren’t sore the next day – or improving as quickly as you want. Stay focused.
2. Don’t Judge
Don’t judge the weight you’re using. As long as it is challenging your muscles and you’re feeling it in the muscles you’re targeting, that is what matters! Oftentimes when I have clients do a back exercise, they feel it in their forearms, biceps or triceps. So I lighten the weight and tell them to focus on their lats or rear delts instead of thinking about pulling the weight. It almost always does the trick!
3. Mind-Muscle Connection
Don’t think about the movement so much, or what you are trying to do such as lift a barbell or do a push-up. Instead, focus on the muscle you’re trying to work. If you think about the movement instead of the muscle, your body is going to be on auto-pilot and lift or pull however it is easiest (which is what the body was designed to do). For example, if you are doing barbell curls and all you are thinking about is lifting the bar up and down, guess what? You’ll most likely be hinging at your shoulders and getting about a 30-50% contraction with your biceps. Instead, if you think about curling and squeezing your biceps, you’ll be getting a much more intense contraction. So the person thinking about lifting the barbell instead of thinking about squeezing the biceps may try to go up in weight in order to feel it more. But the person thinking about squeezing the biceps instead of thinking about lifting the barbell is going to get a much more intense biceps workout, even at a lower weight.
4. Practice Flexing In The Mirror
Yes, you should practice flexing in the mirror! No matter where you are on your fitness journey, even if you can’t see your muscles yet! This will help develop a strong mind-muscle connection over time, and help you learn how to contract your muscles better and harder during your workouts.
You always want to challenge yourself during a workout, but this doesn’t always mean lifting heavier than you can keep good form, or even be able to contract your muscles. Remind yourself often that the whole point of a weight-lifting workout is to work the muscle!
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ABOUT NAOMI RABON
One of the trainers on Nicole’s elite NW Fitness Training Team, Naomi is a certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is a NPC Figure competitor who has been involved in the health and fitness industry for over 12 years.