Strength Training Principles and Guidelines
by Chad Tackett
Almost any form of exercise will stimulate some degree of strength and muscle development. Unfortunately, misconceptions, myths, and misunderstandings plague the fitness industry, especially in regard to strength training. There is a huge attrition rate among those starting a strength training program primarily because most people are not taught the principles essential for a safe and effective program.
This article is part two of a five part series discussing the very important principles and guidelines of a safe and effective strength training program. This article discusses the importance of forcing blood to your muscles and proper lifting speed. The previous article, part one of this five part series, explained the proper methods of warming-up, stretching, and cooling-down for a safe and effective strength training program. The following exercise guidelines are extremely important for your safety and the effectiveness of your strength training program.
Importance of Blood Supply to your Muscles
It is important to understand the value and purpose of targeting or forcing blood to the muscles you are training. Many of the principles we teach have the sole purpose of forcing blood into your muscles. When you use proper lifting technique, you will notice blood racing to the specific muscle you are training. And this is exactly what you want to happen.
When blood is forced into your muscles during your weightlifting program it potentiates the "microtrauma" or tiny little tears in your muscles that we mentioned earlier. When this happens, your muscle tissues repair and rebuild themselves bigger and stronger than they were--if you allow ample resting time. This is why you never train the same muscle group two days in a row; if you do, you cut off the rebuilding process.
You will know that you are using proper form when you feel a warmth, some fatigue, and a "burning" feeling at the end of each set for each muscle group. If you do not get this feeling, you probably need to review the proper form for your exercise. This may be an indication that you are making other common mistakes in your routine that do not allow blood to be fully targeted to the your muscles.
One of the most common mistakes people make is not training their muscle groups in an organized, systematic fashion. Always do every set and every exercise for specific muscle groups together. For example, if your chest routine consists of three sets of bench press, do all three sets, separated by resting periods, and then go on to the next muscle group. Or, if your chest routine consists of two or three different chest exercises, do all of those chest exercises together. Do the Bench Press, then Incline Bench Press, then Flys, for example--until your chest routine is complete. Then you can move on to the next muscle group.
Many people make the mistake of doing a set of Bench Press for their chest, then a set of Biceps Curls, then another set of Bench Press, and then on to another muscle group, and so on. This does not fully target blood into any one muscle group. You are just teasing your chest muscles and then moving on to tease another muscle group without ever targeting enough blood into any muscle group to cause much stimulation for improvement.
Another common mistake is eating right before your training program or eating too soon after your program. This can cause your heart and digestive system to work too hard and compromise the oxygen and nutrient delivery to the working muscles. Eating just before or too soon after your workout will not allow you to get enough blood into the muscles you are training.
Think about this: Digestion takes a lot of blood to work effectively. The more blood your body sends to digest your food the less blood is available to go to your muscles, to rebuild and increase strength. You should wait at least 60 minutes after eating before you start your exercise program.
Similarly, do not eat too soon after ending your workout because you want the blood that you just targeted into each specific muscle to remain there as long as possible. If you eat food too soon after your workout, the blood will be forced out of your muscles and into your digestive system. So wait at least 60 minutes after your program before you eat a meal.
Of course you should not go to your workouts hungry; you definitely want nutrients in your system for performance enhancement and energy, but try to eat an hour or more before workouts, and make sure your meal includes foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates and protein and low in fat, sugar, and cholesterol
One of the most important elements in weightlifting--one that has a big effect on how much blood is targeted to your muscles--is lifting speed. Speed plays a major role in the incidence of injury as well as strength and muscle development. Fast lifting creates momentum and doesn't promote blood flow to the muscle. Slow movement creates less momentum and less internal muscle friction. Not only does slow lifting require a more even application of muscle power throughout the movement range, it actually promotes rapid blood flow into the specific muscle you are training.
In every strength training exercise for every muscle there are two different parts to each repetition of the exercise set performed. One, the concentric contraction--called the "positive" phase of the repetition--isthe part where the muscle is actually doing the work, such as the lifting motion of the bicep curl--from the beginning where your arms are hanging straight down to the point where the weight is lifted up. The second part
is the eccentric contraction--called the "negative" phase of the repetition--is the part with resistance, because you are returning the weight from the end of the positive phase back to the beginning. In the bicep curl, this is where you let the weight come back slowly to the beginning position, with your arms extended straight down again.
It is more important to let the weight come back slowly on the "negative" phase than on the "positive" phase. Coming back slowly with resistance on every exercise is very, very important because this is the phase that promotes blood flow to your muscles and thus causes microtrauma, building your muscles even stronger during your day of rest. We recommend one to two seconds for each lifting movement (the positive phase), and three to four seconds for each lowering movement (the negative phase). Whatever your actual lifting speed, remember to always come back slower with resistance (the negative phase) for each and every weightlifting exercise. If you find that the weight is so heavy that you cannot come back slowly in full control of the movement, you should lighten the weight until you can. Many people pay far too much attention to the quantity or weight of the lift and not the quality of the movement performed. Your muscles cannot know how much weight is on the bar or machine, but they will respond very well when you are using good, controlled form and come back slowly with resistance.
Please check back for Part three, where I'll discuss the importance of proper lifting technique, exercising through the full range of motion, proper exercise sequence, and the correct number of sets for what you're trying to achieve. Until then, remember to use slow lifting speeds and try to get as much blood into the specific muscle you are training as possible. Good luck, and enjoy all the wonderful benefits of strength training.