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Fundamental Weightlifting Principles

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Manage your Stress:

Stress will hinder your progress in the gym and it will cause your body to accumulate fat. When you are stressed, your muscles become constricted, and they won't accept nutrition. That nutrition has to go somewhere, so what doesn't flush out of your system is accumulated as fat. Aside from this purely superficial point, stress is increasingly being recognized as the cause of a wide variety of illnesses; so you'll be a healthier person if you learn to de-stress your life.

Lifting weights can be relaxing, and it is definitely good for you, but it can also be stressful if you're pushing your limits. Here are some tips to help manage the stress you face in life and in the gym:
  • Get plenty of sleep. Sleeping helps your body recover from a number of things, including stress, including a hard workout. Sleep is good!
  • Learn to relax!!!! Develop habits that create a less stressful atmosphere for yourself and others around you. If you don't have a clue how to do this, talk to a therapist. I've done it and I highly recommend it!
  • Learn from others. If you know someone who seems to handle stress well, they're either faking it, they're on medication, or they have some aspects of life figured out. If it's the latter, you'd do well to emulate them. Ask them how they do it. If they are self-aware, they should be able to explain it to you, and they'll probably be glad to help.
  • Cool down after a workout. If you have time, spend 10 to 20 minutes to cool down after a workout. When I'm finished working out, I like to do one or two sets of each exercise with much lower weights, then I like to take a 15 minute walk. I eat a protein bar while I'm walking. The post-workout meal is very important!
  • Take a walk! A 30 to 45 minute walk can be very relaxing. In the time it takes to watch a sitcom, you could take a short walk and dump your stress. Walking is a terrific stress reduction tool, and it helps with recovery from a workout!
  • Get a Massage. If you can afford it, get a massage on a regular basis. It's very relaxing, and it helps your muscles recover and get stronger.
  • Develop your spiritual life. Getting in touch with the true nature of reality is important, and it's stress relieving. I believe it's ultimately stressful to ignore big issues like "Is there a God?", or "Why am I here?". We're all throwing darts at reality, and none of us are hitting the target. I have a theory that stress results went our experience doesn't line up with our expectations. IE: When our subjective understanding of the universe is different than its objectively true nature, stress can result. Your attitude will improve as your understanding of reality improves.
  • Don't take yourself too seriously. Zealots are the among the most stressed out people on the planet, based on my observation. Zealots take many forms, but they are usually adamant that everyone follow their rules.
    Live and let live! You're life and health will improve as a result.
I spent a lot of focus on stress because it's very important. I'd put it 3rd on the priority list, behind diet and exercise.

Use good form. Concentrate on the muscle you're working.      :)

I know this sounds silly, but it works!

Certainly use good form, but there's more to it than just that. Think about the muscle you're working. Don't just let it do the work, will it to do the work. Think about the motion that it's initiating. Here are a couple examples:
  • 'Good Mornings' (aka Straight leg Deadlifts) work your glutes and hamstring muscles. If the weight isn't too heavy, you can emphasize the use of one area more than another.
  • For tricep work, you can concentrate on extending with the inner tricep, or the outer tri. You can decide which muscle does most of the work, within reason of course.
Your mind is powerful. Use it, concentrate. As you do this, you'll begin to notice which exercises best work the muscle groups you'd like to emphasize.

If you can learn to concentrate on your workouts, it will also relieve stress. It's a good way to get your mind off things for a while!
Concentrate.       :)

Choose a rep and set range that's consistent with your goals:

Everyone is different, and we respond differently to exercise. But if you're eating right, you can have some control over how your body will develop, based on how you workout.
    1 to 8 reps for strength:
    Strength, rather than muscle size, is stimulated this way. This rep range is employed by powerlifters or linemen on a football team. It trains the Central Nervous System to handle larger loads. Muscle size isn't stimulated as much with this kind of training. Consider a power-lifter's ability to bench over twice their body-weight, or an alligator's short bursts of strength and speed. They have explosive strength, but not much stamina.
    Set Range: If you're using low weights, 40 to 50% of your maximum lift, you might do 10 sets of 1 to 4 reps. If you're going heavy, you might do 2 or 4 sets.

    6 to 15 reps for size:
    This rep range emphasizes muscles size, speed, and a mix of strength and stamina. Think of sprinters, body-builders, most gym rats, and lions.
    Set Range: You might do 3 to 6 sets with 2 or 3 different exercises per body-part. Sets are done in good form and are seldom taken to failure.

    15 or more reps for stamina:
    This creates lean muscles with a great deal of stamina. Iron-man competitors, distance runners, swimmers, and gazelles.
    Set Range: You'll want to do 2 to 4 sets, depending on how heavy you're going.
    BTW: Suggested set range do not include warm-up sets.

    Diet habits are the biggest factor when it comes to muscle growth, but rep and set ranges also play a role.

Mix it up every now and then. Lifters often change their rep and set ranges occasionally to stimulate growth, etc.. Body-builders might use a lower rep range to increase strength, then return to the higher rep training more weight than before. That type of cross-training can stimulate growth. Powerlifters will use the higher rep range to work on a relative weakness, or to stimulate muscle growth.

Don't take every set to failure.

I'm using the term "failure" to refer to 'doing as many reps in a single set as possible'. Football recruits are tested on how many times they can bench press 225lbs. This is an example of taking a set to failure.

Almost everyone in the gym is over-training. Over-training restricts growth; it also cause stress. If you persistently over-train, you can create health problems for yourself, including a compromised immune system. Don't over-train; it's such a waste of time!

I suggest you take only one set to failure per gym visit. One or less. If you take 2 to 4 sets approximately 4 reps short of failure, you'll get a better workout, and your body will recover faster. You shouldn't consistently be sore from your workouts 72 hours later. If you are, you're over-training and you need to scale it back.


Don't hold your breath while lifting heavy weights. Powerlifters do this quite often, but it's not a good idea. Get in the habit of inhaling as you lower the weight, and exhaling as you lift it. This is less stressful on your heart, heart valves, and your head!

I've been at this for years, and I still catch myself holding my breath. It seems to be a natural reaction to straining, but it's not a good idea.

Whether your goal is improved health, becoming stronger, or looking prettier, following these guidelines will make it happen for you. If you eat right and workout properly, you will be successful in the gym. Please contact us with specific questions or comments.

(1) Circuit Training refers to a workout technique where the lifter does one set of an exercise, then moves to the next exercise. The series of exercises (or circuit) is usually organized to create a total-body workout. This should not be confused with super-setting. Super-setting is often part of a split-training routine.

(2) Speed Training can refer to a number of things: We are referring to a powerlifting technique that helps train the Central nervous system to handle greater amounts of weight. This technique was made popular by the famous (infamous?) West Side Barbell club. It's an advanced technique and can cause you to become over-trained very quickly. Handle with care! We cover Speed Training in our article titled "Blast thru Plateaus!"

(3) Mr. Ferrigno's book is among the most concise and honest books I've read about weightlifting and bodybuilding; and I've read dozens of them. The book is titled 'Lou Ferrigno's Guide To Personal Fitness & His Life Story'. It prioritizes principles that work; it doesn't waste your time with hype, fads, or distractions. Lou doesn't sell ab machines!

It would be impossible to list all the experts and books that helped me reach my own fitness goals.
Here are a few people I admire for their accomplishments, their communication skills, and their commitment to share their knowledge openly and honestly:
Dave Draper
Lou Ferrigno
Jack La Lanne
Hugo Rivera
Dr. David T. Ryan
Kathy Smith

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      "Never give up! Never give up! Never, ever give up!"
      Winston Churchill