jessie321, Author at Ageless In Shape

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What Are The Biceps Muscles

What Are The Biceps? How They Work And How To Train Them

What Are The Biceps Muscles

In this series of articles about the different muscle groups, we first look at the biceps. One of the favorite muscles to exercise are the biceps. For many people nothing say "strong and in shape" more than a pair of well developed biceps. It should come as no surprise that it is also one the most popular exercises to train, but I have a suspicion you already knew that. But what exactly are the biceps and how exactly do they function?

Biceps Muscles

The biceps (biceps brachii) muscles are located on the front part of the upper arm. Although seen as one muscle, they contain both a long and short head. It is atteched via connective tissue called tendons to the shoulder joint at the top, and the forearm bone at the bottom. The main function of the biceps is to move the forearm up and rotate it outwards when the muscle is contracted.

Like most other muscle groups, biceps do not work in isolation. They normally work in conjunction with other muscles groups to perform a certain function or movement. To better understand this we first need to take a closer look at how exactly the biceps function. 

What Is The Function Of The Biceps?

The biceps brachii (for the technically inclined among you) is seen as a single muscle, but have two heads that connect to the rest of the body at multiple locations at the shoulder and elbow. (Also known as a double-headed muscle.)

The long head of the muscle is connected at a point just above the shoulder joint (the supraglenoid tubercle), while the short head is connected to the shoulder at the top of the scapula. Both heads are connected at the same point on the elbow.

The biceps is what is called a bi-articular muscle. This simply means that it helps to control movement at two different joints, in this case the elbow and shoulder.

As already mentioned, the main function of the biceps is to move the forearm up by contracting the muscle at the elbow. It also plays a less important role with certain movements of the shoulder. It supports the shoulder with smaller upward, forward and sideways movements of the arm.

All right, enough technical stuff. Let's move on to the exercises.

Exercises To Train The Muscles

1) Compound/Mass Building Exercises

These exercises are your "bread and butter" exercises. Normally if you have only one exercise to choose to train a muscle, this will the ones you choose. This is usually also the exercise you can move the most amount of weight with and involve compound (multiple-joint) movements.

Your biceps are rather unique in this aspect, as the best basic exercises do not involve multiple-joint movements. Movements like chin-ups and lat pull-downs both exercise the back muscles and biceps. Unfortunately, these exercises do not place enough emphasis and stress on the biceps themselves though. Too much of your back mudcles gets involved as well.

The simplest form of bicep exercises that you can put the biggest amount of weight on, are 2 exercise that can also be seen as types of isolation exercises.

Standing Barbell Curls 

Standing Barbell Curl

Standing upright while holding a barbell (straight or EZ bar) in front of you with your arms fully extended, you perform a simple curl while holding the rest of your body as still as possible. It is a very basic movement that is not difficult to master, but still remains one of your best muscle builders.

The advantage of barbell curls is that you can use a slightly heavier weight, and use a little bit of momentum through some hip movement to assist in a lifting a heavier weight. Needless to say, you should keep this body movement to a minimum and only use it to assist you while your biceps are doing the majority of the work.

Standing Dumbbell Curls​

Also performed while standing, but holding a dumbbell in each hand. The advantage of standing dumbbell curls is that you can alternate between your left and right arm. (Lift and lower the one arm first before performing the other side.) In this way you can focus on each individual bicep and put the maximum amount of stress on each one.

standing dumbbell curl

As with standing barbell curls, you can also use some assistance from a slight arching of the back while producing some swinging of the weights through hip movement to enable you to lift a slightly heavier weight. Again, I cannot stress enough that the hip movement (or swing) should be kept to a minimum and only used to help the biceps lift that extra bit of weight. Make sure your biceps are doing the vast majority of the work.     

2) Isolation Exercises

Many trainers or "gurus" like to refer to isolation exercises as shaping exercises. Many believe that you can "develop or shape" a muscle by putting emphasis on certain areas by using isolation exercises among others. Other experts in the field believe this is completely incorrect and a muscle's shape is already determined by genetics and only the size of a muscle can be increased. 

Obviously this is a very controversial and much debated issue. Through years of personal experience and extensive research, I learned that both arguments are only partially true. (Yes, chances are pretty good that you may have a completely different take on the matter. No problem, like I said it, is a very controversial subject where no-one is probably a 100% right or wrong.)

As much as the fundamental shape of a muscle cannot be changed, by putting emphasis on a certain part of a muscle through training, you will be able to obtain a much fuller muscle development (which yes, can also lead to a generally more shapely look). And this is exactly where isolation exercises come in.

An isolation exercises can be defined as a movement where the target muscle do all of the work, and supporting muscles groups used during other exercises are not involved at all during isolation movements. This way you place all the tension and focus on the target muscle, allowing you much more control over the muscle group and how it is trained.

(An isolation exercise can normally be performed with much lighter weights as your muscles are already exhausted from the big compound sets you performed. Using a higher rep range during these movements also helps to completely exhaust your muscles and achieve that "burn" that signals muscle hypertrophy. I will recommend a  8-12 rep range.)

To best understand how this works in practice, let's take a look at 2 of the best isolation exercises for biceps.  

Seated Dumbbell Isolation Curl

By sitting on the edge of the bench with your knees apart, you rest your upper arm against the inside of your thigh. Let the dumbbell hang between your legs with your arm fully extended. Just by moving your forearm while keeping the rest of your body completely still, you curl the weight upwards until your bicep is completely contracted. Repeat with the other arm once you finished all your repetitions.

Seated Concentration Curl

This way you make your biceps do all the work. This is an excellent exercise for training the peak of you muscles and create symmetry between your biceps, as the same load and form is applied to both muscles separately.

As you curl the weight upward, make sure you squeeze your biceps hard at the top of the movement before lowering it down until your arm is fully extended. After a few repetitions you will start feeling a burning sensation on the upper and outer side of your biceps. This is what you want and  know you are putting enough emphasis on the "peak" of your biceps. Combined with exercises that put emphasis on the lower part of the biceps where it joins the elbow joint, helps to create fuller looking biceps.  

Barbell Preacher Curls​

By using a preacher bench and an EZ-bar, make sure you find the right seating height where you upper arms are resting firmly and straight on the padded slope of the bench. Start lowering the weight until you arms are fully extended, then lift it by just bending your arms at the elbows until your biceps are fully contracted.

Preacher Curls

This a another great isolation which is very effective at exercising your whole muscle, but especially emphasize the part where both heads of the biceps connect at the elbow joint. When performed in a slow and controlled function, you will actually start feeling the muscles pull at the elbow joint at the bottom of the movement.

(Because this exercise helps with full biceps development, as it works from the joint at the elbows to the full contraction at the top of the movement, some trainers like to use it as the ideal finishing exercise for their biceps workout. When performed at the end of the workout, you don't need a lot of weight to fully exhaust your muscles. Just remember to focus on keeping good form at this stage of your workout.)

3) Exercises For Maximum Stretch

A whole book can be written about why including an exercise that fully stretches your muscles should be included in every workout for every muscle group. I will not go into too much detail as a result, but just know that no muscle group can be considered fully trained without one of these exercises included. Yes, it is my personal opinion, but I believe a very valid one.

For one, allowing the muscle to stretch while under tension, you promote more micro tears in your muscle fibers which will lead to much great muscle atrophy. A further benefit of fully stretching your muscle while exercising, is the strengthening of your muscles where they tie in with your tendons, which allows for much greater mobility and increased joint strength. (More on the numerous advantages of in another article.)

As the title already indicates, exercises for maximum strength is where you allow the weight to extend and stretch the muscle beyond its normal extended position, until you reach position of maximum stretch (without placing stress on the joint by forcing the muscle past its natural range of movement!)

Please note, care should be taken when performing a "exercise for maximum strength". Especially when starting out, only allow a small amount of stretch at the extended position. As you progress over weeks you can increase the amount of stress. Never ever go beyond the point where your joints' natural range of movement are exceeded. (Remember you can stretch a muscle, but not a joint. This will we one guaranteed way of causing long term joint and tendon damage.)    

Again, to best understand how these "stretching exercises" work, we will look at 2 of the best exercises to fully stretch your biceps. 

Incline Dumbbell Curls​

Using and adjustable bench with the back angled back at about 45 degrees, lie down against the back while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Allow your arms to hang straight down. In this position you will already feel your biceps stretching. (You can adjust the angle to what is comfortable for you and lower it over the course of time to allow more stretch.)

Incline Dumbbell Curls

In a slow and controlled motion curl the weight up just by bending your elbows until your biceps are full contacted. Lower it in a slow and controlled motion until it is fully extended. Do NOT use momentum or swing of your arms to help you lift the weight at the bottom of the movements. You can seriously damage your shoulder joints and overextend your biceps.

(Two important things to remember is to not use momentum like I just mentioned, and also to keep your shoulders completely still during this movement to allow your biceps to do all the work.)

This exercise is one of my favorite exercise for the biceps, as it not only allows you to get as much stretch as your biceps allow you to, but allow you an extended range of movement from beyond the normal extended position to a fully contracted one. (It can also be used to completely exhaust your muscles by performing 2 or three more half reps if you are unable to perform another full curl, and that in a stretching position. You will feel like you need a fire extinguisher after such a set and is not recommended for the faint at heart. But it works!)  

Standing Low Pulley Cable Curls​

By holding the handles of the pulley cables next to your sides (with the cable connected at the bottom pulleys), stand in the center of the machine. Now take a step or two forward until you feel a stretch in your biceps.

low pulley bicep curls

In this position your arms will be pulled into a position slightly behind your sides. From this position, curl your forearms up just by bending your elbows until your biceps are fully contracted. Lower it again in a controlled way until your arms end up back in the extended position slightly behind you sides. (Remember to use your shoulders to only move your upper arms until next to your side and keep them there for the remainder of the curl.)

This exercise is effective not just because of the stretch your biceps get at the bottom of the movement, but also the continuous tension that is applied to it. Even in the "rested" position at the bottom of the movement, the weights are still pulling at your muscles. Continuous tension allow your muscles to be fully exhausted in a shorter period of time which will also lead to much more muscle fiber recruitment in the process.

As this exercise puts a lot of continuous stress on the muscle, you will reach muscle fatigue quite rapidly. As a result, start with a small enough weight you can perform at least 8 repetitions with. It may be a very light weight, especially after already exhausting your biceps with other movement. For his movement though, leave your ego at the door, start small and reap the benefits in the long run.

Conclusion

You now should have a much better understanding of what your biceps are, how exactly they work and which exercises are used to train them effectively. 

Once you understand what the function of a muscle is and how it is used by the body to perform certain movements, it will become much easier to see how different exercises make use of the muscle movements in different ways to produce a specific result.

(Many trainees develop variations of existing exercises, or even invent their own to best suit their specific body structure and the unique way their muscles react to exercise - with great success!)

I trust this post helped you to look at your biceps in a whole new light, and inspired you to approach your next biceps workout with renewed enthusiasm.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and don't quit!

Wessel


Home Workout With Bench

Can I Work Out From Home? – Using Just A Bench And Set Of Dumbbells To Train From Home

Home Workout With Bench

Elsewhere on this site, I already discussed training from home using your own body weight. It will just be that much more effective if you can afford & accommodate a bench and set of barbells. In this article I look at how you can use this equipment to give your entire body a thorough workout without leaving home

As I already mentioned in previous articles, nothing beats the the versatility and variety that a fully equipped gym provides for exercising every muscle group to their full potential. Not only do you have access to every possible piece of equipment you will need, the atmosphere and energy present in a gym will keep you motivated and help giving your best.

Like most you, I also realize there are some times when it is just not possible to make it to the gym. Especially if this is for an extended period of time it great to know that you can still workout from home. I already discussed working out from home using your own body weight in this article.

As effective as a home workout can be using just your body weight, it is still not ideal. If you are able in any way to afford and accommodate an adjustable bench and set of dumbbells, you can really take your home workout to the next level. The flexibility of an adjustable bench, combined with set of dumbbells to which you can add weight, allows you to exercise each muscle group from every angle to complete failure.

Performed correctly with an adequate amount of weight I will go as far as to say you can achieve 70 percent or more of the results you would be able to get from a real gym environment. Provided you perform your home workouts with the same drive, discipline and consistency.

Required Equipment

Let's start with the bench. I would strongly recommend investing in an adjustable bench, with the back being able to be adjusted up to an angle of about 90 degrees. If the seated part can be adjusted to about 45 degrees, that will be great, as it will support you in the seated position when lying at an angle. (It will prevent you from potentially sliding off or relying on your legs to keep you in position.)

Not all dumbbells are created the same. Make sure you invest in a pair of dumbbells with a solid clamp or threaded collar to keep the weights solidly and safely in place. Also make sure your dumbbells are able to accept additional plates.

As your strength grows, you will need to add additional weight to your dumbbells to keep making progress. (It may be a bit more expensive when starting out, but nothing is more frustrating than outgrowing your dumbbell set and not being able to add additional plates to your existing set. The extra expense of acquiring a new heavier set can be a very expensive learning experience.)

The Program

The program I am recommending for your home workout follows the same principles as the ones I described in my article, "Your First Workout Plan". Since each workout is a full body workout with short rest periods and only one exercise per muscle group, it can easily and quickly be performed at home where your time will probably be limited. 

There is probably a reason why you are working from home which is stopping you from getting to gym in the first place. A full body workout means that even if you can't stick to working out 3 times a week, you still get a full body workout in each week, even if you have to cut it down to twice or even once a week.  

The steps on how to follow the program are exactly the same as in the "Your First Workout Plan" article which you can find by following this link. Please make sure to follow these steps.

The program below are also based on the same exercises to train the same specific muscle groups, with the only difference being that all exercises using barbells or machines, have been substituted with dumbbell exercises that can easily be performed with the help of a bench in the comfort of your home.

Please make sure to consult your physician before attempting any of the exercises described in this article.

Find the program below Follow it in chronological order:

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Dumbbell Step Ups

2

10

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts

2

10

Bent Over Dumbbell Rows

2

10

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

2

10

Seated  Dumbbell Shoulder Press

2

10

Lying Triceps Extensions

2

10

Standing Dumbbell Curl

2

10

Standing Calf Raise

2

10

Crunches

3

16

The reason for following the exercises in chronological order from top to bottom, is to train each muscle group with the most amount of strength. You start with the biggest muscle group, your legs, for which you require the biggest amount of energy and strength.

The muscle groups are then organised according to size and effort, required to effectively be trained, as you go down the list. The smallest groups requiring the least amount of energy is at the bottom of the list. As your strength and energy starts diminishing, the muscle groups you are training start getting smaller, making it easier for you to train with the maximum amount of efficiency.

As described in the "How To Follow.." Section, try and stick to three full body workouts per week, with at least a one day's rest in between. Let's move on to having a look at the exercise themselves. 

The Exercises

Dumbbell Step Ups

Dumbbell Step Ups

Muscles Exercised: Quadtriceps & Glutes

Very effective for training the whole upper leg region. Be sure to keep strict form and keep your movements smooth. As this is your biggest muscle group, perform this exercise first. 

1. While standing about the length of your upper leg away from the bench, make sure you are holding the dumbbells with your palms facing your sides. 

2. Step onto the bench with your right foot as indicated, while leaning slightly forward to keep your balance as you are stepping on the bench. Breath out as you are stepping up.

3. Step down in a controlled way with your left foot until you are standing in the same position and distance from the bench.

4. Repeat this same movement with your right leg for the full 10 repetitions, then switch to your left leg and repeat the whole exercise.

5. After a 40 second rest, continue with the second set.    

Dumbbell Deadlifts

Stiff-Legged Dumbbell Deadlifts

Muscles Exercised: Hamstrings & Lower Back

Hamstrings are often neglected when training your upper legs, which exercises like squats, leg presses and step ups don't fully address. These deadlift exercises give your hamstrings a thorough workout, while exercises your lower back as well which is very important for strengthening your core muscles. 

1. While standing up straight, with your arms hanging straight down, rest the dumbbells on the front of your thighs with the back of your arms facing forward and away from you as illustrated.   

2. Start bending forward at you hips while keeping your back straight (make sure you don't arch your back to prevent injury.) Continue bending as far as you can until you feel your hamstrings stretching and don't allow any further movement. 

3. Slowly return to the upright position in the same way, and make sure your back stays straight.

4. Briefly pause at the top of the movement before repeating the exercise. Do this for the full ten repetitions.

5. After a 40 second rest, continue with the second set.    

Bent Over Dumbbell Rows

Bent Over Dumbbell Rows

Muscles Exercised: Back

Next to your legs, your back consists of the largest group of muscles in your body. This is also why you are exercising this muscle group next. One of the most effective exercises to perform with dumbbells are dumbbell rows.

Although normally performed while standing in a bent-over stance, I recommend the convenience and safety of using a bench to perform this back exercise. The standing version places a tremendous amount of stress on the spine, and can lead to injury. It may also lead to premature fatigue in the lower back and spine long before the back muscles themselves are sufficiently trained.     

1. Adjust the back of the bench to an angle of about 30-45 degrees. (If your seat is adjustable, adjust it to an angle of about 30 degrees or more to keep you in position and prevent you from sliding down.)  

2. While lying face down with your torso against the back of the bench, allow your arms to hang straight down with the back of your palms facing forward as illustrated.

3. Start lifting the dumbbells up by bending your elbows while keeping them at a 90 degree to your angle. (Using different angles target different areas of the muscle group, but let's just concentrate on this 90 degree angle to start with as a good overall back exercise.)

4. Lift the dumbbells to the level of your torso, or as close to it as possible. At the top of the movement try and squeeze your shoulder blades together for maximum contraction and development of the muscle.

5. Briefly pause at the top as you are contracting your muscles before lowering it in a controlled fashion until your arm are fully extended. Repeat for the full 10 repetitions.

6. After a 40 second rest, continue with the second set.    

Incline Dumbbell Press

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

Muscles Exercised: Chest

Yep I know, nothing is more important to any lifter than an impressive fully developed chest. (Except for those all important biceps that is any gym goer's ultimate goal). Personally I believe that they just round off a body where all muscles should be given given equal attention and also fully developed. Having said that, I acknowledge its importance, and as a good overall exercise to start with, it will be hard to fault the incline dumbbell press.

With the versatility to be performed at any angle (from completely flat to 45 degrees) to target different areas of the pectoral muscle, it can be the greatest contributor to a fully developed chest.   

1. Adjust the back of the bench to an angle of no more than around 30 degrees. If you angle your back seat any more, too much of your shoulder will be doing the work, taking the load off the pectoral muscle. (If your seat is adjustable, adjust it to an angle of about 30 degrees or more to keep you in position and prevent you from sliding down.)  

2. Use your knees to help "launch" the dumbbells in position next to your shoulders as you lay back against the bench.

3. With your dumbbells at shoulder height and arms at a 90 degree angle to your body, make sure your palms are facing forward as illustrated. Start pushing up with your elbows while keeping the space between your body and arms at 90 degrees. 

4. As you reach the top of the movement, start bringing the weights together until they touch at the top of the movement.  

5. Briefly pause at the top before lowering the weights in the same arch that you lifted them. Make sure you feel your pectorals stretch at the bottom of the movement in order to get a full range of movement to recruit the maximum amount of muscle fibers. Repeat for the full 10 repetitions. 

6. After a 40 second rest, continue with the second set.    

seated shoulder press

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Muscles Exercised: Shoulders (Deltoids) 

Shoulders are the one muscle group that often gets neglected. This is a big mistake, as especially the deltoids are giving your shoulders that pleasing "capped look". Shoulder presses are one of the best exercises for overall shoulder development. 

Although not shown in the illustration, please use some back support. Preferably use a bench with an adjustable back, set at close to 90 degrees. This will not just provide vital support for your spine, but also the stability to perform the exercise effectively. (A training belt to support your spine is also highly recommended.)

1. Hold the dumbbells just above shoulder height, elbows all the way out and parallel with your body, with your palms facing forward as illustrated. 

2. Push the weights straight up and towards each other,  letting them touch at the top of the movement, while making sure your elbows stay out throughout the movement.

3. Lower weights slowly to the starting position, keeping elbows out. Repeat this for 10 repetitions.

4. After a 40 second rest, continue with the second set.    

Lying Triceps Extensions

Lying Triceps Extensions

Muscles Exercised: Triceps 

Nothing gets more attention then impressive looking biceps. It is also one of the most popular muscle groups to exercise. What most people fail to realize is that the triceps make up 2/3 of your arm size. It's only with fully developed triceps that your biceps will really stand out.

There are literally more than dozens of triceps exercises available. The lying triceps extension is a very good starting point, providing a full range of movement and targeting the whole muscle group.

1. Start by lying down on a flat bench with your head right at the edge of the bench. 

2. Start with your arms fully extended above your head with the dumbbells about shoulder width apart from each other, while making sure the palms of you hands are facing inwards as illustrated.

3. Start lowering the dumbbells backwards and down by bending your elbows, while keeping the distance between the weights the same.  

4. Keep lowering the weight until it reaches a point just above your face and just above the top of the bench, while making sure you feel a thorough stretch in your muscles. (See illustration.)

5. After a brief pause, extend your arms back up again in the same arch, while keeping the distance between the dumbbells the same, until your arms are fully extended. Repeat this for 10 repetitions.

6. After a 40 second rest, continue with the second set.    

Standing Dumbbell Curl

Standing Dumbbell Curls

Muscles Exercised: Biceps 

By far the most popular muscle group to work out, and to show off. Even for the non-weight trainer, the biggest validation of someones build and power is a fully developed flexed bicep. Ironically this can be a stubborn muscle to get growing for some trainees. With enough persistence and given enough time though, you will get there.

One of the best staple exercises to start growing your biceps is the standing barbell curl. It proves a full range of movement, with a full stretch at the bottom of the movement, and good peak contraction at the top.

1. Stand upright with your legs planted slightly wider than shoulder width for complete stability, while letting your arms hang straight down next to your sides. Allow the dumbbells to rest against the front of your outer thighs, with your palms facing forward.  

2. While keeping your upper arms completely still, start lifting the weight up and forward by bending your elbows until your biceps are fully contracted. Make sure you keep the rest of your body completely still during this movement and don't use any momentum to assist the exercise. 

3. At the top of the movement, briefly contract/squeeze your biceps for maximum muscle fiber activation, before lowering it back down in the same arch until you arms are are fully extended. Repeat this for 10 repetition.

4. After a 40 second rest, continue with the second set.    

Standing Calve Raises

Standing Calve Raises

Muscles Exercised: Calves 

Even though its one of the smallest muscle groups in your body, don't neglect them.

Well developed calves don't get that much attention, but the absence of calf development stands out like a sore thumb. Like biceps, calves can also be notoriously stubborn to develop. Just keep working on them and stay consistent. In the long term it will work out. 

1. A bench may be too high, so rather use a solid step to stand on, allowing the heels of your feet to hang over the edge as illustrated. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with the palms of your hands facing inwards.

2. While keeping your legs straight, let your heels drop slowly until you feel your hamstrings stretching. Go down as far as you feel comfortable in the beginning.

3. A the bottom, pause briefly before lifting yourself up by raising your heels up as far as you can until you feel your calve muscles fully contracted. Repeat this for the full 10 repetitions.

4. After a 40 second rest, continue with the second set.

abdominal crunches

Abdominal Crunches

Muscles Exercised: Abdominals 

Although you are already training your abdominal indirectly while exercising other muscle groups, focusing on dedicated abdominal training should never be avoided. Along with your lower back muscles it forms part of your core muscles. A strong core helps with balance, supporting the spine, and also assist in the effectiveness with which other muscle groups are exercised.  

1. While laying on a flat surface, raise your upper body until your shoulders are lifted off the ground. (Imagine trying to pull your shoulders towards your pelvis.)

2. Pause briefly at the top before lowering back to starting position. Repeat for the full 15 repetitions (or more if you are able to.)

3. After resting for 40 seconds, proceed with the following 2 sets.

Conclusion

And there you have it. A complete full body workout with the help of a bench and a set of dumbbells, right from the comfort of your own home. Also remember, I just used what I considered to be the best exercises to start with for each muscle group. There are at least a dozen different dumbbell exercises to use as substitute for each one of these exercises mentioned in this article.

So, no more excuses. You now have all the tools and means to keep in shape from home. Even if you don't have a set of dumbbells or a bench, you can use just your own body weight for a complete as well. (Find it in this article.)

I will start expanding the workouts and break it into different muscle groups per day, for those of you who want to take it to the next level, and start training each muscle group more intensely for better results.  

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and let me know if there a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.

Wessel


Gym Etiquette

The Unwritten Rules Of The Gym – Avoid These Annoying Habits And Create Good Gym Etiquette

Gym Etiquette

Joining a gym for the first time can be a scary and intimidating experience. Not only are you confronted by new exercises and unfamiliar equipment, you are also joining a unique community with all its unwritten rules...

Especially starting out without a experienced gym partner to show you the ropes and all the do's and don'ts can be enough to put you off completely. You can rest assured that you are not alone, not by a long shot. Almost everyone who walked through the doors of a gym for the first time and experienced everything associated with it, felt like a fish out of water at the very least.

The whole reason for this article is to familiarize you with the "gym culture" and its unwritten "rules". It will help to make you feel a lot more comfortable and confident in your new environment.

There is also good gym etiquette that generally applies to both men and women. There are however, quite a few differences in the approach and expectations between the different sexes. I will address each one separately after discussing gym etiquette in general. 

Right then, time to have a look at the Rules of the Gym.

 The 11 Rules Of The Gym

Before continuing, just keep the following in mind. As is the case with almost everything else, not all gyms are created equal. The "normal gym" that will be used as a reference point throughout this article, is your average gym consisting of male and female members. It has one or more studios for a variety of aerobic related classes, cardio equipment (treadmills, stationary cycles etc.), one or more training circuits, a stretching area and a free weight area.

(What I am NOT referring to are specialist gyms like dedicated weightlifting gyms (where weightlifting and power-lifting are the main focus), crossfit or boxing/MMA focused gyms. Nor is it "boutique" gyms where exorbitant fees are charged, the members are pampered with all kinds of luxuries, and the make-up and jewelry weigh more than the actual weights do.)

And let us refer to guidelines rather than rules. Rules sounds like something related to something way too rigid and authoritarian.  In no particular order, the guidelines will be broken down in do's and don'ts.

Do's

1.

Always be aware of your surroundings and fellow gym goers. The first reason for this is that people are very focused on their training while performing exercises. Accidentally bumping into someone or walking into the space they need to perform their exercise, can cause real irritation and frustration on their part, not helping you win any popularity contest. 


Secondly you are moving among people lifting heavy free weights. Balancing these weights is extremely important and a very delicate operation which can very easily be upset by the slightest touch. Pushing or touching the weights while they are being exercised can completely knock the heavy weight off balance, which can result in serious injury.


Please don't be afraid or paranoid of moving around in the gym. Just be careful and aware of your surroundings, and this will become second nature in no time at all.

2.


Always carry a towel with you. This is both a hygienic and considerate habit. After your workout, always use the towel to properly wipe down the equipment and weights you were using.


Imagine moving on to your next exercise and the bench and weights are drenched in sweat. You know exactly how infuriated you will feel. On top of that it's off-putting and can really ruin one's workout. So please leave your workout area the way you would like to find it when starting your exercise.

3.


Always put your weights away. And no, don't use the excuse that "you found it this way". Even if the person before you left a few weights behind, just take the time to quickly put it away in its place. Its both considerate and just good gym practice. 


The weight area at the dumbbell rack in front of the wall-to-wall mirror, can get cluttered very quickly when weights are left lying around. This not only makes moving around difficult and irritating, it can also cause an accident when someone carrying a set of weights trips and fall over weights lying on the floor.  


Here the same principle applies as in the previous point. Leave your workout area the way you would like to find it when starting your exercise. 

4.


Be willing to share or take turns. When using a piece of equipment, you may occupy it  for quite some time when performing multiple sets of an exercise. When the gym is busy and there are only one or two pieces of this equipment available, there is probably one or more person waiting for you to finish up.


This is always a tricky and difficult situation. You were there first and have  the "right of access" to the equipment and it can be frustrating and disruptive to have another gym member standing nearby making no secret that they are waiting for you.


On the flip-side, if you are doing 5 sets and resting up to 3 minutes in between, you can imagine the frustration of the person in the middle of specific workout routine and now having to wait 15 minutes while their muscles are cooling down and they are wasting valuable time.


The best thing to do is to quickly resolve the situation before it escalates. If you haven't already been approached by the person waiting, be willing and ask them if they want to share and let them train while you rest. If you are doing a short routine of 3 sets with just 30 seconds in between, just inform them that you will be quick and you will be surprised how accepting and respectful of your space  they will become.


I know it's a tricky situation and can be a bit inconvenient, but showing just a little bit of consideration goes some way in creation a healthy relationship and pleasant atmosphere in the gym

5.


Watch out for the OCCUPIED sign. Walking up to a piece of equipment and start using it simply because no one is using is not always acceptable. If a towel, water bottle or gym belt is laying beside or on top of it, this the universal sign that the piece of equipment is in use.


It's user may have quickly gotten up to go fetch a dumbbell, have a drink at the water fountain or go for quick bathroom break. Rather wait for a few minutes and ask members in the area if somebody is using the equipment. You obviously don't have to wait forever, but always assume a spot is taken when you see these telltale sign of "occupation".

Don'ts

1.

Don't drop your weights or shout to "motivate" yourself. This a common practice in serious weightlifting gyms. Dropping the weight from a few feet up and shouting at yourself in the mirror to get yourself worked up may be acceptable in such a gym.


In a normal gym where a mix of people of different ages and gender are focusing on their own workouts, this is normally hugely distracting and not acceptable. Just simply refrain from doing it.

2.


Don't talk to someone in the middle of their workout. This is one sure way of really getting on the wrong side of someone and becoming unpopular very quickly. Most experienced trainers are concentrating and focusing very hard on the exercise they are performing and hardly have time to properly breath, never-mind start a conversation.


Rather wait till they have finished their exercise if you want to ask them how long they are still going to be or if they are still using some weights lying around them

3.


Don't stare. It is as impolite in gym as it is in public, and can be very uncomfortable for the person being stared at. It can be very tempting to admire someone with an exceptionally pleasing physique, or even watch someone training to try and learn how an exercise should be performed. This is completely understandable, but don't make it obvious and prolonged. This is a big NO.

4.


Don't stand on top of someone training. We all observe and respect personal space in public, whether we stand in line at the checkout till of a supermarket or gathering in a crowd. In the gym, that piece of personal space is actually a bit bigger. When waiting for or training next to someone else, in general leave enough space that both of you can stretch your arms out without touching each other.


This not a set rule but just good practice and an effective way of avoiding clashes between fellow members when training. If you are unsure, take some time to observe the distance experienced gym goers keep between each other while working out.

5.


Don't cross the line by "correcting" someone. You may think or actually know how an exercise is supposed to be performed. However, don't fall into the trap of trying to correct someone else's form of training. It's none of your business, even if you have the best of intentions.


You really are begging for a potentially big confrontation when interfering with someone else's training. That person may be well aware of the correct form of an exercise, but perform it in a certain way to get the maximum out of their training, or have some other valid reason for training the way they do.  Just DON'T interfere and stick to your own workout.

6.


Never train right in front of the dumbbell rack. I still fail to understand why some people feel the need to stand almost right on top of the dumbbell rack when exercising, or sometimes even resting on it. It is not just inconsiderate but very disruptive.


The dumbbell rack is a very busy place where gym members are constantly either fetching or putting back dumbbells. As with any other high volume traffic area, space should always be left between the dumbbell rack and the nearest exercise. One should consider at least 3 feet or more as the bare minimum.  

Gym Etiquette

General

1.

Use the correct footwear. Nothing is more cringeworthy than seeing someone walking around in their flipflops on the gym floor, or even worse, training in them. Doing heavy leg presses with your favorite pair of flipflops doesn't just look silly, but is downright dangerous


There is something to be said for wearing the appropriate gym attire, especially footwear. It may not be set in stone or written into the rules, but wearing something that is so inappropriate doesn't just make you look silly, but also shows a level of disrespect and ignorance for the gym environment. 

2.


Hand dryers are for hands. There is a reason why the hand dryers in the locker room are placed next to wash basins and not the showers. It is meant for drying your hands and only your hands.


Some people seem to think hand dryers are perfectly acceptable to be used to dry every part of their body. I have seen some men drying pieces of their anatomy I would rather choose to forget. From what I hear from female gym members, the same practice often takes place in the ladies locker room.


I am sorry, but this is just not acceptable. No-one needs to see you perform all kinds of acrobatics attempting to dry yourself and put yourself on display in such a manner that is embarrassing and awkward for everyone else in the locker room


That is what a towel is for. Before leaving the shower area, at least dry yourself off to the extend that you don't need the dryer. As an added bonus, you won't leave puddles of water all over the floor, which are hazardous and easy for someone to slip on. It also creates potential unhygienic conditions where many members are forced to put their gym bags on the benches to avoid getting it wet in what they hope is just water. 

3.


Don't hassle experienced lifters for advice. Asking someone you think is an expert for unsolicited advice in the middle of their workout, is considered rude and very unwelcome. Most dedicated weight-trainers are working through a set workout program with specific sets and rest periods in between.


You are disrupting their routine and focus by stopping them to ask a barrage of questions. Most serious trainers want to work through their routine as quickly and effectively as possible and get on with the rest of their life. They are not in the gym to answer questions or train people. Please respect their space and privacy.


If you need advice or have no idea what to do, that is what your gym's instructors and personal trainers are for. (If your gym didn't have some qualified instructor take you through the basic exercises and help you get started when you joined, it shows a serious lack of duty and professionalism on their side. They also should have given some advice and guidance as to where to go for more dedicated and personal training.)

4.


The gym is not a social gathering spot. This not an attempt to blame a specific group, but you usually find some of the younger gym members gathering in small groups chatting and laughing away, oblivious of their surroundings. They not only take up space and gather around a piece of equipment they are not using, the whole situation is very irritating to people trying to seriously work out and create a tense and potentially confrontational atmosphere.


No matter what your age, if you fall in this category, please be considerate towards other gym members and refrain from having group conversations in the middle of the gym. There is more than enough time before and after gym in the food court or waiting area of the gym to get together.   

5.


Cell Phones in the gym are NOT for having conversations. It is perfectly acceptable and also convenient to use your cell phone in the gym. You can use it to listen to motivational music, keep record of your workouts and even use it as timer.


What your cell phone is not meant for is sitting on a bench or standing in a walkway, deep in conversation while people around you are trying to train. It is distracting and really inconsiderate towards everyone around you. As with socializing in the gym, there is more than enough time before and after gym to have long leisurely conversations with friends or family members.

6.


Don't abuse the water fountain. It's main purpose is for gym members to come and have few sips of water between sets. You can even use it to fill up your water bottle. Filling up your bottle can take some time though. If someone is waiting for you while filling your bottle, stand back and let them have a quick drink before resuming filling up.


One thing the water fountain is not for, is for mixing your supplement drinks. It takes up time and can get very messy. No one appreciates drinking from a water fountain covered with hardened pieces of supplement powder smelling of every possible flavor.


If you need to mix your supplements, you can do it at home, at work if possible, or even in the locker room before you start training. Just please keep it off the gym floor.

7.


If you are sick, stay away from the gym. I applaud your dedication to be willing to train when you are not feeling well. But imagine trying to exercise while someone next to you is sniffling, sneezing or coughing.


This is not just plain disgusting but completely off-putting for everyone else in the gym. No-one is going to give you medal for your "bravery", especially if you run the risk of passing on your cold or flu to them. 


Rather stay home, get well, regain your strength and get back to the gym refreshed and ready. It's really not worth putting yourself and everybody else in the gym through an already bad experience.

8.


Make sure your gym attire is acceptable and practical. Mostly it is just plain common sense, but unfortunately not everyone seems to have an abundance of this attribute. In my article about "What To Wear And Take To Gym", I described what most members gym trainers wear to gym. 


In general, if you wear actual sports wear that is comfortable for you, you should be fine. There are instances where some people may take offense however. There nothing wrong with showing some skin, especially, if you have the body for it (and worked so hard for). There are instances though where it is taken a bit too far though where it can be seen as offending or attract the wrong kind of attention.


For men, wearing very loose fitting shorts, may not always be such a good idea. Doing exercises like leg-presses and flat bench-presses puts you in a compromising and potentially very revealing position. Onlookers really don't want to see certain parts of your anatomy on display. 


Let's be honest, some tank tops can just make you look back bad, period. Wearing a proper fitting tank top with proper shoulders straps is more than acceptable and looks good on most men. If you wear one of those tops that the straps are as thin as a piece of rope, and runs all the way down to your bellybutton, especially if you are carrying some excess belly fat, it is NOT a good look and you are not doing yourself any favors, trust me.


Ladies can also transgress and cause some offense. You may have the perfect mid-section with very well shaped and appealing glutes, but wearing just a thong with very little or nothing else, are very offensive to the majority of other women and will definitely attract some unwanted attention from the opposite sex. Rather save it for the beach where you can proudly show off the results of your hard work.


The same goes for women's (crop) tank tops. In general, very comfortable and practical, it is ideal for any workout. You do however, get some crop tops that are really struggling to cover the bare necessities. Especially if it's also not very supportive and are constantly threatening to slip off, it's really just poor etiquette and can cause an embarrassing situation for you and those training near you. 

For Women

Just quick disclaimer. As some of you who read my articles and know my story will know, I am a man (male). As a result, I don't consider myself in any way qualified to provide advice as to what most women consider to be good acceptable gym etiquette (for women). What I gathered is a summary based on countless discussions with female colleagues, asking many questions and doing hours of research. 

Apart from the general etiquette already mentioned, the following list are considered by the vast majority of women of different ages, to be absolutely essential to good gym etiquette: 

1.

Avoid strong perfumes. We all like smelling good and a nice scent is always appealing and welcomed. However, if your perfume is so strong that the girl four treadmills down the line starts sneezing, you have overdone it a bit. Some people are actually allergic to certain perfumes and and may experience breathing problems training near someone wearing a strong fragrance. Rather use an effective deodorant / antiperspirant for gym, and reserve your perfume for work or special occasions.

2.


Stick to the time limits on the cardio machines. Even though most women find this an issue, this applies universally to both men and women. As most regular gym members know, cardio machines are in high demand, especially during peak hours.  


Almost all gyms have set limits on the maximum amount of time spend on a machine. These set times may also vary throughout the day to compensate for the high demand during peak hours. (Many gyms limit you to 20 minutes during peak time versus 40 minutes for the rest of the day.)  Please take note of these times and stick to them. I can almost guarantee you, if the gym is busy, there is probably someone standing behind you waiting.

3.


Don't walk around nude. Just like men, especially as you grow older,  many women have much less of a problem strutting around nude in the gym. Please realize that although you may not have any problem with it, especially if you are in great shape and proud of your body, most women are still a bit uncomfortable when confronted by this sight.


It is a bit of a conundrum, as locker rooms are made for exactly that, taking your clothes off. The problem most other women have, is not the fact that you undressing in front of your locker. It is stripping off everything and strolling all the way to the shower and back without even wrapping a towel around you. Some ladies go as far as proceeding to blow-dry their hair and put make-up on, still without wearing as much as a towel.


The general guideline to follow, according the majority of women, is to at least wear a towel when you walk to and from a shower. When blow-drying your hair and putting make-up on, wearing at least your underwear, is the bare minimum (excuse the pun). Follow these guidelines and you will avoid many potentially uncomfortable situations, and help create a much less heated atmosphere in the locker room. 

4.


Be considered with your shower time. As with cardio machines, during peak hours, waiting for an open shower becomes a challenge. It is simple really. Be aware of how busy the gym and locker room is and be as quickly as you can underneath the shower to make space for anyone waiting.

5.


Which side to face in front of your locker. This really seams trivial, but for many women (and men) this is a bit of a problem. When you take off and put on clothes, do you face towards or away from your locker?


Using this analogy will help clear it up for you (which I picked up in some article online) . Normally when you arrive late at a cinema when the movie already started, you have to squeeze past a few people to get to your seat. And which way do you face? Normally towards them, as you don't want to loose your balance and push your butt into someone's face. Well, for the exact same reason it is best if you face away from the locker, avoiding having to bend down and your naked behind gets shoved into someone else. Definitely the best way to avoid an embarrassing situation.

6.


Don't waste time in front of the mirror and counter. The same rule applies as with shower time. Especially when the locker room is very busy, be as quick as possible when putting on your make-up or blow-drying your hair in front of the mirror. Just keep in mind that you don't have the luxury of time as you do when you are in the privacy of your own home.

For Men

1.

Don't hog the locker room changing bench. The benches in the locker room are very convenient with plenty of space and enough hanging room for your clothes. Unfortunately many guys use the full bench to lay out their whole wardrobe, and sometimes even their supplements as well, taking up the space that normally would have been more than sufficient for 4 or more people.


Please be considered when using the bench and if space are limited. It is very inconvenient and unpractical to have to put your bag on the floor and packing everything on top of it simply because one person has taken up all the space on the bench. Use just one hanger and the space on the bench below it. You can always lay out your clothes on top of your gym bag instead of spreading everything out on the bench. Obviously if the locker room is empty, it is a different story.

2.


Fresh clothes and (relatively) clean body please. When you walk onto the gym floor, you would like people to see you first, not smell you first. It's a bit of a sensitive subject but some men are guilty of it.


Some men shove their sweaty gym clothes into their bags and leave it there only to take it out and put on for their next workout. You really don't need to be a brain surgeon to know that this is one way of guaranteeing that you are going to carry an unwelcome odor around. Just make the effort and always pack clean clothes for new gym session.


I know this can be difficult, but after a hard day's work, especially when it was a hot day or you did a lot of manual labor, changes are pretty good that your deodorant has already worn off. Remember, if you can smell yourself, others will definitely be able to smell you. Some men make the effort to take a quick shower before gym, but if that is too much of an inconvenience, at least have some deodorant at hand to try and mask the smell a bit.

3.


Watch you language. It is very normal to let out a few grunts and mumble a few "choice words" while battling to get the last few repetitions of a heavy weight out. However, shouting and cursing to work yourself up or get yourself through the last few reps of an exercise is not welcomed at all.

 

Remember, it's a mixed gym with young and old members of both genders. Constantly cursing out loudly is a sure way of seriously offending quite a few people. It may be hard sometimes, but try and constrain yourself.

4.


DO NOT start a conversation with someone in the locker while in the nude. We as men, especially as we grow older, have much less of a problem strutting around nude in the gym. Please realize that although you may not have any problem with it, most men are still a bit uncomfortable when confronted by this sight.


It can still be tolerated, but under now circumstances should you walk up to someone, especially a stranger, and start having a conversation without a shred of clothes on. This is downright awkward and unacceptable. I applaud you for being so comfortable with your own body, but trust me, most other men in the locker room are not that comfortable at all.

Conclusion

If you made it this far, you are probably a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of rules and etiquette associated with gym life. Don't worry, you will get used to it very quickly.

Also remember, these are not rules set in stone. It is merely strong recommendations on how to behave and what is acceptable in the everyday gym. Hopefully this article will help you to better understand what is normally acceptable and what is not when going for your workout.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list   to get informed whenever a new article or recommendation is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and let me know if there is a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.

Wessel


free weights versus machines

Are Free Weights Better Than Machines?

free weights versus machines

This is one question that will always cause controversy, no matter where you go and who you ask. The purists and traditionalists will always promote free weights, while some following a purely scientific approach will embrace the advantages of dedicated machines. What if I tell you that both are equally important and each has a role to play in your workout?

Before we start the discussion, it is important to understand what the difference between free weights and dedicated weight-training machines are.

Free Weights

Free weights are literally free in the sense that they can be moved around and used in a variety of seated and standing positions. Normally they refer to dumbbells and barbells in all their different forms.

Dumbbells refer to a set of weights, each consisting of a short bar with a weight on each end. Normally they are held in each hand and moved in different directions while making use of a variety of positions to perform specific exercises to train your body's different muscle groups. You normally find them on a weight rack with sizes varrying from a few pounds to sometimes over a hundred pounds.

Barbells refer to a single long bar with weights attached to each side. They are normally gripped in the middle by both hands and, like dumbbells, can be used in a variety of positions and angles. You also have the freedom to move the width of your grip around for different exercises and muscle groups. Barbells also come a variety of shapes and sizes (eg. short bar, EZ-bar, olympic bar) for dedicated grips and exercises.

Dedicated Weight-Training Machines

These machines refers to a piece of apparatus in a fixed position. Normally it has a stack of weights attached to a cable and one or more pulleys. The pulleys are fixed in different positions and heights for the different exercises, Cables follow these pulleys and are finally attached to a set of levers or interchangeable bars and grips. Depending on the exercise and muscle group, these machines let you perform exercises in standing, seated or lying position. An example of weight-training machine is the standing cable tricep pushdown machine.

You also get machines that make no use of cables or weight stacks, but get weighted down by adding barbells to the apparatus. An example of this is the lying leg-press machine where barbells are added to the sides for increased resistance.  

Advantage Of Free Weights

free weights

As I already mentioned, many traditionalists and purists see weight-training machines as highly ineffective and even as a way of taking a shortcut. They are not completely wrong in their wholehearted support for free weights though.

The big argument in favor of free weights is that it train your major muscles using a full range of movement while activating your stabilizing and chore muscles as well. A huge amount of stress is placed on the main muscles being exercised, while many secondary muscles are trained as well in order to help stabilize and balance the body during the movement.

Exercises like the squat, deadlift and bench-press are used as the foundation to train your biggest muscle groups while developing chore strength as well. They are very effective and form the basis of many workout programs.

Research has also shown that these huge compound movements do not just exercise the major muscle goups, but also stimulate growth throughout the body. A very big advantage, especially if you reached a sticking point (plateau) in your training.

Usually they take some time to master, as you must get used to staying in a position that doesn't feel natural to you. It will probably take you time to get your balance right as well, as an exercise like the squat requires a fair amount balancing to be performed correctly. Your stabilizer and core muscle will take time to adapt, as they are not trained and strong enough to support these big movement at the start. You may find these muscles to get tired before the main muscles being trained gets exhausted.

Yes, it sounds daunting, but once mastered these exercises will prove invaluable and allow huge gains in strength and size.  Most of your other free weight exercises can be just as taxing, but in general are not as difficult to master. 

Advantage Of Dedicated Weight-Training Machines

weight training machine

Weight-training machines are a very good alternative or substitute for free weights, especially when you are unable to perform a specific free weight exercise.

In some cases you are unable to use heavy free weight movements due to some very valid reasons. You may be suffering from a temporary or permanent spinal injury. Anyone even vaguely familiar with spinal injuries, will realize how hazardous any stress on an already weakened spine can be. The amount of stress free weight exercises put your back under, completely rule out movements like squats and deadlifts.

Also, as you grow older, the tendons and ligaments between your bones start to deteriorate, making you at lot more susceptible to injury. Especially if you start training for the first time much later in life, without an already strengthened back and core muscles, you may be forced to stay away from any exercise that place unnecessary strain on your back, specifically your spinal cord.

It is in both these instances, that the benefit of using weight-training machines come into play. For example, you can use the leg-press machine to give your legs a thorough workout without putting your back at risk. Similarly, you can use the lat pull-down machine to exercise your back without placing unnecessary straining on your spinal cord. 

Some may argue that these exercises are not as effective as their free weight alternatives. Yes, they may not be as "complete" in that they do not utilize support muscles like stabilizer and core muscles, but they can be just as effective in placing enough stress on the muscles being trained, stimulating growth and strength.

Machines also  have a huge advantage in that you are able to use a much heavier weight with the support of a machine, recruiting a lot more muscle fibres in the process. You can easily train to failure (unable to perform another repetition) and use the slots and supports in a machine to safely put a weight to rest.

With free weights, you are unable to safely perform exercises like squats and deadlifts with a very heavy weight on you own without the assistance of a spotter (someone standing behind and helping you).

Another big advantage of machines is that due to their ability to hold you in position, many of them allow you to completely isolate a muscle when training. Isolation exercises allow you to focus all your energy and strength on just the target muscle, maximizing muscle fibre recruitment.

Doing flyes on peck deck machine is a perfect example of how effective isolation exercises can be. When correctly adjusted, you can train your chest in isolation while having a full range of movement to put emphasis on both the stretched and contracted part of the exercise.

Why Using Both Are So Effective

So when both type of exercises have so many advantages how do you choose? It's simple, you don't. You have both at your disposal, so why not use both to your advantage?

It will be easier to explain it point by point, so let's take an old-school and popular 3-step approach (you can read more about it here). It basically consists of 3 different exercises targeting 3 key areas.

  1. Your first exercise is a power movement, usually consisting of a compound movement with a heavy weight. Using a free weight is ideal for this type of exercise. The squat and bench press are both good examples of free weights using a moderate to heavy weight to properly overload the muscles and recruit the maximum amount of fibres.
  2. With your muscles now already exhausted, you need to start focusing on more targeted exercises, in this case movements where you muscles are completely contracted while under load. Machine exercises are especially well suited for "contraction" movements, since the weights of the cables are still pulling at the muscles and keeping them under stress while they fully contracted. This is often difficult to obtain with free weights, as at the top part of free weight exercises, your muscles end up in a rested position where there is little stress on the muscle. (Think about reaching the top of a flat bench dumbbell flye, where you can actually rest in this position).
  3. The third and final exercise in this approach, is one where emphasis is put on the stretch when you muscles are fully extended. When performing an exercise where your already blood filled muscles are stretched to a maximum, a process called Extreme Facial Stretching (EFS) takes place. (You can read more about it in detail here). The extra space created by this process allow room for your muscle fibre to grow and expand. Both free weights and machine exercises can effectively be used to create this stretched position. For some muscle groups machines will create a better stretch, while for others free weights will be a better option. This really is one scenario where you can take advantage of both free weights and machine variations depending on your requirements.

Conclusion

Clearly, both free weights and wight-training machines have their advantages and drawbacks.

If you are young, healthy and starting from scratch, your 3 cornerstone free-weight exercises (squat, deadlift and bench-press) are ideal to start with. They don't only build size and strength in your major muscle groups, but build all your stabilizer and core muscle. They also build a good foundation to work from as well.

When you are unable to perform them, the machine-weight training equivalents are just as effective, and as I already pointed out, may even have some advantages.

As for finishing off a workout with a 3rd or 4th set for a specific muscle group, I have already shown how both types of exercises can be equally effective, depending on what your goal is.

I hope this article have clearly illustrated that there is no winner and one is definitely not better than the other. You now should have some understanding and better guidelines to know when to use what.

And remember, as always, don't be afraid to experiment. It's the only way you will find out what works best for you. We all respond differently so don't worry if your routine differs from others. Do what works for you!

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list   to get informed whenever a new article or recommendation is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and let me know if there is a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.

Wessel


gym bags

Are There Storage For My Shoes? – Choosing The Best Gym Bag For Your Workouts

gym bags

As I mentioned in my article,  "What To Take And Wear To Gym", the first important item on your shopping list is your gym bag. In this article I am revealing my 5 favorite picks suitable for both men and women.

Before running to you nearest sports store and grabbing the nearest bag, hang on a minute. There are a few things to take into consider before buying a bag for your workouts. In my article touched on the minimum criteria that a bag must meet before making a decision. In this guide I am including a few extra items to add to the criteria, as many of you asked a quite few questions I didn't consider before. 

(Questions I came across included: Is there storage for my shoes? Will my son's shoulder pads and helmet fit? Does a basketball fit in the bag? Can the bag be used for carry on luggage? Does the bag have a padded shoulder strap? Can I use it for weekend getaway? Is it machine washable? Is it water resistant?)

Based on the questions above I included few things that may not be be exactly gym related, but acknowledge that you may want to use your gym bag for more than just gym workouts. Here is the list of criteria.

The Criteria 

The reason for setting up this criteria is to make sure that all of my top 5 picks meet at least the minimum standards required and that you won't be disappointed with whatever you choose. You may not need them all, but here they are.

1. Quality And Durability

Your gym bag is not going to have it easy. Everything from gym shoes with rough edges, clothes, training belts and gloves are going to be stuffed in, sometimes in a hurry. Don't forget about your gym towel, supplement bottles and the all important water bottle. It will also have to survive being shoved and made to fit into gym locker. Spills from both inside the bag, and accidents in and around the locker room have to be endured as well. Being well made from a tough quality material that will withstand these punishments over a long period of time is therefore non-negotiable.

2. Space

This actually falls in line with my previous point. As you can see, the amount of items that must fit in your bag may be a lot more than you thought. Make sure the bag you choose have enough space to fit everything you will need, as well as a bit extra for that item you may want to add at a later stage. (If you are unsure, read my article about "What To Take And Wear To Gym" to see if you missed anything).

3. Enough Compartments

The sheer amount of items you stuff in your bag before rushing off to gym can create quite a mess. Digging between small mountains of clothes and gear to find what you need is both time consuming and frustrating. Not to mention shoving your sweaty clothes into your bag with some items you'd rather wish did not get dirty. You get the picture.

This is where a bag with sufficient compartments come in. Having at least 3 main compartments is recommended. You can decide for yourself how you want to separate and organize your stuff, but having main compartment for your clothes, a big compartment for shoes/dirty clothes and one for you gym accessories. Luckily all 5 gym bags I have picked, have more than enough compartments and pockets than you will ever need.

4. Different Sizes and Styles

We are all different. None of us are the same size or have the same taste, and we all have different requirements. So why should our gym bags be any different? As you have different requirements for the amount of space needed in your bags, all the bags listed here come in different sizes to suite your needs. 

All the bags in my 5 favorite picks, with the exception of one, come in a variety of styles as well. No no matter what your gender or personal preference, you should be able to find one to fit your own personal style.

5. Water Resistance

At some point your gym bag will be subjected to some spill or dirt ending up on it. All the bags, with the exception of 2 bags, consist of water resistant material, so cleaning your bag should be very easy.

Just note, by water resistant I don't mean you can submerge your bag under water. It simply means it will keep your items dry in wet conditions and are easy to clean. (Some manufacturers claim their bags are indeed completely water resistant, but I would rather not put that claim to the test.)   

My 5 Favorite Picks

Based on my criteria and personal experience, I have chosen five bags I am sure you will be very happy with.  Suitable for both men and women, they also come in different sizes and styles. Each bag are slightly different and have unique advantages, so depending on how you plan on using them, you may find one more suitable for you than the others. Off course they are not the only good gym bags by far, but you definitely can't go wrong with any of them...

Adidas Defender iii

Not only does this versatile bag meet all the criteria laid out in this article, but it really shines when it come to size. Even the smallest option have been claimed by many users to be more than big enough for all their needs.

Adidas have put a lot of faith in the strength and durability of their product, by including a lifetime warranty with this gym bag. 

Find out more about pricing and available colors and sizes here.

Outdoor-Products Mountain Duffle Bag

If you are looking for a gym bag that does not look like your typical gym bag, this is the one for you. It is especially strong and durable, making it ideal for a weekend getaway.

The only criticism that can be leveled against it, is that it doesn't meet the criteria on 2 points. It only comes in one color and do not claim to be water resistant. 

For most people using this bag however, this really is a non-issue and they love it. 

Find out more about pricing and available sizes here.

Under Armour Undeniable Bag

Apart from fulfilling the whole list of criteria set out in this article, this bag goes a step further. This is one tough gym bag! 

Not only is it water resistant, but its tough, abrasion-resistant bottom and side panels makes it ideal, should you choose to use it for hiking or other outdoor activities as well.

Find out  more about pricing and available colors on the small, medium and large bags. 

Dakine EQ Duffel

If you are looking for a quality travel bag that can also double as a gym bag, have a look at Dakine's EQ Duffel Bag.

Please note that Dakine specifically advise against machine washing and also do not claim the bag to be water resistant. It still remains an excellent choice, but not meant for people who want an outdoor all-weather bag.  

Dakine's good reputation is also reinforced by their willingness to include a limited lifetime warranty.

Find out more about pricing and available colors and sizes here.

Nike Brasilia

Another good quality product from Nike, doing everything that is asked from it well.

Some criticism has been raised against it for its floor/bottom being too flabby and not solid enough. Other users enjoys the flexibility this provides, as it is much easier to fold and fit into more confined spaces.

Its quality can't be faulted, so if absolute sturdiness is not an absolute must for you, this will be an excellent choice for a gym bag.

Find out more about pricing and available colors and sizes here.

I trust you were able to find what you were looking for in this selection. If you didn't, like I said there are plenty of other options available. Just remember the list of criteria I set out for you to keep in mind when choosing your bag. You are now off to a good start to getting all your gear in place for your gym visits and a thorough workout.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new articles or review is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and let me know if you want any specific item reviewed or discussed.

Wessel

 

grip dumbbells barbells

How To Correctly Grip A Dumbbell And Barbell

grip dumbbells barbells

It sounds simple enough, doesn't it? You just wrap your hands around a bar as tightly as you can and start your exercise. Not so fast. The way in which you grip your bar not only affect how easily and effectively you train a muscle, but also which part of a muscle get exercised.

And as with so many other deceptively and seemingly easy actions, a wrong grip can also lead to injury. It is very easy under warm conditions for sweaty palms to slip under the weight of a bar, in which case you may be lucky and the weight just drop. However, it can also cause your wrist to twist which can lead to a more serious injury. An incorrect grip can also cause strain on your tendons and ligaments which can also result in injury.

Before looking at the actual grip, it's important for you to understand which accessories can be used to assist you with your grip.

Hand And Wrist Support

gym gloves

The single most important necessity for supporting and protecting your hands and wrist, are your gym gloves. It helps you grip the bar more securely and tightly while preventing your hands from slipping. An added benefit is that it also protects your skin from the coarseness of the bar. This will help short-term conditions like blisters from forming and over the long term, help prevent the development of unsightly calluses on the palms of your hands.

A lot of people use wrist guards all the time when performing their workouts. I strongly disagree with this practice. Wrist guards are meant to support a weakened or injured wrist and prevent further injury. It is not meant to support a healthy wrist for a simple reason: 

Your wrist muscles need to develop and strengthen with the rest of your muscles to cope with the stress of the increased weight put on them. Wearing wrist guards actually weakens your wrist by not allowing its muscles to grow and strengthen on their own. In fact, you create false sense of strength in your wrists that does not really exists.

I feel even stronger about wrist straps. The loop that fits around your wrist with the extended long piece of material that wraps around your bar, allows you to lift a much heavier weight than you will be able to without its assistance. Professional weightlifters use this all the time to lift extremely heavy weights. For normal gym use while getting in shape, this is completely unnecessary and potentially very unhealthy:

Your body hasn't adapted to the increased weight on its own yet. You put your body under extreme stress, especially your ligaments (the fibrous tissue connecting the bones). Under too heavy a weight you can cause serious damage to your ligaments. I honestly believe using wrist straps is simply too dangerous and unnecessary for what you are trying to achieve.

Gripping The Weight

The most important part of this article is to know HOW you should grip (wrap your hand and fingers around) a bar.

Imagine wrapping your hands around the bar like you would around the steering wheel of your car. Four fingers are curling around the bar and just touching your palms on the opposite side. Your thumb curls in the opposite direction over the bar before meeting and crossing over the front of your fingers.

(Your fingers and thumb should not cross over each other too far, as this can cause friction between your fingers and even lead to cramping as your hand is wrapped too tightly around the bar. This grip is normally a sign of using too thin a bar. On the opposite side of the scale you get a bar that is too thick. The thumb and and fingers do not even come close to touching at the opposite side of the bar. Therefore, you are unable to grip the bar properly and it can easily slip from your grasp during an exercise. Just keep this at the back of your head, as you will probably never have to concern yourself with this as almost all gyms make sure all the barbells and dumbbells they use are of the appropriate width.) 

Grip the weight tightly, but not as tightly as you would grip the sides of your chair while watching a scary movie. It should just be tight enough for you to hold the weight without it being able to move around in your hand or able to slip from your grasp.

The reason for this is that gripping a weight too tightly will tire the muscles in your forearm out prematurely. As a result your grip may tire before the actual muscle you are training is getting tired, defeating the whole purpose of the exercise.

grip

It sounds simple, but especially as a beginner at lifting weights, that is exactly how it should be. There is no reason you should even look or consider fancy and alternative grips used by some professionals and "celebrity trainers". You are not going to gain any advantage or get into shape any quicker.

Just as a matter of interest, you get a variety of grips like the "hook grip", "double overhand grip" and "the mixed grip". One grip I should mention and highlight though, is the "false grip" or "suicide grip". This grip is different from you normal grip, in that the thumb do not curl around the bar in the opposite direction as the other fingers, but curl alongside them around the bar to form a "cradle" for the weight to lie in. This grip is very popular with serious weightlifters doing exercises like the bench press, where it provides a mechanical advantage and allow the weight to better align with the wrist joint.

This grip is very dangerous and is not recommended. As you can see from the description, the thumb is not wrapped around the bar in such a fashion to secure the bar. As a result the bar can very easily slip from your hands with potentially very serious consequences. 

I am not going to complicate things for you with more information than you need to know. The basics described at the top of the this section, is all you need to focus on for now. Stick to the basics! 

General Grip Positions

With the actual grip out of the way, we can now focus on the grip positions. What I am going to describe is a general rule to be followed, with the emphasis on general. There are literally as many different grip positions as there are different types of bars and exercise equipment, not to mention the potentially different exercises that can be performed with each one.

Whenever you are unsure about how the grip a weight, remember the following. If you narrow all exercises down to their most basic form, you have 2 basic types of grips: Underhand and Overhand.

Underhand Grip

The underhand (supinated)  grip describes holding the bar with your palms facing up. This type of grip is mostly used when a weight is curled up and towards you. The seated dumbbell curl is a good example of this grip. In general, underhand grips are associated with pulling exercises.

Overhand Grip

The overhand (pronated)  grip describes holding the bar with your palms facing down. This type of grip is mostly used when a weight is pushed away from you. The standing triceps extension with a straight bar is a good example of this grip. In general, overhand grips are associated with pushing exercises. 

A third type of grip that is used almost as often as the other two, is the "Inside Facing Grip". This grip is used whenever you perform an exercise with your palms facing inwards towards your sides. The bicep hammer curl is a good example of this type of grip. You are also often "forced" to use this type of grip when working on an exercise machine with the grips positioned close and parallel to each other. 

Conclusion

The focus and aim of this article was to help you get comfortable gripping and holding the bar of a dumbbell, barbell and related exercise equipment. Additionally, you were also introduced to different grip positions to make it easier for you to know and understand when and why they are used.

I know this is just touching the tip of the iceberg. As I mentioned there are literally hundreds if not thousands of grip positions and a dozen or more grip types. There is no reason to confuse you with too much unnecessary information though.

You now know enough to be more at ease holding weights, and I trust this is enough to help you get going and make you feel more at ease in the gym environment and all its equipment.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and let me know if there is a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.

Wessel


hold head

How To Hold Your Head In The Correct Position When Lifting Weights

hold head

Many of us who have been around a gym and lifting weights for years, take this for granted and never even give it a second thought. If you are new to working with weights though, it is completely normal not to be sure how to hold your head correctly while performing these exercises. It is actually a very important question to ask.

To be totally honest, many of us "veterans" in the health and fitness industry are still doing it wrong after all these years, with a result that many of us have either developed bad exercise form or worse, some chronic injuries developed over the years. So please, don't ever feel embarrassed or stupid to ask as simple a question as holding your head correctly, as it can have important and far reaching effects.

So what is the correct form? It all depends on the exercise and the position you find yourself in, but there is a general rule you can always follow.

General Rule Of Thumb

woman straight head

Like I said, it all depends on the exercise and your body position, but in general looking straight forward is always recommended to produce the correct form and prevent injury. 

This means, if you are sitting or standing up, you look straight forward. When you are lying flat on your back, you look straight up. (Imagine a straight pole running up through your back and into your neck and head. That is the position you are aiming form.)

There are exercises where it is vitally important to keep your head straight all the time, like the squat and the seated shoulder press. Then there are exercises where more head movement is allowed, like the seated dumbbell curl and the lying leg press. (More on that in the next section.)

Just remember, this is general rule and there are a few exceptions. Before starting any new exercise, make sure that the correct form is explained to you by qualified instructor from your gym. Do this whenever you start a new routine with an exercise you never performed before. If you are unsure in any way, ask!

Just one but very important request. Avoid blindly following some awkward stance or position performed by the biggest guy or shapeliest girl in the gym. The same goes for your favorite bodybuilder of fitness model on Youtube. I am not even going to get started on bodybuilding magazines... You get the idea.

The reason for the above is simple. Many of these "experts" and "gurus" believe (or would have you believe) they developed a more effective way of exercising a muscle that produce a better and faster results, with much bigger muscle growth. Sometimes these "training secrets" are often exploited and used by magazines simply for more exposure and advertising. I am not claiming that there may not be some good and valid reasons to do this. In most most cases however, straying away from the correct form may result in the development of poor exercise form as well as put you at risk of injuring yourself.

This brings me two my next point, which is why holding your head in the correct position is so important.

The Importance Of A Correct Head Position

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, the question of how to hold your head correctly while lifting weights is actually a very important one. There are three main reasons for this.

Correct Form

Correct form is not only important for safety reasons, but ensures that the exercise is done correctly and most effectively. For example, holding your head still while doing a standing dumbbell curl, also helps you to prevent your back from bending, which in turn helps you from using momentum to swing the weight. Keeping the body still in this fashion puts maximum stress on the muscles worked, while maintaining a good body posture and correct form as well. 

Balance

Not keeping your head straight on some exercises, especially standing exercises can have a serious effect on you balance. Let's take the squat as a good example. It is an already difficult exercise to master and perform correctly. Dropping your head and looking down while squatting, causes your upper body to lean forward too far, which can throw you off balance completely. If not caught quickly enough by a quick step forward or the squat rack, this may also lead to potential injury, especially with a heavy weight.

Preventing Injury

This is probably the single most important  reason to keep your head straight. Dropping or raising your head at the inappropriate time can lead to injury of the vertebrae in your neck or back. Here the squat can again be used as an example. Especially when you struggle to force a heavy weight up, you naturally tilt your head back while looking up to assist with the move, This causes your lower back to arch under the weight which is very dangerous and can cause serious injury to the lower back. 

Another example is the seated dumbbell press. Especially performed with the backrest up at a ninety degree angle, the same effect as with the squat can occur. As you try and force out another heavy repetition, it is very natural to push your head back hard against the backrest to help you push the weight up.  The stress you put the lower part of your neck under, may cause injury to the lower vertebrae in the neck. Sometimes this is such an involuntary movement, you are not even aware you are doing it. Normally a sore stiffness at the base of your neck the following day my be evidence that you doing this incorrectly. Just be careful.

I spend a little more time on the injury aspect, on purpose. Having seen so many people injure themselves throughout the years due to bad form and recklessness, I just need to put extra emphasis on role the correct position play in keeping you safe and injury free. There no need for you to risk cutting an active lifestyle pursuing your goals short for all the wrong reasons.

Conclusion

Hopefully you now have a much clearer idea of how to address and confidently keep your head and posture in the correct position during your workouts. As you can see now, it's a simple but very important question to ask.

I briefly touched on some exercises where the position of your head is not as important as in other cases. These exercises do not rely on the position of the head and neck that much for proper execution and safety. I am not going into too much detail, but will give you two examples to make things a bit more clear.

When you are doing a standing a standing tricep pushdown, only your elbows are moving while you are keeping back straight. Your head is freed up as its position does not influence your posture and movement in any significant way. You can look straight ahead if you want to, but one can argue that you will most probably want to look down to look at your grip and arm movement to make sure it is performed correctly. The same can be said for doing seated leg extensions where your legs and knees are doing all the work, and your head is free to look at the exercise you are performing.

Well, you now have all the basics. All that remains to be said is to repeat a previous comment: Before starting any new exercise, make sure that the correct form is explained to you by qualified instructor from your local gym.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and let me know if there is a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.

Wessel


3 step approach to gaining muscle

Muscles Not Growing? Try This Old School 3-Step Approach To Stimulate Those Stubborn Body Parts

3 step approach to gaining muscle

Trying to get in shape nowadays is not easy. The sheer amount of information available is completely overwhelming, especially since the development of the web and the explosion in the amount of information available online since the early 2000's. If you are searching for workout programs and diets online, you are probably more confused and frustrated than anything else. You have my complete sympathy, and trust me, you are one of the vast majority of confused readers. For any one program, there is easily nine to ten other programs, propagating a completely different way and means to achieve the same result.

What if I tell you that this is nothing new? Since starting working out seriously in the 80's and 90's, your primary source of information were magazines like Muscle & Fitness, Iron Man, and on the more general health and fitness side, Shape Magazine and Men's Health. It was (and still is) not uncommon for one article to completely contradict another one, or even for the same magazine to publish vastly contradicting views on the same subject months and years apart.

One good thing that came out of following so many articles and news through the years, is that certain patterns start to immerse that not only stand the test of time, but are supported by trusted sources as well as the mainstream media. One such pattern or approach is subject of this article, the 3-Step approach as I would like to call it.

What Is The 3-Step Approach?

Simply put, the 3-Step Approach refers to the three types of exercises that can be performed for each major muscle group that provides the maximum amount of stimulation. (Maximum stimulation is necessary to force growth or help shape a muscle group.) These exercises targets the three positions that is crucial to make sure the whole muscle in its entirety is fully exhausted. I will first explain the three different positions and then continue to illustrate how these principles can be applied to each major muscle group individually.

1. Position Of Power (POP)

bicep curl

Also referred to as the mid-range movement for a muscle, this exercise normally allows the largest amount of weight to be used and is normally done as the first exercise in your routine. They are usually multiple-joint movements and stimulate the whole muscle, especially the fast-twitch fibres in the muscle that responds well to short, powerful movements. 

Due to its ability to handle the maximum amount of weight, this exercise are able to completely exhaust the muscle to a large extend, This makes the following exercises easier to perform to the point of failure with less weight and in a shorter period of time.

Examples of this type of exercise, is the squat (for leg muscles), the barbell bench-press (for chest muscles) and the lat pull-down (for back muscles). You will notice that all these examples are considered to be "power movements" which are normally associated with heavy weights and are all multiple-joint exercises.

(Multiple-joint refers to the exercise deploying more than one joint and muscle group during the movement. For example, during the bench-press both the shoulder and elbow joints are used. Also, apart from the pectoral muscles, the triceps and anterior deltoid muscle are used as well to a lesser extend.)

2. Position Of Stretch (POS)

stretch

Whenever you reach the point in an exercise where your muscle is fully extended, to the point where you can actually start feeling it stretch, that point in the movement is called the Position Of Stretch (POS). For each muscle group there are at least a two or three exercises that allow your muscle to be stretch to its maximum. Emphasizing these exercises that allow the POS to be reached, is a very important part of stimulating additional muscle growth. To understand how this work, we need to get a bit technical...

Deep underneath your skin is a complex network of tough fibrous tissue that surrounds your muscles called the fascia. This tissue is essential for survival, but can also be restricting muscle growth as it is tightly wrapped around your muscles, allowing very little space for growth and any form of muscle shaping.

As you exercise the muscle, it naturally fills with blood. Performing an exercise where your already blood filled muscles are stretched to a maximum, a process called Extreme Facial Stretching (EFS) takes place. The complete underlying components at work here are still under debate, but the working theory is that during this extreme stretching, the facial tissue opens up and allow some space around the muscle, allowing the muscle to expand and grow (process called hypertrophy).

Apart from this very important process, the natural micro-tears that occurs in your muscle fibres during intense stretching, also contributes further to muscle hypertrophy. Combined, these two processes that occur during an exercise that put emphasis on the POS can play a vital role in stimulating especially stubborn muscle groups.

 Examples of this type of exercise are  lying dumbbell flyes (for pectoral muscles) and incline dumbbell curls (for bicep muscles). These exercises illustrates how a muscle can be stretched past the point where it is limited by a joint. How far your muscle can be stretched here is only limited by the flexibility of your muscle without causing real damage to your muscle (like muscle or ligament tear). For this very reason it is worth noting for any such exercise to be performed, the muscle must already be properly warmed up.

3. Position Of Flex (POF)

flex

Also commonly referred to as the "peak contraction" part of an exercise. This position in any exercise is reached whenever the muscle is fully contracted while still subjected to the full load of the weight. Not all exercises allow the "top" of the movement to place the muscle under the maximum amount of stress when fully contracted. It can be explained as follows:

Whenever you perform an exercise like a standing barbell curl or lying bench press, your muscle has already pass the point where it is under the biggest amount of stress when you reach the top of the movement , and is now in a semi-rested state. When you perform flyes on a pec deck machine however, and your hands are squeezed together at the "top" of the movement, your pectoral muscles are fully contracted while under the full load of the weight as it is still pulling at the muscle. This point in the exercise is called the Position of Flex (POF).

This exercise can be made even more effective and recruit more muscle fibres if the the position is held for one or two seconds. Additionally, squeezing the weights together as hard as you can at the top of the movement may cause more micro-tearing to occur in the muscle fibres, resulting in potentially more muscle hypertrophy.

Two other good example of POF exercises, are chin-ups (for bicep and back muscles) and seated leg extensions (for leg muscles, especially quads). You will see with both these examples how the muscles are fully contracted while still under the full load of the weight.    

Muscle Group Application

Now that we have a thorough explanation of all three positions and how they function, it is important to illustrate how they can be applied to each of the major muscle groups. You will see that some exercises can fulfill a dual purpose, as they can be used for both a POS and POF muscle movement. (More on these exercises and how to approach them later on.) Illustrating how these positions (or key stages) can be deployed for the individual muscle groups will not only help you to train each muscle more thoroughly, but also help to explain the definition and use of each of the three positions in more detail. We will start with the bigger muscle groups and work our way down to the smaller ones:

Legs (quadriceps) 

squats

By far the biggest muscle group in the body, your legs also have a huge variety of exercises available to thoroughly train them.

Position Of Power: The first movement that immediately comes to mind for power and maximum muscle activation, is the squat. Considered by many as the king of all weight exercises, the squat allows you to use a heavy weight (including your own body weight). As a multiple-joint movement, it deploys a number of secondary muscles as well, making it a perfect mid-range movement. It is also the ideal exercise to start your leg workout with, as it requires the biggest amount of energy and also help to warm up all the leg muscles for the exercises to follow.

As good as the squat is, for many people it is problematic and very difficult to perform. Purists will argue that the excuses used not to perform squats, is simply a matter of an unwillingness to put in the effort to perform this admittedly very hard and exhausting movement.

There are a few very legitimate reasons why the squat may not be the right exercise for you though. Spinal issues or weaknesses due to injuries or preexisting conditions, simply rules out performing squats altogether. The danger of worsening an already serious problem simply is not worth the risk.

Other factor, such as length and age also play a big part. Tall people with a skinny build can find it very difficult and awkward to perform a squat. The difficulty in keeping your balance and getting down as far as possible to perform a proper squat, is just a simple result of human anatomy that will always count against some taller people, especially with a longer spines. Age plays a role as well, especially if you start training much later in life. You will find that you lose flexibility, combined with a natural weakening of your joints as you age. Some people are able to adapt, but for some it is simply too difficult and that is perfectly normal and understandable.           

This is where the leg press comes in. Before you start bashing this exercise as an "excuse to not perform a proper leg workout", the reasons why squats may not be suitable for many people are very real and legitimate reasons as already explained. Ignoring them can not only lead to serious injury, but also improper form that may stint growth which have been the cause for many weight trainers to give up on leg training altogether.

When performed properly, the leg press can be just as effective as squats. You can use a progressively heavier weight while also deploying multiple joints (hips and knees), making it a great strength and mid-range exercise. As you take the spine out of the equation, leg presses are not only much safer, but also helps you to focus completely on your legs without having to worry about balance and other problems related to squats. Yes, it is not as "prestigious" as squats, but when performed correctly, is just as effective and if you follow a balanced workout program that target all the major muscles, all other muscles that are involved while performing squats, are also exercised during other workouts.

I know I went on a bit long about this issue, but it's very important to address this "squats vs leg presses" debate. Too many people has given up on leg training due so many misconceptions surrounding this whole issue.

Position Of Stretch: This is one of those cases where one exercise can serve the dual purpose of targeting more than one of the three positions. Here, both the squat and leg press can be used for the POP and POS positions. When performed properly, and you lower the weight far enough that you can feel the back of your leg almost touching your calves, you will experience a thorough and very effective stretch in your quadriceps.

One effective way of "solving this problem", is to use your squat as your POP movement, using the maximum amount of weight and strength.  Then, using less weight than usual, you perform the leg press and focus on your stretch by lowering the weight as far as possible before powering it all the way up again. 

I would advice against using the same exercise for more than one position. Using the squat for both the POP and POS positions for example, will not nearly be as effective as using two different exercises for 2 reasons. Performing the same exercise over twice as many sets as normal may make the muscles and joints more susceptible to injury. Secondly, you remove the variety provided by using different exercises. It has already been shown that using different exercises for the same muscle group leads to better growth and bigger overall muscle stimulation, as you target the muscle from different angles and positions.

Position Of Flex: One exercise that immediately comes to mind for maximum leg contraction, is the seated leg extension. At the top of the movement the muscle is fully contracted while still under the full load of the weight. As with all other exercises focusing on the POF, holding the position while contracted for one or two seconds while squeezing it as hard as you can, maximizes the amount of muscle fibres recruited.

Back (lats and trapezius)

pull-down

Mainly consisting of the lats (latissimus dorsi) and trapezius muscles, together with quite a few smaller muscles, your back is one of the biggest muscle groups in the body. It is actually a close second only to the leg muscles.

Position Of Power: The bent-over row is a power movement that targets all your back muscles. It also allows you to use a substantial amount of weight and utilizes multiple joints.

Position Of Stretch: A very effective exercise for stretching your back muscles is the lat pull-down. While seated, allow the weight to stretch your back muscles while your arms are fully extended. This allows the back muscles, especially the latissimus dorsi (lats) muscle to be stretched to the maximum.

Position Of Flex: One exercise where you can actually literally feel the muscles contract in your back, is the seated cable row, when performed correctly. Using a bar with a close grip (hands together), adjust the seat far enough back to allow you to stretch your back when lowering the weight. In your seated position, lean forward and take hold of the weight. Start straightening up until your upper body is upright ( at about ninety degrees to the floor) while pulling the weight into your stomach. (Very important! Make sure your back is kept straight at all time and you only move at the hip joints. Bending your back can cause serious injury). In the upright position, make sure you are pulling the bar as far as possible into your stomach while your shoulders are pulled back and you can feel your back muscles contracting. Squeeze and hold the position for a few seconds.

Chest (Pectoral Muscle Group)

Mainly consisting of the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor and subclavius, your chest muscles are considered as one of the most visually important muscle groups in the body. No muscular body is considered complete without a fully developed and visually striking chest. It is no wonder then that the majority of men working out, are fixated on chest development.   

Position Of Power: Creating maximum and explosive power can be achieved by both the the flat barbell bench-press and the lying dumbbell press. Both these exercises allow the use of the maximum amount of weight and are also both multiple joint movements.

Position Of Stretch: A very effective exercise for stretching the chest muscle is the lying dumbbell flye. Allowing your chest to be stretched to the maximum when lowering the weight (while keeping your elbows locked in the semi-bend position) as far as possible, allows the maximum amount of muscle fibre recruitment. Pausing briefly in the stretched position can further promote muscle hypertrophy.

Position Of Flex: Also used as an example earlier on in this article, the pec deck flye is the perfect illustration of an exercise where the muscle is fully contracted while under the full load of the weight. If you are looking for an alternative, the same result can be achieved with cable crossover flyes. As you reach the peak of the movement when your hands come together and your chest muscles are fully contracted under the full load of the weight, you can make the exercise even more effective by crossing your hands at this point, emphasizing the contraction to the maximum with potentially great results.

Shoulders

shoulders

Your shoulders consists mainly of your deltoid muscles (anterior, lateral and posterior) and the upper trapezius muscles. (The rotator cuff consists of four muscles, namely the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor. They do not show up as visually prominent as the deltoids and trapezius muscles however, so mostly they do not get mentioned when discussing shoulder training)

Position Of Power: Few exercises can beat the shoulder press when it comes to power movements for maximum overall muscle stimulation. Whether you choose the seated barbell press, seated dumbbell press and even standing dumbbell press, all of them produce the same results, depending on your form and preference. Personally I would always recommend a seated shoulder press on a bench with backrest, as it gives maximum protection to the spine.

(As you would know from this and many of my other articles, I always put a lot of emphasis on protecting the spine. This is simply because I realize how devastating a spinal injury can be and how it can not only effect your back workouts, but almost all your other muscle groups as well, since many of those exercises also depends on a healthy spine.)

Position Of Stretch: The ideal exercise for maximizing this position is probably not a well-known exercise, but so effective I cannot leave it out. Called the one-arm cable crossover lateral raise, this exercise is arguably the best way to properly stretch your shoulder muscles while exercising.

I am going to try and explain it here,  but I suggest you watch some Youtube videos to get a proper idea of how it should be performed. In essence, the movement is performed the same way as a lateral dumbbell raise, with one big exception. 

Instead of starting with the cable handle next to your side, you position yourself far enough away from the pulley that the cable crosses your body to the point where you can feel the weight pulling at your shoulder. Even better, you move far enough away that the weight actually lifts off its resting position. This way you ensure constant tension on your shoulder muscles even when the weight is lowered.

You start the movement by pulling the weight across the front of the body and then lifting and finishing it off like you would a normal lateral raise. When you lower it, let it cross in front of your body again until you feel the weight stretching and pulling at your shoulder muscle. This way you get the full range of movement with a thorough stretch at the bottom of the movement.

Position Of Flex: Here, your traditional lateral dumbbell raise is the perfect exercise for maximum shoulder muscle contraction. Try not to use too heavy a weight, as this movement can only be performed with proper form. When lifting the weight in a controlled movement, make sure you reach the point where the muscle is fully contracted. The contraction under full load is one of the best that can be obtained for your shoulder muscles (especially the deltoid muscles). Again, as with all other POF exercises, remember the squeeze-hold to greatly enhance the effectiveness of the exercise. 

Biceps

biceps

Together with the triceps, biceps makes up the bulk of the of your upper arms. Next to a well developed chest, biceps are probably the muscle group which is shown off the most, and seen as a symbol of power and a great physique. (Personally I don't get it, as there are many other muscle groups that helps add to a much more complete overall pleasing physique.) Point is, it is a very popular muscle group whose proper development is a priority for any aspiring and established weight trainer.

Position Of Power: Both the standing barbell curl as well as the seated dumbbell curl are very good examples of exercises that put emphasis on the POP. They allow a full range of movement while being able to cope with a heavier weight load than other bicep exercises. As with other POP exercises, keep in mind that proper form should be maintained as much as possible. Using heavier weights sometimes make it tempting to use momentum and other forms of "cheating"  to complete an exercise. Although there are "ethical and effective" forms of cheating, in general it makes the exercise less effective and put yourself at risk of potential injury.

Position Of Stretch: It is not a very natural position to obtain to allow your biceps to properly stretch during an exercise. Incline dumbbell curls gets past this obstacle by using a bench with its back in a declined position. Angling the back of the bench at 45 degrees or more, allows the the bicep muscles to be thoroughly stretched at the bottom of the movement. Take care not to swing the weight and control it all the way down to the bottom to emphasize the stretch and recruit the maximum amount of muscle fibres.

Position Of Flex: There are two exercise that can help you achieve this position. Preacher curls performed with machine-weighted machine and the dumbbell isolation curl. Even though both allow maximum contraction while under the full load of the weight, I would like to focus on the isolation curl. As it is performed one arm at a time, you can really focus on the contraction while squeezing the dumbbell at the top of the movement, making this exercise far superior in my opinion. Obviously it takes a bit longer as only one arm is being worked at a time, but completely worth it.

Triceps

triceps

What many people fail to realize, is that the triceps is by far the biggest muscle group in the arm, making up two-thirds of the overall arm size. Next time you marvel at someone with an impressive set of well-developed arms, remember that the triceps are mostly responsible for that impressive look. As a result, you may want to start paying much closer attention to your triceps workouts. 

Position Of Power: A very effective power movement is the standing tricep pushdown. As with other POP movements, you are able to cope with heavier weights. It is also very easy to lose form with this exercise, so make sure you keep your elbows tucked in against your side and you don't use your back to get assistance from the momentum created throughout the movement.

Position Of Stretch: One movement providing your triceps with a thorough stretch, is the lying tricep extension. While lowering the weight over you head, make sure you lower it far enough to feel your triceps stretching properly at the bottom of the exercise. (Sometimes called "skull-crushers", this exercise is expected by some to be performed by lowering the weight to just above your forehead before extending the weight back up again. Using too heavy a weight can have disastrous consequences, hence the name. For the purpose of this exercise, it is crucial that you lower the weight behind your head to achieve the stretch you need to make this exercise effective.)

Position Of Flex: A very versatile exercise for chest exercises, can be a just effective for triceps. I am referring to parallel bar dips. By keeping your body upright and not lean forward, while keeping your elbows close to your sides instead of a wide stance, you take the emphasis away from your chest and focus them on your triceps. At the top of the movement your triceps are fully contracted while still carrying your full body weight. (If your triceps are not strong enough to handle your full body weight, most modern day gyms have machines that assist your body weight to varying degrees, making it much easier to perform this movement.)

Helpful Hints 

After all this information, you may have quite a few questions and I will try and address some of them in this section. We will use a Q&A format to make things easier.

Can the 3-step approach be used in its entirety as full muscle workout? Yes, many people use it as the cornerstone of all their workouts. There are exceptions where it may not be ideal. When you are pressed for time, performing 4 sets of 3 different exercises will not fit in your tight schedule. You may also require just a little stimulus to your muscles and not require the extensive combination of all these exercises to achieve complete muscle hypertrophy.

Is this approach relevant for women? Absolutely. Just remember, women don't build muscle the way men do. They also need to adjust their diet to create a calorie surplus to stimulate proper muscle growth. As a women you often struggle with difficult body parts you just want to shape without any success. Utilizing this approach to shock a lagging body part may be just what is needed to create change. When trying to tone down and you reach a sticking point, applying this approach to a full-body workout, can kick-start and boost your metabolism significantly and stoke your fat burning furnace while improving overall muscle tone.

For how long should I follow this approach? If you are working out on a weekly schedule, I would give the new approach at least three to four weeks. Muscles and your metabolism do not change overnight. After four weeks, if you see substantial positive changes in your body, you can continue for as long as you find it beneficial. It you find it disruptive on your time schedule or energy levels, you can always return to your normal routine and see if the changes and progress are maintained.

Conclusion

You will have noticed that I didn't cover all the muscle groups in the body. This would have taken way too long and is not the point of this article. It was important though to illustrate how each of the 3-step approach can be applied to the major muscle groups. 

As with all exercises, and I have said this before and will repeat it again in future articles: Don't be afraid to experiment! You can choose to incorporate the whole three-step approach or just elements of it into your routine. You can only win in the long run. If this doesn't work for you, you just found one less thing that doesn't work.

This approach is just one of many different approaches and techniques you can incorporate in your workout programs and exercise routines. More of these helpful solutions will be discussed in future articles, so stay tuned.

Just remember, at the end of the day, there is just real secret to success: Consistency. Many other attributes will help you achieve you goal. In the long run however, being able to stick to your program/schedule, week after week, month after month and year after year, no matter how you feel or what your circumstances, will make the difference between reaching your goal and falling short.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and let me know if there is a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.

Wessel

  



What To Wear To Gym

What To Take And Wear To Gym: Your Ultimate Guide For Getting Ready For Your First Workout

What To Wear To Gym

Once you made up your mind that you are committed to getting in shape, finished setting up your training and goals, it's time to take the next step. Especially if you never trained before you need to decide and choose the right clothes and accessories to take to your gym sessions.

You don't need to buy every possible item remotely related to gym and weight-lifting activities, as most sales people at your local sports store would have you believe. There are a few essential things you do need to invest in however. It can basically be broken down into three sections:

  1. What to bring to gym.
  2. What to wear to gym.
  3. What support & protection you require.

There are a few optional items you can consider as well which will definitely add value to your workout, but is not absolutely essential.  I will briefly touch on those later on.

What To Bring To Gym

It may sound rather obvious to you, but this part is often forgotten when planning your first couple of gym sessions. You concentrate on what you are going to wear and use at the gym. How you are going to get everything there, including small but necessary extras, are often forgotten and quickly thrown together as an afterthought at the last minute. It's importance may not be evident at first, but the irritation and inconvenience caused by not making these relatively insignificant choices can turn into a real annoyance over time. Let's have a look at the necessities:  

1. Gym Bag

The first important item on your shopping list. Although you may be tempted to you use your backpack you used in college or any old sport bag you happen to own, you need to take a few things into consideration. First, your bag needs to be sturdy yet light. You don't want to carry a heavy bag around, especially after an exhausting workout. At the same time it needs to be strong enough to protect the valuables you carry in it.

Secondly, it needs to be big enough to fit everything you'll need to carry, but also small enough to fit into your gym locker. Before going for something small and compact, consider everything you may have to fit in your gym bag. You have your gym accessories like training gloves, a training belt and a supplement/water bottle. You may also have to pack some warm sweatshirts and pants to stay warm, especially when it is much cooler outside than in the gym. And never ever forget the humble but very essential gym towel.

The third thing to always consider, is to have separate compartments in your bag. Not only does it make access to the different items in your bag easier, it also prevents a small leak or spill to turn into a complete mess in your bag. For example, after getting ready in the locker room, you quickly want to get what you need for your session. It may just be your water bottle and towel, or maybe your training gloves as well. Having everything in it right place, stops you from wasting time digging between clothes and other objects, making things quick and easy.

As you get more experienced and starts planning your workouts more orderly and regularly, you may start packing your water bottle and a few supplements you want to take during or directly after your workout. Accidents do happen, and a bottle not sealed properly or a powdered supplement not properly closed, can very easily spill in your bag. Many good gym bags come with sealed compartments to keep your supplements isolated and cool, preventing such a small spill to spread to your clothes and other gym accessories in you bag. 

I am including an example of good gym bag as a visual reference guide.

Adidas Team Bag

Adidas X 17.1 Team Bag

This Adidas training bag possesses all the qualities I described in this section that is essential for a good training bag. It is just one of many examples, but should serve as a good visual reference as to what to look for in a gym bag.

2. Your gym towel

Now this seemingly insignificant item is absolutely vital in my books. A good gym towel helps you keep the sweat at bay, but also plays an important part in personal hygiene. It also an essential item when it comes to being considerate to fellow gym goers. We all know the disgust and revolt when confronted by a bench drenched in its previous occupant's sweat.

Simply take along a small light towel that can cover the bench you are lying or sitting on, and use it to wipe down access sweat as well as wiping down the weights you used. It is both hygienic and also considerate to everyone else in the gym. You get specifically made and branded gym towels, but using a cheaper generic one that is suitable, is perfectly fine.

3. Water / Supplement Bottle

Most gyms have water fountains spread throughout the gym floor where you can quickly re-hydrate between sets. There are quite a few reasons you may want to carry your own bottle with you however. Simply from a convenience point of few, it just makes sense to carry your water with you where you can quickly take sip whenever you need to. More often than not though, quite a few more serious athletes use energy or intra-workout supplements in liquid form to keep their bodies fueled and energized throughout their workouts. 

Also remember that you may have supplements you prefer to take directly before or after your workouts, while still being at the gym. Quite a few new supplement bottles contain bigger caps, that serve as a container for these supplements you need to take while still at the gym.  It saves you the space packing the supplements separately in their containers would have taken up.

4. Some Warm Clothes while working out. 

Yes, you are going to get hot and sweaty while exercising.  Also, as described in the following section, you need to wear light, comfortable clothes that do not restrict movement. Just remember after gym, you need to give your body some time to cool down. Especially when it's cooler outside the gym, take a sweatshirt and pants with you that you can put on afterwards to stay warm and keep your body protected from the sudden change in temperature. Your immune system is a bit compromised after an exhausting workout, so rather be safe and keep those colds away.

What To Wear To Gym

When it comes to the appropriate gym wear, there is one very important golden rule I will always emphasize: Whatever you're wearing, make sure it is light, comfortable and not restricting your movement. Wearing clothes that is breathable and sweat absorbent is also highly recommended. Having said that, withing this criteria, you are really spoiled for choice with all the different types of gym clothing available. Here are a few guidelines to help you decide:

1. Tops and pants

For women

women gym clothing

The norm among women who are avid gym goers and in shape, is gym tights with matching tank tops. Normally made of polyester/nylon containing a percentage of lycra /elastine for elasticity, these pants are extremely light, comfortable, breathable and is also sweat absorbing. Thy come in full length, three quarters and shorts, so choose whatever is comfortable.

(Just don't confuse this with leggings, which is a very thin version and supposed to be used underneath other clothing. I know this is a sometimes a contentious and controversial issue, with some girls wanting to be more "daring" by wearing it in place of normal tights to the dismay and anger of other women. I am not going to get involved in this issue, but acknowledge the fact that leggings were originally designed to be worn underneath other clothing. I'll leave it at that.)

Today, the term "yoga pants" are commonly used as an "umbrella term" to describe all the different kinds of gym tights or yoga pants. Technically though, traditional yoga pants is made of a thicker knitted material and completely opaque, and also ends up a little more at the bottom. It is also made of a form-fitting stretchable material, making it very comfortable and easy to move in as well. Some women find this more suitable to their taste and find it to be more discreet. Whichever you choose, you really have a huge variety of choices available to you.

With women's tops things can become a little more tricky. Many women in great shape love the the freedom and comfort a tight-fitting tank top provides. There are an equally large portion of women who prefer to be more discreet and are not comfortable in tight-fitting tank tops. You may be in great shape or feel you have certain body parts you are not comfortable with yet. For whatever reason, you just choose not to expose that much of your body. A wide variety of light breathable full-length tops are available, like fitted t-shirts and sleeveless tops. You can even go with a slightly over-sized top if you are more comfortable. 

A last important point that I am constantly reminded of by female colleagues, and comes up time and again on fitness blogs, is the importance of wearing a sports bra. No matter what your breast size or the amount of movement you are going to perform, never neglect wearing a quality sports bra. The support it provides, not only provides short term comfort, but also have long-term health benefits.

From research and speaking to many female clients and colleagues, I realize appearance is more important for women than it is for men in the gym. Whatever you choose to wear, remember the golden rule, is that it must be light, comfortable and not restrict movement.  Just please remember, at the end of the day, you are there to get in shape and exercise, not make a fashion statement, so wear what YOU are comfortable in.

For men

men gym clothing

When you look at men in general, you find the majority wearing comfortable sweatpants, and either a t-shirt or tank top. Obviously a lot of your more advanced trainers with already impressively developed upper bodies, tend to be more comfortable with their tank tops. Well you know they saying, "If you got it, flaunt it..."

A few beginners and sometimes very skinny guys find the need to wear tank tops as well. There may be good reason if you find it the most comfortable for training. This is perfectly fine. Just be aware, if you're in a testosterone filled gym with a few outspoken big guys roaming around, you may be setting yourself up to be taunted and mocked a bit.  

An increasingly popular type of t-shirt for men, are fitted and made from an polyester/spandex mix to make it flexible and easy to move in.  As with the women's version, it is also light, breathable and absorbs sweat easily. Most of your major brands have quite a variety of them available in their range. I would highly recommend these t-shirts over you more traditional cotton shirts.

When it comes to pants, you'll find quite a few men wearing tights with comfortable shorts over them for "discretion". Athletes like bodybuilders with big quads, and trainers doing a lot of leg work prefer this combination, as it gives you more freedom of movement than the more restrictive sweatpants.

Comfortable loose three-quarter gym pants are also used, especially among your more casual trainer. Then you get a few daring or adventurous souls who use real loose "jogging" style shorts. Let me be blunt, this is NOT a good idea for gym. For the simple reason that loose shorts can reveal way too much, especially with a lot of exercises that involves you lying on you back. Exercises like bench press or leg presses where your hips are thrust into the air, may turn out to be way too revealing, creating sometimes very awkward situations. I spoke to way too many men and women who were left very uncomfortable after being confronted by a very "awkward and revealing" situation involving shorts. If you are dead set on wearing shorts, just be considerate and wear a pair of tights underneath it.

Let me finish with the same words I used for women clothing. Whatever you choose to wear, remember the golden rule is that it must be light, comfortable and not restrict movement.  Just please remember, at the end of the day, you are there to get in shape and exercise, so wear what you are comfortable in.

2. Socks

Let's be very clear about it. Socks are an very essential part of your gym wear. Not wearing socks is just not an option. Not only is it more hygienic, but helps to prevent the unpleasant odor normally associate with sweaty feet and training shoes. I don't need to go into much further detail. As long as it is a comfortable, light and breathable sports sock, you can choose the color and length to your heart's content.

3. Shoes

When you have a look around at people's feet in the gym, you will notice that almost every possible type of sports shoe is used, although it must be noted, the vast majority are either running shoes  or cross-trainers. And with good reason. To understand this we need to look at the general requirements of a good gym shoe.

Support, especially ankle support, is probably the most important requirement especially when it comes to gym training. Not only do you move around in different directions when working out, your feet need to be stable and secure when planted on the ground or flat surface when a substantial amount of weight is placed on it.

Secondly, (and you will see me repeat this point for most wearables throughout this article), it must allow maximum amount of freedom of movement. Whether you are doing floor work or training with equipment, your feet changes its stance and angle quite a bit. Any shoe that are restrictive on foot movement, will cause some discomfort as a result.

My third point may be frowned upon by some serious weightlifters. For the vast majority of people training to get into shape, a light, comfortable and breathable training shoe is highly recommended.

This point clashes directly with what is seen as a proper traditional weightlifting shoe. These shoes are designed to provide a lot more stability and support for use under a very heavy weight, as is normally the case with weightlifters who sometimes work with huge amounts of weight (sometimes hundreds of pounds). As a result these shoes are much sturdier, normally heavier with a bigger and stronger sole to provide the support and stability required by these heavy weights.

When training to stay in shape, and even when relatively heavy loads are used, the comfort required for a thorough workout with diverse movements outweighs the limitations of a heavier and more restrictive weightlifting shoe. I will almost be willing to bet that even your most dedicated hardcore trainer will never work with such an extreme weight that will require dedicated weightlifting shoes.     

It is clear from countless reviews and user testimonials (including personal experience), that both the appropriate running shoe or cross-trainer is the ideal training shoe for gym training. Due to their nature both shoes are designed to provide excellent ankle support. You get wide variety of running shoes designed for different types of running, which will make certain types of these shoes more suitable for gym training. Similarly, you get a wide variety of cross-trainers, most of which are perfect for workouts, but some more so than others.

You can easily do a Google search which will show you the best shoes for your needs, as plenty of research and comparisons have already been done on this issue. Here are just two examples of a running shoe and cross-trainer that will be excellent for gym training.   

MIke Zoom Structure 20

Nike Zoom Structure 20

An good example of an running shoe perfectly suited for gym workouts

Asics Mens GEL Intensity 3

Asics Mens GEL-Intensity 3 Training Shoes

An good example of an cross-trainer perfectly suited for gym workouts

    What Support & Protection You Require

    When you start looking around at what else you need to complete your gym "setup", you are suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer amount gym "accessories" that is available today. I put it in quotes, as I really consider some these as nothing more than glorified fashion accessories or status symbol.

    There are however, at least 2 gym accessories that are absolutely essential to keep in your gym bag, for both support and protection:

    1. Your gym belt.

    No matter what your goal in the  gym is,  at some point you will need the support of a training belt. Whether you are doing seated shoulder presses or squats, supporting your lower back is vital, and using correct form is simply not enough protection. Not only does it support and protect your back, but the added stability helps you to safely handle heavier weights.

    When lying down and doing leg presses or performing squats, you will feel your tummy pushing out. Wearing a belt will prevents this from happening. There is a theory out there that some exercises that push out your tummy can create an irreversible effect. They compare the muscles in your abs to a spring. If pushed out too far, it looses its elasticity and ability to stay flat and contracted. To be honest, I have never been able to prove this theory true or false, but using a belt definitely helps to keep everything in place and creates a stabilizing effect on the movement, allowing you to concentrate on the exercise.

    So what is the ideal training belt? First, it must have a strong and supportive back, but with some padding to not make it feel uncomfortable and feel the edges cutting into your back. Most popular belts come in different sizes, so choose one whose width protects and covers your whole lower back, but not any bigger as it will feel uncomfortable and not be as effective. Choose one that you can tighten firmly around your waste, yet allow room to pull it in tighter or loosen it a bit if necessary.

    When it comes to material, you basically get two types of belts. Leather and nylon based belts are the two major contenders. Most serious weightlifters use heavy duty leather belts with sometimes double buckles. These belts are very sturdy, extremely durable (I had mine since 1989) and provide very strong support. They have a few things counting against them though. Since they are so firm and rigid, they provide very little room for movement. Although keeping your back fully supported is very important, allowing only a little body movement can be very restrictive. Another potential drawback, is the hard edges of these belts that can cut into your back during exercises which can cause quite a bit of discomfort. They are also heavier than their nylon based counterparts in general. I am not discounting its importance at all. I just feel for general gym use for both men and women, heavy duty leather belts are a bit of an overkill.

    Nylon based training belts came a long way since it was first introduced as an alternative to leather belts. When it was first introduced, these belts were considered inferior. As with many other new products, there were questions about reliability and quality. These concerns were addressed over the years however, to the point where today's nylon training belts are very strong and durable. 

    It may not be as strong or durable as heavy-duty leather training belts, but has quite a few advantages that make it more suitable for general gym use. First, even though firm and supportive, it still allows some movement of the body it supports as the material is not as rigid as leather. Secondly, it allows some cushioning to be added around the belt, making it a lot more comfortable to wear. Many of these belts also comes with a strong Velcro strip in the front for fastening, making it easy to find a suitable position with the right tension around your waist. You are not limited to a buckle with fixed holes that may be just too tight or just too loose for your waist size.

    To sum up, you can't go wrong with both types of belts. I would just recommend taking a serious look at nylon based training belts due to its many advantages for general gym training.

fire team fit belt

Fire Team Fit Weightlifting Belt.

If you want a good and highly recommended example, take a look at the Fire Team Fit Weightlifting Belt. This is obviously not the only belt I would recommend or superior to all other belts in any way. It is just one example that exhibits all the traits that I mentioned in the previous paragraph that makes nylon based training belts more appealing and suited for gym training.

2. Training Gloves

Working with weights, whether it be barbells, dumbbells or even the grips of exercise machine, can really take its toll on your hands, especially your palms. Off course we don't  want our hands to be so delicate and sensitive that the slightest rough textured object will be painful to touch and break the skin of your palms. At the same time, none of us (women AND men)  want our palms to look like The Grand Canyon, with calluses so hard and tough that it will be able to withstand a nuclear explosion. Training gloves are therefore not an option if you are serious about weight training while looking after your hands.

Luckily,  modern weight training gloves are very light and comfortable. As is the case with gym clothes and training belts, you are spoiled for choice. So what makes a good training glove?

It depends a lot on your own personal preference, but first and foremost, a good training glove must have strong but flexible padding on the palms and bottom fingers. It leaves the top part of your fingers exposed to free up your fingertips for accurate feel and make it more breathable. (Most of us feel clumsy if we are unable to feel and touch with out fingertips, and since the weight and friction of weights are mostly focused on our palms and lower part of our fingers, I see no reason to use a full-length glove. I know full-length glove are available, but I find it to be restrictive and even dangerous, as it takes away a lot of the feeling you have with an "open" glove.) 

At the back of your hand the glove is either closed or open to varying degrees to help keep your hands from getting too hot and sweaty and making it as breathable as possible. At your wrist it is fastened by a Velcro strip for quick fastening.

A last but important point worth noting, is the lifespan of your training glove. As already stated, the padded part that protects your palms and bottom part of your fingers, must be tough but flexible. If it is too rigid and hard, you won't be able to close your hand and grip the weight properly. This compromise means that your gloves will get worn down much quicker than any clothing or other accessory. Depending on how often and how vigorously you train, be prepared to replace your gloves as often as once a year. This is no indication of an inferior training glove, but simply the normal wear and tear of constant hard weight training. Luckily training gloves are relatively affordable, so this should not be a problem.

training gloves

Trideer Ultralight Workout Gloves

These Trideer Ultralight Workout Gloves is an example a good and popular training glove.

Summing It All Up

One theme that you probably noticed that runs throughout this entire article, is the wide variety of options available to you. This is one of the many advantages of working out. You can tailor it to make it as personal and comfortable for yourself as you want to. I have outlined some guidelines I recommend you stick to, but at the end of the day the choice is yours.

If you have ever been into a sports store, you will know that there are a lot of optional extras I left out. I will cover these in a future article. I just don't see it as an absolute necessity, and don't see the need to focus on anything but the essentials for this article.

I hope you found this article helpful and interesting. Let me know if you feel I left anything out.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and let me know if there a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.

Wessel



Training Legs

Training your Legs: Why Leg Workouts Are So Painful But Necessary

Training Legs

There is just no way to deny it. We all HATE training legs. We hate and dread it to the point that a large majority of weight trainers and gym enthusiasts skip training legs altogether. You hear every possible excuse in the book. "My legs are already big enough, I do running/cycling for my legs, I have bad knees or joint problems etc."

leg training painful

I get it, trust me. This dread and apprehension are all with very good reason. Training your legs are downright painful and exhausting. And not the kind of pain and exhaustion you experience with any other body part. The pain of doing a proper set of squats or leg presses feels do not just unbearable, it feels like it travels up through your entire body and into your nervous system. You start feeling unable to catch your breath, you lungs burn and your whole body feels shaky.

Just a quick remark. For those of you loving your leg workouts, I acknowledge you and admire your dedication. I just can say with all honesty, in my almost 30 years of working out, I never met anyone who enjoyed their leg workouts in anyway. I have read bodybuilding magazines where some professionals claim to enjoy exercising their legs and even saw it mentioned on some online forums and blogs. But trust me, you are part of a very small minority, so count yourself lucky.

Having said all of the above, let me be the first here to put up my hand and acknowledge that I am one of many weight trainers who have been neglecting my legs (OK, skip altogether) for the better part of my gym career. It is only over the last 10 years that I started training legs seriously. And I am still playing catch-up. 

Why Leg Training Is So Painful And Exhausting

To be able to understand why we dread it so much, why it is so painful and a huge percentage of lifters avoid it altogther, we need to understand why this is:

1. Your Legs are by far the biggest muscle group in the body

leg muscles

Made up by 4 muscles that form the quadriceps at the front of your legs and the 3 muscles that form the hamstrings at the back of your legs, and including your glute muscles - all the muscles involved in training your legs is by far the biggest collection of muscles in body used for training legs.

It should come as no surprise then, that the best leg exercises (e.g. squats and leg presses) utilizes all these muscle groups at the same time. This explains the pain that a felt much more intensely than training other body parts. A lot more muscle fibres, and nerves connected to the central nervous system gets recruited, resulting in the intense pain experienced.

2. The demands on oxygen and recuperation

Another direct result of the sheer size of your leg muscles and its demand on your body, is the effect it has on your breathing and your capability to recuperate.

lungs

As you exercise the, the oxygen in your blood is used to help fuel and supply your muscles with energy. The oxygen you inhale into your lungs, get carried by a multitude of arteries in your body to the specific muscles required. Since your leg muscles require such a tremendous amount of muscle fibre activation, the oxygen demands on your body is extremely high, often to the point where you start experiencing a deficit in oxygen supply. The stress it places on your lungs make you feel severely out of breath very quickly. The accompanying feeling of you "lungs burning" are clear symptoms of this stress.

Your difficulty in recuperating is the second result directly caused by the demands of your leg muscles on your body. Again the sheer volume of muscle fibres that gets recruited, necessitates it to dig a lot deeper into your energy reserves than other muscle groups would. If you use the same rest period between sets that you do while exercising smaller muscles, you will find that your leg muscles are are still tired and not nearly fully recuperated for the next set. Sometimes the level of exhaustion is so severe that some athletes actually experience a feeling nausea  after an intense set.

If you never trained your legs with heavy weights and with great intensity before, you should start getting a clear picture as to why so many people dread training legs or avoid it completely. The goal of this section is not to discourage you at all, but to help you understand why you may find training your legs so difficult, and to explain the experience to anyone who haven't experienced the rigors of training legs properly before.      

The Importance Of Training Legs

As much as I emphasize with everyone going through this pain and understand completely why so many athletes go to great lengths to avoid leg training altogether, I have to stress that not training your legs is not an option. Not if you want to be successful and reach your goals.

The good news is that there is a lot you can do to turn leg day into a much more positive experience and actually start enjoying it, especially when you start seeing consistent results, but more on that later. It is important to realize why training your legs is so important.

1. Increase in testosterone and growth hormone release

This on its own may be reason enough to focus more on leg training. Doing heavy compound leg movements like squats and leg presses have shown to increase the release of testosterone and growth hormone. This benefits muscle growth and fat loss throughout the entire body, and not just your legs.

2. Increased overall strength

Increasing you lower body strength promotes strength in your upper body as well. For example, the support that your legs provide to movements like the bench press, with your legs helping to stabilize the body and helps to "drive the weight up". Exercises like squats and dead-lifts also strengthens not just your legs, but lower back and hip muscles as well. This provides tremendous support for performing shoulder exercises while sitting or standing up, allowing to you to manage heavier weights than you would without this assistance.

3. Symmetry

No doubt most of you would have seen some cartoon images in bodybuilding and fitness magazines, depicting guys with huge muscular upper bodies, but pencil thin (or chicken legs). This a running joke among the serious bodybuilding community, but sadly portrays a very stark reality. Even in the newer men's physique competitions, the lack of proper leg development is quite widespread.

It obviously makes your whole body look out of proportion. Especially among men, we try and hide under sweatpants and full length pants, reasoning that nobody will see it anyway. The problem is we see it ourselves and even if we don't want to admit, psychologically it creates a negative self-image of your physique. As we create a stronger upper body, we can also physically feel how much weaker and lagging our legs are in comparison. In the long term this has a very detrimental effect on your motivation and goals.

4. Mental Strength

As you motivate yourself and build the will and determination to commit to and finish your leg workouts, you automatically start to develop a much stronger will power and mental strength. You will see its effect as your other workouts seem to get that much easier and less taxing on your body, allowing to push that much harder. A very strong mindset or mental fortitude is a very precious asset to posses.

How You Can Stay Committed Training Your Legs

leg press

It is all good and well that we know all the benefits of leg training and how crucial it actually is. But that doesn't take away from the fact that it still is so tough and painful. Luckily there is good news. Quite few things can be done to make the experience a lot more positive.

I think its very important to honest here: No matter what you do, your leg workouts will always be painful, exhausting and leave you sore to greater or lesser extent. Having said that, ask yourself, "What in life really worth it and truly creates a lasting sense of accomplishment, comes without hard work, sacrifice and moments of discomfort?

Like I said, there are things you can to make the whole experience a lot less painful and dreaded. Two of them focus on the mental aspect and two on the physical aspect:

1. Confronting the short and long term consequences of skipping leg training on your mindset and confidence.

It is time to be brutally honest with yourself. You think you are fooling other people by not training legs. You argue that "it is not important to you" and "nobody will see it anyway". By using these among other excuses to justify your unwillingness to train legs, you are only fooling yourself. In all honesty this "nagging awareness"  is and always will be there subconsciously, popping up every now and then to remind you of what you're neglecting.

If you are even just slightly serious about getting in shape and building an aesthetically pleasing body, you will be well aware of the following habits and scenarios. You always feel the need to cover up your legs with long pants. Whether at work, in the gym, at home and especially when going to the beach or public swimming pool in boiling hot weather, exposing your skinny "chicken legs" becomes a harrowing prospect, that needs to be avoided at all costs. You may also relate to watching other weight-lifters and bodybuilders slaving away doing leg presses or squats with already well shaped muscular legs, with sometimes more than a slight feeling of unease and embarrassment or even guilt.

All these scenarios is a long way of painting a picture that points to one thing. This decision will always haunt and bother you to some extent. You will always be aware of this imbalance between your upper body and legs. And just like anything else you consciously or subconsciously try to suppress, it can play havoc on your confidence and the effectiveness of your training overall. Yes, for many readers this my sound like a complete overstatement  and "making a mountain out of a mole heap", but for anyone involved in training their bodies, this a very stark reality.

Then where is the silver lining, you will ask. After all, isn't this section suppose to help make training your legs easier. A resounding yes, but I had to bring you to this point to highlight the solution. The solution may sound very simple, obvious and feel like a bit anticlimax. It's not.

Simply start, and promise yourself that you will allow yourself three leg sessions. Let me explain. After your first leg workout, you will be exhausted. If done properly and for the first time, the experience will be especially painful and exhausting compared to other body parts. This first experience is what put a lot of weight trainers off from leg training altogether. For 2-3 days after your workout you will experience quite an intense muscle soreness. Sitting down, getting up and even walking my be a challenge. This experience normally cements the decision not to train legs ever again for anybody who was considering quitting immediately after the workout. Just remember now that you promised yourself you are going to do this three times. Now it is up to you stick to your promise you made yourself. Nobody but you can hold you to it.

Now, a couple of things are going to happen over the next three weeks (or however long your leg workouts are spaced apart). Your second leg workout may feel just as painful as the first one, but I can almost guarantee you with almost 100% certainty that the soreness you will experience over next few days will be less and not last that long. On your third session, you will definitely feel a difference. Your leg muscles will still get sore, but that intense pain will have subsided quite a lot, and you will find your leg muscles to be a lot more stable and comfortable under the weights. Muscle soreness over the next couple of day will now already feel a lot less painful than after the first 2 workouts.

So what exactly happened?

  1. You learned you have the mental strength to make it through multiple workouts, knowing how painful it can be. 
  2. You now know it gets easier with each workout. (Yes, it will reach a point where it will always be sore during and after your workouts, but nearly as painful and exhausting as your first three workouts.) 
  3. You also would have noticed that your leg muscles do adapt and adapt rather quickly. This means sooner, rather than later you will see results, which will give your willpower and mental strength a huge boost.

This brings me to my second point.

2. Weighing up the advantage of continuing what you started vs giving up and having to put you through the same hell again.

You now have a choice. You have just finished going through the worst part of starting your leg training, and in three sessions, already created a bit of a habit. You even proved to yourself you have the willpower to finish three leg workouts in a row.

You can continue and build on this good start, knowing it will only get more rewarding over time as the results starts accumulating. There will always be that small nagging voice telling you that this is just too painful and too much work. But having the knowledge that if you stop now, you will always have that dent in your confidence for the rest of your "training career", as well as the fact that you will have to start all over and put yourself through all the initial pain and soreness again in the future, can serve as enough of a detergent to keep on training.

3. Lighten the load and increase your repetitions

Especially with power-lifters, but also bodybuilders who prefer training with heavy weights, you see them battling and grunting to get a few reps out with an incredible heavy weight. It is this type of training that causes the pain experienced to be especially excruciating, sometimes to the point of being nauseating. 

The good news is that training legs with a lighter load and with a slightly higher rep range (up to 16) has shown to be more effective in a lot of instances than the extreme heavy weights and low repetitions some weightlifters use. This does not mean you don't have to push yourself, but it wont be nearly as painful as it will be when trying to force yourself to do 6 repetitions with a weight so heavy that you can barely manage 2 reps.

4. Managing an easing the dreaded DOMS

The what!? Don't feel bad, for anyone who is not a seasoned bodybuilder, physique competitor of gym enthusiastic this term will sound very foreign. DOMS is just an abbreviation for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. This is the term used to describe the muscle soreness you experience for days after your leg workout.

pain

There are many ways and means by which athletes try and reduce the DOMS experience or try and eliminate it together. From taking multiple ice baths, going for deep tissue massages to taking a cocktail of anti-oxidants to help bind the free radicals and reduce the lactic acid that is causing all of this discomfort, are used with varying degrees of success.

The most effective way of quickly reducing this pain though, is the one you won't want to use. It is called a "feeder workout". A day after your leg workout when your muscles start getting sore, get yourself back in the gym for five minutes, five minutes only. What you will be doing is one leg exercise of your choosing and use HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) to quickly power and bulldoze through your pain. Some people prefer using the actual exercises they used for the original workout, but exercise machines like stationary bikes, orbital trainers and even treadmills can be used. If you happen to own one of these, you can even do this from the comfort of your own home.

So, for 5 minutes you will just have to be brave and tough it out. Use a relatively low setting and start peddling lightly (basically spinning). After 30 seconds start peddling as hard and fast as you can for another 30 seconds. You then return to just lightly peddling for 30 seconds before doing another high-intensity 30 seconds. You continue this for five minutes and you're done.

Yes, the experience is very painful and for a short period you will just have to clench your teeth and be brave. You will be pleasantly surprised how this short workout will lesson the amount of pain you experience afterwards and how quickly it disappears within a day or two. Compare that to be in pain and discomfort for two to three days after your workout. It is your decision, but I would bet 5 minutes is a very small price to pay for days of relieve afterwards.

As a further incentive, also remember that this small "feeder workout" have other benefits as well. Not only does it help flush out the free radicals and reduce the buildup of lactic acid on your muscles, causing the perceived pain to be drastically reduced. It also flushes your muscles with a much needed fresh supply of nutrient rich blood, speeding up the recovery process. Flushing out the free radicals that cause so much harm to your muscles, means that the damage and breakdown in your muscles get reduced significantly as well. I call this a win-win situation. 

And that does it for leg workouts. I realized I have gone on a lot longer than expected and went into a lot of tedious detail at certain points. I feel it is important however, to give you a lot more detail than normal, that you can better relate to and better understand certain scenarios and solutions.

I hope you found this article helpful and enlightening. I know its a tough issue, but also know you are not alone in this battle!

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and let me know if there a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.

Wessel


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