Recently I was training with a friend of mine who was doing a set of bicep curls with dumbbells. I noticed he kept speeding up as he progressed though the set. I told him, "Slow it down, slow it down!" Before I could say another word, he responded to me with "No, I have to get fifteen, I have to get fifteen!" I waited until he finished his set before I said anything else. The following is a summarized representation of our conversation.
"What was that about? Why were you speeding through your set?
"Well, I needed to get to fifteen."
"What are you talking about? Who says you have to do fifteen reps?"
"Well, the more the better, right? If I have to suffer through this, I might as well not waste my time."
"What makes you think that more is better?"
"Well, I just figured that's how it was."
"So it's more important to do more reps than it is to concentrate on form and technique and not speeding through your sets?"
"Well... I don't know."
After that I had to explain to him that the number of reps performed is not nearly as important as the form, technique, and pacing of the exercise.
But this was certainly not the first time I had experienced this. In fact it's happened on more occasions than I can count. I have never taught the philosophy that more is better to anyone. But over the years, I have learned that many people have developed this ideology. The country is being plagued by the number game, and it's time to set the record straight.
More is not always better. So where does this notion come from? As in the case of my friend, he was under the impression that more reps equal more results. However, this is not always true. That's right, I said not always. Let me explain. In regards to resistance training, it is very important to continuously cycle our workouts to avoid hitting a plateau. This means cycling exercises, sequence of exercises, and intensity levels.
Let's focus for a moment on intensity levels. When I work with a client for the first time, I do start them on a rather light to moderate intensity level. This means they will be performing more reps. It is important to do this in the beginning stages, especially for exercise novices because their bodies need to become acclimated to exercise. If I were to start a beginner out lifting very heavy weight, I could be potentially causing more damage than good, because their bodies have not developed a base strength yet. I always recommend keeping resistance light during the first month or two for beginners. They need time to build a baseline of strength before progressing to heavier resistance.
Once a baseline of strength has been established, then one can start gradually increasing weight. The key word here is gradually. One needs to be careful not to lift too much too soon. Sometimes it can even take up to a year or longer, depending on the individual, to go from being a novice to a seasoned bodybuilder.
Once someone has become a seasoned bodybuilder, and as long as their health history permits it, there should be nothing holding them back from lifting heavier weights. Once someone reaches advanced stages of bodybuilding, training should be cycled in such a manner that heavier workloads are alternated with moderate and light workloads. By doing this, one can avoid overtraining symptoms as well as the dreaded plateau.
What causes someone to take on the notion that more is always better? There is a common trend in the gym that I have seen happening for a lot of years now: people getting stuck in patterns. Patterns in the gym can lead to a definite lack in progress and a feeling of "just wanting to get through it". Some people actually forget why they started exercising in the first place. Sometimes, it's good to look back and remind ourselves.
In the beginning, there is one key element that encourages us to embark on a new healthy and fit lifestyle: motivation! Most of those people are still doing just that. A couple others have needed to be reminded about that initial motivation that got them started. Somewhere along the line, they fell into a pattern. Remembering the motivation that drove us in the beginning is very important. Staying motivated is even more important. There are obstacles that we face in our every day lives, challenges that seem to distract us from what's really important. Below I have listed some ideas to help us stay motivated in our every day lives, no matter what challenges we may face.
1. Stay focused. When outside challenges become a distraction, acknowledge them and continue on your path.
2. Make a schedule. By writing exercise into our ever day schedules, we are making a commitment to it. This makes it much easier to follow and stay dedicated.
3. Meditate. Meditating daily to clear out all of the inner voices helps us to stay focused and enhances our overall feeling of well being.
4. Make downtime for yourself. Just as we should be scheduling our exercise, we should also be scheduling our leisure time. Without taking time for ourselves, we can once again become distracted and the pressures of every day life start to take hold of us.
5. Think of it as bathing. OK, I'm quoting Oprah here. But we really should be thinking about exercise as a necessity in life, not just something we do if we have time. It's like bathing; it's just something we need to be doing for ourselves all the time.
I hope that helps. Doing exercise is about staying motivated, not getting caught up in the number game or any other patterns that might pop up along the way. It is hard work, but the reward is far worth it. Stay motivated!
Michael Elder has been working as a fitness professional in Chicago for the last fifteen years. He comes from a background in gymnastics and is certified as a personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). He can be contacted directly through his website, www.MichaelElder.com.