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February 22, 2012

The Fit Factor:
Weightlifting Advice


"If you can't put it down, then don't pick it up!"

Those are the words that run through my mind when I see the guys in the gym who insist on trying to lift more weight than they can handle. You can always spot them. Picture someone arching his back while struggling to bench press 100 lb. dumbbells. Each attempted press (there is usually only one or two), is characterized by a great deal of strain, a large rush of blood to the face, copious amounts of sweat, and significant strain on the veins of the neck. If these visual cues are not enough to identify this species of gym regular, you can fall back on your auditory sense to pick them out of the crowd. Also characteristic of the species is the window-shaking, bone vibrating "CRASH!" that always signals the end of a dangerous and ineffective weightlifting set.

Weightlifting Advice
How can fitness professionals save these weightlifting neophytes? How can we combat the myth that lifting more weight than one can handle will yield amazing results? Obviously, ensuring that everyone new to the weightlifting had a personal trainer to guide them through each work out would be the most ideal. Many people however, would consider this option too costly. Fortunately, there is an alternative training option that does not have to be a full time investment. Many people meet with their trainers only two or three times a month. This is a desirable approach for anyone who is financially bound, because for relatively low cost the trainer can set the person up on a one month exercise program after ensuring that the client is trained in proper weightlifting form. Periodic follow-up sessions allow the trainer to alter the program (avoiding a plateau) and correct any bad form habits that may have popped up.

Form is the most critical element of resistance training. Improper form can lead to many problems including back pain, poor posture, muscular strains, and herniated discs. Fortunately, it is not difficult to distinguish good form from bad. Here are a few tips to remember in maintaining good form:

1. Stay supported, especially while doing standing exercises. This means having your abdominals contracted throughout the set. I often use the phrase, "pull your belly button in toward your spine" to help people get a visual of this concept.

2. Use a proper range of motion. This means using a full range of motion without hyperextending the joints. Training through a full range of motion is important for proper muscular development, but hyperextending the joints can lead to other problems such as muscular strains.

3. Control your negatives! Basically this means, don't drop your weights! Lowering a weight is just as important as lifting it. In fact, you should typically lower a weight twice as slowly as you lift it.

4. Stay grounded! Again, with standing exercises, make sure your feet stay planted on the ground. You should never feel yourself tilting forward on your toes or backward on your heels.

Follow these simple guidelines and you can significantly reduce the chances of a workout injury while maximizing your results. By not following these guidelines, and by placing excessive strain on the joints, one can easily find themselves suffering from a condition called overtraining.

Overtraining is a dangerous condition that afflicts many. It occurs when someone has been exposed to prolonged, high intensity, high volume training, which results in a state of accumulated fatigue. Let's face it; in today's day and age, there is an overwhelming pressure to look good. But sometimes that pressure can lead to this kind of excessive training in the gym that many people may not even be aware of while they're doing it.

Basic physiology tells us that in order for a muscle to grow and strengthen, there must be a certain amount of overload placed on that muscle. This overload will then induce a need for recovery in the muscle, which will allow it to adapt to the training. If however, there is little or no recovery, combined with additional intense exercise, no strength gains will be made and overtraining symptoms will take place. Some of these symptoms include: sore muscles, high resting heart rate, low motivation, disruptive sleeping patterns, decreased libido (yes, even for us gay boys), frequent sickness or infection, weight loss, poor self confidence, mood swings, and depression.

No one wants to wake up one day and find that they are unable to bend forward because of severe back pain. Just think about no longer being able to grab your feet! Bottom line - be careful! Use proper from, stay supported, don't rush, and above all else, if you can't put them down, don't pick them up!

Michael Elder has been working as a fitness professional in Chicago for the last 13 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,

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