Saturday, February 8, 2014

Training Vs. Lifting

When you go to the gym, what’s your primary goal? I ask this because I bet more than half of the responses would be the same: “To get strong and look good.” Great, that’s an awesome goal. But how are you going to go about it? Are you going to eat better? Lift Heavier? Lift more? More cardio? There are hundreds of different protocols you can follow to hit such a generic goal, but how many go about the weight training aspect of the gym is very inefficient. I say inefficient because 90% of people I see in the gym are lifting weight, heavy or light, and not training the muscle they intend to develop.

Woah. But if you’re lifting, aren’t you training your muscles. To an extent, yes, but are you optimally training that muscle? No, probably not.

A scenario: You see someone bench pressing, and they’re lifting say 225 pounds for 5 reps. His form is awful: his elbow’s are going past the 90 degrees mark, his lower back is arching up, his neck is lifting off of the bench for that extra oomph, and he’s not controlling the weight in the eccentric phase (Dropping the barbell towards you), rather just letting drop down fast and bouncing it off of his chest. He feels big, he feels macho. What he doesn’t realize is of that entire balls-to-the-wall-max-out effort; he blatantly missed the point of the exercise.

To train his chest effectively and efficiently.

How’d he not train his chest effectively? First, by not controlling the weight downwards in the eccentric phase, he’s losing out on recruiting valuable muscle fibers to decelerate the weight. Second, dropping the bar all the way to his chest, and bringing your elbows below your shoulders and past 90 degrees, he’s using his anterior deltoids to initially push the weight back up. Not only is that not your chest, but also that’s an excellent way to develop a biceps impingement and not be able to wash your hair later when you are 40 years old, let alone bench press in the future.

How was it not efficient? Well for starters, his chest sure as hell didn’t lift that 225 pounds. A lot of different muscles did, and a lot of different muscles are not meant to perform that movement. By design, the bench press is meant to train your chest, not your anterior deltoids, lower back, quads, or whatever else you want to throw in there. While some will challenge this view, your goal should be to train specific muscles and their functions, not lifting heavy ass weight to look huge and possibly get yourself hurt.

The same could be said for most abdominal exercises unfortunately. Too many times I see many people banging out 100’s of crunches, and because they’re not focusing on engaging their core, and instead a certain amount of reps, they end up training their hip flexors or lower back.

This is where training the muscle is an extremely important topic in my opinion. Instead of lifting heavy weight and just throwing it up in the air as fast you can, your goal should be to train the muscle your targeting by the specific exercise of your choice. Making the mind-to-muscle connection is vital here. Actually feeling the muscle lengthen, contract, and squeeze during particular movements is crucial to proper muscle recruitment and development.

Not only is making the mind-to-muscle connection important, but controlling the weight you are lifting is extremely important to get maximum muscle fiber recruitment and decrease the risk of injury. Newsflash to some guys at the gym, but dumbbell curling 50 pounds in each hand by using your legs and back to swing the weight up, and then letting it completely drop isn’t training your biceps effectively. A proper biceps curl involves a slow eccentric phase (Lowering the weight), and a concentric phase (Bringing the weight towards you), and isometrically squeezing the biceps at the curl point. Then slowly lowering it again.  You’re also at a large risk of injury, as the biceps is very small muscle and not meant to catch a 50-pound dumbbell from dropping mid-air with gravity forcing it downwards. He might think he’s strong, but show me a guy who’s got strict form with his biceps curls and controlling the entire movement with 40-pounds, and I’d be more impressed.

Think about it next time you go to workout. Am I here to lift heavy weight (power-lifters, you’re different, lift some heavy ass weight by all means! Safely), or am I here to specifically train my chest and my triceps today? Focus on what you do and the muscles you’re intending to workout, and I guarantee you’ll see better results.

Not everyone is an anatomy major and understands muscles and their functions, and I completely understand that. But before you get into weight training, I strongly recommend consulting a trainer who can show you how to go about performing each exercise effectively, efficiently, and safely. At the very least, go to YouTube and search proper form videos. Figuring it out is an excellent way to keep yourself from getting a herniated disc when you do barbell dead lifts because you insist on rounding out your back like a cat.


  1. I agree with the main points of your article. There could have been a bit more emphasis on training the whole body in every exercise, vs. a specific muscle group. It was obviously written for the non-professional, which is fine, so recommending a consultation with a qualified trainer is right on; however, suggesting a YouTube search opens up a myriad of potential problems. There is a lot of junk on YouTube.

    Thanks for writing the article.

    1. Definitely agree, but unfortunately I see so many exercises done incorrectly that a reputable YouTube source, such as Musclepharm's Cory Gregory, could easily depict how to perform these exercises correctly.

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