A few Weight Room thoughts

So, I was in the weight room the other day (there is a surprise) and I saw a girl do a deadlift of just the Olympic bar (45 lbs) which is a pretty good workout for anyone, but I was surprised as she is quite an athletic girl. Then I saw her go and squat – frikken 135 lbs as a free weight (no Smith machine). My immediate thought was

This is not right.

There are some lifts where you will lift a lot more than others – show me someone who squats what they use to front raise and I will be utterly perplexed. But for each lift, there is a scale. From ‘beginner’ to ‘trained’ to ‘advanced’ to ‘wow, s/he is an anomaly of modern genetics’. You can find a scale for the bench press here for which you will need to go here and calculate your one rep max.

My feeling is, that you should not be right on ‘un-trained’ for one exercise and up at ‘advanced’ for another. There will be some variation, everyone will have some lifts they naturally excel at, but you should be around the same point for each exercise.

Lifts, especially compound lifts, involve a lot of muscle groups, it can be very damaging if you are not taking a whole body approach and developing all your muscles. Repeatedly working out on one lift does not develop all your supporting muscles and can be dangerous. In addition, if you do over develop one group of muscles, this will affect your everyday life – it will put your posture out of whack, cause compensatory posture, and cause you injury in the long term. You should actually get better muscle development if you mix up your exercises, even for a set muscle group. You will hit the fibers from slightly different angles, and so more of the muscle will develop. I recently realised all my bench presses were prone, and so started incline and decline presses. I have had to drop the weight for these, because these muscles are not as well developed – this is not a good thing. I would like all my chest muscles equally developed to keep a healthy, upright posture.

Plus I feel fitness should, at least at some level, be functional as in help your everyday life. There is nothing functional about ‘training to test’ and being able to complete only one awesome lift.

So, my first thought was “this girl has something seriuosly wrong with her training, if her deadlift is below untrained, but her squat passed advanced. Something is wrong and something is going to get hurt / damaged. Then I watched her closely: by ‘squat’ what she was actually doing was sliding her knees forward about 2 inches, dipping down about one and coming up  all very quickly. So, my second thought was all about the importance of form.

It is a lesson I learned myself recently. I have been listing for a little over a year now, and had no idea (until I recently found the online ‘standards’ charts) if I was doing ‘well’ for my weight and level of training or not. Then Jamie Eason posted one of her workouts, including reps and weights. I was surprised that she lifted a lot less than me.

Gratuitous picture of Jamie Eason, because I want to break up the text, and she is hot.

So, I dropped my weights, and suddenly things hurt that didn’t hurt before. I realised I was using the correct muscles and not compensating i.e. my bench press no longer involved my back, my squat actually taxed my abs, not my knees. Sacrificing some weight can really, really help with form, and it is impossible to underestimate how much benefit this can give you muscle growth. You know the deal with squats:

If it isn’t parallel or passed, it isn’t a squat.

If your knees go beyond your toes, it isn’t a squat.

No matter how much weight you rack up.

You should look like this when you squat, even with weight. You'll feel it if you do.

So, if your squats are a quick dip forward, if you are using momentum to rush through lifts, if your deadlifts (what?? You are not doing deadlifts? Shame on you) are not killing your glutes, step back, drop the weight and work on your form. Do it without weight, or minimal weight and then slowly add weight – your form should not change with the addition of more weight. It’s tough to remember, but you will see much better results.

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