You’ve heard it before – heavy weightlifting is great for your physique. But if you’re wondering how the heck you get started, here are a few pointers…
What do you expect from the gym? It seems an increasing number of us want weights to lift. Where the weights room was once dominated by men, it’s now a space used by men and women alike. According to data, 93 per cent of female gym members at the Gym Group strength train – 65 per cent of them lifting up to three times per week. Indeed, the American College of Sports Medicine has listed strength training as a top-five fitness trend each year for the past decade. But we don’t think anyone could have predicted quite what a phenomenal following it now has. Want to get in on the action? We’ve quizzed the experts to help get you started.
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Don’t start a weight training session cold! Warming up prepares the body and mind for exercise by boosting blood flow to muscles, kick-starting neural pathways and giving you a chance to practise exercise technique without weight. Begin with some light cardiovascular exercise to increase your heart rate, such as five minutes on the bike. Then, move on to bodyweight or light weighted moves that mimic those you’ll be doing in your main workout (think: squats for lower-body sessions; rows with just the bar before back exercises). Don’t overdo the warm-up – you don’t want get too tired to lift the weights – aim for 10 minutes.
FOCUS ON TECHNIQUE
Want to lift heavy? Leave your ego at the gym door. Good technique is the foundation of heavy weight training. Start conservatively, even if that means you’re lifting the lightest weights in the room. It’s far better to lift a light weight well than to lift a heavy one badly, risking injury. ‘Begin with a movement-focused phase, which centres around a higher volume of training [three lots of eight-10 reps is a good aim] with low-to-medium weights,’ says Dominik Rzadowski, Anytime Fitness senior trainer (anytimefitness.co.uk). ‘This will help strengthen the muscle tissue, ligaments and tendons, and prepare your body for a more challenging programme.’ Do it correctly and you’ll also improve your balance and coordination, and increase the abundance of connective tissue that surrounds individual muscle fibres. When you can perform all repetitions with a proper technique, it’s time to up the weight. If you can’t perform all repetitions well, go down a weigh.
It’s not unusual to feel overly enthusiastic when embarking on a new workout regime, but don’t let your motivation cloud your judgement. Even when you’re keen to squeeze in another session, it pays to include recovery days in your schedule to give your body and its neuromuscular system some rest. ‘Remember that the heavier you lift, the more rest you need,’ warns Rzadowski. ‘People often want to jump straight into lifting heavy and end up having to stop because they’ve done too much and have developed an injury.’ When lifting heavy weights, it’s counterproductive to begin the next set too soon, before you’ve had a chance to catch your breath, as this will decrease your ability to use good technique. Aim for one to two minutes’ recovery between sets.
STAY IN ORDER
According to Adam Willoughby, trainer at Work It London (@adambwilloughby), there’s no right or wrong programme when it comes to heavy weightlifting, but variety is key. Aim to work all muscle groups through full-body exercises or by targeting different areas on different days. Often, this comes down to what your goals are and how much time you have to exercise. ‘Training three to four days a week can be split many ways,’ adds Willoughby. ‘You might start by doing three full-body workouts a week [including moves such as squats, bench presses and deadlifts], and then move on to two upper-body and two lower-body workouts weekly.’ Try to programme your moves so you do the more demanding exercises near the start of the workout, when you have more energy.
TIME THE TEMPO
The rate at which you move through each rep matters. When starting out, you want to focus on a slower speed to allow time to master the technique. Over time, your neuromuscular system will improve and technique will become more natural. Tempo is measured in four numbers, representing seconds for (1) the lowering phase, (2) the pause at the bottom, (3) the lifting phase, (4) the pause at the top. ‘I recommend a tempo of 3-0-1-0 for beginners,’ says Mark Ireland, coach at The Foundry (foundryfit.com). ‘This teaches novices to control the load of the weight, as well as create more time under tension.’ That’s three seconds to lower the weight and one second to lift it. If a move starts with a lift, such as a chin-up, switch the tempo to 1-0-3-0.
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