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All of which is to say, you're never going to get anywhere with that pink, vinyl-covered, 3-pound dumbbell. So let's get strong!
Before we initiate any movement our nervous system sets out to accomplish two goals: find balance and protect the spine. Without the stability that these two functions promote, our brain enacts its governor function, limiting the neural drive to our muscles and killing power output. That's what makes torque so important; creating torque at the hips and shoulders generates balance and fashions tension that protects the spine.
Before starting any lift (curl, bench, row, etc.), create torque at the hips by "screwing" the feet into the ground with external rotation. No matter the exercise, "break the bar" with the hands to create external torque at the shoulders.
Without exaggerating, I'll state that I have to coach every client on breathing. It's the most automated bodily process and everyone messes it up. Before this gets confusing, let me clarify. The problem isn't getting the air in and back out again. Everyone seems to do that without any hiccups. The problem is where the air goes when it enters the body.
Most people shoulder breathe. Rather than sending air into the lower lobes of their lungs, and subsequently filling their belly with air, they elevate their shoulders and breathe shallowly. This elicits a stress response, resulting in the unnecessary use of adrenaline that puts a high load on the autonomic nervous system. Remember the CNS governor we talked about in the previous tip? Well, that comes into play here too.
Deep belly breaths activate the diaphragm and the muscles of the pelvic floor. When these muscles activate it takes your brain off the brakes and puts your neurons on the gas. So to keep your stress levels low, and to put more weight on the bar, get your air low and into your belly.
Build the Deadlift Before the Squat
Now it's time to join the big boys! If you've always felt the squat machine or the deadlift area in the free weights section of your gym were the province of manly men, it's time to reconsider. Your quads and glutes and calves are the foundation upon which a strong and sturdy (and shapely) figure reside. If you're a little shy about facing the long bar (or piling weights on the squat machine) get a partner or trainer to help you. Try to start at a weight that's comfortable for you (see Tip #4). And use the deadlift to enhance your squat.
Many proclaim with vigor the squat is the king of all lifts. An equal sum hold the deadlift as their champion. It's a futile war.
In reality, it's inconsequential. Both build muscle and strength at fantastic rates when programmed well. Sequencing, however, is of some consequence. A strong squat rests solidly on a strong posterior chain. The bricks and mortar that solidify the posterior chain are laid by the deadlift.
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Start Too Light
We're all overzealous. We want progress and we want it fast. In the past this drove me to exercise the logic that more weight is always better. Keep stacking plates on; if the bar moves it's not too heavy. Out of all the points I'll make in this article, this is the most important. It's always better to start too light and stay too light.
Training with near max weights all of the time puts a severe load on the central nervous system--one that's hard to recover from. I learned this lesson the hard way in 2010 when I decided it would be a great idea to pull 440 for 10 reps. I was only supposed to pull it for three. When in doubt, leave a few reps in the tank and move the weight fast. You'll live to train another day.
Pick One Goal
A lot of women clients tell me that they want to be slim and slender. I get it. Hey, that's what we all want. Well, I like to toss the word strong somewhere in the sentence, too. Because it takes muscle to burn fat.
Training becomes a problem when too many goals are worked towards concurrently. I'm not saying that human physiology isn't capable of the task; but human psychology is an issue.
It's the common story of too many pokers in the fire. Trying to accomplish everything at once won't accomplish anything; focus is lost and a discouraging view waits in the mirror. Narrow the goal list down and set priorities.
I'll tell you, though, I believe there is a progression that sets lifters up for success.
Start by setting strength goals and accomplishing them. Make sure the weights seem slightly unreasonable when you're viewing them on paper. Once the strength goals are accomplished, the fat will flee. Trust me. You'll have the base of strength necessary get lean and look great. Finish with body comp goals; they take the most dedication and discipline.
You're climbing a ladder. There's no sense in worrying about the second rung if you haven't taken care of business on the first.
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Exercising productively requires active recovery planning. It starts with sound nutrition and sleep, but there are a few more elements that are necessary for allostasis -- the process of adaptation. Here's my short list:
Epsom salt baths: The
magnesium promotes muscle relaxation and healthy function. The warmth
Ice baths: Cold works too. The cold
water promotes microtrauma healing and will promote blood flow after
you're done with tubbing. Water temperatures in the fifties work well
and it only takes five to ten minutes. It may seem like an eternity once
you're sitting in frigid water; but trust me, you'll go
- Contrast showers: If hot and cold work well on their own, they must work well together. The process is simple: turn the water up as warm as you can stand it for a minute and contrast that with as cold as you can stand it for a minute. Do this for five cycles-ten total minutes. Cold water pushes blood out of the muscles-the hot water that follows immediately after rushes oxygen and nutrients into the muscles.
It's no secret that getting stronger requires appropriate nutritional support for your muscles. An excellent option for women is ProSource's Vectron. Vectron contains Prolibra, a weight-management system that has been validated in independent clinical testing. Indeed, in a randomized, double-blind, 12-week clinical trial published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, test subjects showed significant improvements in the ratio of lean mass to fat while taking just 24.4 grams of Prolibra per day compared to a control group taking an isocaloric placebo.. The subjects taking Prolibra retained twice as much lean muscle with 79% fat loss compared to the control group at 51% fat loss. Not too shabby!
Another supplement you might not think of too often is glutamine. Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid that your body depletes rapidly during exercise. this is unfortunate because depleted glutamine stores in muscle tissue cause muscle recovery and growth to stall post-workout. So you're actually losing the gains you worked so hard to achieve! ProSource makes a potent and highly quality Glutamine Powder that is well worth looking into, as well.
It's always the simple things that make us better. Simple tips lead to simple training that's simply productive.