“What’s your max deadlift?”
“How much can you bench press?”
“I can curl 20kgs for each bicep, what about you?”
If you’ve ever been asked one of these questions before and were apprehensive to answer because you weren’t lifting weights nearly as heavy as your inquisitor then don’t worry, you must lift within your limits. Many of us are focusing on the number of plates hanging off each side of the barbell, or the kilograms that they’re picking up and putting down, rather than ensuring that the exercises they’re performing are completed safely and appropriately.
Those entering a gym setting for the first time can be overwhelmed and intimidated by the machines, the free weights, or the people using them. The best thing you can do for your health, body composition, and physique is leave your ego at home. Completing your exercise regimen with the right technique will bring about more significant and appropriate benefits, and minimise risk of injury.
It can be difficult to separate progress from progression without setback from injury. Patience is a key component of any exercise program, and making sure that you keep to your program when those around you are lifting heavier weights than you is incredibly important. Don’t be in a hurry to progress the level of resistance too quickly. Patience and more importantly correct technique, is essential in making sure you can train consistently and minimise the risk of injury.
We hear it all too often. “I’ve herniated a disc in my lumbar spine when I was deadlifting”, “I tore a tendon during an overhead lift”. Simply put; if you can’t lift the weight in the correct way, you shouldn’t be lifting the weight period!
While you may think that reducing your weights and focusing on form will lead to a reduction in strength or lean mass, it often results in quite the opposite response. Generally, when form is disrupted, the muscle group targeted with your exercise is no longer activated in the way it should be, thereby reducing the force through the targeted muscle group and limiting any improvement in strength. Correct technique will ensure that the appropriate muscle group is worked. Don’t be afraid to reduce the weight lifted, you will not limit your strength. In fact, in those who are new to weight-lifting, any form of resistance training will initially bring out neurological strength improvements. This can include an increased rate and strength of signals from the brain to your muscle, as well as an increased area of muscle activation from these signals (1). Ensuring correct technique will therefore maximise the improvements that you see in the areas that you train.
Next time you’re at the gym and you’re about to pick up the heaviest dumbbell your body will let you hold, take a step back and think about how you perform that exercise. Can you maintain stability? Can you isolate movements through the muscle group the exercise is supposed to be targeting? Or are you swinging wildly trying to lift as heavy as humanly possible? Bring a friend, or ask a trainer if you’re performing your exercises safely and effectively.
B. Exercise Physiology
1. Sale, D. G. (1988). Neural adaptation to resistance training. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 20(5 Suppl), S135-45