dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
2010-06-13 05:40 pm

Uncle Alexendrei's Weightlifting Advice

Okay, believe or not, I overdid it today.  Just about eighty percent of the nonfiction book collection is now packed for the upcoming move.  I'm working more than a month in advance of the move date, but there's a lot that needs to be done.  Packing the books is one of the more onerous tasks because there's so many and so many are hard bound books, many of which are obnoxiously heavy Physics and Math textbooks.  Most people finish out at Calculus, but I went way beyond that taking classes in topics such as Group Theory and Complex Systems.  Plus I studied everything from Dynamical Systems to Topology on my own.  I still retain some of it in my head and I never let go of the books.  So today, I lifted them all.  Given the bibliophiles in my circle, I feel duty bound to offer some advice.  First, don't move your books cold.  You have to train up to this kind of task.  That means spending some time in the weight room. 

I've been lifting weight for more than twenty years now.  Spend enough time in the gym, and you'll see a lot of bad form, dubious techniques and out and out stupidity, usually male in origin.  I was lucky enough to have some great instruction in the form of a class I took and some impressive heavy hitters who trained in the Evergreen State College gym.  One woman, whose name I have long since forgotten, was a champion Olympic weightlifter.  She was one heck of a good coach.  Another was a local bodybuilder who held the regional title, Tim.  Tim was a terrific guy to have around.  Not only did he have the kind of body that showed you what you could accomplish, but he was about the most positive and friendly guy I have ever met.  He was generous with his time and help.  We also had this whole herd of unconventional athletes who were serious about strength training.  We used to compare notes and collect data on what worked and what didn't.  There's a lot of different combination of exercises and routines.  Here's what I find works for anyone who just wants to be strong and fit:  Lift heavy weights every day using good form.  More specifically, use exercises that work in the direction your body wants to move.  Use three or four sets of 8-12 repetitions for each exercise.  And shake up your routine every few months.  I'm doing things a little differently these days.  That's because I'm lifting some extremely heavy weights using powerlifting(as opposed to bodybuilding) techniques.  If you can't go to a class, hit the books:  I like Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe.  This is the complete reference for power lifting and strength training.  Rippetoe details exercises from anatomy on up to technique.  You'll know what each movement is supposed to do, how it works and how to do it right after you read this book.  Another good book is Arnold Schwarzenhagger's classic, The Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding.  This is a thorough and well written book that covers weight training for all occasions.

No, I want to cover some bad ideas.  I've been seeing more and more them at the UPenn gym where I train.  And I'll see more at the UToledo gym where I will be lifting soon.  Young men want to bulk up when they find a weight room and, because they're male, they're not confident enough to ask for help in an official capacity.  Seriously, you will get derided for taking a weight room safety class.  Ignore it because you'll be building strength when the zeta males have quit or are limping from their injuries.  First off, balls.  These are popular these days, but there's a lot of BS concerning their use.  First, many people use them for ab training.  What's going on here?  Real trainers will tell you that use the bouncy, stretchiness of the inflatable balls to train balance.  This is great for novices and helps train other athletes to keep themselves stable in motion.  However, ask yourself what using a ball really gets you.  Many people use them for sit ups and all they really get is an assist which dilutes the value of the exercise.  Same with push ups.  Don't use a ball to support your legs while doing push ups.  Use a bench.  This declination makes the motion harder and adds to the workout.  However, the instability of the ball will throw you off balance and force to suddenly strain and that increases the risk of injury.  In general, the harder the exertion, the greater the need for stability.  In addition to the inflatable balls, weighted balls that look like basket balls are in vogue.  Back in the day, we called these Medicine Balls and they're a training device with a long history.  They're really good for training your core muscles(the muscles that support your torso).  However, there's some dumb stuff that's become stylish with these things of late.  I see lots of guys doing sit ups on an incline bench tossing a ten or even twenty pound ball high into the air against a wall and catching it as they do situps.  Don't do this.  Can you really catch the ball reliably?  How are you gonna feel when you brain someone with a missed catch?  How dumb are you gonna feel when the gym revokes your membership and the other person's lawyer extracts a big payment out of you?  If you want to get an intense situp experience, get a partner and gently toss the ball to him or her on the downside and catch it on he upswing.  That's safe training.

Arching your back?  Stop right now, take a plate or two off the bench press bar and do what you can handle.  Put your feet down on the floor, keep your back on the bench and get a brain before the paramedics have to come out there with the back board.  In general, you need to keep your back straight in any movement.  If you're swinging the weights and your hips, you're cheating, getting a poorer workout and setting yourself up for lower back injuries,  Listen to me on this.  I lift despite having fractured my back in a skiing accident as a teen.  I can lift huge weights because I keep my back straight, my hips under my back and because I move in control at all times.  If I slack off on form, I know it really quick. 

Weight belts seem to be an important fashion accessory this season.  Don't follow the crowd.  Unless you are doing a certain set of lifts and doing a lot of weight, the belts don't do anything for you.  Weight belts do not in fact support the back.  They compress your abdominal wall and reinforce it so the pressure developed in a big lift doesn't cause you a hernia.  Doing squats with 200 and more pounds?  Definitely strap up.  Likewise Clean and Press, Deadlift, Clean and Jerk or Snatch.  On a bench?  What do you really back support for?  Also, unless you're really going for a max lift on the bench, you're not going to come close to straining your innards in these movements.  You can also build your own weight belt, as it were, by building your abdominal muscles and lower back.  I spend a lot of time on my abs because it helps with my old back injury, but ab training will help with anything you do in strength training or any sport.  Those muscles keep you upright in any situation.  Plus having good abs impresses that cute person you want to pay attention to you.

Sauna Suits.  Good Gawds, why do these things still exist?  Sauna suits are garments with an impermeable layer that traps your body heat and forces you to sweat.  These are dangerous for many reasons.  First, you can get dehydrated really fast.  That makes you pass out and the gym management frowns on that sort of thing.  If dehydration doesn't get you first, your body temperature soars until your body makes you stop by shutting down.  Also, many of the people tempted by these things have bad hearts or are trying lose weight out of fear they will get a bad heart.  As your body temperature soars, your heart starts pumping.  Its doing this because your capillaries have dilated to allow for surface cooling of your blood.  The suit short circuits that and your autonomous functions don't know what your conscious mind does, that you were dumb enough wear a sauna suit.  Your heart starts pumping in a desperate attempt to circulate more blood through the dilated capillaries to cool it.  You also start breathing hard and your BP soars.  If your circulatory system is compromised, you're pushing it towards break down.  Now, lets look at the basic claim behind the sauna suit, namely that it enhances weight loss.  Humbug, my friends.  The sauna suit makes you sweat.  Period.  Weigh yourself before and after.  Sure enough you will find a significant weight loss.  That's because you've lost water.  The second your drink it back in, you've put the weight back in.  The weight loss is illusory.  Wrestlers will use these things to sweat down to the boundary of next lowest weight class before a match.  That's how temporary the weight loss is.  If you want to lose weight, change what you eat and start working out sensibly. 

Anyway, that's all the tips I have for today.  Be safe, take safety class and think about your objectives in weight training.