There's a difference between looking big or "bulky" and being strong. Although it's true that the bigger you are, the more weight you can lift - including everyday objects like grocery bags - you can be stronger than someone who is bigger than you are. Each person can get stronger than they are already, and that includes you!
How do you do that? By lifting heavy weights, and by heavy, I mean heavy for you yourself. The amount of weight you need to lift to stimulate your muscles to grow bigger and stronger is probably a lot more than you think. Lifting that weight slowly with control for about a minute straight will make you stronger and your muscles bigger. As we age, our muscles get smaller if we are not stimulating them to either maintain their size, or grow bigger. The main difference in appearance between a young person and an older person is muscle mass. You can even see it in someone's forearms! A younger woman's forearms are more muscular than an older woman's who isn't exercising. You can see it in the shoulders, the arms, the legs, even the neck! More muscle doesn't mean you'll look like the picture above. You'd need to take a lot of steroids to get big and bulky, and even then, you'd need very unique genetics. For most of us, lifting heavy weights means we'll look more like we did or should have as a young healthy, physically active person. Nice muscle tone and posture, with an ease and energy in our movements.
A simple test you can do in order to determine how much you should lift, would be to take a weight light enough so that you felt you could lift it about 10 times. Now, chose a weight that is heavier than that (we are all usually already a lot stronger than we think :), then start to lift it slowly as discussed in the previous two blog posts. Keep moving the weight back and forth without stopping until you can't move it any more (called going to technical failure - read about it here). If it takes you about a minute to do (6-10 repetitions) then it is the right weight for you. Do the same with any set of exercises you like. Do this one time for each exercise you choose (it should be challenging, so if you're doing it correctly, you won't want to do any more!), write down what you were able to do. I guarantee that if you do it right, after a couple days rest, if you go back and do the same thing, you'll be able to lift the same weight for more repetitions or for a longer time. You'll have proven to yourself that you are stronger! It might take a couple of times to chose the perfect weight for you, but you'll get it. Why not give it a try?
The obvious reason to move the weights slowly, is so that you don't either drop the weight on yourself or on someone else. Swinging a weight around has obvious dangers to it, but there are others that we want to look at here.
In a lot of sports like soccer, football and hockey, there is a considerable about of speed involved, and it is often combined with weight. This creates a considerable amount of force (Force = Mass (weight) X Acceleration (Speed)). And force when it it applied to a joint like the one in our knees, can cause injury. Muscles can build up more force than the joints can handle when movement is done using speed. In the context of lifting weights, lifting weights fast, can increase the amount of force, and sometimes impose that force on the joints that cannot support it. This is where speed can cause injury to a joint in weight lifting. There are certainly other ways you can cause damage to the tissues in your body lifting weights, and not always, moving a weight quickly will automatically cause injury, but we are trying to do exercise in the Simply Stronger program in a way that is the safest possible, without compromising its efficacy.
An other reason going slower is safer, is that if you were to do a movement in the program that could cause you injury or pain, the faster you were moving the less time you'd have to react to prevent the injury. As an example, if I were to stretch my index finger back so that I was trying to touch the tip of my finger to the back of my wrist (something I promise I cannot do!) I would get to a point - maybe half way there - that I would start to feel a stretch in the palm of my hand. If I kept going, this stretch feeling would turn into a pain feeling (my brain starting to warn me "um... you might not want to keep doing that...") and if I kept going any further, I'd probably stop before I tore something in my finger. That's IF I did it slowly. If I moved slowly I would be able to stop before I got to that point that was too far. But if I did it in one fast movement (something I don't recommend) then I might go past that point of "warning-pain" right into injury. The slower I move, the more reaction time I have to feel and say to myself "um...you might not want to keep doing that...". So if you were doing a movement in the program that could cause you injury or pain, the faster you were moving the less time you'd have to react to prevent the injury. So, if you were to do a movement in the program that could cause you injury or pain, the faster you were moving the less time you'd have to react to prevent the injury.
These are just a couple of reasons it's a good idea to slow down the movement when you are lifting weights.
As we saw in the last post, the group of people who put together the exercise programs originally, had only one thing in mind - health. It would make sense to think that a program with this in mind would have to be safe. You won't be doing any exercise is you are injured... Compare this to a lot of the "exercise programs" out there now - Crossfit, P90X, Interval Training etc. - they all have a high risk of injury. They are more like playing a sport. Sports are fun, but they are not - in my humble opinion - exercise.
So what is exercise? It's work. It's work with a very satisfying result at the end. It's kind of like digging a big hole in order to plant a fruit tree. It's hard work digging the whole (especially when you think it's deep enough, put the tree in and realize you have an other 2 feet to dig!) but when you do get the tree in, you feel great, and your reward is watching it flower in the spring and bare fruit. Exercise is like that. It's hard, but you get a reward for that hard work.
So this is one of the reasons we go slow. To make it harder. It's not really to make it harder, but more about making the movement more efficient. The slower you move a weight, the less momentum and speed help to make it easier.
Imagine you are holding 40 pounds in your hands and then you slowly lift it up above your head arms out stretched. You could say that the weight is above your head, and you put it there. Now imagine putting the weight above your head, but this time giving it a little swing and tossing it up above your head and then catching it. Both times, the weight was above your head. Both times you used your muscles and joints to lever it up there. The second time however, you can't really say you were holding it up above your head. It was in mid flight. If you actually try that, you'll see that trowing it up is a lot easier than slowly bringing it up there. The reason is speed. As soon as you add speed to movement, you create momentum, and this momentum helps the weight move forward - think about when you hit the breaks in a car and the things that aren't attached keep moving forward. Even light objects are hard to stop when they have that momentum, so when you are creating that momentum, it's helping you move the weight. You don't want that when you are doing exercise. What you want is to create a prolonged stress (positive stress) on the muscles until they reach a point where they can't move any more. This is called "failure", and it simply means that your muscles are temporarily unable to continue contracting. They have used up all of the energy they had stored, and must wait now to restock that energy. At this point in your exercise ie. moving your 45 pound weight slowly, you are done your set (movement) and will now rest until you feel ready to do an other different movement.
So now you understand why you need to move the weight slowly in order to create more resistance, or make the exercise more efficient and harder. Remember, exercise is supposed to be a little like hard work. Only that it's a lot safer, and the we're building your body, something well worth the investment for the return.
Next up... why moving the weight slowly is safer (besides the obvious).
Holy cow! I made it. I'm actually writing my 2nd post the next day! How much I will write will depend entirely on how long my daughter naps, and how much help my son needs with his homework. So far so good.
Spoke too soon...
What I wanted to write about in this post, was what it is that I'll be discussing with you if you come to see me for a session - a a kind of intro to what Simply Stronger is all about. The 1st session is free (for now...) and this is basically how it goes. It's good for you to know why I do what and I do so that you feel comfortable with why you will do what I'm asking you to do.
It's easy to say "just exercise" or "exercise is good for you", and we've been told to exercise so much that we all kind of accept it as fact. There are facts and studies to support this, but where did it all come from? Why, and who can we attribute this fitness industry to? Well, this isn't going to be a history lesson, I'm just going to tell you basically what happened some time around the 1960's with a group of people who were curious to know what could be done to the human body to make it healthier. They were basically a bunch of smart people, with different backgrounds with a similar interests: human health. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, arthritis, arthrosis and other diseases associated with our modern lifestyle were clearly on the rise and a problem that needed to be dealt with. Through different methods of study and research, they came up with a solution. The solution was to get people to lift weights. Of all the things that people COULD do to prevent or reverse the effects of the above mentioned health issues, they found High Intensity Resistance Training to be the most effective, efficient and safest way to do that - and most practical in our increasingly time constrained lives.
I was lucky enough to meet someone who was part of this original group. He introduced me to High Intensity Training, and that is what Simply Stronger is based on. There are all sorts of programs out there based on High Intensity Training (HIT), and Simply Stronger focuses on the health benefits of HIT and that is what I'm going to focus on here.
When I used to think about exercise, I used to think it included things like weight training and cardio, but could also include jogging, playing amateur sports and just simply moving around somewhat vigorously. When I was introduced to HIT and its origins I realized there was a whole other meaning to the word exercise. Now I make a clear distinction between exercise - what we do in the Simply Stronger Program - and everything else, and I mean everything else. Exercise as it was developed by this group in the 60's was designed to do one thing: make you stronger. What was discovered, was that by creating positive stress on the muscles, bones and cardio vascular system using resistance training, all of the systems in the body became stronger too! If you go back to my post here, there's a link to a whole bunch of research that shows this. There are also links in the Results sections with links to research showing how HIT (Resistance weight training) can have a dramatic impact on our health and with ONLY a few minutes per week! The point is that what you would do in the Simply Stronger program has been studied, tested, tried, and done over and over for more than 40 years with the same consistent results with every person who has ever done it. With the exception of serious health issues, everyone, at any age, can do HIT or the Simply Stronger Program.
One of the reasons anyone can do this program, is because it's so safe. It has to be! Why would it have been designed to improve health if there was a high risk of injury? Ah ha! Now we see the first clear distinction between exercise and say, sports. If you wanted to "get back into shape" and so decided to start playing let's say street hockey or soccer, the chance that you might injure yourself would be significantly greater than if you started doing HIT. Let me explain.
HIT as it is done in the Simply Stronger program is done using slow controlled movement, where no matter where you are in the movement, you can stop BEFORE you hurt yourself (pull a muscle, twist an ankle, fall etc...) which is obviously NOT the case with sports. That's easy to see, and easy to understand now why so many athletes are injured all the time. But there are similarities in sports and other so called exercise programs. PX90, Crossfit, Aerobics classes, treadmill running, jogging, ANY physical sport, and any other type of similar activity has a higher risk of injury. Bottom line is; if you get injured doing anything, you won't be doing ANY exercise. So, as I said, I make a clear distinction between exercise - what we do in the Simply Stronger Program - and everything else, and I mean everything else. Exercise should be about getting stronger and healthier physically and physiologically, and all the other stuff should be about having fun! It's hard to play a sport, or any game, if you're muscles aren't strong enough to allow you to do them. You do exercise so you can do other things in your life that you enjoy doing, even if it's sitting down - it takes a lot of muscles just to keep you upright!
Once again I see this entry getting too long - longer anyways than I'd have the patients to read (or the time!). So I'll leave it here. I never actually managed to sit down and write this in one go. It took me a couple of days in fact, but it's done. Life is like that, and there are more important things in life than reading someone's blog! ;) But, I'll try to keep these brief and simple - this is Simply Stronger after all - and that way you can take a bit of time here and there to go through each one at your own pace.
Next up... Why do we go slow?
P.S. I often ask people at the beginning of their massage (yes, I'm a massage therapist too! www.RandallMassage.com) if they've ever done Yoga. The majority of the time, the answer I get is "...oh, I know I should..." but that's not what I'm asking... I just want to know, because in a lot of Yoga classes, diaphragmatic (abdominal/belly) breathing is practiced. It's a nice way to calm the system down, and if they've never done it (in Yoga or elsewhere), I instruct them on how to do it. This is basically what I tell them: