Are you being consistent with your workouts but not getting the results you want? One of the major roadblocks that I often see is lifting either too little or too much – that’s right, too much – weight.
First, lets take a look at why the amount of weight you lift matters.
To get results, your muscles have to WORK. Work is a function of force and motion. Motion comes from the way we move our body, e.g., straightening our arm overhead for a shoulder press. You can increase and decrease the motion by adjusting how deep you go into the exercise. For example, the closer your glutes get to the floor in a squat, the more motion your using.
Force results from either a push or pull interaction between two objects. So, if you are holding a dumbbell in your hand and you do a shoulder press, your shoulder, arm, and hand are pushing the dumbbell up while the dumbbell is pushing down. Your body is putting force on the dumbbell and vice versa. The heavier the dumbbell, the more force involved.
WORK = FORCE ∗ MOTION
And the more force involved, the more work your body does. Makes sense, right?
Lifting TOO LITTLE weight
So many people, commonly women afraid of bulking up, actually lift too little weight. The weight they are using for an exercise is too light to work their muscles enough to get the results they want. Unfortunately, this often leads to disappointment, disillusionment, and ultimately disengagement from working out.
Side note: If you are afraid of bulking up, don’t be. Women do not have the testosterone levels required to bulk up like a man. You also do not have to worry about looking like a bodybuilder. Those women have HIGHLY regimented workout and diet plans to get those kinds of results. You’re not going to get that unless you are training specifically for that.
If you want to lean out and tone up, you have to reduce body fat and increase lean mass, i.e…muscle! How do you do this? By building and strengthening your muscle. How do you that? By causing them to WORK. For your body to work, you have to create force. If you’re not lifting enough weight, you’re not creating enough force. In turn, you’re not building enough muscle and you’re not burning enough fat.
How do you know if you’re not lifting enough weight?
Generally speaking, if you can perform 2 or more reps at the end of a set, you should either increase your weight or increase your number of reps. If you’re already doing 15-18 reps, I would increase your weight rather than your reps. This is because performing too many reps can sometimes lead to tendinitis in the moving joint. If you’re doing 10-12 reps, you can do either depending on your specific goals. Another effective option is training to fatigue. This means that you lift enough weight and do enough reps so that at the end of a set you literally cannot do even one more rep. I don’t recommend training to fatigue on every exercise or even every time you perform an exercise as this can increase your risk of injury.
A good rule of thumb is that you should be sweating during your workout. If you’re not, you’re probably not working hard enough. This true even for weight lighting. Effective weight lifting is hard work. If you want to get results, you need to challenge yourself and continue working your muscles more almost every time you exercise.
Lifting TOO MUCH Weight
You have to lift enough weight to get results. TRUE. Also true is that you have to work the specific muscles you are targeting. For example, if you want to build up your back but you are relying too much on your biceps, you’re not going to get the results in your back that you want, and you may end up injuring your biceps in the process.
Essentially, working the right muscles comes down to proper form. If you’re not using proper form, you’re putting undue pressure on other muscles and joint. If you use proper form, you are going to work the right muscles.
The main problem with lifting too much weight is that it affects your form
I see this ALL the time in the gym and especially with guys. If you’ve ever seen someone’s torso sagging while doing push-ups or head extended down and forward while doing bicep curls or the chest fly, you’ve seen it too. Those people are lifting too much weight and have to overcompensate in other ways like reducing the heaviness of their body thereby putting pressure on their lower back or straining their neck to get more momentum.
By the way: As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t be using momentum to lift weights. You should be using your strength.
Improper form is one big way to tell if you’re using too much weight, but it’s not the only way and sometimes it may look like you’re using proper form when really you’re still not engaging your muscles properly. This is common when doing an exercise like a row, squat, or deadlift. Row is primarily for your back. It also works your biceps, but as secondary muscles. When you contract during a row, your back muscles should really work hard and your shoulder blades should squeeze together. I see a lot of people in the gym not getting enough of a contraction in their back to really work those muscles and at the same time overcompensating with their biceps, which is going to put added pressure on the elbow joint. What ends up happening is they don’t get good results in their back and they could end up injuring their bicep or elbow joint.
The lesson? If you’re not able to perform the full exercise properly (whether because your form is visibly compromised or you’re unable to contract fully), you’re probably lifting too much weight. One way to get used to the feeling of contracting fully is to do the exercise without weights and really engage the target muscles. Do this a few times so you are familiar with the feeling. If you’re not getting the same feeling when you’re using weights, reduce the weight until you do. If your form is visibly compromised, you may consider modifying the exercise in addition to reducing the weight. If you’re unsure of how to do an exercise properly, you should consult a trainer. You will get way better results by reducing the weight you’re using and performing the exercise the right way so you really work the right muscles and reduce the risk of injuring yourself in the process.
Like I said earlier, not using the right amount of weight is one of the major roadblocks I see to getting results. It’s also one of the easiest things to fix! Don’t be afraid (or ashamed) to increase or lower your weights. Do what’s right for your body so you get the best results possible, both physical and mental, while reducing your risk of injury.
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