Ask The Trainer

Fine-tune your workouts with time-tested fitness principles

November 22, 2014

With the new year quickly approaching, it’s time to tune up your workouts and make sure you are doing things correctly. Here are a few helpful hints to guide you when designing your training program.

Don’t sacrifice form for weight

I always tell my clients to lift heavy enough to feel the burn but light enough to practice good form. Listen to your body; it will tell you if you’re doing something wrong. If you’re supposed to be doing an exercise for the chest and you feel it in the shoulders, there is something wrong. Drop the weight and try it again until you master the proper form.

Don’t rely on weightlifting belts

If you constantly wear a weightlifting belt during your workouts, you will never give the core muscles - abs, lower back - a chance to strengthen. Over time, your body begins to depend on your belt for support. The end result is that as the rest of your body gets stronger, your lower back remains weak, therefore making your chances of getting hurt much greater.

Save weightlifting belts for heavy sets and personal bests; that way you will build a foundation of strong core muscles that will protect your back from injury.

Work on muscular balance

Don’t spend too much time working mirror muscles, such as chest and biceps, and neglecting core stabilizing muscles such as abs and lower back. This is a huge mistake, because even though you may be getting strong in some areas, other areas will continue to be weak, and the muscle imbalance puts pressure on your joints and could be setting you up for a serious injury. Instead, prioritize less glamorous areas, such as abdominals, lower back, hips and hamstrings, and take a more comprehensive approach to your workouts.

Learn to breathe properly

Many people get so caught up in working hard that the last thing they pay attention to is their breathing patterns. In my experience, most people either breathe out in the middle of the lift when their body needs the oxygen the most, or they hold their breath too long, causing them to become dizzy. To breathe correctly, take in a large breath right before you begin lifting weight and start expelling it as you reach the top of the lift. In other words, have oxygen in the body during the lift and slowly expel it as you lower the weight. You may find this difficult at first, but it will become second nature with a little practice. Breathing properly will supply your muscles and your brain with the oxygen needed to get a great workout.

Don’t forget to bend the knees

Almost all exercises can put stress on the lower back if you don’t learn to bend your knees properly. Think of your knees as your body’s shock absorbers ready to protect you from stress. Exercises such as standing barbell curls, tricep pushdowns and seated cable rows all require a slight bend in the knees to keep the pressure off the lower back and on the targeted muscles where it belongs.

Don’t live in the gym

Most people think spending more time in the gym will give them an advantage, but there is a limit. Your workouts can become counterproductive if you’re not careful.

Spending too much time in the gym can raise cortisol levels in your body, causing some unpleasant results. Cortisol - a stress hormone - is naturally produced in the adrenal gland, but it can be elevated by too much physical stress and not enough rest. If cortisol levels become too high, your body will begin to lose lean muscle mass and store body fat.

Remember, getting to the gym can sometimes be the hardest part, but it also makes sense to periodically review the basics and make sure you are doing things correctly.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter