Bend The Rules: 15 Training Laws That Should Be Bent Every Now And Then

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In the pursuit of more muscle and strength, we’re all gullible enough to believe concrete rules that promise gains if we always do this and never do that. They make training such a no-brainer. Granted, these so-called rules of the gym carry some sound advice.

That’s why you’ll forever overhear them during between-set banter and from that know-it-all on the next treadmill. But, as it turns out, following them blindly isn’t always a good idea and may actually put the hurt on your training efforts. So we sought the advice of experts on why and how you should break some of the most popular laws of pushing iron.

Rule 1# Use heavy weight and low repetitions to build mass.

Break it:

While performing 8-12 reps is ideal for building mass, you add muscle even when using higher reps, says Carl Davison, CSCS, fitness director at Hawthorn Farm Athletic Club in Hillsboro, Oregon, and strength and conditioning coach for the Portland Timbers professional soccer team. “Mass-building can occur all the way up to 15 reps; after that, you really start to get into endurance training,” he explains. “If you do only 3-5 reps, you’re emphasizing strength, not muscle building.”

How to break it:

For 4-6 weeks, perform three sets of 12-15 reps for each exercise, with 30 seconds of rest between each set.

Watch out:

“Don’t get stuck on one routine forever,” adds Davison. “Your body loves to grow when you mix up your training variables.”

Rule 2# Always do high reps on isolation exercises

Break it:

Isolation exercises are commonly considered useful only for increasing definition and burning out a muscle. However, they can be effective for strength- and muscle-building, too. “You’re able to concentrate on a smaller muscle area and load it,” comments Davison.

How to break it:

For 2-4 weeks, cycle in heavy-weight, low-rep isolation moves performed early in your workout, not at the end.

Watch out:

This technique puts a lot of torque on targeted joints without the support of secondary muscle groups, so perform these exercises carefully to avoid injury. “If you do cable crossovers with straight arms and a heavy load, you can injure your shoulders,” Davison warns.

“Make sure you keep a good bend in your elbows, in a bear-hug fashion.” On the pecdeck machine, use a spotter to help you bring the pads forward for the first rep.

Rule 3# Performing compound exercises before isolation movements

Break it:

Your targeted muscle gets more benefit from isolation when it’s fresher; this is the pre-exhaust principle. A recent study found that exercises performed late in a training session are negatively affected the number of reps you’re able to do significantly declines, especially in the final set of an exercise.

How to break it:

Once a week, choose a different bodypart and do your isolation moves for that muscle group first. For example, flyes before presses for chest or lateral raises before overhead presses for shoulders.

Watch out:

When you transition from isolation exercises to compound moves in a training session, use lighter weights than you normally would for the compound move your muscles and tendons will be fatigued and more susceptible to injury at this time, warns Davison.

Rule 4# Use free weights for building mass, machines for detailing.

Break it:

Free weights are outstanding mass-builders, of course, but so are machines. They reduce your body’s dependence on stabilizing or secondary muscle groups, so you put more direct emphasis on the muscles you’re targeting, says Mike Martino, PhD, CSCS. “Machines are great for building mass,” says Jimmy Pena, MS, CSCS. “You can especially load up the weight pretty heavy on some machines and just go to town.”

How to break it:

Do a one-week cycle of training with only machines for every bodypart once every few months.

Watch out:

Machines aren’t ideal for functional strength if you’re prepping for a sport, favor free weights.

Rule 5# Don’t stretch ballistically.

Break it:

It’s the ideal way to prepare your muscle for activities that require velocity or quick recoil, such as powerlifting, basketball, tennis, martial arts and track and field. Using only static stretching for such activities may leave you more prone to injury.

How to break it:

Stretch ballistically bouncing instead of holding the end position just before your activity. For example, when doing the seated hamstring stretch, lower your head toward your knees and bob up and down for 15 seconds instead of remaining in the down position.

Watch out:

This method can easily lead to injury if you’re not careful use it only after you’ve been on a program of traditional stretching for 4-6 weeks, advises Mike Martino, PhD, CSCS, ACSM-ETT, director of Georgia College & State University’s (Milledgeville) Human Performance Lab. Warm up with slow, activity-specific movements beforehand as well.

Rule 6# Don’t train two large bodyparts together.

Break it:

“Recruiting large muscle groups using weightlifting has been shown to boost levels of testosterone and growth hormone in the body, creating a great muscle-building environment,” says Martino. In that case, training two big bodyparts, like chest and back, can be better than training just one.

How to break it:

Alternate which large bodypart you train first for example, chest before back for one workout, then back before chest for the next. Shoulders are also a fairly large muscle group, so swap them in with chest or back as well.

Watch out:

“Don’t train to failure for either bodypart you want to have enough energy to give to each,” advises Jimmy Pena, MS, CSCS, executive director of the Mercy Center for Health and Wellness in Anderson, Ohio. “You’ll still get a great pump on both muscle groups without overdoing either one.”

Rule 7# Give each bodypart at least 48 hours of rest before training it again.

Break it:

Athletes continually disprove the theory that muscles need days of rest to grow. “Speed skaters have enormous legs, and they’re training on a daily basis, albeit less intensely,” says Pena.

“They don’t give the bodypart 48 hours of rest. I think it’s every bit as good for a bodybuilder to decrease his intensity and do arms or legs two, even three, days in a row.” The variety keeps your muscles from stagnating and stimulates muscle growth.

How to break it:

Every 4-6 weeks, hit a single bodypart for two days straight. Drop your normal weight by 20%-30%.

Watch out:

This technique fries lots of calories, so eat high-quality meals often throughout the day.

Rule 8# Don’t let your front knee go past your toes when doing lunges, squats or leg presses.

Break it:

Doing so reduces stress on your lower back. A 2003 study compared squatting with knees restricted vs. letting the knees move past the toes. While limiting knee movement resulted in just slightly reduced stress on the knees, it caused significantly greater torque at the hips, which is then transferred to the lower back.

How to break it:

The key here is to avoid either extreme. “To optimize the forces at all involved joints, it may be advantageous to permit the knees to move slightly past the toes when in a parallel squat position,” the study stated.

Watch out:

If you have a history of knee problems or are overweight, don’t break this rule.

Rule 9# Always use a full range of motion.

Break it:

You can extend sets past failure or use heavier weight for a given set, both of which increase training intensity and lead to greater gains in size and strength.

How to break it:

To extend a set, once you reach failure on full-range reps, pound out a few more reps doing just the first half of the movement; this technique is called partial reps. Do this for only the last set of one exercise per bodypart every week or two. Or on a given lift use a weight with which you can get only 1-2 full-range reps and perform half the range of motion. For example, perform seated barbell curls over just the top half of the rep and use a heavier weight than you normally would. Use this technique for one exercise per bodypart a week for four weeks.

Watch out:

On partial-rep sets, finish with one full-range-of-motion set to maintain full-range motor skills and mobility.

Rule 10# Perform cardiovascular activity for at least 20 minutes.

Break it:

You’re time-crunched but still want to burn calories, and research proves that 20 minutes is not a magic number for obtaining the benefits of a cardio session.

How to break it:

Warm up for five minutes, then do sprint intervals. For example, go all-out for 30 seconds, then recover for two minutes with a light jog and repeat. “It might last less than 20 minutes, but you’ll still get a great cardiovascular workout,” says Davison. And don’t forget, if you lift with short rest periods between sets, you inject a cardiovascular element into your weight training.

Watch out:

Sprint intervals and high-intensity weight training are demanding make sure you have your doctor’s clearance before trying either technique.

Rule 11# Never cheat on form to lift a heavy weight.

Break it:

During a lift, you fail on the concentric (upward) portion before failing on the eccentric (downward) phase because you’re about 40% stronger on the negative. By cheating slightly on the concentric movement, you’re able to utilize your eccentric strength.

How to break it:

Use momentum when training for power or for a sport that requires explosive movements. If your goal is to build muscle, don’t use momentum on isolation exercises unless you’re in the second set of a compound set, says Martino.

Watch out:

Cheat early in your workout when you’re fresh. Avoid arching your back. Know your limits.

Rule 12# Don’t perform cardio when trying to add mass.

Break it:

Research shows that lifters who added two days of stationary cycling to their program experienced better leg growth and strength than the group that didn’t do cardio.

How to break it:

Perform cardio after your weight-training sessions you should focus your initial energy on lifting. Plus, your growth-hormone response is greater if you lift first.

Watch out:

Get plenty of rest and consume enough calories to support your high training volume. “With most people, when they add cardio to a mass-building routine, they don’t account for the extra caloric expenditure,” remarks Pena. “That can hinder your ability to gain muscle size and strength.”

Also, if you’re training for explosive power, skip the cardio individuals in the study group that added cardio to its program lost power in their legs.

Rule 13# Always perform an exercise to failure.

Break it:

Sometimes you need easier training days to recover from previous challenging workouts or when you’re coming back from an injury, says Davison. Also, if you’re just learning how to perform a movement or doing functional exercises like lunges or one-legged squats, you should focus on your form and the necessary motor skills instead of maxing out on reps.

How to break it:

After training a particular bodypart to failure, cut back on your normal weight loads but perform the same number of reps for that muscle group’s next workout. Don’t train that muscle group to failure two workouts in a row.

Watch out:

If your primary goal is to build strength, remember that in general, your gains come from working to failure, so don’t abandon this strategy altogether.

Rule 14# Train your abs with high reps.

Break it:

“Your abs need a taste of heavy, weighted activity to spark growth,” explains Pena. “Even if the abs have a bit more slow-twitch endurance fibers, they still have a good percentage of fast-twitch, strength-related fiber types like those you’ll find in your lats and biceps.”

How to break it:

Use an abdominal selectorized machine or cable pulley crunch load up the weight and perform 2-3 sets of 6-10 reps once every few weeks.

Watch out:

To help protect your back, tense your lats and your abs without pulling in your navel. Before doing abdominal exercises with significant resistance, make sure you’ve worked your core for at least a month abs, low back, hips with light or no added weight.

Rule 15# Increase your weight on every set, as opposed to starting heavy and progressively decreasing resistance.

Break it:

A recent study reported that lifters don’t experience much difference in strength gains when using ascending or descending pyramid training. “When I pyramided down in weight instead of up, I had one of my best years ever,” recalls Pena, a former competitive bodybuilder. “You’re letting your working muscles absorb the heaviest weight when they’re freshest.” Besides, if you’ve never trained this way, the change could spur new growth.

How to break it:

Every other week, pyramid your weight down every set, starting with your heaviest weight on your first set (after a sufficient warm-up) and progressively decreasing your weight and increasing your reps through your last set. In addition, perform a session of drop sets once a week for a month do an exercise to failure, decrease (“drop”) the weight, then keep going until you fail with that weight; continue in this fashion until you’ve finished all sets.

Watch out:

Warm up with several lightweight sets before lifting heavy weight to deliver blood to your muscles and minimize stress on your knees, shoulders and other major joints, advises Pena.

Author: Tom Weede, CSCS
References:
http://www.muscleandfitness.com/
http://www.flexonline.com/
COPYRIGHT 2010 Weider Publications
COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group

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