After seeing all the gadgets TV hucksters are selling to improve your fitness, it's hard to believe that all you need is a ball, some hand weights and tubing to achieve the strength results you want. Not sure? Just check out your local gym to see what Personal Trainers are using with their clients. Inevitably they are challenging their clients with functional free weight and stability ball exercises, no exercises on fancy contraptions from TV-land.
Strength training programs really depend on proper program design to work effectively. You can easily achieve the results you want by putting together your own routine. Use the TheraGear exercise database, and the following principles, to devise a lifetime worth of exercise routines.
Balance The Body
At any gym you will see the "chest-nuts." These are the individuals who spent hours working their chest and arm muscles, but wear large baggy pants to hide their underdeveloped legs. Many people inevitably fall into the trap of only exercising the muscles they see - typically the front of the body. These imbalances can cause the body to look lopsided and can lead to painful soft tissue injuries. For instance the "chest-nuts" have tight chest muscles, which causes their shoulders to roll forward and round their upper back. They may also get back pain because they have neglected to strengthen their back muscles equally. In every routine include exercises for all the major muscle groups: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps and core.
Large Before Small
To achieve your best results from strength training, you should always consider exercise order. Design your routine to flow from larger to smaller muscle groups because anytime you exercise large muscles, you are also calling on your smaller muscles to assist. If you fatigue the smaller muscles first, you will never be able to fatigue (and therefore strengthen) the larger ones. For example, if you are doing a chest press, you also need your triceps to perform the lift. If you have already done three exercises for those triceps, they will be too tired to be of any use to you in your chest press.
Rest is the key to strength and endurance gains. Muscles are generated and rejuvenated away from the gym, not in it. To achieve results you must fatigue (repeat the exercise with good form until you absolutely cannot perform another repetition) the muscle and then give it the rest it needs. If you work a muscle too often you will actually cause a loss in strength and size. At minimum you must give each of your muscle groups 48 hours rest between each bout of exercise. For example, if you work out on Monday, you should wait until at least Wednesday before repeating it. If you wish to work out daily, then design a split routine. A simple example of a split routine would be to alternate upper and lower body workouts.
Strive To Improve
The old saying is "if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten" holds true to strength training. If you are not challenging your muscles you will not see results. Muscles are only stimulated to get stronger and more toned when they are worked to fatigue on a regular basis. You should consistently endeavor to gradually increase the weight you are lifting, and/or the number of repetitions you are performing. To reduce the chance of injury you should not increase the weight by more than 10 percent at a time.
Principle of Change
This is the most important principle of all. Remember back to when you started training. You were motivated you worked hard and saw immediate results. After a while, if you were not kept challenged, you may have started slacking off and perhaps even started thinking about giving up. Break through plateaus by changing your program every 6 - 8 weeks. Change the exercises, the repetitions, the sets or the routine as a whole to keep yourself challenged and to keep seeing the physical transformations you are striving for.
Valerie Spilsbury, B.Sc.