Following up on the previous feature on work-outs, we take a look at weight training as a way to put on ‘healthy weight’. What this means is one can have a goal of losing weight, putting on weight and increasing strength or the more generic ‘getting into shape’.
Muscles develop in response to the work demanded of them. In any kind of strength training, muscles are subjected to increasing levels of stress. This is how muscles develop progressively. This brings us to the proverbial ‘Body Types’
Although many classification systems have made the rounds, a basic Ectomorph-Mesomorph-Endomorph classification should suffice for this discussion.
For an endomorph, the focus should be on loosing fat and achieving a more desirable muscle-to-fat ratio. This can be done by combining weight training with aerobic activity and limiting calorie intake. For an ectomorph, the focus should be putting on weight, mainly in the form of muscle mass through strength training. Aerobic activity should be limited and calorie intake should be pro-actively increased. Mesomorphs are the luckiest of the lot. All they need to do is moderate training and diet control. With some extra effort, a mesomorph can build a truly impressive physique.
These are idealized types and most people would fall in between two types. Weight training thus means different things to different people. You must have a clear goal in mind to make it work for you.
What’s in a name?
Strength training, as mentioned above, is the use of resistance to muscular movements as a means to build up strength. Weight training, therefore, is the use of weights, hence gravity to develop strength of skeletal muscles. Thus, in broad terms, the hard work that people do in ‘gyms’ that you detest is weight training.
Many ignorantly use it interchangeably with bodybuilding, power lifting and weight lifting. These are considered more of as sports. In Bodybuilding, the focus is on maximizing muscle mass and minimizing body fat. Although weights are used, it employs highly specific exercises to isolate and develop different muscles. Bodybuilding is thus what Arnold Schwarzenegger is famous for.
Power-lifting and Weight-lifting are Olympic-type sports in which the idea is to lift the maximum amount of weight in a specific motion. All training is thus towards trying to lift/jerk the maximum amount of weight.
We, as people with more run-of-the mill jobs, will be humbly looking at weight training as means of achieving good health.
Where to go?
Essentially, all parts of the body can worked with a pair of adjustable dumbbells or a barbell and weight plates. One can supplement this with basic push-ups, chin-ups and squats and get a routine going at home itself. But with the variety of specialized equipment available, going to a gym can make all the difference. Also, going to the gym and being in that environment gives you impetus and chances are, there is a pretty decent gym at walk-able distance from your home or place of work. However, if this is not the case and you have to drive through frustrating traffic, you might be better off opting for the more economical gym with slightly lesser equipment closer to your place. Getting in 4 good work-outs a week in comfortable timing would do a lot more than 2 work-outs in a place that takes a lot of effort to reach.
What is the best time to work-out?
This is a hotly debated issue wherein pretty much every time slot of the day has been argued for. Some athletes have been known to do mid-night workouts; some prefer the extra effort needed to stretch first thing in the morning. As a rule of thumb, the most preferred time for working out would be when your metabolism is at its peak. This would be around 4pm. But this would vary for different people. For someone starting his/her day at 5 am, it would be a few hours earlier. For some beginning later, it would be later in the evening. So pick your own time. Apart from the obvious constraint of work, you need to have had proper sleep and food in your system. No use heading for the weights when you are already exhausted from the day’s work. But even if you can’t fit in your work-out in these hours, remember that working out at some time is better than not working out at all.
Technique as relates to how much to work, when and how has many intricacies to it as the many publications, online and print, are testament to. However, if you don’t want to go all professional, a basic work-out plan is all you need to get started. The plan would differ from one gymnasium to another or from trainer to trainer. Generally, 3-4 days a week, 30 min each should suffice. Once this is settled, it is all important to stick to it. More regularly you follow your routine, the faster you can move up.
Good form is the correct way to perform an exercise. In the quest to lift those extra 10 pounds or those extra 2 reps, one can enlist the help of muscles for which the exercise is not meant for. Eg: Bending at the knees and back for Biceps curl. This increases the risk of injury and does not do a whole lot of good for your biceps either.
Admittedly, risks of injury from weight training are higher than from Yoga, Aerobics, swimming etc. It can range from the odd niggle to near-fatal accidents. Warming-up before hitting hard sets is essential. Aerobics can be used for this or do a light set to begin with so that your muscles gradually build up to the big effort. How much of aerobics to incorporate depends on your goal, as discussed in the previous feature. Don’t lift bigger weights unless you are sure you can handle it, i.e. don’t let vanity get the better of you. Weight-lifting belts and gloves are a good idea when lifting heavy weights. Always keep a person close-by to spot when you are hitting the heavy sets. Be mindful of the weight plates and other equipment and other people and their movements in the gym.
Principle of Muscle development
This too is a keenly debated topic. While training, as the body is progressively subjected to more stress/intense physical activity than it is used to, the body responds by increasing strength of the skeleto-muscular system. Some are of the opinion that this occurs by increase in the number of muscle cells, i.e. Hyperplasia. Other believe muscle don’t grow in number but simply increase in size, i.e. Hypertrophy. Whatever be the case, the growth is in direct relation to the amount and kind of work demanded of the muscles. Hence, muscles would maintain form till the time a certain level of performance is demanded of them.
What will happen if I stop working out?
It follows from what has been mentioned above that stopping training would reverse its effects. How much muscle mass and endurance you loose and how fast you loose it depends on the level of fitness achieved among other things. However, talk of how people grow fatter than they were before they started working out are only hear-say. When you stop working out, you are burning lesser calories. So if you continue to take in as many calories as you were when you were working out, you are bound to attract gravity. The body continuously keeps breaking down protein. Hence, your muscle-to-fat ration would worsen. And a suicide diet of thousands of empty calories coupled with drinking and smoking can bring anyone down. Apart from the more common laziness, personal and professional reasons can keep you from the gym. In such cases, even moderate workouts, once or twice a week can help you maintain a certain level till you can workout full-fledged again.
Most importantly, even if one ends up looking exactly like he did before he started training, the effects exercise has on the process of aging are far-reaching. Training purifies the body of toxins and makes breathing and energy generation more efficient. Besides muscle mass and strength, it also increases bone density which is especially important in the case of women. So, even if visible effects of your gym days vanish, if you follow a humble healthy lifestyle, your few years at the gym may save you from osteoporosis and other age-associated ailments.
More is not always better
A fallacy everyone is bound to fall into; is the more you train, better the results. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Your muscles need time to recover from the trauma of an intense work-out. With the right amount of sleep and appropriate nutrition, gains in size and strength are experienced. Thus, muscles should not be trained on consecutive days and rest periods are important.
A typical 3-day routine can look something like:
Working out all body parts moderately on a single day and taking the next day off.
Also, being on the same routine for a long time can lead to stagnation. The muscles therefore need to be ‘shocked’ frequently to elicit incremental growth. There are various ways of achieving this:
The Gym Rat is the person for whom training is religion and the gym is the temple. He gets almost clinically depressed if he misses a single work-out. He does not socialize much in the gym. Instead he counts his Reps, rest period, weighs his supplements etc. Not a very desirable pre-disposition to have, is it? So keep it cool, but don’t socialize too much either lest your well calculated 30 minutes turn into 1 hour of unplanned gossip. Of course, if you happen to bump into someone interesting, we are in no way suggesting you shun out your destiny!