Resistance is fertile!
Ask yourself a question – are you a weight-lifter or a resistance-trainer? An odd one to ask, you may say, because the answer is simple – you’re both. Weights provide the resistance that your muscles need to push against, when rolling through the reps. That resistance comes from shifting weights against gravity, giving your muscles the work they need to build and grow. So weights are resistance, it may seem. But although most of us throw ‘weights’ and ‘resistance’ into the same bucket, there is a different take to be had when to comes to resistance.
It’s all a matter of approach. If you think of yourself as a weight trainer – training with weights – your mind is focused on those lumps of metal. The weights tend to dominate your thinking, and it can all becomes how about much you can lift. But ask yourself – why you are taking up strength training, or body-building, in the first place. There’s a bit more to it, surely, than the ego boost from having conquered the weights in gym’s rack.
What most of us want is a better-defined, more muscular and powerful body. The weights themselves are only tools to help you reach that ultimate goal of body-sculpting. Which is where the real meaning of resistance training comes into play – being focused on the ends, not just the means. But that fresh approach requires the dumping of some treasured conventions on how to ‘do weights’. Because the obsession with dumbbells has led to some less-than-optimal techniques to creep into the way many gym sets are handled.
So how about taking the true resistance-training route. The first thing you need to get straight is equality. All of your muscles need a fair crack at becoming nicely developed, and in a balanced fashion. Because if you just want to crank out the reps, and notch up another weight PB, then out-of-kilter muscle groups are going to be creeping onto your frame. That can look pretty poor, and hardly works to your best advantage functionally, either.
So a true resistance trainer thinks laterally. What about working through some pre-exhaustion exercises? These will stress your stronger muscles a little, before you move onto the main event. Then, your main workout routine will push all muscles, weak and strong, equally. For example, you could toss some light dumbbell work onto your pecs, prior to doing the bench-press set. You will find that you can thereby avoid the failure points of the weaker muscles – the triceps and delts – when the bench-pressing comes around. You can push all three groups towards failure together, giving you a more balanced upper body development.
Another fertile way of getting superb muscle-power across the resistance range is to tackle the weights rack from the other end – so-called drop sets. Instead of only working your way up to your max – so you fail nearer 1RM – start close to it. Then, once you’ve gone as far up the rack as possible, switch tacks. Move down to lower and lower weights, each time pushing your reps to the point of failure. You’ll find the wider swathe of failure helps to develop you a broadband strength that you would otherwise miss out on.
And then there’s tackling the sacred relic of the clean rep. The resistance trainer must move beyond showy rep numbers. Not easy – most of us are fixated on taking our muscles on a one-way journey to failure, using clean reps only. Once we can no longer get that weight up to its full range, it’s usually time to move-on to the next set. End of. But partials don’t need to be failures – so don’t be be scared of running them. Partials can be very rewarding, particularly if the motion remains smooth, and the contraction fully-powered. With partials, as with drop sets, you are again plowing the full furrow of your muscular potential – and both your form and strength will be all the better for this.
There are other tips and techniques used by true-resistance trainers. But keep in mind that it is the way in which you are applying resistance that delivers the most fruitful results. Aim for excellent form, and the squeezing of the maximum development potential from your workout – and not the sterile goal of just bigger numbers on the training log. With true resistance training, you’ll be the master of your weights – and not the other way round.