New to lifting weights or simply tired of the same old routine? If you’re looking for gains and enhanced muscle tone, don’t miss these important tips, ideas, and best practices for transforming your weightlifting routine for good:
So you’ve got your routine down - back day on Wednesdays, leg day on Fridays . . . but do you have a firm grasp on what muscle groups you’re engaging and how you’re affecting their growth, tone, and strengthening?
The musculoskeletal system is incredibly comprehensive, made up of protein molecules in the most in-depth sense that build strands and fibers which join together to compose your muscle tissue and connective ligaments and tendons.
When you lift weights and take part in high intensity training, you’re technically “injuring” your engaged muscles groups by disrupting the tissue and imposing tiny microscopic tears.
This damage must occur for your body to cue a repair response in which specialized “satellite” cells in your muscles fuse together, attach themselves to the damaged tissue, and actually start to transition into new protein strands which build up into new additional fibers.
The process of producing new fibers to “heal” the muscle results in muscle development, increasing both the size and strength of your muscles.
Aim for the “Pump”
Simultaneously as you engage and push your muscles in weightlifting to the point where they tear and lactic acid builds up, so are you boosting the blood flow to your muscles - blood flow rich with nutrients.
The controlled contractions of the muscles in weight lifting targets an increase in blood pressure to the muscles themselves, putting more force on the blood vessels inside them and even causing some blood plasma to leak out into surrounding tissues.
This surge in blood flow bulks your muscle up into a noticeably larger, swollen size referred to as the “pump.”When lifting weights, you want to achieve the “pump” which essentially fills your muscle and surrounding tissues with vital nutrients to aid healing and growth, but you also don’t want to overdo it.
Understanding the “pump” and syncing your body awareness with your strength training will better equip you to push yourself (and pull back) on reps when it is necessary.
Skip the Machines
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times. Skip the machines, head for the dumbbells and free weights. This weightlifting mantra speaks specifically to people aiming to build muscle mass continually through their workout routines.
While machines provide strategic resistance training, lifting with free weights triggers your body to engage not just the muscles doing the lifting and weight bearing, but the muscles stabilizing you and controlling your balance as well.
Switching up your average routine to incorporate more free weight work also encourages you to nail really good form and technique, as well as makes it easier for you to incorporate spurts of cardio like 20 seconds of jumping rope in between sets.
Dynamic stretching prior to a workout can help warm up and loosen muscles. Dynamic, or active, stretching might involve plyometric jump squats or burpees.
Static stretching after your workout actually relaxes and lengthens the muscle, which may give your “pump” a shorter life, but it also helps release built up lactic acid, keeps the nutrient-rich blood flow going to your muscle, and sort of reminds the muscle of its original length so it doesn’t heal at a shorter length.
Flexibility and being limber can also promote better form and technique, improve mechanical efficiency and essentially help you get more out of your workouts - extending your time to exhaustion and therefore opening a window for longer, harder training to build up more muscle.
Rest the Right Amount
Your body’s recuperative powers depend on how far and intense you take a training. If you want to enhance your weightlifting regimen simply by lifting heavier weights and doing more and more sets with each routine, you’ll tap more and more into your body’s repair reserve and ultimately weaken it.
Working the same muscle groups repeatedly five or six times a week may take its toll, and you’ll find yourself becoming exhausted more easily or being unable to lift more weight as time goes on.
It’s important to check in on your routine, switch it up, aim for balance, and potentially pull back on the number of reps, sets, and days you are working out.
Injury or chronic pain can be an indicator as well that change or rest is needed. Wraps, kinesio taping, and braces, may aid your workout pain by providing compression to an inflamed area and relieving stress to internal joints and tissues you’ve strained.
For example, a groin brace can stabilize hip rotation during weight lifting and promote good form and strong lifting.
Emphasize the Negative
This sounds antithetical when it comes to promoting a positive, muscle boosting weight lifting workout, but emphasizing the negative can go a long way to enhancing your existing routine.
What does “emphasize the negative” mean exactly? Where the lift of your arms or legs with weights up and out is considered the positive, the retraction and bringing back of the limbs and weights to original position is the negative.
It may require you to work out with less weight, but if you slow down the rate at which you lower a weight back to original position, i.e. counting to 5 or 6 as you do it instead of rapidly lowering, you engage your muscles groups even more and make the target muscle work even harder. This all adds up to more gains and better tone.
After lifting weights, your body goes into repair mode and activates cellular production to heal torn and damaged fiber strands in the muscles. Your post-workout diet is critical to fueling this repair as well as re-hydrating the body.
Many weightlifters will drink a glass of milk after a workout which infuses your body with protein, calcium, and carbs, while others prefer fast-digesting proteins of whey powders which can go into smoothies and shakes.
If you are cleverly saving carbs for after your workout (and eating low-carb fruits, veggies, lean meats, etc for meals), some of the best ways to drink them up quickly after a workout is by throwing an avocado in your smoothie, whole grain oats, banana, milk or whey, or roasted sweet potato. Because you sweat many electrolytes out during an intense workout as well, it’s important to re-hydrate with water asap.
Is there an art to weightlifting? Sure. Is there a science to it? Absolutely. Understanding the physiological aspects of weightlifting combined with a growing body awareness and smart tricks for boosting your gains safely, you’ll be well equipped to start lifting more weight, enjoying your weightlifting workout more, and seeing even better results in the mirror.
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