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Have you ever had that moment when you realise something extremely obvious that you somehow managed to overlook?
So obvious that it doesn't just hit you between the eyes, but stomps on your toes, sweeps your legs from under you and elbow drops you from the top rope.
And I'm not just talking about the time I spent 5 minutes looking for my glasses only to realise that I was already wearing them.
It came in the form of the simplest piece of advice that I've ever had regarding training.
In a few seconds I'm going to share that bit of advice with you, then approximately 2 seconds after that you're going to get all disappointed and think "is that it?"
Stick with me and consider it with me for at least another 10 seconds then feel free to have a reaction.
Cool, so here it is.....
"If you are using a muscle you should feel that muscle working working"
How often do you finish a set and actually feel the working muscle burning and fatigued? I don't just mean that you had to stop the set cos you ran out of energy.
I mean did you feel the muscles you were supposed to feel doing all the work and fatiguing?
If you're doing a chest press do you feel your chest burning and emptying of energy?
On a deadlift can you feel your butt and hamstrings squeezing and working?
For the majority of people the answer is a straight out "no". In fact the idea of creating tension in the working muscle has become one of the first things I teach to new clients, even experienced ones.
As the strength coach Dan John is fond of saying, we have to keep the goal the goal.
The goal of the session isn't to just get through the session. It isn't to just move some weights around.
The goal is to create a demand on the body that forces it to make a change. To burn more fat, to change our physique for the better.
To get the most from them, exercises need to be a considered a skill. They take thought, practice and a level of understanding to be truly effective.
Ok, you may be wondering how it could be possible to do an exercise and NOT work the right muscles. I took this attitude for years.
Here's a quick example.
Grab something that will work as a small weight. Can be a dumbell, a tin of beans, jar of coffee...anything.
Next, perform a biceps curl with it. Palm facing forwards and bend the elbow to bring the weight up.
Now, do the same thing but change your focus. Think about squeezing your bicep as hard as you can. Like a dude trying to show his "gunz" off. Your hand only moves as a by product of the muscle flexing.
Instead of thinking about moving the weight in your hand, think about contracting your muscle against that weight.
Feel any different?
We're primed to find the most energy efficient way to move. From an evolutionary point of view the body wants to conserve energy as much as possible. It's forever worried about when the next famine will occur. It still hasn't clocked on that Tesco's down the road is open 24 hours a day.
Changing your focus from moving a weight to contracting your muscles against a weight will hugely improve your results if adopted correctly but don't expect the transition to be a smooth one as a number of things stand in your way.
For a start your ego is likely to kick up a fuss. Especially if you happen to be the owner of a penis.
You may find that doing your dumbell chest press changes from lifting 38kg dumbells in each hand with your leg twitching around like you've decided to use your hair dryer in the bath and your shouders coming of the bench as you lump the weights towards the ceiling. To using 28kg and actually feeling your chest working.
Yes, it may mean that the guy on the next bench is lifting more than you when the gym hottie walks past.
Yes, you really should get over this.
Secondly, you may not currently have the mobility required to perform some of the more complicated exercises such as deadlifts. Your body loves the path of least resistance. If it can't do something the ideal way, it'll find another way of doing the movement even if it risks long term harm.
For example, if there is a lack of mobility in the hips for a deadlift then the body will move through the lower back instead. Lifting heavy weights with your lower back is only ever a good idea if you're a fan of living in long term pain.
(This is an unecessarily sarcastic way of saying that this is a bad idea.)
Pay attention to where you feel an effort or tightness. If it comes from anywhere other than the desired working area treat this as a red flag. You may just need a technique tune up or focus on appropriate mobility exercises before bringing the exercise back into your program.
Thirdly, you need a rough idea of what certain muscles do and where they are. You don't need to swallow a copy of Greys Anatomy. But you get best results by knowing how to stretch a working muscle then contract and squeeze it like crazy on the lift.
Being able to picture your bag squeezing on a one arm row will make a huge difference. If you're serious about getting great results then it would be a good investment to spend a bit of time with a knowledgeable trainer.
^^^Hands up if you can spot the subtle sales pitch^^^
This way of lifting is uncomfortable.
You can't just switch of in your head and day dream. You have to concentrate and focus. It hurts. But that good kind of hurt. The hurt that feels beneficial and you find your self chasing once you make friends with it.
The kind that lets you know you've done something truly beneficial once you've gotten through the session.
The kind that delivers results.