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Are you wasting your time with weights?

A quick web search will find plenty of research and opinion (eg: 1234) that weights-based resistance training is a more effective method than cardio-based workouts for burning fat, even before the advantages of increased muscle mass and improved bone density are taken into account.

But a quick look round many gyms suggests that a lot of people are squandering the advantage and simply wasting their time.


Bad technique.

No ‘bro’ or alpha male (from whom so much weight-training advice originates) ever likes to admit that he’s doing something wrong (or be told to put his weights back in the rack) so bad form gets handed down and propagated like fake news.

Trying to show off with the heaviest weight known to man (and woman) is probably at the root of most bad technique and a quick physics refresh explains why: The greater the mass of an object, the greater its inertia and momentum. In other words the heavier the weight, the harder it is to move and, once moving, the harder it is to stop.

The easiest way to overcome inertia is to swing the weight back and forth rather than lift it from a still, standing start in order to give it momentum, so often seen with exercises like bicep curl, lateral raise and leg raise (below).

Another solution is to use as many other muscles as possible, so a bicep curl actually uses shoulder, back and even leg muscles to get underneath the weight and raise it.

A third is to let someone (a spotter) or something (gravity) do some of the work for you. Your spotter buddy may prevent you from getting pinned to the bench but how much of the lifting are they actually doing?

And gravity is a quick and easy way to get your weight back to the starting position for absolutely no effort at all. The gravity trick is often seen on machine-based exercises such as the lat pulldown and tricep pushdown (below), where the weight stack is allowed to free-fall out of control back to the starting position.

Do this and you’re only doing half the exercise yourself and it means (again) that you should reduce the weight so you can control it throughout the entire movement.

So next time you’re in the gym ask yourself if you’re trying to impress anyone by lifting a weight that’s just too heavy for you.

Absolutely, you need to be lifting the heaviest weight you can AND increasing that weight over time, but it needs to be done with the best technique to optimise your results.

Here is some simple advice on making the most of your weights sessions:

1. Correct form
Correct technique is ‘mission critical’ and includes things like your body position, angle and alignment, the start and end positions of a movement and the muscles you engage to move the weight.

2. Pace/tempo
Weights should be lifted AND returned with a slow, controlled tempo. As a general guideline, take 1-2 seconds to lift the weight and 3-4 seconds to lower it to the starting position. You need to control the weight throughout BOTH parts of the movement. If you cannot control the weight, it means the weight is too heavy for you. Reduce the weight slightly until you have correct form, control and tempo on all parts of the movement.
The idea is that your muscles do the work, so don’t swing the weights or let them drop or fall. An accelerated tempo with fast movements is going to take the load away from the working muscle, use momentum and increase the risk of injury.

3. Progression (‘progressive loading’)
The key with the overall training plan is progression. Over time you should be able to lift heavier weights and/or perform more reps on each exercise while maintaining perfect form. This will ensure your body is growing stronger, adapting to the training and maximising the benefits from each session.

The key to the plan is that you are pushing your body to failure – the point where you can no longer lift the weight correctly. If you are simply going through the motions with the same weights and doing your sets comfortably with more reps ‘left in the tank’, your body will not adapt and improve and this will have a big negative impact on overall results both in terms of fat loss and muscle gain.

4. Rest between sets and between exercises
You should rest between sets, typically for between one and two minutes.

It is important that you rest long enough so that you don’t feel fatigued or have a pounding heart from the previous set as this will contribute to poor technique, fewer reps, lower weights and limited progression.

On the other hand, long breaks between sets and different exercises will mean spending too long in the gym, which again is not optimal. As a guide your entire workout should be completed within an hour.

Another tip based on our observations is to leave your phone at home or put it on flight mode so you remain focused instead of spending most of your time messaging, Facebooking, changing music tracks, watching TV or, worst of all, taking phone calls. In the same vein, think about going to the gym alone so your workouts are consistent, focused and uninterrupted by gossip and chit-chat. You’ll be home in half the time with better results to show for it.

The Bodyscan team absolutely believes in the power of resistance training for fat loss, muscle gain and performance but if your form is not up to scratch you could be wasting your time.