Are You Lifting Weights The Right Way?

We’ve all been there, seen that one guy in the gym throwing weights around with no regard for his poor joints, you snigger to your friend pointing out his every technique flaw and how the poundage he is moving, he could never do ‘strict’. But stop, take a step back, and take a good long hard look in the mirror have you ever sacrificed form to shift weight?

Most of us have and I’d be a hypocrite to say I hadn’t when pushing towards maximum lifts or failure in sets, and it is to a certain extent to be expected. The real difference is in those who sacrifice form in every rep of every set before the mechanics break down due to heavier loads or fatigue, every rep is an accident waiting to happen (So on that note if you are training to failure get a good competent spotter!).

Time to learn why you should be lifting weights the right way.

But here’s the thing, it is no coincidence that the strongest most powerful athletes in the world, don’t just have the capacity to shift weight, they do this, generally, with impeccable form. Good lifting technique is more than about shifting the weight, it develops the muscles and the motor units and all those complex feedback networks, that communicate when and in what amounts muscles should be activating or turning off, and to what extent to perform the movement the efficiently, effectively and most important as safely as possible. That is what good weight lifting gives you, not only does it make you safer, performed as part of the right program, it will make you stronger even if your muscles don’t grow.

Want proof of this?

Most of the rapid gains in strength in the first few months of training are almost entirely due to adaptations in the systems that time and activate muscles, not muscle growth. Further evidence of this can be seen in many sports, the best thrower in an American football team is the quarterback, now compared to the 300lb linebacker he is never going to move the same weights in the gym BUT he can throw a ball much, much further.. so if it’s not strength what else is it? That pesky muscle activation timing!

Ok so you only sacrifice form now and again and let’s face it you’re not a competitive weightlifter or strength athlete so you have nothing to worry about, feel free to stop staring at yourself in the mirror, you only train sub-maximally so you are free to continue on your fitness journey.. or are you? If you’re lifting weights, especially compound weights then the good form is obviously important to protect the joints, but more importantly than this good form activates the muscles you are trying to develop. Take a second to think about that, the exercise is meant to target the muscles you are trying to develop.    

What is the mind-muscle connection?

For most of us, that’s easy for things like leg extensions or bicep curls, our ‘mind-muscle connection’ is easily developed. The mind muscle connection is a difficult concept to explain, but for me I feel it most when instead of just moving the weight, I concentrate on contracting the muscle of interest without worrying about the load I am moving, this can take time to develop but if you start light and really concentrate then it is possible.

The real difficulty of the mind-muscle connection is in the more abstract muscles that are isolated in odd planes and ranges of movements such as the rear and lateral delts, I see plenty of people who train regularly in the gym using movements to target these, but you can see they are not activating these muscles.

So how do you know if you are activating the right muscles?

Well, there is no easy answer but for me, you will develop a good amount of pump in that specific muscle, not the region around or nearby, right there in that little bundle of force producing protein. So the first thing you should do is get yourself a good anatomy chart and figure out exactly where these muscles are, then play around with tempo and different angles until you hit the sweet spot because when you hit it, trust us you will know and everything will fall in to place. Remember the anatomy chart is a guide, but we are all structurally different. That ‘guru’ showing you how to hit your rear delts on youtube or in that article is structurally different to you, with different joint structures, muscle insertion points and leverage systems. Yes, there is a basic movement pattern but only you can make the subtle changes in the movement to really hit the muscle you want.  

Still stuck in a rut?

So you’ve tried all this stuff and nothing seems to work, or you haven’t got the time or inclination to figure this out for yourself, you want results fast. Well, what can you do? As with all sports if you want to get good quickly, hire a coach! This can be a problem, as with any industry there are good coaches or personal trainers and bad ones, but they are all, in general, all equally qualified.. on paper at least.

Take a look at their credentials outside of the paperwork, have they trained successful athletes? Have they been successful themselves? Does their background match your goals (is an endurance athlete going to be able to turn you into Phil Heath quicker than a competitive bodybuilder)? And above all else ask questions and see how competently and confidently answer them.

We hope this has been at least some help and maybe has highlighted some areas to focus on to help you get the most out of your training. We at CSN are constantly evaluating our own training methods and techniques so next time you’re in the area pop if you have any questions, or if you can’t pop in feel free to comment here or through any of our social media platforms.