Archive for the tag - strength training

Lift Before Cardio – Or After?

295_weightlifting-for-fat-loss_flashOne of the most frequently asked and most often debated fitness questions is whether it’s better to lift before or after cardio. And now, a recent study is shedding new light on the discourse.

First things first, we know that it’s important to do both cardio and strength training. Both types of exercise offer unique and complementary benefits. They work hand in hand to help you reach your fitness goals and facilitate improved health and wellness.

But should exercisers lift first or do cardio first? Which order yields the best overall results? That’s the big question.

The Department of Biology of Physical Activity at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland studied nearly 200 men ages 18 – 40 over 24 weeks. The men were broken into two groups of either cardio first or strength training first. Each week, the men performed 2 – 3 workouts.

For the cardio first group, initial findings showed a slower recovery period with reduced levels of testosterone. But this difference dissipated over the course of the study. After 24 weeks, researchers found similar increases in both performance and muscle growth in the two groups.

Based on these findings, researchers concluded that it really doesn’t matter whether you lift before or after cardio. It’s simply a matter of preference.

However, it’s worth noting that the men in this study exercised 2 – 3 times per week. For people that exercise more or less frequently, it’s unclear whether the findings can be extrapolated.

Personally, I find that I have the most energy when I first arrive at the gym. As such, I perform cardio first – as its benefits are more important to me than strength training. If the benefits of strength training are more important to you, then it may make more sense to lift first.

What is Pre-Exhaustion Training?

Exercisers commonly use pec flys to

Pec flies before bench press is commonly used for pre-exhaustion training.

There are a many different workout techniques that can help jump-start the effectiveness of your workout. Like drop sets. Or negatives. Or pyramid sets.

Another common workout technique is termed pre-exhaustion training.

In a nutshell, the technique involves per-fatiguing a given muscle with an isolation exercise – and then finishing things off with a compound exercise. For example, exercisers commonly perform leg extensions before squats to practice this technique. The theory is that fatiguing a muscle with an isolation exercise before a compound exercise will lead to greater muscle recruitment.

Unfortunately, most bodybuilders would be surprised by pre-exhaustion research. Instead of increasing muscle activity, several studies have determined the technique to be no more effective than traditional strength training.

A recent study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research divided young men into two groups. The pre-exhaustion group did a set of pec flies and then performed bench presses until failure. The second group only performed the bench presses. Researchers found no greater activation of the chest muscles when using the pre-exhaustion technique. However, they did find an increase in triceps activation by 17.8%. As the chest muscles became fatigued, the triceps activated to help complete the movement.

It’s also worth noting that pre-exhaustion exercises can impact form. If, for example, your bench press form is compromised from pec flies, you may be setting yourself up for injury – so caution (and spotting) is definitely advised!

Personally, pre-exhaustion training isn’t something that I implement or that I’d recommend, but let me know what you think in the comments below. Have you tried it? Does it work for you? Let me know! And if you’re looking for gains in muscle size with strategies that work, check out my workout program – Size Matters: Davey Wavey’s Foolproof Guide to Building Muscle!

Free Weights Vs. Cables.

When it comes to strength training, people often ask me whether free weights or cables are more effective. Like many things in fitness, the answer is: It depends.

Let’s start with the basics. Free weight exercises involve using dumbbells or barbells. Because these apparatuses aren’t confined, your movements aren’t limited, restricted or dictated by a machine. Cable exercises, on the other hand, are done on machines with pulleys and handles. Using a pin, you can adjust the amount of weight with which you’re working.

Beyond being time-tested and extremely effective, free weights are very versatile. Some of the crucial exercises, like squats, chest presses and lunges, are difficult or impossible to perform using the cable machine. Conversely, hip abductions and adductions are only possible using cables.

Cables do have a few advantages. For one, they provide constant tension on your muscles during an exercise. When using free weights, you only experience resistance when you’re working against gravity. With cables, the resistance is constant throughout the movement – and this can result in a more efficient workout on some exercises. Moreover, because the amount of resistance can be adjusted quickly on cable machines, they’re well-suited for muscle-building workout strategies like drop sets.

With all this in mind, it’s not really a question of either free weights or cables. In my workout, I use both. For example, I enjoy doing triceps pulldowns on cables while still doing some of the more traditional exercises – like chest presses, shoulder presses, squats, curls, etc. – with free weights.

Both free weights and cables provide muscles with resistance and both can result in gains of muscle size, strength and/or endurance. Whether an individual opts for free weights or cables often depends on the type of exercise being performed or the individual’s preference.

Fitness at 40 for Men!

If you think fit at 40 is impossible, you haven't seen Daniel Craig shirtless.

Dear Davey,

I am 43 years old. I have tried working out with a trainer, I have joined gyms, I have changed my diet, I have tried every pill potion, powder and DVD there is to buy… all with no results. My question is this: is it even possible, at my age, to get rid of the gut, and gain some lean muscle? What do you recommend for us old guys?

From,
Corey

Hey Corey

Goodness! You make 43 sound like you’ve already got one foot in the grave – and I know that’s not the case!

The short answers to your question is YES! It is definitely possible for someone in their 40s to get rid of their gut and gain lean muscle. In fact, it’s possible for someone twice your age! You can build muscle at any age – and, as we get older, building and maintaining muscle becomes increasingly important.

In other words, 43 isn’t an excuse. It’s a reason. And it can be a great motivator.

You say that you’ve tired everything, and that nothing has worked. If you follow the strength training basics – and support your training with a proper diet – your body will build muscle. Any other result is scientifically impossible. It’s just a question of combining an effective weight loss plan and strength training program with the required time, energy and effort.

Keep in mind, results take time. If you try a program for 2 weeks and don’t see results, it doesn’t mean that your body isn’t transforming. And it’s certainly not a reason to give up. You may just need a little more time. I’d encourage you to stick with a sound and effective program for 2 months or more – and then evaluate your results.

And when you do evaluate your results, do so objectively. Take various body measurements (i.e., weight, waistline, chest, biceps, etc.) and compare the numbers on day 1 to the numbers on day 60. The numbers won’t lie.

I also recommend taking a before and after picture. Because many of the changes are slow, we don’t always notice the gradual transformation while looking in the mirror each day. But when compared side-by-side, you should be able to see some fairly major differences.

Also, pay attention to the non-physical benefits you’ll receive – like increased energy, better sleep and greater endurance. These count, too!

In the comments below, I’d love for the 40+ crowd to share some of their advice and feedback for Corey. I’ll send three lucky commentators a free copy of my Ultimate Guide to Working Out!

Love,
Davey

How to Preload Your Muscles.

Ever notice how the first rep of an exercise sometimes feels like the hardest? Turns out, there’s some truth to that.

When the nervous system knows that you’re about to lift a weight (i.e., you’ve just picked up a heavy barbell and are holding it in the start position), it fires to activate your muscles. It takes a time (albeit, a very short amount of time) for your muscles to be prepared with maximum output.

The term “preloading” means stimulating a muscle before you’ve contracted it. In the above example, simply holding the barbell in the start position will preload your muscles. Your biceps will be firing and you should be able contract the first repetition near maximal strength.

But not all exercises preload your muscles. Machine exercises, in particular, don’t take advantage of preloading. When performing a bicep curl on a machine, for example, you instantly go from fully relaxed to fully contracted muscles. This doesn’t give your muscles any time to preload prior to the contraction – and, as a result, you won’t be performing at optimal strength.

When using machines, slightly lift the weight with a very small range of motion. This will preload your muscles. After each repetition, don’t let the weight stack return all the way to the starting position. Doing this will help your muscles anticipate contraction – and it should make a difference in the amount of resistance you’re able to work against. And, it can help minimize cheating or comprised form.

Why Men Need Cardio – and Women Need Strength Training.

Gender segregation is running rampant in gyms across the country and around the world.

In the cardio section of the gym (with all the treadmills, bikes and ellipticals), you’ll find mostly women. And in the strength training area (with various machines and free weights), you’ll see mostly men. But this isn’t a segregation enforced by gym policies or rules – but rather, it’s a segregation enforced by our own fitness misconceptions.

WHY MEN NEED CARDIO

Let’s face it: Men don’t like doing cardio. Lifting weights is one thing, but running or sprinting on a treadmill is a different beast entirely. But in actuality, men do need cardio.

The big myth is that you can’t build muscle and include cardio in your workout. I hear this all the time:

I want to get big. That’s why I don’t do any cardio. I don’t want to lose my muscle gains or strength.

The myth that all cardio cannibalizes muscle is pervasive – and untrue. The truth is, even professional bodybuilders do cardio.

Why? Because cardio has a number of benefits that all men can use. Cardio:

  • Strengthens your heart and improves overall heart health.
  • Decreases gym recovery time.
  • Can increase the body’s metabolism.
  • Improves endurance.
  • Increases bone density.
  • Results in better sleep and more energy.
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol and more.

It’s true that long, drawn-out cardio sessions can lead to muscle loss. Because of this, it’s recommended that cardio sessions don’t exceed 45 minutes. My cardio, for example, is limited to 15 – 25 minutes per day. I alternate between running at a steady pace on one day and then doing intervals on the next.

It’s important that all people – regardless of gender – incorporate cardiovascular exercise into their workouts.

WHY WOMEN NEED STRENGTH TRAINING

While most women get plenty of cardio, they often shy away from the weight room. Beyond the intimidation factor of working with free weights, most women avoid strength training because they don’t want to become bulky or overly muscular.

Whatever your gender, there’s no reason to fear becoming too muscular. In actuality, it takes a tremendous amount of time, know-how, strategy and effort to develop the massive physiques that you see on bodybuilding magazines. It doesn’t just happen – and it definitely doesn’t happen overnight. I often remind clients that once they build a desired amount of muscle, they can simply stop progressing to heavier weights and the muscle gains will stop. Yes, it’s that simple.

But it’s not just about looking a certain way. Strength training:

  • Prevents, stops and reverses the muscle loss that we experience as we age.
  • Improves performance of everyday tasks (i.e., carrying the groceries) with increased strength.
  • Reduces the risk of injury.
  • Improves posture and balance.
  • Lowers the risk of diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer and more.
  • Burns calories and boosts your metabolism.

Strength training is a good thing for men and women. And if you’re not incorporating it into your workout, then you’re cutting your results short.

CONCLUSION

Break the glass wall that divides your gym. There’s cardio and strength training equipment in your gym for a reason: Any effective workout uses both.

Should I Do Cardio and Weights Together or Separately?

Howdy Davey!

I’m starting your weight loss program and I was wondering if you could answer one of my questions.

I understand the three types of exercise (resistance, cardio, and stress reduction), but I am wondering if is best to set aside each day to do a different one – or should I cram them all in together?

Thanks for the help, and I’m loving the plan so far!

Thanks,
Jake

Hey Jake,

I’m so glad that you’re loving The Davey Wavey Weight Loss Program.

For blog buddies that aren’t familiar with the program, it covers the three main types of exercise. There’s heart-pumping cardiovascular exercise (i.e., jogging on a treadmill), strength training (i.e., lifting weights) and stress reduction exercises (i.e., yoga, walking or anything else relaxing).

How you build your workout routine – and how you break up or combine the different types of exercises – really depends on a number of factors.

There’s nothing wrong with doing cardio and strength training together. In fact, that’s what I do at the gym. The big advantage to this approach is that it is efficient; you can get a full-body workout each day. Moreover, research suggests that combining strength training and cardio results in a greater calorie burn than doing either separately. Whether you work out once a week or six times per week, this approach can work well to help you achieve your weight loss goals.

Alternatively, you could do cardio one gym day and then strength training on the next. For example, you may decide to do cardio on Monday, strength training on Tuesday, cardio on Wednesday and so on. The advantage to this strategy is that you may have more energy for each type of exercise. If, for example, you followed the previous approach and combined both cardio and strength training into one workout, you may be fatigued from the cardio even before you start strength training. By separating the exercises out onto different days, you’ll never be fatigued before you start your strength training or cardio. But because you’re training each muscle group less frequently, I’d only recommend this approach if you exercise four or more times per week.

Some diehards do go to the gym twice each day. These motivated individuals might do cardio in the morning and then strength training at night (or vice versa). Going to the gym twice per day is not necessary – and it’s not something that I’d recommend for most people starting out on a new routine. Is it hard to sustain and balance with other life commitments. It’s not for everyone.

Lastly, we must consider stress-reduction exercise. Stress reduction exercise comes in many varieties – and it can be performed almost anywhere. You may wish to perform stress reduction exercise at the gym by relaxing in the pool or participating in a yoga class, but there’s no advantage to combining it with your other exercises. Think of it as a nice excuse to pamper yourself (as if we need an excuse for that), and fit it in when and wherever you can.

Love,
Davey

Cardio Before or After Lifting?

Whether you do cardio before or after lifting can depend on your goals.

Whether cardio should be done before or after strength training is one of the more hotly contested fitness debates – and it’s a subject that I touch upon in my Ultimate Guide to Working Out. Though there are pretty good arguments on either side, it often comes down to goals.

If your goal is weight loss or cardiovascular endurance, then it may make sense to do cardio first. You’ll be on the treadmill with a fresh set of legs and able to really push yourself hard (especially if you’re engaged in high intensity interval training). An often-cited study from the Human Performance Research Center at Brigham Young University found that doing cardio first resulted in the greatest number of post-workout calories burned. They also found that doing cardio first was less psychologically taxing. If you’re looking to burn some extra body fat or to improve your cardiovascular endurance, then it may make sense do cardio first.

If your goal is more muscle size or muscle strength, then you might want to hit the weight room first – while your energy is still high. Many lifters feel partially depleted after a hard session of cardio, and they believe that this impacts their strength training abilities. Lifting also requires a lot of focus – and it could be hard to focus after a brutal session of high intensity interval training on the treadmill. For individuals targeting muscle size or strength, it may be more advantageous to save cardio for the end of the workout. It may make even more sense to do cardio on a different day altogether.

While there are certainly advantages and disadvantages for the timing of your cardio, know that it’s not going to make or break your workout. If you’re looking to build muscle, for example, but strongly prefer getting your cardio out of the way, then do it first! The most important variable to consider is you – and your personal preference.

Do you do cardio before or after lifting? Why? Let me know in the comments below.

What Are Drops Sets & How Can You Use Them?

For serious muscles like these, drops sets are an effective strength training technique.

Drops sets are a strength training technique wherein you perform a set of any exercise to failure (or just short of failure) – and then drop some weight and continue for additional repetitions with the reduced resistance. Once failure is again reached, additional resistance is dropped and so on.

Drop sets are great for bodybuilders or individuals looking to make gains in muscle size. Simply put, few other training techniques can break down muscle fibers as effectively as drop sets – so if you incorporate drop sets into your routine, you will see significant gains in mass. However, drop sets are not advised for athletes or people looking for gains in strength. Moreover, most athletes want strength or speed without the bulk – and so drop sets will be at odds with their goals.

To perform a drop set, select an amount of resistance that will result in muscle failure after 8 – 12 reps. While you’ve reached failure, you haven’t reached absolute failure; quickly decrease the amount of weight by about 15% and continue. After 8 or so reps, you’ll hit failure again. Reduce the resistance by another 15% and continue. Keep going.

Obviously, drop sets require some planning. Since rest time should be between zero and ten seconds, they’re most popular on machines; adjusting the weight is as quick as changing a pin. If you do drop sets on a barbell, you may need to work with a spotter and/or load the barbell with lots of small weight plates for faster adjustments. If you work with dumbbells, line them up on the floor in advance – and simply work your way down the line.

If you’re purely looking for gains in mass, then drop sets are a great technique to try occasionally try out and incorporate! I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Top 9 Strength Training & Lifting Mistakes.

Improper form is just one of the many mistakes that exercisers tend to make.

I’ve been going to the gym long enough to have seen it all. And though I often have the urge to point out the mistakes of the gym-goers around me, I resist the urge to be that guy. But since you’ve actively solicited my advice, there’s certainly no reason to hold back.

Here are 9 of the most common strength training mistakes that I’ve encountered.

  1. Using momentum. This is huge, and I see it all the time. When you perform a movement for an exercise, it creates momentum. When reversing directions, this momentum can be used to cheat. Unfortunately, it’s not using muscle power – and so this type of cheating should be eliminated. A simple trick is to pause for a second or two before reversing directions – this will absorb the momentum.
  2. Wrong number of reps. The number of reps that you perform for an exercise is entirely dependent on your fitness goals. If you want size, you should probably aim for 4 – 10 repetitions of each exercise. If you want definition, increased endurance or strength (and not size), then you should probably shoot for 10 – 15 repetitions. Whether you are going for 4 or 15 repetitions, you should be fully fatigued on your last rep. And that brings us to our next mistake…
  3. Improper weight. Using the right amount of weight is important. Unless you are just looking to maintain what you’ve got – and not progress – then you should be fully fatigued on your last rep. If you feel like you could do another rep or two, then the weight is too light. Bump it up.
  4. Not progressing. If you’re looking to increase your size or strength, it means you’re going to need to progress to higher levels of resistance over time. Muscles don’t grow unless they are forced to grow – and doing more of the same will only get you more of the same. I recommend the 2 for 2 rule to help know when it’s time to increase the weight.
  5. Doing the same workout each day. A lot of exercisers try to train every muscle group each time they hit the gym. While this is an especially poor practice if you go to the gym often (it can result in over-training), all people will benefit from focusing on different muscle groups on different days. Instead of trying to train every muscle in 45 minute (and not really hit any of them hard), focusing on just a muscle group or two can give you an effective, deep workout.
  6. Not adding variety. Many of us get into workout routines that we like, and then we stick to it. Unfortunately, our muscles adjust to our routines – and stale routines make plateaued results more likely. Try switching things up – change the base of stability, order of your exercises or even try something new.
  7. Improper form. Improper form goes beyond the momentum-based cheating mentioned above. It covers anything from incorrect postures to not using a full range of motion. Compromised form means compromised results. If you think you may be using improper form, then work with a personal trainer – or, at the very least, perform an internet search to see the exercise performed properly.
  8. Resting too long. For most of us, 45 – 60 seconds of rest in between sets does the trick. But those seconds tick by quickly, and it’s easy to take a bit of a cat nap. Watch the clock to make sure you’re not resting too long – it will make your workout much more efficient.
  9. Exercising during pain. If it hurts, stop! Delayed onset soreness is good and healthy – but if you’re experiencing pain while lifting, something isn’t right. Continuing to exercise while in pain is a recipe for serious injury. Moreover, if a muscle is still sore from a previous workout, then it is too soon to train it again. Hold off until the muscle heals.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!