Archive for the tag - lifting

How Much Should You Be Able to Bench Press?

Bench-Press“How much can you lift, bro?”

We’ve all heard that question. And we’ve all rolled our eyes when it’s asked. Regardless (and for better or worse), the bench press has become the gold standard in comparing levels of physical fitness.

Go to the gym. Enlist the help of a spotter. Add a comfortable amount of resistance to the bench press. Perform one repetition. With a rest in between, keep adding additional resistance until you reach your limit. When you can’t lift anymore, that’s your one rep max. And when someone asks you how much you can lift, you’ll have your answer.

But how much should you be able to lift?

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 11.56.40 AMAccording to data, an untrained 165-pound man can bench press 119 pounds. See chart (at right) for additional data points.

You’ll quickly discover that most untrained or novice exercisers aren’t able to bench press their own bodyweight. Though it’s not necessarily the best measure of physical strength, the ability to press one’s own bodyweight is a common goal for exercisers. Though it doesn’t have a direct implication, it’s a bragging right to which many men and women aspire.

So how much weight should you be able to bench press? There’s no short answer. It depends on your weight, fitness level, goals and a variety of other factors. Though the chart will provide some very guidelines, know that each person is different. And that all of us are at different points on our fitness journey.

The bottom line: If you’re not satisfied with your current level of strength, set a goal and work towards it.

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!

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.

How Much Weight Should I Be Lifting?

The amount of weight you lift is best dictated by your fitness goals of strength, size or endurance - and not your weight or height.

Fairly often, I get emails from guys and gals with a common question: Based on my weight and height, how much weight should I be lifting?

As it turns out, there’s no magic formula. Instead, the amount of weight that you lift needs to be based on your goals. More specifically, it’s based on the number of repetitions that your goal necessitates.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • If your goal is strength for a given muscle group, then you’ll want to complete 1 - 6 repetitions of each exercise.
  • If your goal is size (or size and strength) for a given muscle group, then you’ll want to complete 7 - 12 repetitions of each exercise.
  • If your goal is endurance for a given muscle group, then you’ll want to complete 12 - 15 repetitions of each exercise.

Since you’ll want to be fatigued on the last repetition, the number of repetitions clearly dictates the amount of weight that you need to lift. For example, if I were training for strength, I could perform 5 bicep curls with 65 pound dumbbells. But if I was training for endurance, I’d need to opt for 45 pound dumbbells to complete 15 solid repetitions.

Also, keep in mind that in order to progress toward your goals, you’ll want to add more weight over time. If you find yourself getting too comfortable (or able to perform two extra repetitions on your last set for two consecutive workouts), it’s time to increase the weight.

You’ll often hear people say that you should be able to curl or lift or press a certain percentage of your bodyweight, but here’s the truth: The amount of weight that you use is best dictated by your fitness goals of strength, size or endurance - and not your weight or height.

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!

8 Tips: How to Make Strength Training More Fun!

Dear Davey,

I love doing cardio because I have so much fun with it - I even teach a Zumba class. What can I do to make weight lifting more fun? I can’t stand just staring at the walls and just repeatedly lifting weights.


Randall, you certainly aren’t alone in your disdain for the monotony of weight lifting. And as a fitness instructor, I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you about the importance of doing both cardio AND strength training. So, here are a few tips to make your strength training program a bit more enjoyable:

  1. Bring your iPod! If you’re just staring at walls and repeatedly lifting weights, at least do it to some good music. Create a strength training playlist with your favorite tunes. For a while, I was on an audio book kick - I love listening to stories while at the gym.
  2. Lift with a friend! In Toronto, I have the luxury of exercising with my boyfriend. The time goes by so much faster when you have someone with whom to chat.
  3. Join a class! Since you love Zumba, you may also enjoy a strength training class - most gyms have them! Generally, the lifting is fairly light (so you won’t be building a ton of muscle), but it’s a great class for beginners or people looking to get toned.
  4. Strength train in front of the TV! There are plenty of great strength training exercises that you can do from the comfort of your own home (like push-ups, for example). Do 30 push-ups during commercial breaks while watching Glee.
  5. Try something new! Sure, lifting is repetitive by nature. But it doesn’t mean that you need to do the same exercises over and over again. Search on Google for some different exercises to try. Breathe new life into your fitness program.
  6. Set goals, and then achieve them! Why not get competitive with yourself? Challenge yourself to reach a goal (i.e., bench pressing 120 lbs for 8 reps) and then slowly build up to it. You’ll enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when you finally reach your goal.
  7. Just do one or two sets! Did you know that the vast majority of strength training benefits come from the first set? The added benefit of each additional set is relatively small and diminishing. Limit yourself to two sets (or even one) if your attention span is short.
  8. Lift in between cardio intervals! Since you enjoy cardio, why not break up your workout and add a strength training exercise or two in each 5-minute cardio interval? It just may be enough to keep you interested.

At the end of the day, working out isn’t really about it being fun. Though throwing a few weights around is more fun than living with diabetes or debilitating back problems (the risks of both are minimized by strength training).

If you can enjoy your workout, great! But it’s really more about the benefits of being healthy and fit than it is about fun.

Blog buddies, if you have any tips for making exercise more fun, then please share in the comments below!