Laundry to Lunges

From Laundry and Lunches to Lunges

I have been interested in athletics for as long as I can remember, playing every sport from Rugby to Floor Hockey, and even European Handball throughout my high school years. I loved them all, but soccer held a special place in my heart. I played Division 1 soccer from adolescence, right through my college years and into my mid twenties. I loved, and still do love the sport, however an unfortunate collision on the field tore the anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee (along with substantial meniscus damage), and I really haven’t felt the same since.

After my second ACL surgery I decided to take a break from contact sports and try something new; that’s when my husband introduced me to strength training. That was ten years ago.

I was initially intimidated taking a place by the weight rack at my local gym. I think this is normal, and something I hear often from (specifically) women today. As my confidence grew, I began to realize I was just as entitled to that space as anyone else, and these days I try to share what I know with others in hopes that they also feel entitled to these opportunities.

I have been a stay-at-home mom for the past five years, but as my daughter matured and started to become more independent, I began to put more thought into my personal life plans. My passion for fitness and health seemed like a great starting point, and I completed my Certification for Fitness Training in October 2013. I have been helping friends and family with their fitness goals for years, but now I’ve made it official.

When specifically discussing weight lifting, two fundamental coaching points that I like to consider are form, and tied to form, the importance of the eccentric contraction.

I often see people mistaking heavy weight with big gains. That’s not to say heavy weight doesn’t provide big gains, but if you’ve overlooked your form, you could be doing yourself a considerable disservice. Lifting heavy weight with complete disregard for form is almost a complete oxymoron. If the goal is to build muscle, we generally look to heavier weight at fewer repetitions. The key is choosing a weight that challenges you, while still maintaining proper form. I cringe when I see people reaching for the bigger dumbbells, ego in full force, and then swinging them around carelessly. I love to lift heavy and have seen this style of strength training have the greatest impact on my body. Heavy, in this instance, is a relative term of course. Your heavy might be different from my heavy, which could be different from their heavy. Regardless of the number stamped on the side of that dumbbell, if you’re not paying attention to your form, you won’t be getting the most out of your repetitions; or worse, you could end up with an injury. I also recognize that there are bodybuilders who will pass the point of proper form and use momentum to cap off a set, but that’s a separate topic for another day.

Tied to proper form, is the often overlooked eccentric contraction. When we think of muscle contractions, most people automatically consider a concentric contraction. This is when the muscle fibers shorten as the muscle contracts. During a bicep curl, the motion of lifting the weight is the concentric contraction. In contrast, an eccentric contraction is when the muscle fibers lengthen. An eccentric contraction recruits fewer muscle fibers; therefore the stress placed on each fiber is greater. After completing that initial lift in your bicep curl, a slow and controlled release of the weight back to your starting point would be the eccentric contraction. It’s also often referred to as the “negative” portion of an exercise. There have been many studies which suggest eccentric training produces more (healthy) breakdown of muscle fibers than the concentric contraction, which ultimately increases muscle growth. We should be mindful of the fact that our work is not done at the top of the lift. Get the most out of your movement!

I often see people lifting less weight than they could. This occurs for a variety of reasons, some of which include uncertainty of capability and fear of dropping repetitions. There are different approaches to weight lifting based on various goals. Building muscle, for example, is not the same goal as building strength (although a by product of strength training may be larger muscles). If bigger muscles are your goal, try to keep your range of repetitions around six to twelve. If you find you can easily do twelve repetitions with proper form, it is a cue to try increasing your weight; this will likely decrease the number of repetitions you are able to complete properly, and that’s exactly as it should be. Dropping your reps is not equivalent with failure. That point is worth repeating. Dropping your reps is not equivalent with failure!

A mind to body connection is also very important. Referring back to our example of the classic bicep curl, do you feel yourself leaning more to one side? Are you starting to use momentum to lift the weight? Have your wrists started to roll back? If yes, your muscles may be anaerobically fatigued. Listen to your body and make decisions about decreasing weight or decreasing reps based on your personal goals. Our time is valuable! Make sure you get the most out of your training.

Whether you’re training to be fit, or lose weight, or just comfortably carry your groceries into the house, I think everyone can benefit from strength training.

You don’t need a specific reason, competition, or excuse to start…..just train for life!