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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Resistance Training: Artificial Lifting

Resistance training is a generic term that describes how we build muscle. We exert our muscles against something that resists our efforts; the more it resists, the more our muscles are strengthened.

At least, that's the theory. The fact is, if the resistance is too great, instead of getting stronger you'll just get hurt. That happens far too often, especially to people who are just starting a fitness program. And once they get hurt, they not only have to stop while they heal, but they get discouraged and end up not starting back. Then they might carry extra bodyweight and extra guilt because they feel like failures.

I don't want that to happen to you, and so I want you to know there are several very different methods of resistance training. You can get hurt with any of them if you do them wrong, but some methods make it easier to hurt yourself than others.

That's why I usually don't recommend weightlifting; unless you have a personal trainer (and sometimes even then) it's too easy to overdo things. When I worked out at Gold's Gym for a while, they provided me with an advisor for the first few months to help avoid that very problem. Even then, you have to be careful because only you can tell if you're overdoing it. Weightlifting can give you some impressive results very quickly, however, and some people really love it, so I want you to know the pros and cons.

I call weightlifting "artificial lifting" because you are lifting something artificial, usually a chunk of metal. For me, this is one of the biggest cons: You either have to go to a gym, which adds time and expense, or you have to buy weights or some kind of resistance machine, which also takes up extra space at your house. Now, for many of you this is not a problem; you either have space at home or prefer the camaraderie of social workouts. That's fine.

The biggest problem weightlifters face is the desire to "push" the biggest weight they can handle. That's how you get hurt. Unless you're a competitive lifter, you don't need to do it; but I know firsthand how tempting it is. Bear that in mind.

Having said all that, many of you will be drawn to the big iron. Here are a few guidelines that will help you get the most benefit with the least risk:
  • Use dumbbells, not barbells. Yeah, barbells look impressive, but they have two drawbacks. If you're working out by yourself and you do too much, you could end up pinned underneath one. This is NOT good! That's not a problem with dumbbells. And the second is that weightlifting is an isolation movement, which barbells exaggerate. By using dumbbells, you'll use more of the smaller muscles that stabilize the large muscles; that will actually make you stronger overall.
  • Do a wide variety of exercises for a given muscle group. This makes the workout longer, but it's vital. Because weights isolate muscles, you have to work all of your muscles individually. There are a few exercises that work a large number of muscles at once, like squats, but most focus on specific muscles. Using a workout plan designed by someone who is experienced at weightlifting will help you make sure you get a well-rounded workout.
  • Limit the number of workouts you do each week. When I put on those 15 lbs in 10 weeks, I worked out 4 times a week. I did a workout focused on my upper body one day, on my lower body the next, then took a day off; then I repeated the two-day workout, followed by two days off. Of course, the arrangement isn't really that clear-cut; you still have to use your legs some during an upper workout day, and you still have to use your arms and back some during a lower workout day. The key here is focus; you don't want to work the same muscles hard two days in a row. Some of you may find my 4 day workout to be too demanding; either give yourself more rest days in-between, or use one of the other workout methods we'll be talking about.
  • Be sure to include some aerobic training in your workout. I always warmed up with a few minutes on an elliptical trainer (sometimes a stationary bike), and I usually finished with some time on the treadmill. Bodybuilders will tell you that aerobics training prevents you from getting the most results, but that's only if you're after the Mr. or Mrs. Universe title. It didn't stop me from getting results, and I had always had trouble bulking up. Remember: We want to improve our complete fitness here, not just our looks.
Personally, I got tired of weightlifting. It's not just about setting up a routine, but about coordinating that routine with all the other people who use the gym; if you don't, you may find that you can't even get on the equipment when you're ready to workout!

If weightlifting doesn't appeal to you, don't worry. There are plenty of other resistance training options.


  1. Great post! I agree - I've seen many injure themselves trying to lift heavier and heavier weights. I do have smaller weights that I use but mostly resistance bands are in my routine. I've got the bands themselves and that darn pricey Bowflex thingy that hubby had to have. (Guess who doesn't use it!)

  2. I think smaller weights are the way to go, too. You have to do more reps, but - this is especially true for golfers, and I would imagine surfers too - a momentary burst of strength is less important than the ability to exert a little less strength repeatedly over a period of time.

    One thing I like about Bowflex is that you don't have to worry about dropping the weights. Of course, you don't have to worry about that with bands, either... but you can buy a lot of bands for the price of a Bowflex!

    (Attention, weightlifting fans: Don't get upset over that last remark! I know that bands and weights can't really be compared. However, we're talking about training for golf here, and while weights have their uses, I'm not sure they're the best for golf, Tiger notwithstanding. I'll tell you what changed my mind in Tuesday's post.)

  3. Great stuff - but don't leave out the speed training. Golf muscles don't have to just be strong - they have to be fast. Big muscles that don't translate into clubhead speed are pretty much useless. Light weight, fast reps with weights - plus swing drills with a headless shaft to build clubhead speed are also important.

  4. Good point, Court. A good workout routine should improve your fitness in a variety of ways. We want to do some sport-specific training (like you're talking about) and some general training as well. Do you know what is most beautiful about this? You don't have to do it all in one training session, which encourages variety from day-to-day. That means you don't get bored, plus you lessen the likelihood of overuse injury.

    I'll be getting to those exercises later in the month. I decided to start with resistance training, since that's what most people think of first. I'm also going to talk about endurance training and speed training. But I'm glad you brought it up; I probably should have mentioned it in the first post, so everybody would know it was coming. Thanks for watching my back!

  5. Well...truth be told...I was looking past your back to the blond on the putting green... :-D

  6. (looking around excitedly) WHERE, WHERE? If recent reports are correct, we've got to be careful about blondes carrying clubs, my friend! ;-D

  7. LMAO - that's a very good point !