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The Gentle Art Of Strength Training

By Glen Peavey

“Tai Chi meets weight lifting”. This is how some folks have described my training techniques. I have no problem with being classified as having a “gentle” approach to the art of exercise (strength training). Regrettably, some people incorrectly believe that “gentle” means easy, or somehow deficient in intensity.  Wrong…WRONG…VERY WRONG! There is much more to intensity than just making noise. Some people need (and want) a special verbal push to get out that all-important last rep. I find it imperative that I choose my spots for such encouragement. If not the workout deteriorates into a great deal of senseless noise, like a symphony with no quiet passages. If I rant and rave during the first few repetitions, what do I have to do to get your attention when the going really gets rough? If I carry a loaded pistol and threaten to shoot you if you fail to complete your last rep chances are we will have some unbelievably productive workouts. Of course at some point the word would get out that I had never in fact shot anyone and the method would begin to lose it’s effectiveness.

The point I’m trying to make is that although there is a need for verbal intensity that varies greatly from person to person, true intensity of effort comes from the practice of good form. What may sometimes appear to be unnecessary adherence to small details will ultimately make a greater difference in workout intensity than any amount of shouting or encouragement. For the sake of safety the details must be mastered before the intensity can take place at all. To witness “intensity without form” just step into any open gym. Unfortunately, it is possible to achieve results, (some of them good) while training this way. At some point however the absence of good form will take it’s toll. People tend to be very short sighted when it comes to the dangers of improper form. If it doesn’t injure them on the spot, then it can’t possibly be dangerous. They only acknowledge two realities…”I am not injured or I am injured”. Any thing in between simply doesn’t exist. Don’t make the mistake of taking the word of some seemingly successful exercise authority that has trained fast and furiously forever with not so much as a sore muscle. Some people drink and drive drunk all the time and never get caught or kill anyone in the process. Does that mean they’re right (or intelligent) in doing so, or are they just very lucky?

It is not my objective to describe in detail everything there is to know on the topic of proper exercise form. Like everything else on the subject of exercise there is a great deal of varying opinion on what constitutes “proper” form. I will however mention a few points that if observed will keep you out of harms way and help assure a productive experience in the weight room. First of all concerning speed of movement slower is usually better. Can you go too slow? Yes you can, but finding out that you went too slow is much less harmful than finding out that you went too fast. And moving slowly affords the opportunity to discover your mistakes before disaster strikes. When moving fast, you usually realize you did something wrong when reminded by the sharp and sudden onset of pain! Second, remember to breathe. This seems like a natural function but you’d be surprised at the breath holding that goes on during the typical strength training session. Breathe too much rather than too little. If you’re grunting and yelling, there is a good chance those grunts and yells were proceeded by breath holding. Suffice it to say that not breathing is at best counter productive and at worst exceedingly dangerous. Third, avoid gripping too tightly unless necessary. Gripping tightly and making facial expressions can momentarily raise blood pressure and of lesser significance, waist energy that could be devoted to exercise.

In concluding, remember the words of Arthur Jones (inventor of Nautilus and MedX equipment) “Find ways to make exercise harder not easier”. I couldn’t have said it better. gp