Social Icons

Monday, September 18, 2017

Are You Lifting Too Much Too Early?

When more is not necessarily better

Weight training has always been a go-to exercise regimen for performance athletes in various sports – from rugby to Formula 1 driving, and for anybody in pursuit of health and fitness. These exercises are meant to increase muscle bulk and strength, improve stamina and tone, increase endurance, improve cardiac function, sculpt one’s body, and various other desired effects, depending on what is required or aspired for. Today, weight training has come to include exercises that do not simply rely on gravity to provide resistance to muscular movement, but other mechanical means such as elastic, spring tension, or even one’s own body.

While the equipment and prescribed movements associated with weight training may seem deceptively “low-tech,” one should not make the mistake of just buying equipment or popping in at a local gym to start on an unsupervised DIY exercise regimen especially when heavy weights are involved. There are surely health and safety dangers associated with overdoing physical activity, most especially in weight-training because of the extreme forces employed in the exercises that are meant to change one’s physique. Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of human physiology would know that they usual notion of “the more, the better” does not always hold true when dealing with the human body.

In some cases, going over the top at the improper time can produce negative results, and can be downright dangerous. So how does one know that the weights being lifted have exceeded the safe or beneficial limit? This can be answered by acquiring a bit of enlightenment on how weight training works.

Pushing targeted muscles to the max

The principal characteristic of weight training is that is generally geared towards increasing physical strength. As such, it aims to elicit physical changes in the skeletal muscles of the person, and not merely train them for endurance or muscle memory. Surely, all sports activities produce positive results in skeletal muscle development, but they work on entire muscle groups that act cooperatively to cause specific motions.

On its part, weight training aims to increase the power and performance of specific muscles by designing appropriate movements that require these targeted muscles to contract with little or no help from the adjunct muscle groups. The exercise a fitness trainer will prescribe to develop a particular muscle is designed to force that muscle to do all the work without allowing the body to accommodate for the difficulty by bringing other muscles into play. This is the reason trainers and gym instructors may seem overly obsessed on requiring people to have proper form when exercising with weights. Addressing the force of gravity or mechanical resistance at an incorrect angle would not cause the targeted muscle to do the desired work.

The presence of qualified trainers and fitness coaches in gyms is not due to any frivolous demand for servitude, but due to the real and unimagined need for knowledgeable people who can determine the appropriate weights to be used for each exercise, how many repetitions are needed with each set-up, and when it is the proper time to scale up the work-out. These formulae are not generic, but are recommended for each individual client depending on his or her abilities and desired result in muscular development. After ample evaluation of the physical abilities, the strength and fitness targets, and even the determination of a client, the trainer lays out a custom-made weight training regimen. This tabulates the exact exercises to be performed, indicating what weights are to be employed, and the number of reps and cycles required for each one, and how long it should be followed before increasing the level of difficulty.

The risk of hefting too much of a load during weight training is usually more pronounced when engaged in actual “body building” or striving to increase the size and power of one’s muscles. The approach in this type of training may seem radical but it is generally accepted by all mainstream trainers.

Many of these trainers will recommend the “overload” approach in building lean muscle tissue. This involves subjecting the muscles to more resistance than they are accustomed to. While this is truly challenging, the exercising person should lift only as much weight that allows him to complete the desired number of reps. This means the lifting should be difficult, but not impossible. The person should be able to execute last rep with some difficulty, but still with good form.

Since the entire point of weight training is improvement or progression, the weights lifted should be continually increased over time, making sure that plateaus or adaptation are avoided. The trainer might recommend changing some exercises, or even changing the type of resistance involved in the movements.

When too much is too much

This progression in the amount of weight lifted could very well lead to injury from lifting more than the person has become capable of lifting, especially when one believes in the unscientific tenet of “no pain, no gain.” One should not be punishing oneself when exercising, but abiding, instead, by a scientific process of muscle improvement.

The muscle development and growth does not occur instantaneously while the person is hard at work pumping iron. The muscles actually change and bulk up during the much-needed rest and recovery periods between workouts. This is the reason trainers do not make people do intensive exercise of the same muscles for two consecutive days. Instead, a well-designed circuit that entails a schedule of varied exercises is a better bet for proper weight training.

While it is normal for one to complain of aches and pains after a particularly grueling workout, especially when just starting out on a weight training program, it is not normal for the aches and pains to persist over long periods, even when doing exactly the same exercises with the same weights and number of reps. The pain can be present after having tried a new exercise, or progressed into a higher number of reps or heavier weights. After enough sessions with the more difficult regimen, the post-exercise pains should no longer be present. If the pain continues, one is surely over-training or lifting too much at too early a time.

More dangerous than we imagine

Why is lifting too much a bad thing? Simply because the dangers are much more severe than mere fatigue or muscle tissue damage. People predisposed to hypertension and atherosclerosis who over-exert their muscles in this way can suffer an aortic tear or dissection, meaning the main artery of the heart ruptures and splits open. This is a fatal condition that has actually taken the lives of many people who overdid physical activity, whether at work, in sports, or even in the gym. Other dangerous effects of the radically elevated blood pressures caused by lifting too much weight are stroke and aneurysm, both of which are potentially fatal or disabling events.

Apart from the aforementioned warning sign of prolonged aches and pains, the red flags to alert one of over-exertion or excessive weight lifting are lack of motivation, loss of grip strength, restlessness and diminished ability to focus, prolonged sluggishness, and increased frequency of illness. Even if a person is one of those over driven fitness buffs who stubbornly ignores the good advice of professional trainers, one cannot avoid listening to one’s own body when it cries in protest. Inevitably, prematurely lifting too much negates any gains made with weight training, especially if it results in permanent disability, if not death.

The most urgent measures to take when this begins to happen are cutting back on the intensity of exercise, whether by reducing weight carried or by reducing the number of reps for each exercise until enough progress has been made to make the upgrade in difficulty appropriate. The value of rest and recuperation between gym sessions cannot be over-emphasized. Of course, proper nutrition, life stress reduction, and ample sleep time will reduce the risks of morbidity and mortality associated with over-training, and are good health practices in any case.


Author: Arthur Gibbs

Author Bio

Art is the current executive content director for Project Macro. He has covered health care, lifestyle trends, and business for more than 10 years for different publications. Born and raised in NYC, he prefers biking around the city and traveling the world searching for the next mountain to climb.