If you've been around a gym very long and talked to a few of the regulars, you'll soon discover nearly everyone, it seems, is nursing some kind of injury. Sometimes it's a recent pull or strain and sometimes it's a "bad knee" or "bad shoulder" from an injury many years ago. The sad thing is these limitations never had to exist. There are simple ways to avoid injuries and one of them is fantastically effective at building muscle. What? A safer way to lift that increases muscle building? Yes.
Warm-up and Focus
First of all, before you do any heavy lifting you should do a two part warm-up. The first part consists of a general warming of the whole body by doing ten to fifteen minutes on a treadmill, LifeCycle' or similar cardio exercise. The actual time will vary depending on your age, level of conditioning and even the temperature of the gym. A college athlete can warm up in five minutes, whereas a person whose is 50-something might require 15 or 20 minutes to feel ready for an intense workout. Only you can subjectively evaluate when you are sufficiently warmed up. The object is to get blood flowing vigorously though the body and also permit you a few minutes to mentally focus on the lifts you will be doing and the goals you want to achieve.
Don't underestimate the value of "psyching" yourself before a weightlifting workout. Productive strength training comes from progressively overloading your muscles. That means today's workout needs to be better than your last workout. Like anything else in life, making improvement requires focus and a sense of purpose. Use your time on the treadmill to do both.
Specific Muscle Warm-up
With your whole body warmed-up it is time to move to your first weightlifting exercise. This is a revolutionary method to maximize the intensity of your workouts while minimizing the chances of injury. To get the most benefit and reduce the risk of injury, you'll need to warm up a specific way.
Use a weight that is one third to two thirds of the goal weight you will be lifting today. Lift this weight through only half the range of motion you normally would: the stronger half. For example, on the bench press lift the weight from your position of furthest reach to half way down, then back up. Avoid the lower half of the movement. Perform this muscle-specific warm-up for 10 to 12 reps.
These half-range warm-ups can be performed on virtually every common exercise. They are the perfect warm-up for the following strongest range partial repetitions.
Strongest Range Partials
So much has been written about getting a "full range of motion" during exercise that many people have not examined what the trade-offs are between full range and partial range of motion. The fact is, "partials" have been used for over a century as a means to maximize the intensity of exercises and break through training plateaus. Doing some partial, strong range bench presses with 300 pounds can provide growth stimulation that a full range rep with 200 pounds can never do.
What is becoming more apparent is that this type of training can also prevent injuries. The vast majority of injuries occur in the weakest range of motion. For example, the bottom of the squat position is places outrageous stress on the knees and bottom of the bench press position can tear the ligaments and tendons of the upper arm and shoulder.
By contrast, when a power rack or Smith machine is used to limit the range of motion to only the strongest and safest part of the movement, enormously more weight can be used to safely target the same muscles. How much more? I work with clients who have build up to 600+ pound partial bench presses, 1,000+ pound barbell shrugs and 3,000+ pound leg presses. (My 13-year-old daughter can do 1,000 pound partial leg presses.)
What percentage of range must you use to get results?
Perhaps surprisingly, the range of motion needs to be somewhere between very little and none. Studies have been done with bodybuilders and with golfer's that demonstrated that increases in strength (even some full range strength), muscle size and athletic performance could all be achieved with very heavy exercises using zero range of motion.
That's right, a static hold in the strongest range of motion can trigger substantial muscle adaptation and improved, sport-specific performance. The golfer's using this method increased their overall strength as measured in 12 muscle groups by and average of 84% and added up to 30 yards to their drives. (A movement that truly uses a full range of motion.) They did this in an average of 6.6 very brief workouts spread over several weeks.
Try This On Your Next Workout
Here are two common exercises you can try using strong range partial reps. Please note, it is very important to limit the range of motion using this method because the weight you will use are heavier than your usual lifts. The best way to limit range is to use a power rack or Smith machine. A very reliable spotter can also be used, but you must have absolute confidence in him.
Perform a warm-up as described above.
Place the bar inside the power rack so it is resting about 6 inches below your farthest reach. Place 150% of your normal bench press weight on the bar. Using a shoulder-width grip, press the bar off the supports and perform 12-15 reps. Do not lock out and do not let the bar all the way down to the supports.
Rest 30-90 seconds and increase the weight and perform another set. Keep increasing the weight until you can only perform 3 repetitions. You'll be amazed at how much you can lift! An tomorrow you'll feel like you truly got an honest chest workout.
Position the seat under the lat pulldown so that you can just reach the bar with your arms fully extended. Select a weight that is 150% more than your normal lat pulldown weight. Using a wide, overhand-grip, pull the bar down 4 inches (Tip: look at the weight stack to measure the distance.) and perform 12-15 reps.
Rest 30-90 seconds and increase the weight and perform another set. Keep increasing the weight until you can only perform 3 repetitions. Don't be surprised if you can lift the entire stack. I work with clients who can now do 300+ pound partial range pulldowns'with one arm!
Try this method of warm-up and safe range training. You'll avoid needless injuries and maximize the intensity and efficiency of your workouts. Intensity ensures that every exercise is productive. Efficiency reduces the wear and tear on your body and decreases your recovery time between workouts.
Peter Sisco is co-author of Power Factor Training, The Golfer's Two-Minute Workout, Static Contraction Training and other books. He is also the editor of the five-book "Ironman's Ultimate Bodybuilding" series available at www.Home-Gym.com.