Using Weights - Is More Really Better?

In today’s fitness culture, the indiscriminate use of free weights, machines and spring-loaded resistance is synonymous with strength. More weight is commonly perceived as better and therefore must lead to better results. But because more and more people are injuringthemselves by using improper weight and resistance, the most frequent question I am asked is when to use more weight and when to use less.

The answer lies in what muscles and what percentage of them you want to recruit and if there is dysfunction or injury in any segments of the body. Therefore, we must look at the concept of “stability” and how combining the right formula will promote optimal strength and mind and body control.

Allow yourself to look at how most people work out. Men, for example, typically focus so much on upper-body muscle mass that the lower part of their bodies do not match the top half, which results in big biceps and skinny calves.

Woman want to “spot train” certain areas. In other words, they want to target one area at the sake of others. That simply does not work. You can’t have one without the other and if there is no stability at the deepest level within the body then lifting too heavy a weight or toning one specific area will eventually lead to dysfunction at another segment of the body. The result is imbalance of strength and stability.

Let’s take a look at some of the main muscle groups in our body: stabilizer, global and postural muscles. Local stabilizer muscles are very deep – their main function is to “stabilize” against the load and force that is being presented. They are, however, recruited not by force but rather by the neurons in our brains. In other words, you have to tell them to work and do what they are meant to do. When we anticipate a movement, we turn them on without even knowing it. Think of how your body automatically reacts if you were told to catch something. You would stabilize your body more if you anticipated catching a weighted object as opposed to a feather! When there is injury or dysfunction in the body these deep muscles usually turn off. That’s when the bigger ones, the global muscles, take over and do a job they are not intended to do.

The global muscles are the ones that make us move. They are closer to the surface of the body and are the ones responsible for moving our joints, such as when performing a bicep curl and taking on the force of a heavier load. However, in the presence of injury the deep (local stabilizer) muscles typically turn off so now we are asking the bigger ones to do more than one job, to stabilize as well as mobilize. So the point is this: The local ones need to turn on first and you need to tell them to turn on. This is where the mind-body principle comes into play. Then your bigger muscles can take on as much as a load as you are capable of. If your bones are able to move the muscles with the right awareness and timing then the force you put upon them is dependant on your strength and control and what you set out to achieve.

Using lighter weights works more of your postural muscles – the ones that hold us up and make us aware of our form. Heavier weights increase muscle mass and give us more concentric muscular control. So the rule is this: Make sure your local stability is doing what it’s supposed to do first – give you good form and control while increasing the force or the demands you put on it. If your form and control is correct using a lighter weight then you can start to add heavier weights.

Bringing awareness to what you are doing, why you are doing it and what you are working to achieve will always make the movements look better. Think smart and you will move smart!

Monica Hoekstra

Society Magazine – November 2012

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