In last week’s post I began writing about two basic exercise goals, which Cristin had come up with:

1.  Burn Calories.  2.  Gain Strength.

I primarily began to relate these goals to resistance training (weight lifting), and came up with two guidelines to follow while in the gym:

1. Try to incorporate your full body and/or big muscle groups when you exercise.  2. Sweat.

In today’s edition, I want to add a few suggestions for how to structure your workouts so that you are meeting these goals and guidelines.  The following are some basic principles of resistance training. Follow these 3 principles and you will also almost certainly accomplish all the goals listed above. 

1.  Work large muscle groups before small muscle groups

I.E.  Work your back before your triceps.  Why?  First, working large muscle groups (legs, back, chest, shoulders) incorporates more total muscles and burns more total calories than working muscles in isolation.  More work (calories) also means more heat, so you will feel “warmed-up” and in a better workout groove sooner.  Also, many of our small muscles help stabilize joints, so it is unwise to fatigue these stabilizer muscles before we use our big muscles to lift heavier weights (Your rotator cuff muscles in your shoulder are a great example of smaller stabilizer muscles).

2.  Give “Multi-Joint” exercises priority over “Single-Joint” exercises.

As the name implies, a multi-joint exercise is an exercise that utilizes more than one joint, and a single-joint exercise only utilizes one joint.  For example, a bench press incorporates the shoulder and elbow, and is therefore multi-joint.  A squat uses the hips, knees, and ankles: multi-joint.  A bicep curl uses only the elbow: single joint.  Same for a leg extension machine:  knee only=single joint.  Single joint exercises aren’t bad, but multi-joint exercises tend to utilize more total muscle, and larger muscle groups, so give these exercises priority by doing them first.  Multi-joint exercises also usually mimic your body’s natural movement patterns, and are therefore more “functional” than single joint exercises and thus translate better to your everyday movements.  Examples of multi-joint exercises are presses (bench, incline, overhead, pushups), rows, pulldowns, chinups/pullups, squats, lunges, and lifts.

3.  Make sure your workouts are balanced.

Whether in a single workout session, or by the end of the week if you are doing multiple resistance workouts, your body should be balanced.  First, balance your upper body and lower body exercises.  Many people either neglect their lower bodies, or overemphasize their upper bodies while lifting; but remember, our legs and hips house the largest, most powerful muscles in the body, and the muscles that carry us around all day–train them accordingly.  Second, as far as upper body, balance your pushing and pulling.  If you are emphasizing your multi-joint exercises, you are doing a lot of pushing and pulling (presses, rows, pulldowns, etc.).  Many people tend to overemphasize pushing.  But pulling exercises actually help our posture, especially if you are sitting at a desk for a large portion of time.  If anything, overemphasize pulling exercises (as much as 2 or 3:1) especially if you tend to have posture that your mother would frown upon.

Follow these three principles and you will feel like you are making progress toward burning calories and getting stronger.  You might even begin to feel better and look better as well.  As always, if you need help getting started, consult a personal trainer or fitness professional on your campus or local gym! 

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