What Is It With Trainers Dissing Lifting Heavy Things?
Q: I’m sure it was your dream in life to become an advice columnist for women who lift weights and I want to help you reach your goals. To that end: I would love your thoughts/opinions/rantings on the following.
Been doing New Rules of Lifting for Women for a few years, successfully conquered the weight room, and feel pretty good about lifting heavy. I spin pretty consistently and haven been doing HITT intervals for a while. For the first time in years, I adore my body – not because of how it looks, but because it does everything I ask it to. No back problems, no need to ask for help moving heavy objects, can sumo squat with the best of them, etc. etc.
A friend had been poking at me about cross-training and convinced me to train with her and her trainer in a small group. We did one-minute sprints on the treadmill, fine, whatever, it was only ten minutes of my life. After that, we proceeded to do 40 minutes of cardio and “weightlifting”. It was 40 minutes of my personal hell. My triceps, who I never bother unless they’re along for the ride with a push/press exercise, got a solid 10 minutes of attention.
By the second round of a cardio circuit, I tried to discreetly slip out and appease my body by lifting the nearest stationary object I could find. Here’s where I need your perspective – the trainer told me that the fact I struggled to do 90 tricep whatevers with a 5 pound weight showed just how weak I am. That I am kidding
myself by thinking I can focus just on building muscle and not muscle endurance. Another woman in the group looks like she’d struggle to lift a heavy purse but didn’t even break a sweat when doing the 300th leg lift whereas I was looking to hurt someone.
Was she right? Am I weaker than I think I am? Do I need to subject myself to crap like this on a regular basis?
Many, many, many thanks
A: While I know you were being facetious at the start, I’ll have you know that back in the day my high school guidance counselor suggested I look into a career as either a) Cindy Crawford’s personal oil boy or b) the next Michael Knight.
Advice columnist to women who lift weights was very close third, though. Okay all kidding aside, I want to to first say that no matter what your friend or her trainer has you thinking, all that matters is what YOU think and how YOU feel. As you noted, this is the best you’ve felt about your body in years, and that means something. Not only are you stronger than you’ve ever been, but I assume that after years of following the same ol’ mundane routine of Bikini Biceps class, yoga, and endless hours on the elliptical trainer, you’re leaner and sexier than ever now that you’re actually lifting some appreciable weight.
Listen, if you want to get good at doing 90 tricep what-have-you’s, then it stands to reason that you should do tricep what-have-you’s till you’re blue in the face. Or pass out from sheer boredom. Whatever comes first.
Honestly, though, what the hell is that going to accomplish? Wow, you can do 90 tricep extensions with five lbs. Awesome. That said, if you had me do the same thing, I’m sure I’d be sore too. Anytime you throw your body a curveball and have it perform something it’s not accustomed to, it’s going to give you a big “WTF!!!” Your body is going to adapt to whatever demand you place it.
More to the point, people (personal trainers included) often fall into the trap that tired = effective. It’s not hard to make someone tired or fatigued. It’s easy in fact. Moreover, who’s to say that putting someone through such a session is going to do anything other than make them feel like they’re going to throw up their breakfast?
Does doing something like this improve one’s conditioning? Maybe. But given that most people have the movement quality of a drunk hippopotasmus, that’s not saying much. As Gray Cook has said numerous times: You can’t place fitness on top of dysfunction. I couldn’t agree more – particularly in this situation. I’ve been in this industry long enough and have witnessed enough of these types of classes to know that 95% of people taking them are BUTCHERING the exercises. Asking people who can barely do ONE bodyweight squat correctly, let alone dozens (if not hundreds), is just a disaster waiting to happen.
Above all, however, is the fact that you can’t have muscular endurance without first having a base of muscular strength. Take the 225 lb bench press as an example (albeit an extreme example). Who do you think will most likely be able to perform more reps: the guy who’s max bench is 250 lbs, or the guy who’s max bench is 315?
This isn’t to say that training muscular endurance isn’t part of the equation, or should be avoided altogether. Compared to muscular strength, muscular endurance is waaaaaaaay over at the other end of the strength-endurance continuum – utilizing (at least to a great degree: you’re never really only using ONE and not the other) different energy energy systems, different types of motor units, as well as different muscular demands. This would help explain why you got dominated.
Looking at the overall picture, it makes sense to train both “qualities” to some capacity. I just feel that far too often, people get caught up in the whole notion that “wow, I’m really sore and feel like I’m going to shit my spleen, that must have been an awesome workout!” mentality.
I’m all for people working hard and actually getting off their ass, but come on, really, 100+ reps on anything is just a complete waste of time. As you noted, most of the women in that class looked as if they could barely lift a heavy purse, which is exactly why I’ll ALWAYS advocate for women to train with heavier weights. What makes muscle, keeps muscle.
To that end, if you want to improve your conditioning, I’d recommend any number of medleys, intervals, circuits, etc. Pick a day (or two) a week and get after it. Other than that, don’t worry about what your friends and their trainers say. If you wanted to be weak, emaciated, and soft looking, then you’d do the class more often. I’m guessing this isn’t the case……..;o)