Nothing Beats Hard Work, but Not All Hard Work

Every year there is more and more research that comes out to answer the ultimate question: How do we build more muscle and lose more fat?  Even though is seems like we are continually getting closer to the answer of this question, most of the time, the basics stick.

To lose weight, have a negative net calorie balance. To gain muscle, have a positive net calorie balance. The basic, compound exercises still work, probably best. Eat the protein. Drink the water. Eat good food. Exercise with intensity. Do hard work.

These are the time tested and trusted basics.  These will never go away, no matter what new scientific study or breakthrough supplement comes out.  Most of these basics are normally followed, all except one: Do hard work.

Don’t get me wrong. Many people might try to find ways to get around some of the basics above, but actually doing hard work is probably the most often neglected.

Don’t get me wrong.. again. Most people think that they are doing hard work, and most of the time they actually are. The problem comes with which *type* of hard work they are doing.  What I am going to address specifically in this article is aerobic work while, err, lifting weights.

Go to any gym and you will inevitably find somebody trying to mix aerobic stuff in with weight lifting, thinking that they are working harder and will get better results.  This happens most often with abdominal training, but I have already discussed the proper way to train your abs, so I won’t rehash it here.

To know exactly what I’m talking about, lets start off with an example.

Let’s say that person A goes to the gym and decides that he wants to train his biceps today.  So, deciding that barbell curls would be best, he starts with those.  Person A then goes on to lift a weight that might be a little bit too heavy for him by swinging it up with his full force (back included) and then lowering it as slowly as he can, which is nearly free-fall speeds.

Now, person B goes to lift his biceps with the barbell curl as well.  Thinking that he needs to work up a sweat, he puts on a weight that is slightly too light for him and proceeds to lift it for 30-40 reps. Of course, towards the end of this set he starts using more of his back, and legs to help him finish each rep. At the end, he is as pooped as, if not more than, person A.

Finally, person C picks up the bar.  He puts on a weight that he knows will only allow him to perform about 8 reps or so.  Each rep is contracted as fast as possible, but in a controlled manner, while the barn is let down slowly each rep (fast concentric, slow eccentric). When he reaches rep 8, he realizes that he can get another one in, and does a 9th rep, but struggles through it without allowing his other muscles to help him (front shoulder, back, etc.). Afterwards, he is pooped too, but not breathing as hard as either person A or B.

Now, some people might think that person C didn’t work as hard as A or B, and they would be correct; he probably didn’t.   That’s not the point, though. Person C worked as hard as he could the right way, without turning it into some type of aerobic lift like person B and without relying on improper form like person A.

Many people go to the gym to build muscle and only focus on doing a lot of hard work.  This is not entirely wrong, per se, but more often than not, misguided.  These people will do things like pick a dumbbell over their head and proceed to lay on the ground and get up from the ground 30 times, do 80 push-ups, do pull-ups as fast as possible, do clapping push-ups, squat while holding something over their head, etc.

Now, I’m not saying that these exercises don’t have their place. They certainly do, especially if one or more of them relates to a particular sport or event that you are in. But if the goal is building muscle mass (which it should be when lifting, or at least maintaining muscle mass), then these type of exercises are far from ideal, most not doing anything close to useful.

The hard work that is required for building muscle is not aerobic, it is anaerobic. This means that either you deplete the energy stored inside your muscles (ATP, glycogen storages, creatine phosphate, etc.) or you overload your nervous system (with really heavy weights and proper form in the rep range 1 to ~6). If you ever stop a set because you failed (or just gave up) aerobically, then you need to reevaluate the exercise that you are performing because something is very wrong. Save your aerobic training for cardiovascular exercises outside of your weight lifting session; they should not be intertwined.

This is just something to think about the next time you go to the gym and are deciding which exercises to perform.  Please leave your comments or questions below!