Spartan Training

Darrin doing the rope climb at a Spartan event

UPDATE:  Other articles in this series on this site are:

  1. The Vermont Spartan Beast – Summary and Lessons Learned
  2. Spartan Training Plan – Draft
  3. Vermont Spartan Beast – Photos and Details
  4. More forthcoming, including Tough Mudder training

Some of you may have seen some recent discussion over at the forum on The Spartan:


This is one of those intense “races with obstacles”.  Cameron is doing one this month in SC and I’m doing one in August in VT.  The obstacles might be any variation of:

  • fire pits
  • 8 foot walls
  • mud pits
  • log carries
  • ponds
  • gladiators
  • barbed wire crawl-unders
  • etc.

I’ve got a team of 5 of us for the VT and each person is in different shape.  For example, one guy is strong as an ox but little running endurance whereas another guy has no problem with distance running but needs to work on upper body strength.

Our VT race is 12+ miles.  So clearly endurance and strength are both needed.

So the question arises:  how to train for this?

I’m going to be posting our training plans, in draft form and then in refined form, because I think WorldFitnessNetwork readers can learn from this even if you have no desire to do a Spartan race.  While these races gear a little more towards endurance, the strength and power components are there too.

My biggest concern is that I am nearing completion of a fat-burn phase I had planned, and was about to enter into a hypertrophy phase.  But training for this will change that a bit.  But I need to make sure I do not lose any muscle while training.

I’ll post the training plans in a couple days but in the mean time, any questions?

Continue reading about Spartan, Anyone?

Rest Between Sets

Image Credit: Petranek

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the more rest you take between sets, the more weight you’ll be able to lift when you do come back. This doesn’t mean that you should always take more rest between your sets… the right amount of rest for you will depend on your goals somewhat.

First off, let’s give little explanation on why you might choose longer or shorter rest periods between each workout. There are 3 different primary energy systems that your body uses to produce ATP, which is the primary fuel your muscles use for exercise.

These definitions come straight from this article on Wikipedia:

ATP-PC System (Phosphogen System) – This system is used only for very short durations of up to 10 seconds. The ATP-PC system neither uses oxygen nor produces lactic acid and is thus said to be alactic anaerobic. This is the primary system behind very short, powerful movements like a golf swing or a 100m sprint. Translation: Best for short bursts of intense lifts, like in power lifting or strength training.

Anaerobic System (Lactic Acid System) – Predominates in supplying energy for exercises lasting less than 2 min. Also known as the Gylcolytic System. An example of an activity of the intensity and duration that this system works under would be a 400m sprint. This is what you’ll partially use for bodybuilding and creating muscle mass, size.

Aerobic System – This is the long duration energy system. By 5 min of exercise the O2 system is clearly the dominant system. In a 1km run, this system is already providing approximately half the energy; in a marathon run it provides 98% or more. You use this when doing aerobic activity, so this system doesn’t really apply to our discussion here.

Now that you have a good idea what these three systems are used for, we can have a discussion about how much rest works best for each goal.

3-5 Minutes Rest: This is useful for trainees who are trying to improve their explosive activities of a short duration. That means that longer rest periods are generally better for people who are training for strength and power and should be used together with lower reps (3-5 reps).

This is because your body requires approximately 3 minutes for it to restore the phosphagen (Creatine Phosphate/ATP) stores for your next set. Once the ATP-PC energy system has been able to replenish the energy stores in your muscles, you’ll be to lift a heavier weight for more reps. So, you should rest longer to get the energy to go heavy.

45-60 Seconds: Taking a shorter rest works better for hypertrophy and building overall muscle mass. The point here is not to lift the most weight you can possibly lift. Your purpose is to keep the stress on your muscles and work them again before they have the chance to fully recover.

This gives your muscles intensity over a longer period of time and allows you to keep your muscle “pump” between sets. This is best for the 8-12 rep ranges used by bodybuilders, and is optimal for increasing muscular mass and hypertrophy.

What about the time in between?

You don’t necessarily have to stay exactly within these rep ranges for building muscle mass or strength. There’s no switch that suddenly gets flipped at 3 minutes where your body suddenly begins to use a different energy system. Your muscles recover gradually while you rest, and each energy system works together and has some overlap.

And as always, this is a highly individual thing. Some people swear by using 60-90 seconds rest while bodybuilding, which can be fine for some people. Each person is a little different, and just as one person can run faster than another, one person can also recover faster than another.

Your recovery time will be influenced by a number of factors:

  • The intensity of the set
  • How much sleep & rest you’ve had
  • Your nutrition
  • Your Age
  • Any injuries you might have
  • The temperature of the room
  • If you have a cold or other minor illness
  • How intense your day job is

You get the idea. I’m trying to show you that there are so many factors that go into this and that every person’s situation is slightly different. Start with the guides given up above, and adjust them over time as you get to know your body and its needs.

Continue reading about How Long to Rest Between Sets

weight lifting calluses

Image credit: cronfeld

Getting calluses while you lift weights is normal, but a lot can be done to reduce the number of calluses that form on your hands.

If you’re getting calluses while lifting, you’re doing some things right. You’re training hard, using a heavy weight, and doing plenty of pulling movements. Just a few changes will help to keep your calluses down to a minimal level.

Why You’re Getting Calluses:

Grip: The biggest reason for getting calluses on your hands is how you grip your bar on pulling movements. On a pulling movement, you are attempting to move the weight toward your body while gravity (or a cable) pulls the weight into your fingers. Gripping the bar in the wrong part of your hand will squeeze the skin beneath the bar.

  • Wrong: Don’t place the bar in the palm of your hand directly above your knuckles on the other side. When you wrap your fingers around the bar, the skin below your fingers will fold around the bar.

callus weight lifting grip

  • Right: Place the bar in the spot where your fingers connect to your hand. This helps to make sure that your skin isn’t folded beneath the bar. The weight in your hands will pull the bar to your fingers anyways, so it’s best just to start with the bar there. If this is your first time using this grip, it will feel a bit odd, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly.

good grip

This grip applies to the following pulling movements and their variations:

  • Deadlifts (all variations)
  • Rows (all variations)
  • Lat Pulldowns
  • Pull-ups/ chin-ups
  • Powercleans
  • Shoulder shrugs

Sweaty Palms: Hey, you’re really working up a sweat, I know. But moist hands aren’t the best for preventing calluses. If you’re wondering why this is, just think about what your skin is like after taking a shower. Wet skin is softer and forms calluses more easily.

  • Dry: Wipe your hands before doing heavy pulling movements.
  • Chalk: This helps to keep your skin dry and tight. Not all gyms will allow it, but chalk will also improve your grip on heavy lifts.

Sharp Knurl: Each bar has knurling (grips) to help you hold onto the weight better. Some bars have knurling that’s a little bit too strong and it feels like sandpaper on your hands. Choose a bar with decent knurling that’s not too sharp for you.

How to Treat Calluses:

Ok, so you’re doing everything right and you still get some calluses. That’s fine; it happens.

Just as your muscles adapt to increased resistance and become stronger, a callus is really just your skin becoming tough and hard because of the resistance you are placing on it. If you get a callus, keep it in good condition.

  • Don’t peel, cut, or bite: Your callus is attached to the skin around it. Trying to remove the callus will also remove some of that skin and cause bleeding. Plus it’s disgusting.
  • File: Use a regular nail file to thin it down if it’s becoming a problem. Keep it in place though, because calluses are a natural way for your skin to protect itself.

Not Bicep Curls:

The grip described above does not apply to bicep curls. At the top part of each curl, your forearms are close to vertical and gravity will pull the weight down toward your thumbs. There’s no avoiding this.

It’s ok though, because you’ll be doing much less weight on bicep curls than on heavy pulling movements, and the weight is only pulled toward your fingers for a moment at the bottom of the movement.

Continue reading about How to Avoid Calluses When Lifting Heavy Weights

Deltoid Shoulder Muscle

Image Credit: PrairieArt

Talking about the shoulder muscles can really get confusing.

Chances are, if you ask someone for a shoulder rub, they’ll grab the meat that sits close to the base of your neck. This part of your “shoulders” is referred to as the trapezius muscle, or your “traps”.

Your deltoids or “delts”, on the other hand, are the part of your “shoulder” that sits just above your biceps where the arm connects to the body. So let’s just clarify right now that “shoulders” in this article is referring to the deltoid muscles and not the trapezius that sits at the base of your neck.

The deltoids are important to both developing a well-balanced physique as well as improving your sports performance. Strong delts will give you a strong competitive advantage in sports like football, wrestling, and gymnastics, just to name a few.

Here are some reasons why you should strengthen your deltoids:

  • Strength & Power: Deltoids are involved in functional movements that strengthen the upper body. They also play a large roll in athletic performance.
  • Broad Shoulders: Your deltoids can be seen from all angles since they surround your shoulder on the front, side, and rear. Wide shoulders are visible regardless of what you wear (ok, maybe not if you’re wearing a snow jacket, but you get the point), and they will help increase the appearance having the V-shape… large shoulders that taper down to a small waist.

The deltoids are composed of 3 separate muscle heads. Not all heads of the deltoids are worked through the same motions.

  • Anterior Deltoid: This is on the front portion of your delts. To get a feel for it, place your hand on the front of your delts and raise your arm up directly in front of you. You should feel the anterior deltoid flexing.
  • Medial Deltoid: Located on the side of your delts. Place your hand on the outside of your shoulder and lift your arm directly out to the side to feel it flexing.
  • Posterior Deltoid: This one’s on the back. Place your arm on the back of your shoulder and start moving your elbow backward… I bet you can guess what will happen.

Regardless of what your natural genetics are, a lot can be done to increase your shoulder width. If you train them intensely and with your head on straight, you can widen your shoulders as much as several inches over time. This all depends on your natural frame, of course, but everybody can improve what they were given.

Even just widening your shoulders by a quarter to a half-inch on either side can make you look much broader. The best way to broaden up your delts is to train your medial deltoid on the side of your shoulders using pressing movements and side laterals.

There are 3 primary types of shoulder exercises that you will use in your training:

  • Pressing Movements: Most pressing movements, such as the overhead shoulder press, focus on the anterior and medial portions of your deltoids. Think of movements such as the overhead press, dumbbell shoulder presses, Arnold presses, etc. Shoulders are also involved in other pressing movements such as bench presses and dips.
  • Pulling movements: Exercises such as barbell rows, cable rows, T-bar rows… these tend to involve the posterior deltoids in the pulling movement. You’ll get these movements during your back workouts.
  • Leverage Movements: Just like the exercise we practiced earlier, leverage movements involve raising your arm up directly to your front, side, or rear. Exercises such as front raises, side laterals, and bent-over laterals are all included in this category. These are isolation exercises, so use these a little more sparingly as a beginner and intermediate.

Like we mentioned above, the deltoids are a very complex and versatile muscle group. Because there are so many small muscle groups that give your shoulders this mobility, there is a larger potential for injury.

Be sure to always begin your deltoid exercises with plenty of warm-up. Work with weights you can handle and always use good form. Finally, working on your shoulder flexibility can also help you to avoid future complications.

Continue reading about What You Need to Know About Your Deltoids

Abs Crunches

All this time you thought those thousands of sit-ups were going to build you a six pack… only to have me tell you that you might have been wasting your time.

(And chances are, you have no business doing any abs work – unless your diet is great, you are doing compound weight training, and are already fairly lean.)

The truth is that sit-ups only work your abs indirectly. All that time that you spent doing those sit-ups was really a greater benefit to your hip flexors than for your abs. Were you not trying to build up tough hip flexors with your sit-ups? If not, I’m sorry to be the one to bring you the bad news. I’ll explain what all of this means.

How your abs work:

Muscles work through contraction. To put it simply, when a muscle contracts, it becomes shorter in length as the fibers pull together. So let’s think about what this means for your abdominals. What happens when your abdominals contract?

Again, when you abdominals contract, the muscles of your stomach area pull together and essentially become shorter, thereby moving the skeletal structure they are attached to. This contraction of the abdominals shortens your abdomen and pulls your rib cage and your shoulders toward your hips (see the picture up top).

Pulling your shoulders toward your hips is exactly the type of movement we see in the various types of stomach crunch exercises. A proper crunch will keep your lower back flat to the ground, and as your shoulders are pulled toward your hips, your spine will also inevitably bend and flex. This is what we call spinal flexion.

Crunches aren’t for sissies though. The range of motion for these is quite small, so they don’t look as impressive as a full sit-up, but a well-executed crunch will place intense stress on your abs and create a burn.

Focus on really pulling with the stomach muscles and squeezing them at the top of the movement for a moment. Like any other exercise, adding weight is important, but we’ll talk about ways to do that another day.

Why sit-ups don’t work (very well):

Here’s the bad news: all of that great spinal flexion and pulling with the abs doesn’t happen very much when you do sit-ups. Think about what’s happening when you do sit-ups. Your body is bending at the hips to pull your torso upward. This is called hip flexion, and it doesn’t use your abs nearly as much.

Ab Situps

The beginning of the sit-up movement is the most effective part for your abs. The sit-up begins by pulling with the abs for about the first 30-45 degrees of the movement. That’s the good news.

Hip FlexorsThe bad news is that the rest of the movement is done by your hip flexors. The hip flexors are a little group of muscles that help connect your femur (leg bone) to your back bone/ pelvis (check out the picture on the left).

Once your abs have completed the first 30-45 degrees of movement in your sit-up, they then begin to act only as stabilizer muscles. They hold your upper body in that flexed position isometrically while your hip flexors do the dirty work to pull your body upward at the hips. So your abs are indirectly involved in the movement, and this explains why they can get a little sore when you do sit-ups, especially if you have weak abs.

Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself right now. Stand in a doorway and hold on with one hand for stability. Place your other hand on your abs to see how much they flex. Now, raise your leg straight up in front of you. You will feel tightness in the top of your thigh, but not your abs. Leg raises and sit-ups are essentially the same movement in reverse.

Unfortunately, studies have shown that our ab muscles do less and less work as we become more tired during a set of sit-ups. This makes perfect sense. Think about it for a moment… when you do a set of sit-ups, is every sit-up performed just like the first sit-up you did?

Do you lower your shoulders down all the way until they are flat, and then begin the next sit-up with spinal flexion and pull your shoulders towards the hips? Or are you like the rest of us who just kinda forget about the whole spinal flexion part and make the movement into a simple hip flexor exercise? You don’t have to answer that one out loud.

You’ll also notice that the hip flexors attach to the pelvis and lower back… and fast sit-ups with rapid movements can cause an unsafe jerking and bending on your lower spine. Hip flexors that are too tight can also pull your pelvis until it’s tilted at the wrong angle. This can lead to a whole host of back problems and other pains that we’ll address another day.


Sit-ups suck. Maybe that was too strong of a statement, because they do work your abs somewhat at the beginning of the movement and use them for stabilization throughout the remainder of the movement. But working your hip flexors has its draw backs, and if you are trying to tighten up your abdominals, your best shot is to focus more on the crunch movements that create the spinal flexion.

If your goal is to strengthen your abs, then focus first on the movements that will get the job done right.

Image credit: Fitstep.com

Continue reading about Sit-ups Suck, Don’t Work Your Abs

Image credit: oatmeal2000

I can already feel the hate mail coming, but I’m going to say it anyway: you shouldn’t always trust science. Instead, we’re going to talk about a better way of going about things.

First off, I realize that there’s not a crystal ball that magically reveals all truth, and science is the best method we have for understanding health and how the human body functions.

But science is a back and forth process of sharing ideas, debate, and seeking evidence. Science isn’t always right, and all the new studies that we hear about should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism, and sometimes even ignored.

Here’s why:

Statistical models show that we live in a world of healthy mediums. When we measure the characteristics of a certain population, we usually end up with a nice bell curve as shown below. For example, the average height of men in the US is about 5’10”. Most men are close to this height, and there is a lower number of guys at either side of the curve who are very tall or very short.

Normal Curve

Let’s say for example, that you are a scientist and you are trying to figure out if saturated fats (animal fats) are fit for human consumption. You conduct a few studies that seem to show it has some negative side effects, so you conclude that people should eat zero fat. Just stop eating all fat (and that’s what we did).

A few decades later, a new group of scientists, including Mary Enig come along with a new set of studies. These studies say that maybe fat and cholesterol aren’t as bad as we once thought. Here’s a video that talks about high fat diets almost to an extreme.

<a href="http://youtube.com/watch?v=v8WA5wcaHp4">http://youtube.com/watch?v=v8WA5wcaHp4</a>

My point here is not to take sides on the saturated fats debate. The point is that nobody should be hard on one side or the other, but this video does a good job of showing how scientists don’t always use data the way it should be used. Scientists take sides when they shouldn’t.

Now this video clip only says that the data against high-fat diets is unreliable. Unfortunately, that’s not what most people will get out of the video. Most people are going to watch it and feel like pizza and fried chicken (not to mention trans-fats) are suddenly O.K. to eat every night.

Mary Enig, who spoke in the video, wrote a book about fats called Eat Fat Lose Fat. In the book, she says the following on page 5 of her introduction:

Creamy sauces, buttered vegetables, and ice cream taste good for a reason. It’s not that your body is trying to torment you by making unhealthy foods seem delectable. Instead, your body is using your taste buds to signal what you need. That’s why most of us enjoy rich foods, like succulent lamb chops, berries with heavy cream, and crispy turkey skin.

Bless her heart. Dr. Enig did a great job of backing up all of her arguments with scientific studies and wonderful information to dispel the myth that we should eat zero fat and avoid all saturated fats. But people read these kind of things and say “great, ice cream is good for me now” and go skipping happily down to the ice-cream shop.

We tend to forget the happy medium that the bell curve tells us how we should be eating. But then again, you don’t become a famous scientist by preaching practicality or moderation… those kinds of things don’t get any attention, so something bold must be said. Dr. Enig has a great book, but many readers will certainly overreact to her findings.

Instead having a happy medium, we begin to have all the people that believe fat is bad on one side, and then the people that believe fat is great on the other. The bell curve that we started with now looks like this:

Where’s the happy medium? It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

A better Solution:

Again, science isn’t useless, but it’s not always as scientific as it should be. If you can’t keep up with the studies for the rest of your life, a simple rule to follow is this: live as close to natural as possible. Obviously, we’re trying to build muscle and minimize fat here, so some deviations from the norm will be needed (like higher protein consumption), but you’ll understand the principal.

Here are some examples of doing what’s natural:

  • Natural training: You already know steroids will mess you up.
  • Weight machines: Humans were designed to pick up rocks and logs. Free weights closely mimic these movements, machines do not.
  • Saturated fat: It’s there when you eat meat. Your body was built to handle the amount that comes with what you eat.
  • Carbs: We’ve been eating grains as far back as recorded history goes. Don’t cut them completely out, but don’t eat all carbs because somebody put them at the bottom of your food pyramid. Remember the bell curve and moderation.
  • Egg yolks: Recent studies have shown that dietary fat and cholesterol aren’t as bad as we once thought. Instead of focusing on that, believe that humans have evolved and adapted to eating egg yolks, or that God put them there because they’re good for you, whichever you prefer to believe. You would have been correct all along.
  • Meds: If you take all the work away from your muscles, they will never grow. Same thing for strengthening your immune system. Use medical drugs when you really need them, not for every little twinge of pain.
  • Processed foods: Don’t eat them. Eat foods the way they grew out of the ground and meats as close to their natural form as possible. Dinner does not come in a microwavable box.

I’ll stop the list there for now. You get the idea. There are always exceptions, but sticking with what nature gives us will get you on track most of the time. We should use science as a tool (and I will here), but don’t give it your 100% trust. A little skepticism will go a long ways to helping you avoid all the hype and jumping on the bandwagons that the fitness industry will send your way in the name of science.

Now, I’d love to hear your agreements, disagreements, and especially your skepticism for this approach.

Continue reading about Why You Shouldn’t Trust Science

Weight Lifting BeltAlright, you may have seen people wearing a belt in the gym and wondered if a weight belt is for you. In general, and for most of you reading this, a weight belt is probably something that should be used sparingly in your workouts, and maybe not at all.

Whether a weight belt holds back your core muscles from experiencing growth on heavy exercises is debatable, but the belt can provide safety when you’re doing very heavy lifts or when there is a possibility of injury.

There are 3 reasons you might want to wear a weight belt when you workout:

1. Reduce Stress: belts help to reduce stress in exercises where the spinal erectors are involved in holding your lower back straight. Think of exercises like the deadlift or squats.

2. Prevent Hyperextension: By helping you to keep your lower back straight, a weight belt can keep you from bending too far back and going into hyperextension on exercises such as the overhead press.

3. You look dead sexy in a weight belt: Not very likely though.

How it works:

At first glance, a weight belt looks like a piece of safety equipment that protects the lower back by placing direct pressure against it. But in reality, the true magic of the weight belt comes from the other direction: it’s the pressure on the abs that grants you added stability.

Weight Lifting BeltTo work properly, your weight belt must be tight enough so that it compresses the abdominal cavity. This tightness in your mid-section creates a pressure that pushes against the inner side of the bones in your lower back, and this pressure is referred to as intra-abdominal pressure (IAP).

Because the pressure is pushing more on the inside of your lower back, your lower back muscles don’t have to strain as hard to pull on the other side. So the focus of a weight belt for squats is to apply pressure from the ab-side of the equation.

This all means that a belt should be worn tightly in order to be effective. But like so many things in life, it can come with a price. A tight belt can restrict blood flow and increase your blood pressure if worn for too long, so you’ll have to be sure to loosen it when you’re between sets.

Since the purpose of a weight belt is to place pressure on your abdominal cavity, the weight belts with a larger back area serve no special purpose. The best type of weight belt will be the same width all the way around, and should be just wide enough to fit between your hips and rib cage.

When to use a weight lifting belt: Generally, a weight belt should be saved for the moments of high-intensity. If you’re going to do your one-rep max, a heavy set, or if you have any feeling that you might get injured, go ahead and use it.

But use it sparingly if possible. Most people new to weight lifting don’t need to use a weight belt, and if you have good form and no injuries, you might not ever need one. Weight belts can be useful for the following exercises:

Better than a weight belt:

I’m a believer of letting your muscles to the work that they were built to do. You can keep your body ready to handle the stress by strengthening your core. Remember that you are already wearing a natural weight belt of muscle that wraps around you. Making your core muscles stronger will strengthen that natural belt.

You can do this by making sure that you’re not neglecting your ab workouts and that you’re actually treating your abs like a muscle group that deserves your time and attention. Also, toughen up your lower back by starting with a lower weight and increasing that weight progressively on your squats and deadlifts.

Do you remember that intra-abdominal pressure (AIP) that we talked about earlier? You’re still going to need that when you’re working out without a weight belt. To get it, tighten your abs to apply pressure to your abdominal cavity with each rep.

Taking a deep breath and holding it will also help to keep the pressure throughout the movement. Hold that breathe in throughout the entire movement and then breathe between reps so that you can keep the pressure on and assist the lower back muscles.

Again, this is going to be a judgment call on your part. If there’s any question about the possibility of an injury, you’re better safe than sorry. But use weight belts with good judgment and only when you really need them.

Continue reading about Do I Really Need a Weight Belt?

Warm UpGetting a good warm up before you attempt any heavy lifting is an absolute necessity. The purpose of a warm up should be pretty obvious from its name. You need to get your body warm and the blood pumping before you start lifting heavy.

Another fact that should be pretty obvious is that your ability to get your body warm will depend on the temperature the place you’re exercising in. If it’s winter time, a cool evening, or if you life in a cold place, then your body will probably require more warm up than it would on a hot summer afternoon.

Why warm up:

Why you need to warm up is a matter of safety. Just to help you visualize what’s going on, I’d like you to think about a rubber band. This will represent your muscles and other tissues. What happens if you stretch a rubber band that has been sitting in the freezer?

The rubber band probably snaps before you are able to stretch it very far. A warm rubber band, on the other hand, can probably be stretched a long ways before it breaks. This is what rubber bands were designed to do, after all. They are designed to stretch, but they can’t do that job very well cold.

The same is true for your muscles. They can’t do their job nearly as well when they are cold, and starting out with a heavy weight before your muscles are nice and warm can lead to injury and muscle tears. Trust me, you don’t want to be like that rubber band that snaps when it’s cold.

Warm ups are even more important for the bigger exercises such as the squat, deadlift, and the bench press. These will require a more extensive warm up, while other exercises will likely only need a a set or two with a light weight to get warmed up.

How to warm up

1. Clothing: Let’s start off with the right clothing. Wearing a sweater or workout pants is a good idea in cold weather until you’re able to raise you body temperature. Consider wearing several small layers instead of one heavy layer. Smaller layers can be peeled off one at a time until your body temperature is high enough.

2. Do static stretches at the end: In case you don’t know what this means, static stretches are those done without movement. The traditional stretches that you are familiar with are probably mostly all static stretches, such as touching your toes.

Static stretches have not been shown to do anything to help prevent injuries when you lift. In fact, many believe that static stretches increase the number of injuries you have when you lift weights. This may be because weight lifting requires you to keep your muscles tight, and loose muscles holding heavy weights can sometimes move beyond their normal range of motion.

Again, think of the rubber band analogy. The best time to stretch your muscles is when they are already nice and warm after you are finished lifting weights. Take a few minutes at the end of your workout to do your static stretches and lengthen your tightened muscles back out.

3. General warm up: Do some running for five minutes just to warm up your body temperature. You can really pick which type of activity you’d like to do to get your temperature up. Five minutes on the treadmill works fine, so does 5 minutes on an exercise bike. Doing a set or two of fairly light weight squats will also warm up your body very quickly.

4. Dynamic warm ups: The word static means staying still, and dynamic basically means with movement, or motion. Do dynamic warmups and stretches before your workout instead of static stretches. You can check out a decent list of dynamic warm ups here. You don’t have to do all of these, but a few leg kicks, butt kicks, and maybe some high knees should be done before squats/deadlifts at the very least.

If you don’t want to look silly by marching around the gym doing your leg kicks, go ahead and hold onto something and just do one leg at a time as you swing your leg in front of you for 10-15 reps or more. If you’re ever in doubt about your warm ups, make the mistake of doing too much warm up instead of too little.

5. Exercise-specific warm ups: You will need to do 1-2 sets or more of warm ups specific to the muscle group you are about to start working. For example, if you’re going to do the bench press, you might start off with a light warm up set (or more) of 12 reps. Choose a weight that is light enough that you can easily get 12 reps.

Pyramid sets: The idea behind pyramid sets is that you start with a lighter weight doing more reps. Maybe you start with 12 reps on the first set. The second set uses a heavier weight for 10 reps, the next 8 reps, and then 6.

Pyramid rep schemes work best for compound movements like the bench press. They don’t work quite as well for single-joint movements like bicep curls. The point here is that pyramid sets help you to ease into a heavy weight more safely.

That doesn’t mean you have to use them all the time for every single workout you ever do, as sets across (the same number of reps on each set) are useful as well, but pyramid reps are good to keep in mind.

Stretching between sets: There is some disagreement out there as to whether this is helpful or not. If you feel like your muscle is getting a little bit too tight after a heavy set and you’d like to loosen it out a little bit, I see nothing wrong with doing a light stretch for a moment between sets. Others may disagree with me on that, but just don’t go crazy with a deep stretch between sets, and you should be just fine.

Continue reading about Proper Warm Ups & Stretches