If you’re confused about how to get the most calorie burn or muscle growth using strength training, you’re in good company. Magazines, TV personalities, and even gym enthusiasts at the water cooler all seem to have the “best” way of doing things.
When it comes to getting results strength training, however, there are few absolutes. An exercise that delivers fabulous results for one person may cause injury in another. There’s a wide spectrum of anatomical differences and abilities from person to person so a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t cut it. That’s why it’s a good thing exercise can be customized specifically for your goals.
That means your goals are the single most important thing you need to know when planning a strength training workout. Everyone has their own reason for strength training: to look good in a swimsuit (tone muscles), to pick up your kids safely or live without pain (build strength), or to lose weight (build muscle and burn calories).
If there’s one steadfast rule about exercise, it’s to continuously challenge your body in new ways. So check out these strength-training tools and use them with a solid knowledge of why.
Seated vs. Standing Exercises
You want to get the most out of every exercise you do, so you may have wondered if it’s better to sit or stand for exercises like bicep curls, shoulder presses, and overhead triceps extensions. Studies have shown that standing challenges neuromuscular activation of superficial core muscles more than sitting . Standing while using free weights or cables requires your body to stabilize as you’re hoisting the weights; sitting requires much less stabilization. You also burn more calories standing than sitting .
Of course, you should do sitting, standing, and lying exercises to confuse your central nervous system into working harder. And if you have back problems, doing an exercise while seated can give you a stable surface against which to lean. But for rock-solid injury prevention, strength, and calorie burn, be sure to do plenty of exercises while standing.
Machines vs. Free Weights
If you’re a novice in the weight room, machines offer a great way to learn a movement because they force your body into a fixed plane of motion. For this reason machines also tend to be safer for beginners who haven’t learned proper form. But it’s this very reason that makes machines limiting: In real life you move in all three planes of motion, not one. When you’re sitting in a machine, the demands on your neuromuscular system, stabilizer muscles, and core are not nearly as intense as when you use free weights.
Free weights allow you to do more complex exercises as well, thereby burning more calories. Machines have benefits and some movements such as the leg press require them. But to place more demand on your core and neuromuscular system, learn how to use free weights safely as well.
Bilateral vs. Unilateral Exercises
Bilateral exercises (using both limbs at once, such as barbell bicep curl) provide stability and train the limbs to work together. Once you’re comfortable with weights and have worked up to using alternating arms or legs, you’ll want to try training one side at a time. If you’ve never tried an overhead shoulder press with just one arm, you’ll be surprised at how challenging it can be to stabilize the non-working side.
Unilateral training has been shown to increase neural response, strengthen supporting muscles, and challenge balance and coordination more intensely than bilateral training. This translates into injury prevention in real life. Research has also shown that training one side while the other is injured may cause a sympathetic response in the injured side, encouraging neurological adaptation . And finally, unilateral training is a great way to bring up a lagging body part and fix muscle imbalances. To get the most from your resistance workouts, use both unilateral and bilateral training.
What are your goals? How do you mix up your workouts? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.