My first weightlifting experience was in high school gym class. I vividly remember that I was only capable of lifting the bar, without any additional weight.
In a room full of macho high school boys, the guys who could lift the most weight reigned supreme. But I later learned that lifting the most weight does not translate into the best workout, or improved health and wellness.
Let's talk about the benefits of using lighter resistance levels with very controlled movements.
I have definitely gone through different stages of weight training throughout my life. Until I was about 24, my goal was to lift as much as I could for as many repetitions as possible. I mistakenly thought that this was the way to achieve the best results. Only later did I realize how much damage I'd done to my shoulders, neck and back during those years.
Yes, I could bench press 300-plus, but at what cost?
After many injuries and a change in priorities, I learned to adjust my training to match my body type. I have smaller than average bones and joints, so heavy weight doesn't necessarily agree with my musculoskeletal structure.
I find that I can achieve nearly the same fitness level with moderate resistance and higher repetition counts.
For me, the adjustment was easy. Instead of bench pressing 225 pounds for eight repetitions, I switched to 185 pounds in sets of 12 or 15 reps. The level of muscular fatigue was essentially the same, and there was no perceptible difference in results.
So, I experimented with higher repetition counts for other muscle groups.
At one time, leg workouts were debilitating. Using heavy weights with squats, deadlifts and lunges created so much soreness that I could barely walk for the rest of the week. Switching to lighter weights not only reduced injuries, but it allowed me to move more easily with less delayed onset muscle soreness.
This week's exercise exemplifies my evolution into lighter resistance levels. The Incline Barbell Pause Row requires only a 5- to 10-pound bar for most people, because the isometric feature really challenges the upper back.
1. Select a weighted aerobics bar or small weighted barbell.
2. Position yourself face down on an exercise bench that is inclined to 45 degrees.
3. You will actually be standing and simply leaning your chest against the bench.
4. Row the bar up toward your chest.
5. Once the bar touches the back of the bench, hold in there for five seconds. This will require an isometric contraction with your back and arms.
6. Slowly lower the bar, then raise it back up and repeat.
7. Perform five reps with a five-second pause on each one.
The Incline Barbell Pause achieves muscular fatigue with light resistance — and fewer repetitions, due to the isometric hold. It's a cool way to increase time under contraction, which is a fancy way of saying the muscles are working for long periods of time.
Now, let's get to work!
Matt Parrott has a doctorate in education (sport studies) and a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.