Thinking Like a Pro: Smart Gym Moves
Why are so many people attracted to bodybuilding?
Since Arnold Schwarzenegger and countless other Mr. Olympias in the United States began dominating the modern bodybuilding scene, it’s not surprising that countless would-be bodybuilders are flocking the nation’s gyms in search for bodybuilding gold.
The heavyweights of this generation like Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler have shown the world that being truly passionate about bodybuilding can transform into a fulltime and lucrative career. We’re talking about competitions with sizeable cash prizes, product endorsements, invitations to meets and more.
However, if you want to be like Jay Cutler and the “rest of the gang,” you have to start thinking like them.
How can you “think like a pro” while working out at the gym?
You can have five gym memberships across the state and all the sports gear you would ever need and still fall short of your bodybuilding ambitions.
You don’t need fancy running shoes or the latest fad protein shake to accomplish your bodybuilding goals. What you really need in the beginning is knowledge about the best practices in bodybuilding. This is the focus of our current series!
Pro Move # 1: Warm Up Before Hitting It Hard
Not warming up is of the most widespread “cardinal sins” of bodybuilding. Even professional bodybuilders are guilty of skipping warm ups sometimes! However, I advise you to always warm up before lifting moderate to heavy weights. Our muscles can endure a lot of torture and strain but eventually, they will break down if you don’t take care of them. It’s important that you take care of them now even if your muscles are still at their peak condition.
I recommend the following warm-up exercises:
- Ten minutes of static stretching
- At least fifteen minutes of sprightly cardio on the treadmill, bike, Stair Master, rowing machine, etc.
- Three to five light sets that involve the target muscle groups for the day (e.g. biceps, triceps, quads, delts, etc.)
Pro bodybuilders also warn against the “macho” trend of lifting the heaviest weights you can find at the beginning of your workout. This practice won’t improve your performance and will actually increase your risk of developing muscle tears.
Pro Move # 2: Workout With a Spotter
If you’re planning to perform barbell squats and bench presses and you’re gradually moving up the scale in terms of weights/resistance, you definitely need to start working out with a spotter.
A spotter is someone who guides and guards you while you’re performing movements that could lead to serious accidents.
For example, if you’re planning to bench press 200 pounds for the first time and you think you can only do one repetition, it’s possible that your strength will fail midway through the movement.
When this happens, your bar is going to fall on your chest or worse, on your face. People have died because they worked out with heavy weights with no one spotting for them.
Who can spot for you?
Ideally, your spotter should be someone who could actually stop a barbell from crushing your face or sternum. If another bodybuilder isn’t available, ask a family, friend or some willing stranger from the gym to spot for you.
Even if your spotter can’t stop the accident from occurring, you will still have someone watching your actual movement and that person can call for help when necessary.
Pro Move # 3: Wear a Support Belt to Save Your Lower Back
A support belt or weightlifting belt is worn around the waist not for your abdominal muscles, but to support your lower back. To an extent, it does provide some core support but its main use is to help maintain the tight configuration of the lower back muscles and your spinal column when you’re performing high-risk exercises.
Some doctors will question the use of a support belt simply because the belts haven’t been specifically trained to handle the requirements of bodybuilders and athletes. It’s important that you find a physician who has experience with sports-related injuries so you can ask him questions about proper training and injury prevention.
If you’re planning to perform a bench press or deadlift involving very heavy weights, you should definitely consider wearing a support belt. It doesn’t matter if you’re lifting in your basement or in a fancy, well-lit gym.
A weight belt is necessary when you’re performing exercises that could potentially harm your lower back. However, its use should not be abused.
If you wear a weight belt, even if you’re lifting light or moderate weights, your back muscles will become underdeveloped and you will not be able to develop the back strength needed to progress.
In Part 2, I will discuss some more important safety tips on how to stay safe in the gym or while working out at home.
Thinking Like a Pro: Smart Gym Moves
How can you make your journey to bodybuilding glory as safe as possible?
In the first part of this post we talked about the importance of warming up, using a spotter when performing potentially risky exercise and the importance of wearing weight belts when your lower back will be under a high level of muscular strain.
We will now cover more ground in terms of establishing your personal safety while you’re working out at home or in the gym.
A large percentage of bodybuilders also have equipment at home and they work out in the garage, basement or living room. Some folks even have a dedicated room at home where they use a home gym. Regardless of whether you work out at home, or at the gym, your safety is a #1 concern.
Pro Safety Tips
- Pro Move # 1: Always Lock Your Plates
If you’ve been lifting weights for some time now, you’ve probably thought once or twice not to lock your plates because the process does get a little tiresome, especially if you’re using rotating cuffs.
While some bodybuilders admittedly forego the use of weight plate collars while they’re working out, don’t follow in their footsteps. If they want to increase their risk of injury while working out, then that’s their decision.
However, if you want to be one hundred percent injury-free and accident-free as you continue with your bodybuilding transformation, pay attention to the little details that could save your life. Unless you have two spotters on either side and a complete mastery of gravity and the physics of weight plates, not locking your plates before lifting can cause severe accidents that could prematurely end your bodybuilding days.
Pro Move # 2: Bring Those Bars and Plates Where They Belong
If you’re done using your weight plates and you’re moving on to bigger plates or a completely different tool or equipment, be courteous and place all the equipment back to their proper places in the gym. You’re doing everyone a huge favor by doing so!
Another reason for this tip is that it can be dangerous to have loose plates and bars on the floor when you’re working out. Imagine tripping over a bar while carrying a hundred pounds worth of plates; you’ll be a sight to behold, I can guarantee that!
Pro Move # 3: Don’t Be Too Proud To Ask Questions
If it’s your first time to use the gym specifically to cut fat and gain mass, you have to be willing to talk to certified trainers and other bodybuilders so you can benefit from their experience and knowledge.
Reading books, magazines and manuals is an excellent habit and will definitely protect you from false information. However, practical knowledge is just as important and even Mr. Olympias like Jay Cutler still seek advice when they want to clarify or improve their technique.
There are no “stupid questions” when it comes to bodybuilding. Even the simplest questions are important especially if they concern technique and form.
Pro Move # 4: Stick to Proper Form and Ideal Execution All the Time
Each bodybuilding exercise has a prescribed form and ideal method of execution. Before even trying a new movement, study its details closely and ask your trainer questions before picking up a bar. Many weightlifting and powerlifting movements seem extremely simple… until it’s actually time to perform them.
Unorthodox strength building exercises such as Russian kettlebells also have special techniques that will ensure your safety. If you fail to follow basic safety guidelines and proper form, one or all of these things can happen:
- You’ll end up with an injury.
- You will fail to activate the proper muscle groups needed to carry out a movement successfully.
- You will have to settle for half repetitions or “half reps” because you didn’t achieve the full range of motion required by the exercise.
- You’ll have a severe accident that could injure or even kill you.
Proper form and technique doesn’t just keep you safe – it also maximizes your performance and the actual gain or muscular benefit of all exercises. Maintaining ideal form can be difficult at times and this difficulty is actually what makes you stronger and better.
If you can overcome the difficulty of using proper techniques every time you hit the gym, you will not be wasting your time (or money) because all your efforts will pay off.