Fit and Fine by Kamal Singh CSCS: Different strokes for different folks


Most trainers tend to push their clients to lift heavy and get strong. They believe that building strength in the gym and muscle building go hand in hand. But if a client only wants to look good and does not care to get strong then the strength focused trainers get stumped. I, too, was one of those trainers. I would not program isolation exercises for the smaller body parts. I would focus on the big three – squat, deadlift and press – preferably overhead rather than the bench press. My reasoning was that progressive overload could not be created on smaller exercises. Not every client wants to be strong and there is a way to add muscle without needing to lift heavy all the time.

One size for everybody?

The strength guys do not care if their biceps have a peak or their triceps look like big horseshoes when flexed. They care about moving the maximum amount of weight through a muscle or joint’s full range of motion. They feel that focusing on the smaller muscles is a waste of time as these get worked when doing the big multi-joint exercises. Also, too much volume gets added when training the smaller muscles. They are all about increasing the weight on the bar over time. Here are some of the pros and cons of the strength training/ compound exercise only crowd.

Pros:

•Focus on the big exercises – squat, deadlift, press, row, pull up/chin up.

•Strong for their size. These guys tend to be amongst the strongest in the gym, pound for pound.

•Workouts tend to be short – finish inside an hour.

•Do not train more than 3-4 times a week.

Cons:

•Tend to have blocky physiques. They look big and bulky in clothes but not so great on the beach!

•The smaller muscles do not get worked separately; this might lead to injuries later due to imbalances in strength and development.

•Lifting heavy all the time beats the joints over time. Joints can get cranky and lead to pain.

•Sometimes the only way to move forward is to work the weaker muscle. This would mean stopping the compound exercises and using single joint exercises to bring things to par.

•Do not like to do any cardio and thus are missing a vital link in their fitness – cardio vascular fitness which ultimately has a direct impact on their overall health.

The Hypertrophy

Most people start their fitness journey wanting to transform their bodies. Mass media has had a major influence on how we look at our bodies. That is the reason for very young boys wanting a six pack. The muscle size crowd does not care how strong they are as long as they can look good. That is the reason behind doing endless exercises for each body part. I have seen such craziness like trying to improve the “inner chest/pecs”- usually not possible unless you are blessed with a particular shape of a muscle. Some of the pros and cons of body beautiful trainees are listed below.

Pros:

•Aesthetic physiques with low body fat is the aim. So, each body part is given due importance.

•They tend to do quite a lot of cardio so as to reduce body fat. This has a side effect of improving their cardio vascular fitness and overall health.

•They are looking to optimize muscle gain while reducing body fat, so they take good care of their nutrition.

Cons:

•Workouts tend to be very long and the frequency is also high. The only way to be able to do a large number of exercises for each body part is only focus on one body part per workout. This single body part split means that trainees need to work out 6-7 days a week to train the full body. This may not be possible for the busy person.

•Since they do lots of isolation exercises, pound for pound the body beautiful trainee is not strong and thus not very functional in the world outside the gym.

•Long and frequent workouts hit recovery pretty hard. This is not doable over the long term.

•Obsessing over “six pack abs” might lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, ultimately undermining mental health.

As an experienced and “wise” trainer, now I no longer push my clients in only one direction. In fact, I now firmly believe, every trainee should alternate between a hypertrophy phase and a strength phase which brings us to Periodisation, a topic I shall get into in great detail over the next few columns. Till then, sometimes lift heavy and sometimes just train for the pump. Now go and do it.

Kamal Singh is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has been coaching for 15 years

From HT Brunch, March 6, 2022

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