Instead of simply copying Insta lifting routines, try this

Anyone with a passing interest in fitness has probably been guilty of analysing YouTube and Instagram videos of elite athletes and fitness models and trying to shoehorn those professionals’ techniques into their own training.

When it comes to weightlifting, this can be very problematic. It wasn’t so long ago that lifting was more of a subculture, but now – thanks in part to the cult of CrossFit – it’s infiltrated every gym. And most of those gyms will now have a decent Olympic barbell; that doesn’t, however, mean  watching videos will school you on how to use it correctly and safely.

Safe and strong.

A study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine revealed the risks attached to lifting wrongly. Nearly 3500 participants in CrossFit training were interviewed, and many reported injuries to the shoulders (39%), back (36%), knees (15%), elbows (12%), and wrists (11%). The findings suggested three groups are at greater risk: those in their first year of participation; those who train fewer than three days a week; and those who participate in fewer than three workouts a week.

That means it’s vital to get a professional trainer on board if you’re just starting out in weights or CrossFit, to correct your form. As someone getting started, I enlisted trainer Nick Mann to give me some preliminary guidance for lifting alone. Mann is a pro-wrestler by night, and trains people in weightlifting by day, at Mischa’s Boxing Central in Melbourne’s Footscray. He can bench press 180kg, in case you were wondering.

Base your workout on what your goals are

Splitting training into body parts – such as "chest day", "arm day" and "leg day" – is ideal for body building, but for athletic training and weight loss it’s more efficient to focus on movement patterns.

Machines like the leg curl and leg extension are easier to use, so you can sit on Instagram, but for overall strength development they’re useless.

“An easy way to think of a workout is to base it on one of three main movement patterns,” says Mann. “You’ve got push-pull exercises, which are split into horizontal and vertical, such as a bench press/bent-over row [horizontal] and overhead press/pull up [vertical]. Then there are hinge exercises, such as a deadlift and squat exercises, which include a single-leg stance, a lunge or a carry.”

Don’t just use the machines

“Machines like the leg curl and leg extension are easier to use, so you can sit back on your phone checking Instagram, but in terms of overall strength development, they’re useless. If it’s actual results you're after, you can't go wrong with basic barbell movements,” says Mann. He recommends swapping a leg-press machine for a barbell squat.

Warm-up in a way that’s specific for weights

Mann says that static stretching of muscles is more likely to hinder your performance than improve it. Instead, you’ll want to focus on increasing mobility and stability in the joints with a more dynamic approach, mimicking the movements you’ll be training.

If you’re doing squats or deadlifts, get your hips and core fired up. Ask a trainer to walk you through the Andrew Lock Hip Big 3 and Shoulder Big 3, and the Stuart McGill Big 3.

“If you start your workout and you still feel tired and sore, go back and warm up some more” Mann advises.

Build up weight gradually

If you go too high as a beginner you’re going to have form breakdown, so keep it moderate. To play it safe you could start using barbells without any weight on at all to get used to the right movement, then start adding weight. Ultimately you want to be aiming for progressive overload: growing a muscle by forcing your body to adapt to a tension greater than what it has previously experienced.

Try this basic workout

To focus on a hinge movement, start out on a multi-joint compound exercise like a deadlift, with three sets of five reps. “Then you can add supplementary exercises to complement your main one,” says Mann. “For instance, if you can’t stabilise well through your lats you might choose to add in a rack pull to help strengthen the lats and the lower back. Then you might add some unilateral movement for symmetry, like some single-arm rows. Lastly, you’d add some isolation movements, like a dumbbell pull-over to help strengthen your lats and increase thoracic extension [the longest region of your spine], or some Swiss ball leg-curls.”

What about cardio?

Cardio’s great for keeping the heart healthy, but the idea that it’s the most effective weight-loss regime is a hangover from the '80s aerobics craze. Kudos to Jane Fonda, Jamie Lee Curtis et al for looking amazing in high-cut leotards, but Mann says that lifting is the most consistent way of burning fat.

“With aerobics activity you may burn more calories during the workout, but unless it’s really high-intensity, once you stop training you stop burning calories,” says Mann. “With weight training you burn fewer during the workout but over the next 48 hours you’ll continue to burn them. That’s why after a heavy weight session you might feel hot the next day because your body is still burning calories.”

He does concede that cardio exercise supplements this fat loss. “It’s best to do cardio post-weight-lifting workout, when you’re in a state of depleted glycogen, as then you’ll burn more fat as fuel,” he says. “It doesn’t need to be a 30-minute run. It might just be a high-incline walk for 20 minutes.”

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