Try Not To Hurt Yourself

Image: chrisada

Besides doing warm-up sets before your lifts, do you do anything else to warm up? I find that jumping straight into barbell warm-up sets to not be enough. Lately I’ve been doing a quick spin on the rowing machine and some pull-ups and air squats, but I don’t know if that is particularly helpful before swole lifting. I’m curious about your pre-warm-up warm-up. — Nicole

Generally, warming up is Good, but how much you need can depend on your body, your experience, and how you live your daily life. Even if you do not lift, you, like all humans, may be crusting over from all the stagnant Netflix-watching and phone-staring, and stretching is a good way to keep your body from crumpling in on itself on the way to death.

You sort of don’t have to guess about what you need to warm up or how much because three things will tell you: when you develop any twinges or tightness, when your form is bad, or when you are using the wrong muscles to do something (these are all sort of interrelated problems). Not warming up enough or properly can be a factor in all of this stuff. For instance, I once noticed was not squatting deeply enough and felt like I was bouncing out of the bottom rather using my muscles to push. This was a number of things, but a couple big ones were my hamstrings and my hip flexors were tight (thank you, desk job), so I added stretches for that stuff to my warm-up — toe touches, low yoga lunges, pigeon pose, rocking frog stretch. My whole warm-up routine consists of 5–10 minutes of things to either limber up muscles that tend to be tight for me, or “activating” muscles that I’m terrible at activating — for instance, my quads take over during a squat and my body just doesn’t like to use its glutes, so I do some warmups like quadruped hip rotations to get my glutes moving beforehand to be like, “Hey remember these???” I rotate moves in and out of the routine depending on what problems I’m having.

If your form is all good and you’re recruiting all your muscles correctly, your warm-up may be fine! If you are having form problems but aren’t sure what’s causing it, a trainer can help you, or you can post a form check video to an online forum. If you want to try warming up differently just for the hell of it, Starting Stretching has a balanced routine, and the Limber 11 is more focused on lower-body stuff, but it will hit so many spots you didn’t even know you had.

Image: Jason Lander

I’ve been doing Stronglifts for over a year, but because of playing a sport (ice hockey) + depression + general difficulty keeping to a routine, I’ve had a lot of trouble going regularly. I lift anywhere from 1–3 times a week (I aim for 2) and sometimes miss a week or two at a time. Consequently I’ve progressed very slowly. I’ll be great about it for a few weeks and be like, hey, I might actually start making gains now! and then my brain will eat itself, or I’ll have four hockey games in a week, or my period will start, and all of a sudden it’s been two weeks and I’m just lifting all the same weights I was a month ago, or deloading if I really have to. Currently I OHP 45lb, row 60, bench 62.5, squat 65, and deadlift 105. I’ve made progress, but nothing near these miraculous “noob gains” people apparently get.

Let’s pretend I could really put my mental back into it and stick to a reasonable gym-going frequency for more than a couple of weeks at a time. Is there any chance I could still get that fun motivational burst of progress, or have I missed the boat on that and I’m stuck with snail’s-pace progress indefinitely? — Cynthia

You are probably just exhausted from living your life. Most people who get “noob gains” (the term for being able to gain strength quickly in a short period of time while being relatively new to lifting) are not also fully playing a sport on the side. They aren’t beyond you, they just have more to do with hitting a certain level of strength than how much time has gone by. But you still need to balance resources in with resources out. If your life is taking a lot out of you, it doesn’t make sense to go into the gym and demand yet more.

Most sources will tell you generally it’s not possible, or at least not easy, to improve in two dimensions of physical ability at once. I won’t go so far as to say it’s impossible to become, say, a faster long-distance runner while also becoming a stronger squatter, but at minimum your schedule would have to be extremely forgiving in terms of how much rest you could get and food you could eat. Pursuing full-body fitness is great! Get harder/better/faster/stronger, but don’t expect to be able to become them all at the same time.

Your progress will be pretty slow at two workouts a week, regardless of what else you’re doing — most beginner programs require three workouts per week. Running through noob gains could take a year, at that pace. But your body is also likely just too tired to do anything else, mentally and physically. If you did want to work out more and make progress from those sessions, you’d have to make very sure you were eating and sleeping enough, like a lot, to the point that it would be a lot of pressure to maintain and would majorly interfere with your work or social life. A nice thing about lifting can be that, if you’re up for it, it can sort of enforce good habits in the rest of your life. But if you can’t follow through with those parts, it’s unreasonable to expect your body to get much stronger.

It’s unclear if you have hockey practice in addition to your games. But if so you may want to talk to your coach(es)(?) and see if you can’t convert some of your practice time to strength training. Alternatively, if you ever get time off your sport entirely, that’s the time to pursue noob gains. In the meantime, go easy on yourself.

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