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The 5 Keys to Lifting Weights to Get Stronger and End Your Pain

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Over the past quarter of a century of practice and thousands of patients that I have treated for pain, I have been able to prove that the cause of pain in more than was 95% of cases was muscular. This number included most that were misdiagnosed from an MRI with a structural variation like a herniated disc, stenosis or arthritis.

The key to resolving their pain and associated loss of function was through a progressive-resistance strength-training program that I design for each person. My method is the result of my 30 years of personal weight lifting, in which I taught myself the biomechanics and physics of weight lifting, rather than anything I was taught through my medical education. Beyond learning the specifics of any particular exercise, I developed an understanding of how muscles work, and created the most effective mechanism to get them stronger in the shortest period of time. Applying these techniques to my professional practice has allowed me to resolve people’s pain and return them to full function in just weeks. It should never take many months—and certainly not years—to achieve this goal. Here are my five keys to maximizing strength in the shortest period of time…

Key #1: The Exercise Must Be Specific and Isolated to the Muscle Being Strengthened. Each muscle only moves one joint in one direction. If a joint is being moved in more than one direction or if more than one joint is moving, that exercise is not isolative. If an exercise seems difficult to perform because of some intricacy or balance issue, the exercise is not a good one for strengthening an individual muscle. My exercises are easy to perform.

Key #2: All Energy Used in Performing the Exercise Should Go to That Muscle’s Ability to Move the Resistance Being Worked Against.

When I am isolating a muscle to get stronger, my goal is to have every other muscle of my body relaxed so all the effort goes toward that one muscle.

  • If you have a chance to perform an exercise sitting or standing which is most efficient? Sitting—because standing means the muscles responsible for standing must be working, taking energy away from the muscle you’re trying to develop.
  • If you have a choice of sitting upright with no back support or leaning back against a support, which is more effective? Leaning against a back support—which stops the muscles required to support the torso from contracting, thereby allowing you to focus your energy on the muscle you want to develop.
  • Any attempt to perform some type of balance activity by sitting on a resistance ball or standing on an unstable surface while trying to perform isolated strength training is completely counterproductive.

Every exercise should look the same—one muscle moving one joint, with the rest of the body as stable as possible.

Key #3: The Only Way to Make a Muscle Stronger Is Progressively More Resistance.

Let me be perfectly clear: If a muscle is not being forced to work against greater and greater levels of resistance, there is no reason for that muscle to get stronger. For everyone out there who was given a sheet of exercises to perform and religiously did them five or seven days a week for six months to a year (or more!) and felt no better, you now know why.

It is the progressive increase in resistance that makes muscles stronger. How often you perform an exercise doesn’t help. How many times you perform the exercise doesn’t help. The only thing that makes a muscle get stronger is causing it to work against greater and greater resistances.

By the way, the mechanism that is used to create the increasing resistance is of no real importance. I can use dumbbells, barbells, weight lifting machines, resistance bands or resistance tubes. As long as the muscle in question is working against a greater and greater resistance, it will get stronger. Eventually, it will be strong enough to perform your functional tasks without straining and eliciting pain.

Here’s how progressive resistance works: When starting an isolated strength-training program, find a resistance that you can perform three sets of 10 repetitions of an exercise so that it feels like you are moderately exerting yourself. This would be considered 50% of your maximal exertion level. Eventually, the muscle in question will get stronger. Once it seems easy, increase the resistance level until if feels like you are exerting yourself pretty hard to complete the three sets of 10 repetitions. This would be considered 80% of your maximal effort. Stay at this resistance until it gets easier (back to 50% of your maximal effort)…and then, again, increase the resistance to a level where it feels like you are using 80% of your maximum effort, and so on.

It may take a few weeks or a month to feel like your muscle has adapted to where you can increase the resistance being used. After 31 years of strength training, it sometimes takes me months to get an increase in resistance. The good news is that muscle will always adapt and get stronger.

Key #4: Don’t Let Excessive Lactic Acid Develop.

Briefly, lactic acid is the byproduct of muscular contraction. Muscles contract because two proteins that make up the muscle can join together and pull each other in opposite directions, creating force. Lactic acid impedes how much of the proteins can join together. The more lactic acid that develops, the less force a muscle can create. In strength training, you want to prevent lactic acid from building up so the muscle can create the most amount of force to push against the resistance. This involves knowing the right number of sets of an exercise to perform, how many repetitions per set and how long you should wait between sets. What’s right?

  • Three sets of each exercise. Any more than that can cause excess lactic acid to develop.
  • No more than 10 repetitions per set. Twelve, 15 or even 20 repetitions simply allow too much lactic acid to be developed. After a high number of repetitions, muscles give out due to excessive lactic acid, not because the muscle is getting stronger.
  • At least one minute between sets. As noted above, lactic develops when a muscle contracts. It cannot be removed during a contraction as the microcirculation is compressed. At rest, the microcirculation opens and the lactic acid is washed away as blood enters the muscle. It takes at least one minute for the full amount of lactic acid to be removed so that 100% of the muscle is available for the next set. If you don’t wait long enough, you might find you can’t get the full 10 repetitions.

Key #5: No Muscle Should Be Strengthened More Than Three Times a Week.

This is the key that most of you will love. Anybody who says you need to strengthen everyday doesn’t understanding the physiology of muscle. When performing strength training, you are not actually growing muscle at the time of the exercise. You are attempting to create microtears in the muscles. The body recognizes this and creates an inflammatory response to heal the muscle, thereby making more muscle. This inflammatory response occurs in the next 24 to 48 hours after the exercise is performed. If strengthening were attempted during this period, there is a chance that the muscle could be caused to strain. There are some people who tend to overtrain and end up straining and hurting themselves.

If you want to perform something to benefit yourself on a daily basis, take the off days and perform functional activities like walking, bicycling, swimming or other recreational activities. These integrate all the muscles that are needed to perform these tasks. Since no muscle is being isolated on the non-strength-training days, there is little chance of straining the muscle.

In all of my experience with patients, I have found that there were never more than three to four muscles involved in creating the painful symptoms. That means I never have a person perform more than three to four exercises any more than three times a week to resolve their symptoms and return to full function.

The reason people end up getting treatment for months or years and still have the very same symptoms as when they started is because they are not following these keys. As long as you are maximizing each muscle’s ability to get stronger in the fastest way possible, it really doesn’t much time or effort!

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