There are many reasons behind why we choose to work out. Among the most popular goals are increasing muscle mass and strength, as well as improving our endurance. These goals can be achieved using free weights, weight machines and cardio equipment. There are many suggested programs online outlining how these items of gym equipment can be used to meet exercise goals, or a personal trainer can tailor a program to meet our individual needs.
However, it might be tempting to give ourselves a helping hand to see results more quickly. While a range of supplements and drugs are known to enhance performance, these are not good news, carrying a number of risks with their use. It’s far safer to use an exercise program designed to naturally strengthen muscles or increase endurance, even if results do take longer to achieve.
Dangers of performance enhancing substances
One of the most commonly taken supplements among gym users are protein powders in an attempt to maximize gains in muscle mass. Typically based on milk or soy protein, these supplements seem a harmless option, but there is little evidence that high protein diets or supplements aid muscle growth and a high protein intake places a strain on the kidneys.
This is because the body is only able to incorporate a limited quantity of protein into new muscle tissue, which can usually be obtained through dietary means, so the excess is excreted via urine.
Going one step further, it is not uncommon for people trying to bulk up to use anabolic steroids. Using these performance-enhancing drugs leads to adverse effects on both the male and female reproductive system, as well as damaging the heart kidneys and liver. Anabolic steroids are also no less addictive than illegal drugs. When it comes to enhancing endurance, a range of supplements are available, including creatine, carnitine and beta-alanine, but results of scientific research is mixed and their use isn’t without potential side effects.
Stimulants, both legal and otherwise, may also be used to increase endurance, but for anyone with a heart condition or mental health issues these are best avoided, and according to www.DrugAbuse.com, illegal stimulants are highly addictive.
Improving muscle mass and strength
Resistance exercise is the key to gains in muscle size and strength. A range of weights can be used to offer resistance activity for the muscles, but dumbbells and barbells offer a low-cost option, which allow a range of movements during training and evidence of their effectiveness.
However, weight machines that use cams, pulleys and levers to change the resistive force during each movement allow less force to be applied in weaker positions, while more force is applied when the muscles are in a stronger position. This fact can be used to justify their extra cost, as can the fact that they successfully boost gains in muscle strength.
Although any form of progressive resistance activity will help to increase muscle strength to some degree, following some basic guidelines can help to maximize results while reducing the risk of injury.
- Ensure that you use at least one resistance exercise for the major groups of muscles to allow balanced muscle development and reduced risk of muscle damage. If you are unfamiliar with these muscle groups, they include the biceps, triceps, deltoids, neck extensors and flexors, muscles of the chest, abdomen, upper and lower back, hip abductors and adductors, quadriceps and hamstrings.
- Exercise the larger muscles of the legs before those of the arms, body and neck, as you will be able to carry out the more demanding activities first when you have more energy.
- Lifting weights too quickly places greater stress on the muscles and other soft tissues, so injury is more likely. Aim for each lift to last one or two seconds, while lowering should last three or four seconds.
- Exercisers using one or two sets can achieve similar strength gains to someone using three sets. However, if using a single set, where exercise is to the point of brief muscle failure, completing 8 to 12 reps at 70-80% of maximum resistance is recommended to avoid soft tissue injury, while achieving efficient muscle gains.
- Using a complete scope of joint motion to performing each exercise is recommended to enhance muscle strength and flexibility of joints.
- Over time resistance needs to be increased to achieve further gains in strength. Start by performing an exercise 8 times and once it can be completed 12 times, increase resistance by up to 5%.
- As muscle-building typically takes around 48 hours after strength training, resistance exercise sessions should be completed every other day. However, daily training can be completed if the muscle groups worked are alternated.
If alternatively the aim is to increase cardio-respiratory endurance, a range of cardio machines can be used to assist workouts, including a treadmill, an elliptical trainer or a stationary bike. Before you jump straight into a workout, ensure that you warm up using the same equipment at a lower intensity for no less than three minutes.
When it comes to the workout itself, anyone new to exercise should start off exercising at 50% of their maximum heart rate; the heart monitors on cardio equipment are a useful tool for this. Over a 6 month period, this can be increased to 85% of maximum heart rate.
Even someone who is already fit should not excess this maximum heart rate. Besides following a specific training program geared to increasing cardio-respiratory endurance, interval training has been shown to produce greatest benefits; this is where short, high-intensity exercise is mixed with moderate-intensity exercise.
After each workout, ensure that you use cool down exercise to get your heart rate under 60% of its maximum and don’t hold back on the carbohydrate, as this is needed to restore muscle glycogen, which will be essential to fuel the next workout.
This article was written by Body-Solid guest blogger Claire Hillman