Mysteries of the Weight Room

The weight room has confused and befuddled millions.  It is a place of archaic instruments that will supposedly chisel the body and tone the ego.  I remember the pride in detail that I chased when I designed a massive training room at a University.  The treadmills were perfectly lined up.  The weight machines complimented one another like milk and cookies and the dumb bell racks, oh the dumb bell racks!  They were a vision of linear beauty.  I walk through spaces like that now and I experience a sense of regret.  The human body is not supposed to sit on machines or struggle against a motor.  We are not designed to push with our arms one day, pull the next and our complex system of muscles and connective tissue is absolutely not engineered to move our legs independently from the rest of our body. 

A high school weight room is usually a mosaic of well-intentioned grant spending by teachers over the decades.  You will inevitably find the ‘fads’ prominently displayed below informative posters of ‘70’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s exercisers showing the user exactly how it should be done.  I had the pleasure of teaching in a space like this recently.  In hind sight, I mistakenly expected a group of inexperienced kids to show up in the hope of figuring out how to exercise.  I was completely wrong and should have known better.  High school beginners aren’t going to show up voluntarily in a weight room to meet some stranger.  Instead, 6 athletes from various sports joined the session.  Each of them already had a bit of training experience and they all wanted to learn a bit more about the weight room. 

The same scenarios tend to arise every time I work with a group like this.  Boys who bench press, squat and ‘deadlift’ (loose description of what they are actually doing!)  Girls who do their sport but don’t really ‘lift weights.’  Further, the boys are completely lost in the quagmire of how to be bigger and the girls are totally afraid of getting ‘bulky’ with weights.  This all circles back to the origins and designs of a ‘standard’ weight room.  Lifting weights used to be all about building bigger, more defined muscles.  The best way to blast those muscle groups was to work them as hard as possible in isolation.  Weight rooms took on the look of ‘target’ areas – upper body pushes, upper body pulls and lower body exercises.  That morphed into circuit training setups where an upper body push exercise was placed beside a lower body exercise followed up by an upper body pull, lower body, push, lower, pull…etc.  Throw in the gong show of sets, reps, recovery and technique and this starts to take on the look of a left over stew after thanksgiving – bits and pieces that will hopefully work together.

Today, we are cruising into yet another version of training that I quite like – medicine balls, kettlebells, plyo. boxes, skipping ropes and battle ropes.  These tools are to be found tucked behind the treadmills and squat racks, on the periphery of the ‘standard’ gym, only to be used by those in the know.  The rope people sweat it out, grunting and groaning in a violent manner while the treadmillers and leg pressers move in an orderly, robotic fashion.  If I have one thumbs up for cross fit style gyms, it is the selection of movements that they employ to push people into greater levels of fitness.  They have all the toys displayed prominently, not hidden away behind a sign out desk. 

All this is to say that weight rooms are now even more confusing than before!  Let’s clarify what a high school athlete should do in a weight room;

  1. Learn!  Walking into the weight room ‘guessing’ is just a bad call.  Seek out some information from experienced trainers (go back to my ‘who should lead’ blog in the archives and read about good trainers) or peers who have trainers and start to learn
  2. Train movement, not isolation.  Sport performance is all about moving from the feet, through the body, into the arms.  Training should reflect that natural movement pattern
  3. With a few years of training ‘age’ you can lift heavy weights.  You can squat, press and deadlift!  Those big muscles will push more power if you train them properly
  4. Train POWER properly.  Choose practical jumps, throws, tosses, hops…movements, that filter into your sport and train them at 100% speed and intensity.  Skip power training if you can’t commit to full effort
  5. Strengthen your weaknesses and build your strengths, in that order.  An athletic body needs to be balanced
  6. Commit to a plan.  The only secret ingredient to success in health and fitness, the ONLY one, is consistency.  There are no other secrets that hold the power of consistency!
  7. Find out what the best of the best have done and get on that wagon.  The elites in your sport did not focus on biceps curls, crunches and leg extensions – no way!

These 7 points are really basic and absolutely introductory to the world of the weight room but they could steer you in the right direction so give them a chance.  It’s a confusing mess, I know, but it can become clear when you have some goals, direction and knowledge. 

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