Weight Lifting Tips Part 2: Exercise Selection, Technique, Tempo, Mind-Muscle Link & Breathing

In Part 1 of this series on Weight Lifting Tips, we discussed the importance of warming up, stretching and cooling down, explaining the benefits and giving you actionable tips that you can follow right away. Remember, to increase performance, prevent injury and speed up recovery, you need to pay attention to warming up, stretching and cooling down properly.

In Part 2 below, you'll discover most things exercise related, meaning how to choose the right exercises, using the correct form, lifting speed, mind muscle link and breathing methods. Its true, not only are all exercises NOT created equal, but different ways of performing an exercise(form) can clearly be right or wrong, setting you up for either below average or above average results depending on what exercises you choose and how you do them.

Note: if you're in a rush, there's quick "summary points" at the bottom of the article, BUT we highly recommend that you read everything on this page to get the most out of this super important info.

Exercise Selection

Any good weight lifting program should promote a fairly balanced development of all the major muscle groups, without neglecting one or the other. Balanced development is important for looks, performance and the prevention of imbalances that can lead to injuries and problems. Although there is some room for specializing on specific muscle groups, the majority of the time training should be geared towards developing all the muscle groups.

Therefore, choose at least 1 exercise per major muscle group, and preferably, these exercises should be "compound" in nature, multi-joint movements that work multiple muscle groups instead of isolating just a single one. If you're going to supplement your routine with isolation exercises, make sure they're paired with a compound movement.

For beginners, about 8-10 compound exercises is more than enough to see great strength & muscular development throughout the entire body. As a beginner, you don't want to do too many exercises & sets in a workout because your body won't have the conditioning or recovery capabilities of handling it. 

Proper Form

Before doing any exercise, you have to learn how to do it correctly in order to prevent injuries and to put the greatest amount of tension on the target muscle(s). If you're swinging around the weight and starting/finishing at the wrong angles and body positions, can you imagine the havoc this can wreak on your bones, joints & muscles, preventing you from getting the results you want?

Poor form is a very common mistake for beginners and pretty common amongst experienced lifters as well, so taking the time to learn correct technique on an exercise will pay off big in the long run. Some examples of bad technique are bouncing the bar off the chest when bench pressing, swaying your hips and using your back when bicep curling, letting your knees go past your toes when squatting above parallel, and excessively arching your back when shoulder pressing.

Basically, for each exercise, there's a correct starting position, a certain posture to maintain during the lifting and lowering phase, and a correct ending position as well. This position and posture involves your entire body and angles of certain joints, such as the positioning of your wrists and elbows.

In addition to correct posture and joint angles, controlling the weight throughout the whole motion is critical, so using momentum to execute a move would negate good form. When learning a new exercise, always start with lighter weights and practice over a minimum of 2-3 workouts before you load up the weights.

Lifting Speed

In each exercise, there are 2 phases of each repetition thats performed. The concentric(positive) phase is when you're actually pushing or pulling the weight away from the starting position. The eccentric(negative) phase is when you're lowering and/or returning the weight back to the starting position.

So when you push or pull a weight, such as benching the bar away from your chest or curling a dumbbell towards your body, respectively, that would be the concentric motion. And the opposite of those phases, when the bar is being lowered back down to your chest, or the dumbbell is lowered down to its starting position, would be the eccentric motion.

The speed at which you execute each of these phases makes up the overall tempo of a repetition. There are a variety of different tempos that are used in different programs and methods, but in general, the eccentric phase should be slower than the concentric.

By going slower on the eccentric(negative) motion, you can control form much better, increase muscle tension and cause enough micro-trauma(beneficial, tiny damage of muscle tissues & membranes) which allows your muscle to "come back" bigger & stronger through various repair processes. The concentric portion can be done explosively or in a controlled pace, but safety should always be considered during an explosive motion.

Mind Muscle Link

Basically, you should be able to feel the muscle that you're working, and have the ability to contract or squeeze it. If you're able to flex the various muscles on your body pretty much at will, you have a decent mind muscle connection.

Taking that a step further, during each exercise, it helps to concentrate on and feel the target muscle working, even flexing it to a certain degree during the exercise and especially at the top of a motion, when you can "squeeze" it for maximum tension. Until your form/technique on an exercise isn't correct, it'll be very difficult to establish this mind muscle connection. Slower tempos with lighter weights are a great way to work on creating this link before moving on to heavier weights and faster tempos.

Breathing

Oxygen is required to complete any weight lifting motion, so don't hold your breath during an exercise! Take a deep breath inwards during the lowering/returning portion of a rep, and exhale on the lifting/pulling portion to make the best use of your breathing. Holding your breath can lead to strength failing prematurely during a set, or even worst, dizziness, light-headedness and fainting.

Summary Points:

  • Choose at least 1 compound exercise per major muscle group to promote balanced development of the body.
     
  • Supplement the compound movements with isolation moves only if you're past the beginner stage of lifting weights. Don't perform too many exercises as a beginner.
     
  • Learn proper form of each exercise, which is the correct starting position, posture, finishing position and joint angles.
     
  • Avoid using momentum & swinging motions and excessively arching the lower back.
     
  • Perform the eccentric(negative) phase of a rep slower than the concentric(positive) phase of a rep to control your form and maximize beneficial micro-trauma(tiny muscle fiber damage).
     
  • Concentrate on the target muscle and feel it working during each rep, squeezing and flexing at the top of each motion.
     
  • Inhale during the lowering/returning motion and exhale on the pushing/pulling motion to promote steady blood flow and oxygen supply.

Move on to Part 3 of this series, in which you'll learn about Exercise Sequence, Sets, Repetitions, Rest & Frequency of Training. 

Weight Lifting Tips: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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Related Article: Beginner's Guide to an Effective Weight Training Program