Weight Training- it’s a good idea

So, I’d said I’d write this article as a bit of a brain-dump of what I’ve picked up over months of reading into the subject quite a lot and discussing it with a bunch of people who are very, very good at it. A lot of what I say will sound like it needs backing up, and most of it I can back up, but won’t here: feel free either to trust me or to call me up on it (I’m more than happy to discuss individual points), but please don’t just dismiss it.

I apologise now for the ‘take no prisoners’ tone, but there’s a lot of ways of training and most of them are wrong. I’d say 90% of people who actually make it to the gym do it wrong (i.e. very imbalanced, inefficient or outright ineffective)- really it’s only a case of bad information.

    Why should an ulti player lift weights?

Weight training increases the power-generating capacity of your muscles, tunes your nervous system to get the most out of the muscle mass you have (if you don’t train with heavy weights, I can guarantee a not insignificant portion of your muscle mass is dead weight), strengthens your bones, tendons and ligaments, and gives you a better awareness of your body. In game terms: run faster, jump higher, throw further, get injured less, be more confident. The top-level American players you see leaping metres into the air aren’t superhuman- they just put the hours in at the gym, training hard and training smart.

    How to lift weights effectively

Number 1 rule: Don’t get hurt. This means not jacking the weight on any exercise you’re not completely sure you’re doing right (get someone to check it, even if you have to pay them to do it!). Some exercises you just shouldn’t do (stiff-legged deadlifts, pendlay rows, continental clean for example). Others, you just need to be sure of what you’re targetting and what a natural range of motion is (e.g. make sure your bench presses aren’t guillotines), and keep in mind a few basic rules like keeping your back straight, if not a little bit lordotic, not locking your knees, standing up rather than sitting down where there’s an option, and accelerating smoothly rather than jerking the weight. This all feeds in to correct form.

Forget what you’ve heard about toning, it’s nothing more than gaining some muscle and losing some fat. Forget your bodybuilding 3×8-12 bicep curls, too: they’re just not very helpful. It’s all about compound exercises: big, functional movements that involve coordination, power and more major muscle groups than you can name in 5 seconds (not a bad rule of thumb, in most cases). Any weights routine, regardless of your goals, should be based around the back squat, deadlift, and bench press- warm up with a couple of light sets, then hit 3-5 ‘work sets’ of about 5 repetitions each: go as heavy as you can while making those numbers work. Some more complex routines involve having lighter days and heavier days, but this is only necessary for people lifting very heavy weights (in absolute terms). ‘Feeling the burn’ is not a good measure of how effective a set is- you want to be pushing the force generation capacity of your muscles as far as it will go. Feeling a burn means you’ve already compromised the ability of the muscles to generate their maximum force.

It’s important not to get confused between weights and cardio in your head. Cardio’s for cardio, weights are for strength training. As such, make sure you’re pretty well recovered between each set (60-90 seconds of rest between each is normal). Supersetting two exercises (i.e. working a pair of antagonists back-to-back, like bench press -> bent over row -> rest) is possible, but you shouldn’t make a circuit out of it- do all your sets of one exercise before moving on to another.

Try and base your workouts on a few compound exercises; don’t feel the need to overcomplicate matters with auxiliary exercises- they’ll probably decrease your gains, in fact. Chances are they’re not going to add much. This is the routine I’d recommend for beginners, it’ll probably give you the biggest gains of any starter routine.

Workout A – Barbell Back Squat, Bench Press, One-arm Row; 5 sets of 5 repetitions of each.
Workout B – Barbell Back Squat, Over-Head Press; 5 sets of 5 reps each; Barbell Deadlift; 1 set of 5 reps.

Alternate between these two, going to the gym 3 times a week (Monday-Wednesday-Friday works well). Try to increase the weight every session (even if it’s only by a few hundred grams for the OHP; squats and deadlifts can increase by 2.5-5kg each session initially). Keep a note of your weight and reps each session, I really underestimated how important this was until I started doing it. Each session should take less than an hour including warm-up sets.

The only thing you should even consider isolating is your hamstrings. Don’t bicep curl, don’t do tricep extensions, don’t do lateral raises or flys, probably don’t bother with leg extensions, hip ad/abduction or calf raises. I wouldn’t really worry about the hamstrings either, though- the ‘you must isolate your hamstrings to prevent injury!’ thing is very much overblown and at any rate sprinting is about as good work for them as you can get.

    What else should I be doing?

Eating well- supporting your growth with a good mix of protein (particularly important, but not necessarily requiring supplementation), carbs, and fats (they’re important and probably not nearly as bad for you as you think- eggs, full-fat milk and cream, and butter are good for you). It’s particularly important to get your calories in directly after a workout. If you’re concerned about putting on fat, or your cholesterol, reduce your carbohydrate intake. Counterintuitive, but as I said before, trust me or ask me.

Recovering- it can be difficult when there’s a lot of training to be done, but make sure you get enough time off to allow your body to recover. Training doesn’t make you stronger: it’s only by recovering from the training and your body overcompensating that you get any benefits.

    Weights for ultimate

Squats and deadlifts are still absolutely essential- they’re just about the best core work you can get, as well as developing the quads, calves and posterior chain which give your sprints and jumps their ‘oomph’. I, personally, have found dumbbell bench press really helpful for my forehands. I would also highly recommend adding olympic lifts where possible: the power clean and power snatch in particular. These are basically just grabbing a weight in a squat position, hefting it up as you jump, forcing yourself to stay on the ground by throwing the weight up, and grabbing it at the top of its arc. Absolutely the best thing you can do for developing the explosive strength required for sprinting and jumping.

Getting a bit more nitty-gritty: for most exercises, dumbbells > barbells > machines. Using the free weights room in Fenners requires an extra induction session but is free with a normal membership and much more constructive.

    Why am I training my upper body for running and jumping?

Look at sprinters. Most of them are pretty jacked- certainly not bottom-heavy as you’d expect if the above logic were to hold. Running is a full body activity, and no joint acts in isolation. We’re far more complicated than that! Furthermore, I’ve found that having put on some mass, I’m a lot more confident in the air and bidding for contested discs. And there’s the whole injury resistance issue, although I’m not the best person to talk about that…

    Weights for women

Everything you have ever been told is a lie, entirely fabricated by companies trying to make you buy their shitty 5lb dumbbells and one-stop fitness solutions and prance around in a leotard not pushing yourself. The rest of this article applies as much to you as to the guys: if anything, more so. Most guys will naturally have the muscle mass to accelerate at an appreciable rate; a lot of women don’t, and in most amateur sports a refusal to try and change that leaves them at a massive disadvantage. Furthermore, women tend to be prone to osteoporosis later in life, which training with heavy weights heps prevent. You won’t bulk out. You won’t look like a man. You will be stronger and fitter and faster in 3 hours a week.

    A word for beginners

The first time you lift, you will be sore afterwards. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS (even though it’s not actually your muscles which are in a bad way). It’ll go within a week and never come back nearly as bad (unless you’ve actually injured something or something’s very wrong with your nutrition)- don’t let it put you off! It’ll happen whenever you haven’t worked a particular muscle group for a long time, and so is an incentive for consistency!

    A brief word on cardio

Sprinting = good, jogging = bad. High intensity intervals like Tabata (in my opinion fartleks use intervals far too long to be considered truly high intensity) train your aerobic fitness, anaerobic fitness, power endurance, running mechanics, and develops your high-power muscle fibres. Long-distance training improves your aerobic fitness. That is all. It also irreversibly decreases your power-generating capacity and takes about 10 times as long. What aerobic benefits you get are achieved a fair bit slower than HIIT, too. Go figure. Tangentially, same goes for fat loss- HIIT’s better. Again, trust me or ask me.

That’s about all, apologies for the borderline ranty nature of some of it. People who ‘work out’ without putting any thought into it annoy me. Again, I actually enjoy fielding questions on the topic so feel free to email be at cb619.


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3 Responses to Weight Training- it’s a good idea

  1. Really good article on why maximal strength training is far more important than sport-specific training- sport specific stuff should come from playing the goddamn sport, resistance training just makes it easier to do that.


  2. Edited to say ‘FORM IS IMPORTANT’ and for clarity in a couple of places.

  3. Pingback: Cambridge gets fit: Intro to FPTfU | Strange Blue.

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