Thinking Like a Pro: Smart Gym Moves, Part 1

Why are so many people attracted to bodybuilding?

Since Arnold Schwarzenegger and countless other Mr. Olympias in the United States began dominating the modern bodybuilding scene, it’s not surprising that countless would-be bodybuilders are flocking the nation’s gyms in search for bodybuilding gold.

The heavyweights of this generation like Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler have shown the world that being truly passionate about bodybuilding can transform into a fulltime and lucrative career. We’re talking about competitions with sizeable cash prizes, product endorsements, invitations to meets and more.

However, if you want to be like Jay Cutler and the “rest of the gang,” you have to start thinking like them.

How can you “think like a pro” while working out at the gym?

You can have five gym memberships across the state and all the sports gear you would ever need and still fall short of your bodybuilding  ambitions.

You don’t need fancy running shoes or the latest fad protein shake to accomplish your bodybuilding goals. What you really need in the beginning is knowledge about the best practices in bodybuilding. This is the focus of our current series!

Pro Move # 1: Warm Up Before Hitting It Hard

Not warming up is of the most widespread “cardinal sins” of bodybuilding. Even professional bodybuilders are guilty of skipping warm ups sometimes! However, I advise you to always warm up before lifting moderate to heavy weights. Our muscles can endure a lot of torture and strain but eventually, they will break down if you don’t take care of them. It’s important that you take care of them now even if your muscles are still at their peak condition.

I recommend the following warm-up exercises:

  1. Ten minutes of static stretching
  2. At least fifteen minutes of sprightly cardio on the treadmill, bike, Stair Master, rowing machine, etc.
  3. Three to five light sets that involve the target muscle groups for the day (e.g. biceps, triceps, quads, delts, etc.)

Pro bodybuilders also warn against the “macho” trend of lifting the heaviest weights you can find at the beginning of your workout. This practice won’t improve your performance and will actually increase your risk of developing muscle tears.

Pro Move # 2: Workout With a Spotter

If you’re planning to perform barbell squats and bench presses and you’re gradually moving up the scale in terms of weights/resistance, you definitely need to start working out with a spotter.

A spotter is someone who guides and guards you while you’re performing movements that could lead to serious accidents.

For example, if you’re planning to bench press 200 pounds for the first time and you think you can only do one repetition, it’s possible that your strength will fail midway through the movement.

When this happens, your bar is going to fall on your chest or worse, on your face. People have died because they worked out with heavy weights with no one spotting for them.

Who can spot for you?

Ideally, your spotter should be someone who could actually stop a barbell from crushing your face or sternum. If another bodybuilder isn’t available, ask a family, friend or some willing stranger from the gym to spot for you.

Even if your spotter can’t stop the accident from occurring, you will still have someone watching your actual movement and that person can call for help when necessary.

Pro Move # 3: Wear a Support Belt to Save Your Lower Back

A support belt or weightlifting belt is worn around the waist not for your abdominal muscles, but to support your lower back. To an extent, it does provide some core support but its main use is to help maintain the tight configuration of the lower back muscles and your spinal column when you’re performing high-risk exercises.

Some doctors will question the use of a support belt simply because the belts haven’t been specifically trained to handle the requirements of bodybuilders and athletes. It’s important that you find a physician who has experience with sports-related injuries so you can ask him questions about proper training and injury prevention.

If you’re planning to perform a bench press or deadlift involving very heavy weights, you should definitely consider wearing a support belt. It doesn’t matter if you’re lifting in your basement or in a fancy, well-lit gym.

A weight belt is necessary when you’re performing exercises that could potentially harm your lower back. However, its use should not be abused.

If you wear a weight belt, even if you’re lifting light or moderate weights, your back muscles will become underdeveloped and you will not be able to develop the back strength needed to progress.

In Part 2, I will discuss some more important safety tips on how to stay safe in the gym or while working out at home.

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