There’s an interesting trend in gyms, but it’s nothing new. From what I can tell, it happens across multiple populations and for multiple reasons. And like a lot of things, it’s totally understandable...until you take a moment to think about it.
I’m talking about making things easier. Look around in the gym, you’ll likely find several people modifying what they’re doing in some way to make it less difficult.
I don’t mean regressions to make movements more appropriate for an individual, or making weights lighter in order to hit a certain rep-range. I mean silly, probably unconscious modifications that, truth be told, make complete sense in the context of human behavior.
But they make NO sense in the gym.
The gym is not supposed to be easy, the gym is supposed to make everything outside the gym easy. I’ve heard it compared to sprinting with a parachute on: when you take the parachute off (re: leave the gym), everything else is a cakewalk. I like it.
"Why Do I Care?"
When you make things easy in the gym, at best you’re spinning your wheels and/or wasting time. At worst, you’re setting yourself up for injury.
I want to shatter the glass, as they say, so you will start noticing it not just in others, but in yourself. Stop making things easier in the gym and start making them effective. Why spend an hour in the gym when you could spend 30 minutes?
Here are a few examples...
This one is quite easy to spot. Basically, it’s the guy using his whole body to do bicep curls. By recruiting more--and often bigger--muscles, he is able to “lift” more weight than he normally would. This is great for the ego, but not so great for the muscles.
“Bouncing” (AKA The Stretch-Shortening Cycle)
The Stretch-Shortening Cycle is essentially what happens when you have an eccentric contraction (think the down part of a bicep curl) followed immediately by a concentric contraction (the up part). The sudden switch allows you to generate more force on the concentric portion.
This one happens fairly often with squats - what we call bouncing out of the hole. This can be dangerous, though, so make sure you are controlling the weight through the entire range of motion.
Going through a full range of motion is tough work. Owing to the way muscle fibers are designed, each muscle typically has a “sweet spot” where it can generate the most force. Add to this the fact that sometimes going deeply into a movement will start relying on muscles you’re not accustomed to using (e.g., the bottom of a squat not relying solely on the quads), and partial reps are often the result.
There seem to be several factors at play in why people perform partial reps (the weight is too heavy, they lack mobility, they are completely unaware that’s what they’re doing, etc.), but don’t let it be you. Use a lighter weight and practice a full range of motion.
The above modifications are often used together. It’s not uncommon to see someone move part of the way into a movement, bounce out of the bottom (bottom just being where they stopped, not the end of movement), and then use their whole body to “complete” the movement.
Don’t be that guy. Or gal.
The Well-Intentioned But...Nope
I used to belong to a gym that had treadmills that could go up to very steep inclines. And I would often see people put the treadmill all the way up, find a peppy-but-comfortable speed, and then walk while holding onto the handles and leaning back. Their bodies would still be pretty much perpendicular to the base of the treadmill.
It looked really tough. You’d imagine their sweat would spell out the word fitness on the floor around them or something.
But if you try it, you quickly realize that holding on and leaning back almost completely counteracts the incline. What they’re doing is setting something up that they imagine is going to give them a tougher workout, but then modifying the way they do it to make it easier.
Each of these modifications (save that weird treadmill thing) can actually be used as a technique in the gym, but must be done so purposefully. There is a big difference between using a little momentum to squeeze out a few reps at the end of a(n otherwise perfect) set and swinging a dumbbell to show the rest of the gym how much you can curl.
One lesson here is that looks aren’t everything when it comes to intensity or difficulty. Just because what someone’s doing looks incredibly difficult or hardcore doesn’t mean it is. And likewise, just because something looks easy doesn’t make it so. There are definitely exercises out there that will leave you sweaty, out of breath, and wondering how the hell that was only a 15lb dumbbell.
There are other examples, to be sure. But this was not meant to be a catalog of ways to make things easier in the gym. I simply wanted to bring to light why this practice is probably not the best approach, give you some examples, and hopefully make you aware that you’re probably doing it yourself in some way or another.
I’m not saying you need to be super intense or hardcore. But if, like a lot of people, you don’t necessarily enjoy going to the gym (or heck, even if you do!), then you should make your time there count.
Hopefully, next time you’re working out, you might stop and think, “Y’know, if I stopped hurling myself forward on these crunches, maybe I could just do 15 instead of 60…”
Give it a try.