Leverage and weightlifting
Lever Arms in Weightlifting
Cheating Doesn’t Help
There are many ways to “cheat” on a lift, and in some (RARE) cases there’s an advantage to doing so. Most of the time, however, we work out to try to get stronger and/or build more muscle. The safest and simplest way to do so is to lift with proper form, and not cheat.
Sometimes we see people in the gym swaying back and forth and they curl a barbell, or as they row a cable, for example. This is an example of using both momentum AND muscles other than those targeted by these exercises, to move the weight. Perhaps lifting this way gives a better full-body workout, but that isn’t often what the person means to do, and the improper form used can easily cause injury.
A friend of mine, for example, hurt his lower back and was out for weeks just by swaying too much on a barbell curl.
One way that people “cheat,” other than swaying, is to decrease the length of a lever arm when it would serve them better not to. For example, bending your elbows excessively when doing a Dumbbell Side Delt Raise, or a Cable Flye for the chest, for example. By bending your elbows, you decrease the length of the lever arm, and the exercise becomes easier.
In the case of the Side Delt Raise, this might be a good strategy if you have tendinitis such as Lateral Epicondylitis (“Tennis Elbow”). But if you don’t, then why not drop the amount of weight you’re using, and keep your arms as straight as possible? That puts maximum stress on the muscles being worked, which is what you want, if you want strength and/or muscle.
Apples to Apples
The benefit of using strict form is that you have something you can compare yourself to between workouts: you know if you’re progressing. For example, if I am adding more weight to the cable system when doing Cable Flyes, but am increasing the bend in my arms each workout, am I really progressing? If so, how much is progress, and how much is due to a decreased lever length?
I can’t know. But by using strict form, I am comparing apples to apples between workouts. I keep my arms straight when doing those Flyes, and mentally cue myself to pull my elbows together, not my hands. That way my arms stay straight, because that’s the quickest way to get the elbows to touch (they never will, FYI, unless you’re seriously double-jointed lol).
And, Like I said earlier, safety is first and foremost. Keep in mind that, in some cases, the straighter your limbs are while lifting, the possibility of aggravating them with tendinitis can increase. So be aware of any joint pain and be ready to modify the exercise by reducing the weight AND possibly bending the joint (contrary to my advice above).
What it All Means
Paying attention to maximizing lever length really means focusing on form, form, form. Don’t cheat. Leave the ego at the door. Reduce the amount of weight you’re using and focus on doing the reps right. You’ll find that you’ll make gains that you can measure (remember, if you’re cheating, you can’t compare apples to apples!).
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help!
If you don’t want to figure this stuff out on your own, well then, I’m available to help you! I know the correct form to use, and how to build exercise routines that get results. I’m a personal trainer in the Mississauga area who trains clients locally at my gym. I also offer in-home personal training through accredited and experienced trainers who work for me. Whether or not you want to come to us, or we to you, we can accommodate you!
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