One of my favorite activities when speaking to a group people on fitness is what I call "creative lifting." Very simply, it involves bringing a 5-pound dumbbell to the front of the room and asking each participant to lift the weight differently than the person before them.
Needless to say, by the time the 10th person has volunteered, the movements are a sight to behold, even though there are hundreds of ways to move dumbbells "through space." The best part of this drill is that it makes people think outside the proverbial box.
My main reason for encouraging individuals to participate in this exercise is to take some of the perceived complexity out of weight training and help people develop confidence at the prospect of working out on their own.
While the power of marketing has been responsible for booming sales in at home exercise DVDs, I have always maintained that there is only a fixed number of ways a dumbbell held in the hand can move through space. Fortunately, moving that dumbbell in conjunction with other movements of the body or use of other limbs can add more than one muscle group and ultimately work the body more effectively.
The complexity of working the body not only through creative movement of dumbbells but also by forcing other parts of the body to resist that downward pull called gravity adds to the mix and significantly increases the choices in one's program.
The science of training, nutrition, creating muscle balance, symmetry and managing injury properly while learning proper techniques is always best left to the professional fitness trainer, though the simplicity of movements to achieve a phenomenal workout are many. The squat, for example, is a classic weight-resistance movement and typified in functional daily activities by sitting down and standing up from a chair. Yet it can also be turned into a demanding workout. Anyone who is uncertain of what this movement does for the body need only to perform how many times they can stand up and sit down in one minute. Try this some time to increase both your cardiovascular efficiency and leg strength. If your knees are in pain, sit on a couple phone books or firm pillows so your knee angles are less extreme.
Your fitness program is not limited to squats only. A few things to remember in your "creative quest" are the following:
• Weight is weight: Whether it's a can of soup, or a cinder block, weight is a unit of measure only. If you can find a safe way to hold it, and can weigh it in advance, use it. I had one client who would fill an iron cooking pot with stones for some of her lifts from the ground to build her legs.
• Harness gravity: Some of the greatest muscular improvements and growth can be harnessed from fighting the force of gravity only. Just look at the body of a gymnast to appreciate the muscular effect of resisting this force.
• Learn the "simpler way": Fitness trainers call them "progressions" and "regressions." All this simply means is that there is always a way to intensify the difficulty of a movement; but even more importantly, a way to make a movement less difficult and still work the target muscles. Even if you can't perform the entire "text-book" movement, there are exercises you can do that will strengthen that target muscle and gradually allow you to perform the entire exercise.
• Be inventive: Seems like every day I'm exposed to a new way of lifting objects, moving the body, or combining those two efforts. In the comfort of your own home, become a fitness scientist, as well, by practicing different ways you can build your body through the resistance of gravity alone.
Creativity is a wonderful tool as you become more competent at fitness training and learning how different movements affect different muscles. Take some time to invent different moves and you will be pleasantly surprised at what you come up with for your new routine. It always helps to work with a professional at the beginning of this journey who can teach you the basics and proper mechanics.
Bill Victor is the owner of Victor Fitness System Professional Fitness Trainers, Flashpoint Athletic Speed & Agility Specialists, and Performance Nutrition Consultants. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-750-0815 and online at theflashpoint.org and VictorFitnessSystems.com.