Lessons Learned from the Resistance Exercise Conference

A personal trainer ought to do some continuing education, and this weekend was one of those times for me: I attended the 6th annual Resistance Exercise Conference (REC, for short) held by Discover Strength in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What did I learn? Common sense, really. But more than that, it was the thoughts, concepts and perspectives that I gained. Below are a few key takeaways:

“In a recent widespread UK study, less than 5 percent of males and 1 percent (!!!) of females engaged in the recommended weight training twice per week.” -Dr. James Steele

You may be aware that the recommended exercise guidelines include 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, 5 times per week (50-70% of MHR) OR 20 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise, 3 times per week (70-80% MHR). Are you partaking? Although many people report weight-bearing activities including yoga, yard work and the like, the recommended weight training is ~70-80% or more of your maximum. Consider that.

“In terms of time-effective exercise, training to muscular failure is more important than higher volume.” -James Fisher

100% effort, baby. I applied this concept already in my 12-week weight loss program, and participants surprised themselves! For example, leg press went up tremendously, with some participants lifting 50+ pounds than they had been using before. Before adding another set of exercises or changing up the reps (should I do 10 or 12?), ramp up the weight and pick up a heavier set of dumbbells. I guarantee you can go up a liiiitle bit more (without sacrificing form, of course).

“Contrary to what most people think, you get stronger in the lowering (eccentric) phase, not the lifting (concentric) phase.” -Mark Asanovich

Yup, that’s right. I was in awe the first time I heard this, too. Ever heard of negatives? Due to pushing against gravity, your muscles get more benefit fighting against resistance than with it. Next time you do a push-up or bicep curl, pause to notice how much harder it is to lower down. One cue I often give my clients is to take 2 seconds on the way up, 4 on the way down. Immediately they notice increased intensity and greater benefit.

“Evidence suggests that changes in exercises are more important than loading schemes.” -James Fisher

Instead of focusing more on how much weight and reps you have left, vary up the exercises you’re doing – try mixing in flys with chest press, rows with close and wide grip lateral pulldowns, or lateral and reverse lunges. Muscles work from various angles, so the more you can change up the angle, the more muscle you will activate. Changing exercises every ~3-4 weeks is recommended.

“Instead of asking yourself, what is the most I can do, ask yourself, what is the least amount of stimulus I can give my body to perform at its best?” -Mark Asanovich

In other words, what is the minimum effective dose? Like many of us, I used to fall into the trap that more was better – if I wanted to be leaner, stronger and run faster, that meant running more miles, lifting more often and giving 100% every day. Truth is, that equation doesn’t add up – it just leads to burnout. When I came to Minnesota in the fall, I dropped down to weight training 2 days per week and took one full off-day from running once per week. Immediately, I saw results, performance improved, and I actually felt leaner than I ever have! My clients have also been shocked by this themselves. 2 days at 100% beats 5 days at 50%, with more time for recovery, more results and more time to live.

“The secret is not in the program, but in the coaching.” – Mike Rehfeldt

A trainer or coach can make the greatest program in the world, rep schemes and all, but if they aren’t coaching well, their athletes/clients will go nowhere. Even if you aren’t a trainer, this applies to you – are you overanalyzing your workout program, or forgoing it altogether? If so, consider getting a coach to help you out – with form analysis, exercise science expertise, improved consistency and added accountability.

Key Takeaway: It’s not about how much we know (yes, exercise is great and the benefits are endless), but how we can apply this information into our lives to better our health on a daily basis.