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Upper Body vs. Lower Body Resistance

May 19, 2010

By Gerard Bochese

If you are just beginning to get into fitness or start an exercise program, it is important to focus on proper form during your exercises and choosing the right size weights.  Often the two go hand in hand and I will see people performing exercises incorrectly because they cannot handle the weights or handle the exercise.  To avoid this problem in your workout routine in the early stages, employ the following concepts.

When engaging in upper-body exercises that require pushing or pulling, do not do body weight exercises.  These would include push ups and pull ups.  People who are brand new to exercise or have not exercised in years will have a difficult time controlling their own body weight during these exercises, as they will probably be moving 100 plus pounds.  Therefore, it would be better suited to use light dumbbells or cable machines to perform pushing and pulling exercises.  When performing a chest press with dumbbells (as opposed to a body-weight push up) a person can begin with 5-10lb weights and have much better control.  And if a person struggles with light dumbbells because they have difficulty controlling the arms individually, they can regress the exercise further by pressing a light body bar (10 lbs) so that the arms can work together as one unit and the individual will have even more control of the movement.  This same concept can be employed with pulling exercises.  Try a seated row or pull down from a cable machine.

The opposite is the case when engaging in lower body (leg) exercises that require a level change – squats, lunges and step ups.  In the beginning stages these exercises should not be done with external resistance such as dumbbells in the hands or Olympic bars on the back.  These exercises should only be performed with body weight so that ideal form and posture can be practiced and achieved.  Not until perfect form becomes natural in these movements should a person begin to load the body and especially the spine with external resistance when performing level change exercises.

The reason for the opposite philosophy is that the upper body push and pull exercises can be achieved without body weight involved via the bench press and the pull down.  The lower body level changes by nature of the exercise must include body weight, and by adding dumbbells and Olympic bars your are simply increasing the person’s own natural weight too quickly.

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