Exercising Smart for Effective Result

Exercising Smart for Effective Result

After all that festive (over-)indulgence over Chinese New Year, most of you are looking to get started on a serious weight loss regime. In order to lose weight, most of us know that a combination of strength training, cardiovascular, and functional exercises are the winning combination. So we hit the gym hard, go crazy with the cardio and lift weights non-stop. Yet you don’t see the desired results.

The problem is, we don’t quite know if what we’re doing is the right thing, especially without a trainer. Sticking to only cardio exercises is not quite the right solution. And you could be lifting weights, but in order to for it to be effective, you would need to engage your muscles in the correct technique. So here to help us understand what is the best way to achieve your fitness goals using the appropriate exercises and techniques is our go-to personal trainer, Joe:

Q: Let’s say our goal is to lose weight. There’s a common misconception that as long as you do lots of cardio, you’re guaranteed weight loss. Is this true? If not, what is the best exercise? What’s the best approach we can take?

When it comes to losing weight, you need to ask yourself is the muscle mass or fats that you want to lose. The concept of losing weight is simple you burn more than you consume you are guaranteed to lose weight. There are many types of exercise or routine that are catered to different types of people. Some may like weight lifting and some may like running. Best is to plan your schedule on which days you are going to do weight training and days which you are going for cardio. Our body needs both type of training. For those who have lesser time can look towards High Intensive Interval Training (HIIT). Again, doing such routine have to have proper build up because of the intense segment, you are required to give it all you have. Train the body to reach that kind of standard.

Q: What does strength training involve? How does it help increase muscle mass and promote weight loss?

Bigger muscle means the body requires more energy. Also means that your basal metabolic rate goes up. Which in the process helps to burn more. Strength training can be of two types. To build bigger muscle, you do high reps medium to heavy weight. It cause muscle fibres to tear and when they recover they strengthen up and it gets bigger. To build denser stronger muscle, you do lesser reps but with proper execution of the exercise, for example squats, four count to go down, hold for two counts, and four counts to go back up.

Q: How can we optimise our workout?

Depending on the body type you have, your time. Also don’t forget what is your ultimate goal. From there you can see sub goals. For example I want to complete one perfect pull up, but now I cant even hang on the bar. So what I need to do is to see what skills are required to execute a pull up. First and foremost the grip, muscles used are mostly on the forearm. Try hanging on the bar for ten seconds, then slowly increase the time. Other than that there are other skills to look out for such as the Australian pull ups scapula pull etc. Find out what you need to do and work from there.

Q: How often should I so strength training? When can I expect to see results?

Strength training should be done three to five times a week. If you have no access to any gym then start with body weight exercises like calisthenics. Most of my exercises are based on calisthenics, which I prefer compared to weight training. First of all get rid of the thought of “when can I see results” the world can tell you three months, six months, one year. But if you are not diligent enough you will probably not see any results. And if you do, DILIGENTLY, good and correct diet and proper exercise you will see yourself grow in muscle mass in about a year.

Q: Are more reps necessarily better?

As explained above, there are different kind of training. Also some like to do more reps because of the adrenaline. It is okay to have more reps but have to be careful on the form to prevent injury. Rest up when need to so that you can execute proper forms and therefore making your TIME and EFFORT worth it.

Q: Girls are often afraid of getting too bulky and they don’t want too much muscle, what approach should they take?

Again, due to testosterone, men have more which makes it easier to build muscle mass. If you want to have denser muscle, then do a quick workout with either body weight or weights in the gym. Like HIIT 20 to 30 minutes.

Q: Is there a specific diet one needs to follow when strength training?

Depending on your profession, if you are a school principal that walks around the school then maybe just exercise day to day don’t have to worry too much about diet. If you are a body builder or a strong man getting ready for strong man competition, then of course you have to watch what you and how you eat. Which time of the day you eat etc.

Q: What is the risk of lifting weights incorrectly? Could you give some examples?

The most common example is dead lift. Let’s look at the spine, think of it as a fishing road the bigger the fish the more it bends, a lousy rod will probably break. In terms of our body if we don’t train ourselves to lift a heavy weight we will probably have all the wrong forms and injure yourself. Start easy then progress from there.

Q: What are the more common injuries that can result when lifting weights incorrectly?  What’s the worst you have seen?

There are so many examples on YouTube, some weight damaged knees, falling down of the treadmill, sprained wrist etc. Here’s one for you:

Q: How can we ensure we lift weights correctly without a personal trainer, especially for those embarking on a fitness routine for the first time? How do we minimise risk?

Progressive training. Throw the ego away!

Q: Any resources you many have for our readers or parting words of advice?

Everyone needs to exercise and good diet to be healthy. A little bit of fats won’t hurt, after all. Set goals if you want to achieve more. And of course when you exercise, push beyond your limit. Don’t just jog one km with a timing of ten minutes and say that you have exercised. What you did there is probably just warm up!

Tips on Lifting Weights Without Injuring Yourself

1) Warming Up

Basically this involves doing a high-rep, low-intensity, quick exercise that elevates the heart rate, causing an increase in blood flow to the muscles. Moreover, it enables the muscles to become more flexible, elastic and limber. Consider doing about five to ten minutes of cardio to warm-up, such as riding a bike, swimming or jogging. You can even do a high-rep nonstop weight sequence like calf raise, squat, leg curl, crunch, pull-down, bench press and curl.

2) Stretching

Stretching is not the same as warming up. While warming makes the muscles more flexible, stretching relaxes and elongates the muscles. Performed together, your muscles are likely to be at its more supple and resistant to injury. Stretching should also be done in between sets to promote blood circulation to the muscles and increasing the elasticity of the tendons around the muscles. And stretching at the end of the workout can even prevent muscles soreness. 

3) Lifting the Right Amount of Weights

You might be so motivated with your workout routine that you could be tempted to use too much weight. If you are finding it difficult to control a weight when returning to the starting position, if you cannot contain a movement with your body mechanics, or if you spasm or lurch to lift a weight, then you know that the weight is too much. In such compromising positions, your risk of injury is at its highest. So don’t lift beyond your means.

4) Don’t Overtrain

Many people think training every day of the week optimises your fitness gains. Quite the contrary, training too often weakens your muscles hence hindering your progress. It disrupts your muscle and nervous system’s ability to recover post-workout. If you continue to train in such a weaken state, you are likely to exacerbate your risk of injury. Limit your sessions to three to four per week, each not exceeding an hour. You can read more about the dangers of overtraining here.

5) Concentrate on Your Routine

Many people tend to have their nose in their phones or having long conversations with their friend when working out. Being preoccupied or distracted when you’re working out increases your chances or injury; the chances of dropping that barbell on your foot is higher if you’re trying to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones on your tablet when doing a deadlift. Working out requires concentration and being aware of your body’s movements. So put away those phones and save the gossip for after your workout.   

6) Proper Technique

Incorrect exercise techniques are likely to be one of the leading causes of injuries. These can result in straining, pulling or ripping a muscle, or even tearing the tissue around your muscle. This is why lifting the right amount of weight with concentration and the proper technique is paramount.

Here are some common mistakes and their proper techniques:

Triceps Extension

Most people have a tendency to move their elbows away from their ears and arching their back when extending the weight up and down. This makes the exercise easier, but less effective as you end up not working the key muscles here – the triceps. You can either do this sitting down or standing up. Either way, ensure that your back is straight with your shoulders down. The right way to do this is to keep your elbows next to your ears the entire time you’re lowering and lifting the weight.

Dumbbell Rows

A number of common mistakes occur when attempting a dumbbell row. The first is tucking your elbow too close to your body or conversely flaring your elbow too far away from your body or at an awkward angle. Second, having your head either too far forward, or all the way back, thus straining your neck. Third, arching your back all the way or curving it out, dropping your core in both instances.

The right way to carry out dumbbell rows is to first put your left leg on the bench and hold the far end with your left hand. Bend from your hips so that your upper body is parallel with the ground. Ensure your spine is rigid, then lift the dumbbell in your right hand with your palm facing up. Bring the dumbbell to your chest on a small angle with your elbow at about 45 degrees. Focus on lifting with your back and shoulder muscles and not your arms. Don’t move your chest. You should squeeze your should and back muscles when fully contracted. Lower it slowly until your arm is all the way down. Mostly importantly, maintain a neutral spine and head position over the entire process.

Bicep Curls

Bicep curls are taken for granted as they are deemed as an easy exercise. This gives rise to poor form. If you’re standing to do your curls, there is a tendency to lean forward and sway to use momentum (instead of strength) to lift the weight. Try to keep yourself rooted to the ground and use the strength of from your bicep muscles to lift the weight. There is also a tendency to let your shoulders and chest droop forward. Performing the exercise three-quarters of the way down is also another common problem, so your biceps don’t get the full-range of motion.

For proper technique, first start with a dumbbell in each hand, arms all the way down tucked at the elbows, which are just in front of your shoulders. Your hands should be slightly in front of your torso. If you’re standing up, bend your knees a little and tuck in your glutes. Keep your core engaged so as to not sway and, with palms facing forward, bend your arms and bring the weights to your chest in a controlled movement. Your shoulder blades, hips, and elbows should be stationary, without flaring out your arms. Your shoulders are to be kept relaxed and down, head, neck and spine neutral without arching your back. Slowly, straightening your arms, lower the weight down to your thighs. If you find yourself swinging and swaying more when standing up, try sitting down instead or squatting against the wall.


The most common problems when it comes to squats is the tendency to bring your knees too far forward, beyond your ankles and toes, and the propensity to lift the heels and go onto the toes when going down.

This puts a lot of tension and pressure on the knees. The key is to engage every muscle that you’re using in the squat, including your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and even lower back.

Bring your hips back a little with your knees aligned with the toes, then go all the way down while trying to keep your back as straight as possible. Go as low as you can, then stand right back up.


A similar technique applies to the deadlift. A full range of motion would include the same muscle groups as a squat, but with a barbell with weights adjusted to increase the intensity of the workout. It is acceptable if the knees go a little beyond the toes in this case; what’s more important is the body mechanics.

As with the squat, go all the way down with your back straightened, chest out and shoulders pulled all the way back. From this position, lift up the weight and fully erect your own body in a straight posture. Once that is complete, go back down the same way and slowly lower the barbell back onto the floor.

To train effectively together with a sound diet plan, check out our Metabolic Health Tune Up programme!

Photos: Pixabay and Unsplash

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