When you talk about exercise in the usual paleo circles, ala crossfit etc., the mantra is to “lift heavy things!” The idea that you must lift heavy, meaning heavy weights on barbell back squats, deadlifts, and presses is a given.
Well, I am here to say that it is not necessary, and never has been. It is not the weight lifted that is important, it is the muscular contraction intensity that counts! This can be achieved very well with isometrics, for example, without moving a muscle at all under weight, and so perfectly safely.
For no matter what someone else tells you- lifting weights under heavy loads is extremely dangerous, and actually inevitably damaging to the joints, tendons and ligaments. For a testament from an expert, what does the now aged Arnold Schwarzenegger have to say about heavy back squats?
“ I always have done each body part three times a week, with the idea being to train six days a week. But when you average it out it ends up being five days a week. You know, there are weeks when you’re sick, or weeks when you travel.
Are there core exercises that you still do today?
Well, my favorite exercises I’m not able to do today, because of joint problems. For instance, the basic squat. I would love to be able to squat again, but in order to protect my knees I do mostly the Lifecycle and bicycling and the elliptical, but no more squats. The knees are like a tire. When the tires last up to 30,000 miles, you have to decide how you want to use them. Do you want to use them up in one year, or do you want to use them over a period of 10 years? It’s the same thing with joints. So, I decided 10 years ago, when I started to feel the wear and tear and was feeling pain in my joints, that now I should adjust my training and do more high reps with less resistance. Therefore I stay away from the squat, and I stay away from heavy bent over rows, but I do the heavier rowing on a Cybex machine and do the lighter exercises with free weights.”
So, that tells you right there: Arnold has damaged his body with heavy weights! And, he is one who knows how to do it right, and still- damage! Here is what he has to say about the heavy clean and press exercise:
What about for shoulders? You’ve had rotator cuff surgery.
“I used to love doing the clean and press, because you get the traps, the front deltoids, and the side. It’s really a fantastic exercise that I recommend to anyone who starts out weight training. I also liked to do the dumbbell press, but I can’t do either anymore. So now I just do my presses on a Smith machine, which is safer on my shoulders because it’s on a track. But I have to say, it’s so fantastic to see the development of all of these machines. It allows you to train around your injuries— you don’t have to stop training because of injuries anymore. These machines allow you to isolate your muscles without the risk of hurting yourself.”
Rotator cuff surgery?? This stuff is not paleo, folks! No One should be training in a manner that actually makes injury inevitable, even when doing the exercise perfectly.
Now, Arnold has had a wonderful career, and can be excused for giving his early heavy weight lifting background part of the credit. And luckily, he woke up in time (10 years ago), as he underwent surgeries and his body cried out in pain. (I’m sure it still does. Ronnie Coleman, an 8 times Mr. Olympia winner is now in a wheelchair (he is 52 year of age). Arnold won the title 6 times before retiring.
The point is that, either man could have built amazing physiques, cut and defined, with plenty of mass, perfectly safely and keeping their health intact, using Perfectly Paleo Exercise techniques. They might not have had quite the sheer bulk, but the bulk achieved with steroids and heavy weights has nothing to do with health, and actually has nothing to do with usable strength or aesthetics.
Using virtual resistance, creating the resistance by the power of the flex in self-resisting an exercise, coupled with blood-infusing pushups and situps, coupled with things like pull-ups and bodyweight squats, is more than enough for a perfect build and usable strength- without damage to your precious body.
So train naturally. Train for health, wellness, and a pleasing physique, not a bloated mass of bulk surrounding a bunch of injuries.