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Resistance training is an important part of physical health and well-being as you age. Sports-specific movements, calisthenics, and even light weight training helps with muscle development in youth and adolescent years.¹ As an adult, regularly incorporating resistance exercises can help prevent and reduce health issues later on in life.² ³ ⁴ If you think about it, everything we do in our youth and young adult years can have an impact our health later on. That being said, the foundation for muscular development and functional movements in our youth, should continue through our adult years to prepare and sustain physical independence in our elderly years. This article is here to guide you through the beginning stages of any resistance training program, no matter your training age - length of time you have been training.
Where to Start?
Despite the training program, service, or organization model you choose to follow, it is important to build a foundation and slowly progress throughout your plan. The purpose of this foundation or “stage 1” is to prepare your muscles for progression i.e more volume, less stability, more weight. This not only helps improve performance and success, but also helps to keep you safe by reducing the risk of injury. Slow progressions are key to injury prevention, due to the body's ability to adapt from acute stress; whereas unfamiliar movements may result in injury. Therefore, most organizations’ models begin with muscular stability and endurance training.
According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, muscular stability and endurance exercises help acclimate the body to different movements while stabilizing the joints and maintaining correct posture.⁵ Within the body, these movements increase neuromuscular recruitment and overall balance to prepare the muscles for further progressions that add weight on multiple, directional planes normally causing someone to lose balance and injure themselves. For example, a person walking down the stairs requires balance and neuromuscular recruitment in order to transfer weight from one leg to the other eccentrically in each step. This starting phase can help to prevent falling from loss of balance and improve ability to recover after a misstep.
Proprioceptive activities -- movements that help improve the body’s ability to sense location and balance -- are included in this stage. Movements will progress or regress from more stable to less stable in this stage depending on your initial ability and your future goals.
How to Begin?
As a basic overview, a training session usually consists of a warm-up, core/balance/plyometric movements, resistance exercises, and a cool-down. Before we break it down, here are some defining words used to guide a client through a plan.
Repetition - a complete movement of an exercise from start to finish
1-Repetition Maximum (1RM) - the most weight you can lift in a single repetition
Set - completion of a predetermined number of repetitions, consecutively, before resting
Tempo - pace of the exercise or movement. Time in eccentric - isometric - concentric movement in a repetition
Above is the basic breakdown of exercise guidelines for your muscular stabilization and endurance phase. You may not have rest time between sets if you choose to perform every exercise in a 1-3 round circuit (one after another). If you choose to go this route, be sure to allow your body to rest for around 3x the duration it took you to complete one round. Optimally, you should train 2-4 sessions per week for 4-6 weeks in this phase. 1-2 stabilization progressions should be included in each workout as you work toward less stable movements throughout the phase.⁵ For example, working from two-legged, bodyweight squat to a single-leg squat. Many trainers use suspended pulley trainers to begin progressing toward these less stable movements.
Warm up and Recovery
Any resistance exercise is going to put stress on your muscles. Although this stage does not require your body to lift a ton of weight, it does introduce your body to a high volume of movements somewhat unfamiliar to the body, especially for beginners. So a proper warmup to prepare the muscles for a higher intensity is crucial. These movements should be “light” somewhat related to the muscle groups you plan to target. A 10-15 minute warmup should be enough to make sure your muscles are “warm” and ready to go. To put it into perspective, rubber, when frozen, is susceptible to breakage as opposed to its normal elastic state.
Stress in small amounts is how your muscles adapt and become stronger, however it does come with a downside. Soreness is the result of this stress in the form of micro-tears and inflammation. This soreness, especially just starting out, can last days and impede on day to day function. Therefore, it is important to put an emphasis on rest and recovery. Massage, stretching, yoga, nutrition, and light activity are all great ways to speed up the process and keep you feeling yourself.
Resistance exercise is important at all ages. Whether just starting out or working toward a new goal, it is important to build a foundation and progress gradually for optimal results and reduced injury risk. In fact, an elite level marathon runner still needs to introduce resistance exercises into his/her routine to prevent damage to metabolism, joint stress, and future disability.⁶ ⁷ The initial muscular stabilization and endurance stage is important for beginners, especially those who are elderly or looking to lose some extra weight. Most personal training programs begin with this stage due to its benefit of burning a lot of calories, in addition to lighter loads, over a shorter period of time. However, just because the weight is lighter, doesn’t mean it is less taxing on the body. The limited rest, higher volume, and exposure to uncommon stress can leave your muscles sore and exhausted. So make sure you put an emphasis on recovery and proper nutrition to keep your body primed and ready to go.