Strength Training

Posted: January 21, 2011 in Training

Pumped any iron lately? If not, you may want to consider it. Resistance exercise is a great way to round out your aerobic workout and help you stay strong. Besides for strength, strength training is highly advised during weight loss as it helps to retain the muscle mass while having less fat, giving you a nice and toned physique. As for females, you should not avoid strength training as well because of the myth that you will look muscular and bulky. Females do not have testosterone, which helps to build muscle faster. Strength training for females would also have the stated benefits as shown below.

What is resistance exercise?

Resistance exercise is any exercise where muscles contract against an external resistance with the objective of increasing strength, tone, mass, and/or muscular endurance. The resistance can come from dumbbells, weight machines, elastic tubing or bands, cinder blocks, cans of soup, your own body weight (for example, push-ups), or any other object that forces your muscles to contract. Results occur when you train consistently over time.

What are types of resistance exercise?

There are several types or styles of resistance exercise. Power lifting (a weight-lifting competition in which participants compete in the squat, dead lift, and bench press), Olympic weight lifting (the type you see on TV where athletes lift the weight overhead), strength training (lifting weights to get stronger), and weight lifting (the sport of lifting heavy weight, typically fewer than six repetitions). Weight lifting should not be confused with “weight training,” which is the general lifting that you do at the gym. I’ll discuss the basic principles of all resistance exercise in this article.

What is Progressive Overload?

One of the fundamentals of resistance exercise is the principle of progressive overload. Progressive overload means that you increase the workload gradually over time as your muscles accommodate to the resistance with the objective of gaining strength and/or mass. For example, suppose that you’ve been lifting biceps curls for two weeks with 12 pounds, 10 repetitions, and then at week three, 12 pounds is easy and you can lift more. According to the principle of progressive overload, at this point, you would increase the weight if strength improvement is your goal. Your strength will remain the same if you keep the weight the same.

What are sets and repetitions (reps)?

Sets and reps are the terms used to describe the number of times you perform an exercise. A rep is the number of times you perform a specific exercise, and a set is the number of cycles of reps that you complete. For example, suppose you complete 15 reps of a bench press. You would say you’ve completed “one set of 15 reps.” A set can be any number of reps, so if you complete 10 reps of a bench press, you would say you’ve completed “one set of 10 reps,” and if you complete just five reps, then that would be “one set of five reps.”

How many sets should I do?

Research is clear that beginners can develop as much strength performing one set per exercise as they can performing three sets. This is because beginners typically start off with a low level of strength which leaves room for improvement (called an “adaptive window”). Muscles respond quickly to resistance exercise in untrained individuals because the adaptive window is large. This is great news because the motivation to continue working out is reinforced by immediate and significant improvement. However, after three to four months, strength gains will level off and then multiple sets (three to five per exercise) are necessary if more improvement is desired.

How do I go about lifting for strength?

Muscular strength is gained when you lift heavy. For strength and mass development, keep the resistance heavy enough so that you cannot lift more than eight reps, and then follow the progressive overload principle and increase the weight when you can lift more then eight. Expect your reps to drop whenever you increase the weight. For example, suppose you’ve been doing 10 reps of bench presses with 175 pounds and you increase the weight to 190 pounds. Because the weight is heavier, you will lift fewer reps, but as your muscles accommodate, you will again be able to lift more reps. When strength is your priority, you can experiment with heavy days. Heavy days are when you lift as much as you can one time. This is called a one-repetition maximum (a 10-rep maximum would be the weight you can lift 10 times to fatigue). Heavy days are challenging, so I don’t recommend them more than once a week so that your muscles have time to recover and grow.

Lifting for strength, tone, and endurance (general conditioning)

Keeping the reps in the eight-to-12 range emphasizes a combination of strength, tone, and endurance. This is a realistic quantity of training for most individuals. The recommendation in the American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand, “Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults,” is for beginners to lift eight to 12 reps, and for the range to widen to one to 12 reps for intermediate and advanced training. Although research supports the 8 to 12 reps recommendation, I believe it’s prudent for beginners to start with 12-15 reps to reduce the risk of injury, and then the weight can be increased after a few weeks when the muscles have accommodated. Keep in mind that strength, tone, and some mass still accrue by training with reps in the 12-15 range, and so you don’t have to lift heavier than that if you prefer not to.

How many days should I lift?

Beginners, because of their wide adaptive window, will accrue significant benefits with two to three days of training. Advanced lifters need at least three days per week, and typically more for significant gains because they are already so strong (more benefit takes more effort). It’s not uncommon for bodybuilders and other strength athletes to train four to five days per week.

How do I know how much weight to lift?

Trial and error is the way to determine how much weight to lift. Select a weight that looks close to what you think you can lift based on your goals. If general conditioning is your goal, then select a weight you think you can lift eight to 12 reps (or 12-15 reps for beginners). If you can lift it 25 times with ease, then it’s too light, and if you can lift it only four times, then it’s too heavy. There are no formulas to calculate this. Simply decide what your goal is so you know how many reps to lift, take a guess by looking at the weights, and then give it a try. You’ll get good at this quickly.

When do I increase the weight?

You should increase the intensity by not more than 10% per week either for the weight lifted or the repetitions. If you feel that you are still unable to cope with this new intensity, continue on with the previous intensity. Do get a friend or a personal trainer as your spotter especially during free weights as to ensure safety.

Free weights vs. machines

Dumbbells and barbells are free weights. They are “free,” or untethered, unlike a weight machine where the weight stack is connected by cables to cams and pulleys and only move in one direction. There are advantages to both styles of lifting.

Weight machines:

1. Weight machines are easy to learn and use.

2. There are some exercises you can do with a machine that you can’t do with a dumbbell. For instance, cable rows would be difficult to replicate with free weights. You could do bent over dumbbell rows, but they won’t be quite the same. For my money, cable rows feel smoother than any exercise in the gym!

Free weights:

1. Free-weight training requires balance and coordination, and so if you are involved in a sport that requires balance, or you just need balance training, then free-weight training might be more effective.

2. Free-weight training may recruit more muscles than a machine because you have to stabilize your body when you lift a dumbbell, whereas the weight machine supports you. For example, a biceps curls is going to feel more natural and use more muscles in your torso (to support the weight) than if you did a seated biceps curl in a machine where the machine does some of the work and you can lean against it for leverage.

3. There are a variety of exercises that you can do with dumbbells that you can’t do with machines. Lunges, step-ups, and many upper body exercises can be performed with free weights if you’re creative.

4. There is no evidence to suggest that either method is superior to the other. My suggestion is to combine free weights and dumbbells to get the best of each. The ACSM weight training position stands states the following: “For novice to intermediate training, it is recommended that the resistance training program include free-weight and machine exercises. For advanced strength training, it is recommended that emphasis be placed on free-weight exercises, with machine exercises used to complement the program needs.”

How important is the order of exercises in a workout?

Research shows that the order of exercises can significantly affect strength development, and so it is standard practice to set up a resistance-training routine to work large muscle groups before smaller ones. The reason is that a small muscle group that fatigues first will be the weakest link in the chain and prevent large muscle groups from working to full capacity. For example, if you isolate and fatigue your biceps muscles with curls, and then try to do lat pull-downs (which use biceps, shoulders and back), you won’t be able to do as much work for your shoulders and back because your biceps will already be fatigued. In the starter programs below, you will see examples of working large to small muscle groups.

What about proper lifting technique?

When you are lifting, always ensure that you perform the exercises in a slow and controlled manner without the use of momentum. When exerting force, always exhale to prevent a build up of air pressure in your body. If you are unsure, you can always get a personal trainer to help!

How long should I rest between sets and workouts?

The amount of time you rest between sets can significantly affect your results. Rest up to three minutes between sets if pure strength development is your priority, and one to two minutes if muscular endurance and tone is your priority. Three minutes permits the muscles to recover from fatigue so that you can generate enough energy to perform another maximal lift on the next set. The standard advice is to rest two days between workouts. This makes sense if you push hard, since the muscles need time to recover and grow. In fact, it can take up to five days for muscles to fully recover from a tough workout, and if you push too hard, you might experience symptoms of overtraining (fatigue, loss of strength, inability to lift 100%, chronic soreness, and persistent injuries). It’s okay to lift two days in a row. Experienced lifters do it all the time by splitting their workout so that they work one muscle group per day. For example, they might work their upper body on one day, and legs on another, or back muscles on one day, and chest muscles on the next. Experiment with different splits until you find what works best for you.

What are the benefits of weight lifting? Is it ever too late to start?

New benefits of resistance exercise seem to be discovered all the time. Research to date shows that resistance exercise is associated with improvements in all of the following:

  • muscular strength and endurance
  • functional capacity and ability (falling, climbing stairs)
  • blood pressure
  • osteoporosis
  • sarcopenia (loss of muscle as we age)
  • low back pain
  • insulin resistance and glucose metabolism
  • resting metabolic rate
  • body fat
  • psychological well-being

Is it ever too late?

It’s never too late to start a resistance-exercise program. In a classic study in a Boston nursing home, 100 residents ranging from 72 to 98 years of age performed resistance exercise three times a week for 10 weeks. Muscle strength increased 113%, walking speed increased by almost 12%, and thigh-muscle area increased 2.7%!

 

References:

Richard Weil Weight Lifting (Resistance Training) Types, Programs, Tips and  Benefits on MedicineNet.com retrieved 21st January 2011 from, http://www.medicinenet.com/weight_lifting/article.htm

Pumped any iron lately? If not, you may want to consider it. Resistance exercise is a great way to round out your aerobic workout and help you stay strong. Besides for strength, strength training is highly advised during weight loss as it helps to retain the muscle mass while having less fat, giving you a nice and toned physique. I’ll discuss the ins and outs of resistance exercise in this article and then suggest two basic training plans to get you started.

What is resistance exercise?

Resistance exercise is any exercise where muscles contract against an external resistance with the objective of increasing strength, tone, mass, and/or muscular endurance. The resistance can come from dumbbells, weight machines, elastic tubing or bands, cinder blocks, cans of soup, your own body weight (for example, push-ups), or any other object that forces your muscles to contract. Results occur when you train consistently over time.

What are types of resistance exercise?

There are several types or styles of resistance exercise. Power lifting (a weight-lifting competition in which participants compete in the squat, dead lift, and bench press), Olympic weight lifting (the type you see on TV where athletes lift the weight overhead), strength training (lifting weights to get stronger), and weight lifting (the sport of lifting heavy weight, typically fewer than six repetitions). Weight lifting should not be confused with “weight training,” which is the general lifting that you do at the gym. I’ll discuss the basic principles of all resistance exercise in this article.

What is progressive overload?

One of the fundamentals of resistance exercise is the principle of progressive overload. Progressive overload means that you increase the workload gradually over time as your muscles accommodate to the resistance with the objective of gaining strength and/or mass. For example, suppose that you’ve been lifting biceps curls for two weeks with 12 pounds, 10 repetitions, and then at week three, 12 pounds is easy and you can lift more. According to the principle of progressive overload, at this point, you would increase the weight if strength improvement is your goal. Your strength will remain the same if you keep the weight the same.

What are sets and repetitions (reps)?

Sets and reps are the terms used to describe the number of times you perform an exercise. A rep is the number of times you perform a specific exercise, and a set is the number of cycles of reps that you complete. For example, suppose you complete 15 reps of a bench press. You would say you’ve completed “one set of 15 reps.” A set can be any number of reps, so if you complete 10 reps of a bench press, you would say you’ve completed “one set of 10 reps,” and if you complete just five reps, then that would be “one set of five reps.”

How many sets should I do?

Research is clear that beginners can develop as much strength performing one set per exercise as they can performing three sets. This is because beginners typically start off with a low level of strength which leaves room for improvement (called an “adaptive window”). Muscles respond quickly to resistance exercise in untrained individuals because the adaptive window is large. This is great news because the motivation to continue working out is reinforced by immediate and significant improvement. However, after three to four months, strength gains will level off and then multiple sets (three to five per exercise) are necessary if more improvement is desired.

How do I go about lifting for strength?

Muscular strength is gained when you lift heavy. For pure strength development, keep the resistance heavy enough so that you cannot lift more than eight reps, and then follow the progressive overload principle and increase the weight when you can lift more then eight. Expect your reps to drop whenever you increase the weight. For example, suppose you’ve been doing 10 reps of bench presses with 175 pounds and you increase the weight to 190 pounds. Because the weight is heavier, you will lift fewer reps, but as your muscles accommodate, you will again be able to lift more reps. When strength is your priority, you can experiment with heavy days. Heavy days are when you lift as much as you can one time. This is called a one-repetition maximum (a 10-rep maximum would be the weight you can lift 10 times to fatigue). Heavy days are challenging, so I don’t recommend them more than once a week so that your muscles have time to recover and grow.

Lifting for strength, tone, and endurance (general conditioning)

Keeping the reps in the eight-to-12 range emphasizes a combination of strength, tone, and endurance. This is a realistic quantity of training for most individuals. The recommendation in the American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand, “Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults,” is for beginners to lift eight to 12 reps, and for the range to widen to one to 12 reps for intermediate and advanced training. Although research supports the 8 to 12 reps recommendation, I believe it’s prudent for beginners to start with 12-15 reps to reduce the risk of injury, and then the weight can be increased after a few weeks when the muscles have accommodated. Keep in mind that strength, tone, and some mass still accrue by training with reps in the 12-15 range, and so you don’t have to lift heavier than that if you prefer not to.

How many days should I lift?

Beginners, because of their wide adaptive window, will accrue significant benefits with two to three days of training. Advanced lifters need at least three days per week, and typically more for significant gains because they are already so strong (more benefit takes more effort). It’s not uncommon for bodybuilders and other strength athletes to train four to five days per week.

How do I know how much weight to lift?

Trial and error is the way to determine how much weight to lift. Select a weight that looks close to what you think you can lift based on your goals. If general conditioning is your goal, then select a weight you think you can lift eight to 12 reps (or 12-15 reps for beginners). If you can lift it 25 times with ease, then it’s too light, and if you can lift it only four times, then it’s too heavy. There are no formulas to calculate this. Simply decide what your goal is so you know how many reps to lift, take a guess by looking at the weights, and then give it a try. You’ll get good at this quickly.

When do I increase the weights?

You should increase the intensity by not more than 10% per week either for the weight lifted or the repetitions. If you feel that you are still unable to cope with this new intensity, continue on with the previous intensity. Do get a friend or a personal trainer as your spotter especially during free weights as to ensure safety.

Free weights vs. machines

Dumbbells and barbells are free weights. They are “free,” or untethered, unlike a weight machine where the weight stack is connected by cables to cams and pulleys and only move in one direction. There are advantages to both styles of lifting.

Weight machines:

1. Weight machines are easy to learn and use.

2. There are some exercises you can do with a machine that you can’t do with a dumbbell. For instance, cable rows would be difficult to replicate with free weights. You could do bent over dumbbell rows, but they won’t be quite the same. For my money, cable rows feel smoother than any exercise in the gym!

Free weights:

1. Free-weight training requires balance and coordination, and so if you are involved in a sport that requires balance, or you just need balance training, then free-weight training might be more effective.

2. Free-weight training may recruit more muscles than a machine because you have to stabilize your body when you lift a dumbbell, whereas the weight machine supports you. For example, a biceps curls is going to feel more natural and use more muscles in your torso (to support the weight) than if you did a seated biceps curl in a machine where the machine does some of the work and you can lean against it for leverage.

3. There are a variety of exercises that you can do with dumbbells that you can’t do with machines. Lunges, step-ups, and many upper body exercises can be performed with free weights if you’re creative.

4. There is no evidence to suggest that either method is superior to the other. My suggestion is to combine free weights and dumbbells to get the best of each. The ACSM weight training position stands states the following: “For novice to intermediate training, it is recommended that the resistance training program include free-weight and machine exercises. For advanced strength training, it is recommended that emphasis be placed on free-weight exercises, with machine exercises used to complement the program needs.”

 

How important is the order in which I perform my exercises?

Research shows that the order of exercises can significantly affect strength development, and so it is standard practice to set up a resistance-training routine to work large muscle groups before smaller ones. The reason is that a small muscle group that fatigues first will be the weakest link in the chain and prevent large muscle groups from working to full capacity. For example, if you isolate and fatigue your biceps muscles with curls, and then try to do lat pull-downs (which use biceps, shoulders and back), you won’t be able to do as much work for your shoulders and back because your biceps will already be fatigued. In the starter programs below, you will see examples of working large to small muscle groups.

What about proper weight-lifting techniques?

When you are lifting, always ensure that you perform the exercises in a slow and controlled manner without the use of momentum. When exerting force, always exhale to prevent a build up of air pressure in your body. If you are unsure, you can always get a personal trainer to help!

How long should I rest between sets and between days?

The amount of time you rest between sets can significantly affect your results. Rest up to three minutes between sets if pure strength development is your priority, and one to two minutes if muscular endurance and tone is your priority. Three minutes permits the muscles to recover from fatigue so that you can generate enough energy to perform another maximal lift on the next set. The standard advice is to rest two days between workouts. This makes sense if you push hard, since the muscles need time to recover and grow. In fact, it can take up to five days for muscles to fully recover from a tough workout, and if you push too hard, you might experience symptoms of overtraining (fatigue, loss of strength, inability to lift 100%, chronic soreness, and persistent injuries). It’s okay to lift two days in a row. Experienced lifters do it all the time by splitting their workout so that they work one muscle group per day. For example, they might work their upper body on one day, and legs on another, or back muscles on one day, and chest muscles on the next. Experiment with different splits until you find what works best for you.

What are the benefits of weight lifting? Is it ever too late to start?

New benefits of resistance exercise seem to be discovered all the time. Research to date shows that resistance exercise is associated with improvements in all of the following:

  • muscular strength and endurance
  • functional capacity and ability (falling, climbing stairs)
  • blood pressure
  • osteoporosis
  • sarcopenia (loss of muscle as we age)
  • low back pain
  • insulin resistance and glucose metabolism
  • resting metabolic rate
  • body fat
  • psychological well-being

Is it ever too late?

It’s never too late to start a resistance-exercise program. In a classic study in a Boston nursing home, 100 residents ranging from 72 to 98 years of age performed resistance exercise three times a week for 10 weeks. Muscle strength increased 113%, walking speed increased by almost 12%, and thigh-muscle area increased 2.7%!

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