These are some of the factors that need to be considered when conducting resistance training.
Other factors to consider include technique and intensity. Technique is important for two reasons – for body builders technique will give them greater control over how they sculpt their body, and for beginners, technique will play a large role in preventing injury.
And intensity will drive greater results. Many people are uncertain how hard they need to train and as a result don’t work hard enough to see results.
Resistance training (weights training) can be manipulated to achieve different goals. Some people wish to be able to work for longer, others feel that they are lacking in strength, and then others wish to increase their muscle mass. Despite these varying goals, if you are just starting out, without looking into the situation further, the best advice is to start at a low intensity and aim to undergo 2-3 resistance training sessions a week. Start by doing 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions for each exercise. To get the most out of each exercise, you will need to determine what weight is right for you. This regime ( that is, a high number of repetitions) will see a beginner increase their strength. However, an experienced lifter will see little or no results in terms of strength using this type of training, and there will come a time when your results will slow too. This regime will then only be useful for increasing muscle endurance. Muscle endurance just means that you are able to work for longer.
If your aim is to increase strength, then ultimately you will be moving towards one day undertaking a regime called strength training. To get to this point however, it is advised that you progress through two other types of training first (the first being muscle endurance style training) to allow yourself time to develop your body, and the technique required to conduct strength training with minimal risk of injury. Strength training is where the weight you are lifting for an exercise is so great that you can only lift it 1-5 times in a set. It should be noted here however that this type of training has more inherent risk of injury than other regimes, and requires considerable knowledge, experience and body awareness to minimize this risk. This type of training is very demanding both physically and mentally, so it will take time to develop both your body and your thought processes to conduct it well.
Continuing on the path towards strength training, it is advised that you would next progress to a regime of 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions ( after conducting muscular endurance style training which may take six months, depending on how well you respond ). This is traditionally the style of training that many people wishing to increase muscle mass follow. However, one study has shown that the addition of one set per exercise consisting of a reduction in weight but an increase in repetitions ( 25– 35 ) was the way to maximize increases in muscle cross-sectional area ( that is, muscle growth, also referred to as hypertrophy). To clarify, complete 3 sets of 8-12, and 1 set of 25-35 for each exercise.
For advanced lifters however, research has suggested that those who are focusing on increasing their muscle mass will benefit from a slightly different program, whereby they will use a mixture of hypertrophy training and strength training. They would undergo between 3 – 6 sets, with a small proportion of those sets completed at 1-6 repetitions (at a higher weight).
A small word here on nutrition is appropriate as it plays a considerable role, particularly when trying to increase muscle mass. Protein synthesis in skeletal muscle is promoted from vigorous resistance training and peaks approximately 24 hours post exercise. To provide this environment with the building blocks that it needs, have a meal within an hour of a resistance training workout, but not just carbohydrates and protein which is somewhat of a culture these days – the body will replenish and build itself best if it is given everything that it needs, and this includes nutrients/vitamins/minerals, so have a meal that draws from vegetables and fruit as well. Nutrition is a complex topic, and your eating habits should vary according to your goals. To ensure that your eating habits align with your goals, it is advised that you speak to someone who has studied this area, such as a nutritionist/dietician.
The final progression would be onto strength training. Here you would complete at least one warm up set to increase blood flow to the working muscles, and to give you a chance to adjust your concentration to the task at hand (important for both performance and minimizing the risk of injury). Then you would complete 3-6 sets of 1-5 repetitions, with three minute rests in between (the body’s energy system that fuels this type of activity requires this amount of time to replenish itself if conducting large movements such as squats, deadlifts and bench press – smaller exercises such as isolation exercises may only need 1-2 minutes rest).
A study conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine suggested that beginners undertake 2-3 whole body workouts per week. The study also advised that people who had been training for six months or more could move onto 3-4 times per week as they should now have a greater range of exercises to draw from and could start focusing on each muscle group. Advanced/experienced lifters should train 4-6 times per week, whilst elite weightlifters and bodybuilders may benefit from doing two workouts per day for 4-5 days each week.
Some people will also have fitness goals and may be doing a certain amount of cardio each week as well. This would need to be taken into account when designing a program.
For best results, complete multiple-joint exercises first. What is meant by this is, exercises that use a number of muscles. Squats, deadlifts, bench press and seated row are a few examples. Isolation exercises can be used to compliment these exercises later in your session.
To summarise, there are three different styles of resistance training; muscular endurance training, hypertrophy training and strength training. If you are starting weights for the first time, it is advised that you begin with muscular endurance training due to its lower risk of injury.
Progression to power training is possible once you have developed your strength. Power training is applicable to many sports. Some people however may undertake power training just to give their training some variety. It should be mentioned here though that the exercises used for power training are dynamic and intense, and there is the opportunity for the body to be put into compromising positions if not conducted properly, hence they carry a higher risk of injury. It is strongly advised that they only be conducted with appropriate guidance, and should not be undertaken if you have any existing injuries to the back, knees or shoulders.
An example of an exercise that can be used to develop power is the clean and jerk. It is a whole body exercise so its effects will carry over to many sports. Other exercises that can also be employed involve using a fitball. Watch here for an example of one of these exercises.
Strength and power training can be used to increase sprint speed. Studies have shown that strength to weight ratio correlates highly with sprint velocity and acceleration. However, the ACSM found that just increasing your maximal strength alone does not necessarily benefit your sprinting capabilities. It is the strength to weight ratio that is important. Both strength training and sprint training are necessary to see the greatest results.
If you have reached the stage where you are conducting strength training, and find that you have plateaued, try doing some ‘negatives’. A negative is where the weight is too heavy for you to lift it, but you are still able to lower it with control. To clarify, a training partner helps you lift the weight, then you lower it slowly. Use a weight that is about 110% of your 1 RM (that is, the weight that you can lift once). This will work well for exercises such as bench press and bicep curls. It is strongly advised however that this technique not be employed for exercises such as deadlifts and squats, considering the forces involved may be too great for your knees and back to support.
Carry out two sets of three repetitions after doing 2-3 sets of strength training. Try this technique for a few weeks and see if it makes a difference.
The guidelines set out above are a starting point when designing your program. There are a number of different ways to do it, and each person will respond differently to different regimes. For example, you may wish to transition from a strength regime back to muscular endurance style training but want to limit the degree of strength loss that is likely to come with this change. In this situation, you would need to incorporate a session into your broader program where you would do strength training.