What is strength training?
Strength training is using muscular force against resistance. This type of training can build the strength and size of skeletal muscles. Different forms of resistance can be used when training for strength. This includes bands, body weight, and specially designed weights or machines.
In the past, strength training was primarily used by athletes to enhance performance and/or increase muscle size. However, strength training is now recognized as a critical factor in the health and fitness of all genders, ages, and abilities. Leading health organizations such as the ACSM and NSCA recommend regular strength training as part of one’s fitness regimen.
Why is strength training so important?
Strength training is important for:
Preserving and enhancing muscle mass
Preserving and enhancing metabolic rate
Improving bone mineral density
Improving glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity
Lowering risk of injury
Improving ability to engage in daily activities
Enhancing strength and endurance
Enhancing speed, power, and agility
Improving overall body composition
Decreasing bad cholesterol levels
Decreasing blood pressure
Improving aerobic capacity
What you should know
Sets and Reps
Weight loads allowing less than 15 repetitions are important for muscular strength and hypertrophy while weight loads that can be repeatedly lifted for greater than 15 repetitions are important for muscular endurance. More specifically, less than six reps will help with developing strength and power, six to 12 reps will help keep the muscle under tension and develop muscle growth, while more than 12 reps is ideal for endurance and metabolic conditioning.
Strength Training Frequency
Aiming for about 2 – 3.5 hours per week of strength training is adequate for most individuals. This should be divided equally over the course of the week. Examples include:
Monday/Wednesday/Friday for 60 minutes
Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday for 45 minutes
Strength Training Body part/Movement Workout
So how should the workouts be divided up? One of the best ideas is a constant rotation. One month could be full body workouts. The next month could be body part workouts. The next month could be movement plane workouts. Body part specific workouts are better for regional hypertrophy while full body workouts and movements plane workouts benefit strength, power, speed, and muscle growth.
Choosing Exercise Sequence
Remember to select the harder exercises before the easy exercises (e.g., multi-joint before single-joint, free weight before machine, etc). An example would be squats before leg extensions.
There are many different ways to make progressions with your strength training routine. You can increase the weight lifted, the repetitions performed, or the sets completed. You can also decrease the tempo of each set to allow greater time under tension. Decreasing the rest between sets doesn’t allow your body to fully recover and is metabolically taxing. Even changing the biomechanics of the exercise can be a method of progression (e.g., flat to incline, supinated to pronated, etc.). Finally, there are many intensity boosters that can be used with strength training, here are some examples:
Supersets – Example – Back to back bench press and dumbbell rows
Drop sets – Example – 10 reps with 100 pounds on squats, 8 reps with 80 pounds on squats, 6 reps with 60 pounds on squats, and so on….
Rest/pause – Example – 10 reps with 100 pounds on squats, rack it, rest, 4 reps with 100 pounds, rack it, rest, 3 reps with 100 pounds
Circuits – Example – 8 reps of push ups, 8 reps of deadlifts, 8 reps of rows, 8 reps of lunges, 30 seconds of jumping jacks
Density training – Example – Doing push ups and pull ups for 10 – 15 minutes with minimal rest
Negatives – Example – Grab a weight that is heavier that normal, lift it, then take about 6 – 8 seconds while resisting on the way down
Isometrics – Example – wall sit for 30 seconds
S.A.I.D. is an acronym for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. In other words, our body adapts to whatever demands it is given. Mindlessly wandering from machine to machine for months on end will not result in optimal results. Cycling your program will keep you sane and challenge your body. This also applies to the design of the strength training program. A program designed to improve muscular endurance won’t benefit muscular strength.
Summary and Recommendations
Strength train for 2 to 3.5 hours per week, spread evenly.
Always warm up before strength training.
Higher sets and lower reps for strength.
Lower sets and higher reps for metabolic conditioning and endurance.
Focus on body part workouts if you are more interested in regional hypertrophy.
Focus on movement plane workouts if you are more interested in function, performance and strength.
Do the most taxing exercises first in your routine.
Always vary your routine. The best program, as the saying goes, is the one you’re not currently doing.
Don’t forget about progression. Otherwise, you won’t progress!
Excelling at strength training is virtually impossible without good nutrition.
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