Weight Training: Resistance training is an important part of any fitness program. Follow these steps to put together a program that fits your goals.
In any fitness program, regardless of your goals, there are three core components: cardiovascular training, resistance training, and flexibility training. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on what type of training you should be doing, based on your own level of expertise.
Its difficult to give advice across the board, because obviously everyone has different goals, which in turn means different training. Someone who has 100 pounds to lose would not perform the same training as someone with 20 pounds to lose.
There are three different categories that people typically fall into in terms of strength training experience.
Newbie - This is someone who has zero experience with resitance training, hasn’t trained in over 6 months, or has trained but never really understood what they were doing, just trying various exercises that they heard about or saw someone else doing, in hopes of seeing results.
Intermediate - Someone who has been weight training for over a year or has been out of a training routine for less than 6 months.
Advanced - Someone who has been weight training for many years.
Before we get to the nitty gritty of what programs are for whom, I want to give some key points that should be incorporated into any “good” strength training program.
Basic, compound exercises, should be the core of your workout routine. This type of training consists of free weight exercises and not machine excersises. The reason I specifically say to use free weights is they force you to recruit many muscles with each motion.
Machine exercises can allow you to “cheat” a little, however they do have their place among isolation exercises.
Proper form (including posture) is priority number one when it comes to weight training. Trying to jump into a new routine without understanding how to properly perform the exercises is like trying to drive a stick shift starting out in second gear.
Sure it can be done, but its not the optimal situation and you are going to run into serious issues sooner or later.
If you don’t take the time to make sure you have proper form, you are asking for trouble. You are either going to hurt yourself or you are not going to truly reap the benefits of the exercise if you aren’t doing it right.
is a great resource for understanding how to perform specific exercises. It is also a really good idea to start out by performing the movements of an exercise without weights to begin with.
This will allow you to get comfortable with the movements and ensure that you can do the stability work (tight core, straight back, slightly bent knees, feet shoulder width apart, etc) correctly so that you can effectively support the weight you are lifting.
If for some reason you do lose your form while strength training and you feel any muscle strain whatsoever, STOP, set the weight down gently, and evaluate what just happened.
Chances are that you strained a muscle and need to rest for a day or two, but you can also very easily seriously injure yourself by lifting weights improperly. Its always best to stop and give your body time to heal if you think you might have strained something, rather than push through the pain and potentially injure yourself even worse.
In order to break down muscle tissue, its crucial that you overload your muscles. For example, if you are performing 3 sets of 10 repititions, that 10th rep of each set should be almost impossible to complete.
As you progress in your training, you should be consistently increasing your weights, so that you continue to challenge and overload your muscles.
Your training session should take no longer than 45 minutes to one hour. Anything longer than that, and your level of muscle building and fat burning hormones begin to drop overall, which can actually prevent your body from burning fat and building muscle.
This is one of the top ways people catapult themselves into a plateau.
Number of Reps
Generally speaking for the average individual’s goals (aka non-bodybuilder), sets should range between 8-15 repetitions (except for calves and abs) as studies have shown that muscle building and fat burning occur most effectively in this zone.
In this range, you receive the optimal level of blood and nutrients flowing to your muscle cells, which helps them rebuild and recover faster.
Rest Between Sets
Your rest time in between sets should be between 30-90 seconds. If your goal is primarily to build muscle mass, you would aim for the 90 second range to give your muscles enough time to rest and stimulate growth.
If your goal is fat loss or general wellness, you would stick to the 30-60 second range, because your goal is essentially to build some muscle or maintain what you have, not particularly build large quantities, so you don’t need as long a “growth time” rest period.
Also a rest time of 30-60 seconds will allow you to keep your heart rate somewhat elevated, which will help to give you an added cardiovascular boost.
Vary Your Routine
This is an essential point. You need to keep the body guessing, as it is very adaptable.
Varying your routine will help to ward off any chance of plateau and will help you to continue to push and challenge your body, not to mention keep things exciting.
Its typically good to change up your routine every 4-6 weeks.
Your training should consist of a basic full body program (see example program below) that hits on all major muscle groups and allows you to continue to push yourself over time by increasing weight used or sets.
At this level of expertise, you do not need to incorporate isolation exercises. This program should be completed 2-3 times per week, with rest days (or cardio only days) in between (i.e. day on, day off, etc).
You need to rest for one week after the first 4 weeks of beginning your training program. After that, rest for one week every 8-12 weeks.
**Please note that if you have a large amount of body fat to lose, and have not done any resistance or aerobic training in quite some time, it would be best to visit your doctor for a physical examination before beginning any new exercise program.
Your training should be comprised of a full body or split training routine (see example program below), 3-4 days per week, spaced apart with rest days (or cardio only days) in between. Make sure to include a rest week every 8-12 weeks.
Your training should be a split training program (see example program below) 5-6 days per week with one day of rest (or cardio only) in between same muscle group sessions, meaning don’t do exercises that work a specific muscle group two days in a row.
Rest every 8 weeks.
Basic Full Body Program Example:
Split Training Routine Example:
Special Note on Rest
Make sure to take at least one day of full rest each week
, meaning no cardio or weights. This is a very important component in any program no matter if your goal is fat loss, general wellness, or mass building - your body NEEDS this time to recoup.
Trust me when I tell you this, this is where I screwed up. I trained and trained for at least a year without taking a rest week, and couldn’t figure out why I could not get beyond my plateau. I took one week off and the not only did I lose fat that week, but I also felt 10x better both mentally and physically.
My body needed a break.