As I have grown in my own understanding of strength training over the years, I have come to realize that many people are aware of the need to develop strength but appear to miss the point when applying their efforts to the actual process. I have observed over the years that men tend to want to “load up” their exercises and do minimal repetitions (maximizing the resistance) while women tend to work with very light weight and do greater numbers of repetitions.
Both approaches are not wrong but in applying their effort in this way they will both get minimal results. Men tend to get fatter in the abdominal cavity and women tend to gain fat mass in the hips and thighs – and eventually arms. Both approaches will not solve the “fat storage” problem and I suspect the frustration both groups feel grows ever time as each attempts to change the outcome by going with what they “think” will work.
I feel that if I can highlight the PRINCIPLES of resistance training while identifying the underlying benefits of a successful resistance training program I will hopefully “shed light” on the mystery of getting a “lean body” which we all seem to want. Lean and strong beats fat and weak any day -doesn’t it? I know it does because I am able to say that after 30 years of weight training I AM lean and strong! Would you want that too? Of course!
PRINCIPLES OF RESISTANCE TRAINING
RESISTANCE: Applying a predetermined “load” to a particular muscle group in order to create a deficit of stored energy and allow the muscle to respond to the “stimulus” by “adapting to the load presented” – and getting stronger over time. The muscle grows in size and strength by responding to increased loads and gives the joint more stability while creating a more flexible and adaptable joint.
REPETITIONS: The number of movements around the joint that create the result. The lower the number of repetitions – the greater the load. The higher the number of repetitions – the lower the load. Repetitions can range anywhere from (6 for “power sets” to 15 for “endurance sets”. The number of sets one can do will determine how quickly – or slowly – the muscle will respond to the stimulus. When it can no longer perform the movement (1-3 sets for beginners to 4-6 – or more – sets for experienced individuals) it has reached a “failure point”.
EXERCISES: The number of exercises is determined by the condition of the individual and the outcome desired. The form (body weight, machine, free weights) the exercises take is determined by the experience, knowledge and acquired skill of the individual. The process is always dictated by the conditioning and “readiness” of the person to train and MUST always include the safety and effectiveness of the exercises selected. Examples of exercises are: Leg extension, calf extension (seated or standing), shoulder press, chest press, back – rowing or pulldown, arm curls, lunges, and squats.
SPEED/TIMING: Timing refers to the speed with which we do the movements needed. The 2/4 count is a common tool used to either “speed up” or “slow down” the movements. (2 is for raising the weight and 4 for is for lowering the weight slowing the movement). Each has value but the faster we do the movements the more likely we are to increase the risk of injury. The heavier the load the more speed will have to be employed to “move the weight”. The lighter the load the slower the movement can done increasing fatigue and allowing the muscle to respond over time to the stimulus. Do a movement that is comfortable for you and remain in control of both the positive and negative resistance.
RANGE OF MOTION: The principle of range of motion comes into play when we attempt to move a heavier “load” through a “full range of motion” when our muscle is unable to do it without assistance from another joint. A classic example would be a standing arm curl where we are applying a weight against our bicep and attempting to raise the weight to our shoulders without using our back or lifting with our shoulders. I see this all the time. If you can’t “curl the weight” slowly – at the elbow for example – without assistance the weight is too heavy.
PROGRAMMING: Programming applies to the overall effort – and the result one is attempting to achieve. Starting with lower weight and doing more repetitions correctly is always preferable since safety must come first. The muscle develops over time and then additional “reps” can be applied with higher resistance since the muscle “adapts to the loads” over time. Patience is important and “going slowly” at first is always advisable. Weight training can show results in as little as 30 days so keep going!
THE PRINCIPLE OF ADAPTATION: This principle is the most important to keep in mind. All muscles get stronger over time if consistent effort is made and the issue of safety is always kept foremost in mind. My own training is now focusing on high numbers of repetitions while maintaining the weight I have been using to this date. The endurance and power issues are being addressed in this manner since I am older now and my goal is to “maintain” my existing lean muscle mass”. We should ALL want to maintain our lean muscle mass since it is the most active tissue in our bodies – and burns lots of calories! The aging process WILL have a long term – and negative – effect if we do nothing!
Do “something” every week for the rest of your life when it comes to building – and maintaining – your existing lean muscle mass. Strength and endurance decline with the years – especially after the age of 40. The process actually begins in our 30’s but accelerates in our 40’s and beyond. I am fighting for a lean and strong body every time I train with weights.
I am building ENDURANCE through massive numbers of sets and reps. I am creating more POWER and STRENGTH through increased loads. I am increasing my CAPACITY when I keep the time between sets down to 30 seconds or less. I don’t waste time sitting or talking with people. I don’t allow myself to be distracted (no PHONE). I work toward the completion of my weight training workout in under an hour and fifteen minutes twice a week.
Scheduling time to work on building muscular strength and endurance is critical to a healthy and fit body. Your commitment to creating and maintaining your existing lean mass is VITAL so start with 2-3 days and build your program to suit your needs. Consider all your options (machines, free weights, body weight exercises etc.). Seek guidance from a fitness professional to assist you in planning your training especially if you lack proper training and experience – better “safe than sorry”!
Set a firm schedule for yourself and stick to it! I strength train on Mondays and Thursdays – and train HARD each time. I want to keep what I have as long as I can – and enjoy every minute at the same time! You should too! Find a way and commit yourself to your purpose and NEVER QUIT!
Strength training is vital to a healthy and fit body as we age. Without our muscles we WILL become frail and weak – and our spine will collapse along with our ability to take care of ourselves – which I never want to experience. I see this outcome every day and walkers are becoming more commonplace for the “elderly”. I NEVER want to be called “ELDERLY”. That to me is the kiss of death. Remember after the age of 40 “all bets are off”. If you haven’t been active and developing your body before that age then get started and don’t waste a minute – or even ONE DAY.
Once the time is gone it can never be recovered. I am off to do my weight training for the start of my week and I can’t wait to “get to it”. My energy levels will go up and my attitude will be positive – and happy. I will accept the challenges of my day and start my week off on the “right foot”. Will you do the same? Only you can answer this question. I am guessing that if you do all you can today to get stronger – your body – and your mind – will be forever grateful that you charted a course that will forever keep you young and vital – and that is priceless!
Nicholas Prukop is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer & a Health Coach, a fitness professional with over 25 years of experience whose passion for health and fitness comes from his boyhood in Hawaii where he grew up a swimmer on Maui. He found his calling in writing his first book “Healthy Aging & You: Your Journey to Becoming Happy, Healthy & Fit” and since then he has dedicated himself to empowering, inspiring and enabling people of all ages to reach for the best that is within them and become who they are meant to be – happy, healthy and fit – and be a part of a world where each person can contribute their own unique gifts to life.
If you need help in designing a fitness plan, you can contact Nicholas Prukop via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or read his inspiring book Healthy Aging & YOU.