- Choosing appropriate exercises: all great exercise programs start with compound exercises. These are exercises that work around more than one joint. For example, the bench press works around the shoulder and elbow joints and the squat works around the hip, knee and ankle joints. These exercises give you a lot of “bang for your buck” by working a large number of muscle groups at the same time. You will notice that the total demand placed on your body is much higher doing a compound exercise versus an isolation exercise (exercises moving around one joint only) like a crunch or a bicep curl. Your heart rate is generally higher and the total work done (energy expended in kilojoules) is generally higher. You may then add isolation exercises but don’t put the cart before the horse. If you are only doing weight training 2 to 3 times per week compound exercises should form the majority of your training program and you should aim to work muscles around every joint each time you train. If you do strength training 4 or more times per week then a split body program may be more appropriate but for most people in the population 3 regular gym sessions per week is a good achievement, especially if you are doing cardiovascular training as well.
- Choosing appropriate reps and sets: this article is a general guide and whilst there are numerous combinations of reps and sets that can be used to develop strength I recommend the use of 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps with a 1 minute recovery between sets. This protocol will work for everyone if done correctly. It doesn’t matter what gender, what age or what your skill level is, this protocol works. It only gets trickier when you are looking for the best possible training for you and that requires a closer individual analysis.
- Progression: In the early stages of any strength program the major adaptation occurs on the neural level. i.e. your nerves adapt before your muscles. This is important to improve technique and efficiency of movement. After 4-6 weeks, strength and muscle gains should become apparent. Regular progression becomes very important once these initial gains have been made. If you don’t progress your training you will reach a level of homeostasis or a ‘plateau’ as most people call it. To progress, we need to adjust one of the variables in the aforementioned protocol. We can adjust sets, reps, recovery time and the weight being used. I usually recommend adjusting for reps first and then weight and keep your sets and recovery consistent especially in the early stages of a program. For example, if you complete 3 sets of 8 reps at 50kg with a 1 minute rest on the bench press, I would recommend slowly increasing the number of reps to 12 before then increasing the weight by approximately 10% and dropping the reps to 8 again. You can repeat this process infinitely.
- Technique Trumps Progression: the most important aspect of resistance training is technique. This includes breathing properly. You should exhale on the concentric (muscle shortening) phase of the exercise and inhale on the eccentric (muscle lengthening) phase. If this is confusing, generally it means you exhale on the hardest part of the movement and breathe regularly and consistently throughout the exercise. You should also look for symmetry in your movement and each exercise will come with it’s own technical aspects that need to be adhered to. If you compromise your technique, you should never progress the exercise as mentioned above. Drop the weight or maintain it and ensure that you have perfect technique before progressing again.
There you have the basics to get you started on your way to improving your strength. In the future I’ll be providing some of my favourite strength training programs and ideas. Please like and share with your friends to spread the word about how important strength training is for your health and fitness.