Part 1: No matter what your skill level is there are some elements of weight training that you should always adhere to. This guide will help you to manage some of the tricky questions that may arise during your weight training.
How many reps and sets should I do?
Let’s start with the big one. This question is in constant debate and is very difficult to answer. Mostly, it is difficult to answer because the research base is poor. It is very difficult to arrange a clinical trial to observe and measure the effects of different weight training protocols. In the past, recommendations looked something like this:
Power: 4-6 sets of 4-6 reps
Strength/Hypertrophy: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
Muscular Endurance: 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps
This advice is still very good but for most people it matters very little because for most people the most important thing is to put together regular training. That is to say that it is far more important to train regularly and consistently than to be overly concerned about which protocol you are using. I recommend getting back to basics if you are confused about how many reps and sets to do. Basically, if you want to get strong, lift heavy weights. The number of reps matters less than the load and time under tension for your muscles. That means that it matters more what is happening to the muscle at a cellular level and the load that you are putting it under. Experienced exercisers can feel when they have the weight, reps and sets correct. An inexperienced trainer needs to develop this over time. An accurate record of your training becomes highly valuable during this skill acquisition stage. If in doubt, start with 3 sets of 10 reps with no more than 1min recovery.
Training to failure:
Training to failure is not recommended for inexperienced exercisers and it should be used rarely and carefully for experienced exercisers. Training to failure multiple times on the same muscle group in the same session is bordering on a compulsive disorder. Once you have adequately fatigued a muscle, the best thing that you can do is give it time to recover, eat well, sleep well and allow it to grow so you can train hard again next time. You can’t squeeze any more water out of a dry rag.
The textbooks will tell you to breathe out on the concentric phase of an exercise and breathe in on the eccentric phase. I’ll discuss these terms more in next week’s blog but what it basically means is that you breathe out during the phase of the exercise where you are shortening the muscles. E.g. Breathe out as you push a bench press or breathe out as you pull a seated row. The concentric phase is also the phase of the exercise that most people consider the hardest part so that is an easier way to remember when to breathe out. If you are confused, don’t worry. The most important thing is that you are breathing regularly and consistently. Doing this will help you to relax, moderate your blood pressure and you can also use your breath to create tension in your body at the right time to lift more weight.
A relaxed muscle simply performs better. Take a look at any athlete when they perform at their best and most people would comment that they make it look easy. Part of the reason that it looks easy is that they have practiced for hours on end how to relax whilst they put their bodies through high intensity activity and high stress. Some key stress indicators to look for are clenched teeth, loud grunting (uncontrolled breathing), raised shoulders and high tension in non-working muscle groups. E.g. lifting the legs during a bench press or extending the neck during a leg extension.
Stay tuned next week where I describe some of the more complicated personal trainer jargon that can hep you train smarter and better.