What Is Strength Training?
By Jerry Predaris
Traditional strength training consists of performing one to three (or more) sets of exercises on a specific, isolated muscle group. One rep, or repetition, equals one complete movement of the exercise from start to finish. For example, for a bicep curl you might begin with your arm extended down by your side holding the weight, say a dumbbell, curl the weight upward to your shoulder by bending your elbow, and then lower the weight back to the starting position. That's one rep. Do that 8-12 times and you've completed one set of bicep curls. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds to allow your muscle to recuperate and you're ready for the next set.
Successive sets should be progressive, meaning that each one should be performed using “progressive” or increased resistance. In the case of the aforementioned bicep curl, you might do the first set using a 10-lb weight, rest for 30 seconds, then increase the resistance to 12 lbs for the second set, rest for 30 seconds, then finish up with a third set, again increasing the resistance by using a 15-lb weight.
Congratulations! You've just worked out your biceps in the same way bodybuilders train their biceps in the gym.
Smart Tip: Choose a starting resistance for the first set that's challenging. Not so difficult that you can't complete a whole set, nor so easy that you're just going through the motions. Each set should push the muscle to near muscle fatigue. The harder you work, the faster and more dynamic the results.
Now, if you were to do just those three sets of biceps curls two times a week, in only a few weeks time you'd start to feel your biceps muscles getting firmer, tighter, and stronger. You'd also begin to see changes in the shape of the muscles as well, to a more dynamic, contoured, athletic look. That's new muscle growing on your body right before your eyes.
Muscles burn calories 24 hours a day... even while you sleep!
Every pound of new muscle requires your body to burn about 50 calories more per day just to keep that muscle alive and functioning, even while you're sleeping. So, as you continue to build more muscle, your metabolism continues to increase, which allows you to shed unwanted pounds and inches while at the same time shaping and building more muscle...which increases metabolism even more, which allows you to shed more pounds and inches, which…well, I think you get the picture.
Training all the other muscle groups in your body—chest, abs, shoulders, back, triceps, thighs, buns, calves, and hamstrings— involves the same basic principles. One to three progressive sets of 8-12 reps for each muscle group twice a week. If you're a beginner, however, it's highly recommended that you start with only one set for each muscle group during the first two weeks, then add a second set during weeks three and four, and, if you feel up to it, do three sets thereafter. Gradually increasing the work load on your body will help prevent undue soreness and make your workouts much more enjoyable.
Smart Tip: Never work the same muscle group on successive days. Always allow a minimum of 48 hours rest, but no more than 96 hours, between sessions that work the same muscle group. For example, if you work your legs on Monday, you wouldn't want to work legs again until Wednesday or Thursday in the same week.
Strength training involves working your muscles beyond their normal limits by lifting progressively heavier weights. This overloading of the muscles causes micro-tears in the muscle tissue. Resting 48-96 hours between sessions allows your body the time it needs to effectively repair the micro-tears and make the muscle stronger. Remember, it's just as vital not to over train a muscle as it is to train it in the first place.
One way to get more out of each set is to combine two or more different exercises for the same muscle into one continuous set, or Superset. For example, try doing a set of bicep curls, then without resting do a set of concentration curls followed by a set of cable curls. Now, you can rest! This superset replaces one regular set. The next set would consist of the same three exercises with increased resistance. Working the muscle from three different angles at three different stress levels without letting it rest is a good way to get more results fast.
Smart Tip: This is an advanced workout feature. Beginners should start more slowly, doing one regular set for each muscle group during the first few weeks and build up gradually to three regular sets and later to three supersets.
Powersets are giant Supersets that encompass all the muscles worked on in one day's session one after the other without resting, in a circuit training fashion. After resting a couple of minutes, increase resistance and perform the second and third round of Powersets. Supersets and Powersets can pump up your intensity level while shaving precious time off your workouts.
Working out your entire body in one session can take a significant amount of time and energy, especially if you're doing lots of sets at a high intensity level. One way to cut your workout down to size is to split train.
Split Training is a method whereby you split up your total body workout over two or more sessions, choosing to work only a few muscle groups each day. For example, you could train your upper body on Monday and work your lower body on Tuesday, a two-day split routine that works your entire body every two days. Or you could do the push/pull split where you “push” (train chest, shoulders, and triceps) on Monday and “pull” (train legs, back, and biceps) on Tuesday. Again, it's a two-day split, and even though it's not strictly all push/pull (some of the leg muscles are really “push” muscles) it serves to shorten each day's workout, making it easier to keep up your intensity and find the time to exercise regularly. Once you get to the point of doing three sets of two or three exercises for each muscle group, you'll most likely choose to split train.
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