Strength Training the Complete Beginners Guide
Strength training programs are very popular right now – they are a great way to improve your health, energy and fitness levels. But for beginners it can all be a bit confusing. In this article I’ll lay out all you need to get started simply and easily – and I’ll explain what exactly this strength training thing is all about.
We’re all racing against time. You don’t have to tell me about how early you wake up in the mornings only to be stranded at work for hours with a number of errands to run once you get the chances to leave. Believe me, I understand – most of us are in the same predicament today.
Relaxing is hardly an option but we all recognize the need for a workout program to stay healthy amidst all this madness. And it needs to be simple, effective and efficient, without taking up too much of our time. That is the main benefit behind strength improvement programs.
Defining Strength Training
Strength training, often referred to as resistance training, is a specialized type of physical exercise which involves the use of assorted resistive loads and various training modalities to induce muscular contraction. It promotes anaerobic endurance and improves strength and the size of skeletal muscles.
Sounds confusing? Let’s put it in simpler terms.
Strength training is the method used to enhance muscular strength by steadily increasing one’s ability to resist force. Your muscles can adapt to all kinds of resistance; whether it is from your own body weight, machines or weights. The heavy object could be a bowling ball, a log, hand luggage or another human being – any object that has mass.
The Importance of Strength Training
Firstly, strength training gives you strength… duh! I am sure you can recall a number of circumstances where you wish you were stronger. Strength training helps you to become stronger by:
- Developing muscle tissues
- Improving neuromuscular coordination – in other words it improves the ability of your nervous system to ‘appoint’ a muscle or a group of muscles to carry out a specific task. It involves intra and inter-muscular coordination.
- Increasing rate of force development. This affects how fast you’re able to generate a force to move against the resistance.
- Strengthening your tendons and connective tissues.
- Promoting muscle growth while simultaneously increasing the demand for blood delivery, engaging the circulatory system.
But it doesn’t end there! There are a number of other benefits associated with strength training.
Strength training can also:
- Protect bone health and enhance muscle mass
- Help to develop you metabolic rate
- Help to prevent conditions such as arthritis
- Improve your mood and boots energy levels
- Make you fitter and stronger
- Improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance
- Allow you to burn more calories and improve body composition
- Enhance endurance
- Reduce the chance of muscle strain
- Decrease the risk of high blood pressure
- Improve balance
To put the icing on the cake, strength training can also help to prevent life threatening conditions such as diabetes and obesity by allowing you to maintain muscle mass whilst improving your overall fitness levels.
When your muscle metabolism is altered, it may influence the development of these diseases, strength training will help you to maintain a proper metabolic rate.
Is This Training Right for Me
Things and time have changed. Strength improvement is no longer only common among professional athletes looking to increase their muscle size and improve their performance. It has also become a common part of the everyday lives of most people looking to stay fit and lead a healthy life – despite age, gender or aptitude.
With a proper workout program, diet and the right motivation, anyone can strength train: children, teenagers, adults, elderly and even people with disabilities and other limitations.
Here is what you need to know:
It’s Not Just About Working Out
The residual effects of an intensive strength training session can last for up to two days. To ensure that you bounce back in time to transition into your next session you will need to take all the necessary precautions.
To maximize your strength, your goal is to create an environment in your body between your workout sessions to reduce protein breakdown and increase protein synthesis. This also applies to elderly people who are strength training.
Protein does far more than muscle repair. It plays an essential role in the repair of red blood cells, muscle contraction, regulation of hormone secretion, maintenance of body water balance, the regulation of blood circulation and the transportation of oxygen.
SAID: Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands
The SAID principle is one of the most basic concept in the sport/fitness realm. It supports the idea that our bodies are equipped to adapt to any stressful situation.
- The more you do a particular movement the better you will get at it.
- If you do a full range of motion, you will get stronger through that full range. If you do a partial range of motion, you will get stronger in that range of motion only.
- If you use long-duration or lightweight sets, you will improve your endurance.
- You will gain muscle mass if you use shorter sets and heavier weights. You can also gain muscle mass using medium-duration sets and medium weights.
- If you put mechanical stress on your bones by shock or impact, your bones will become harder and thicker in that area of stress.
Reps and Sets Explained
You may have come across the terms, reps and sets while talking to a professional athlete or your gym trainer. They provide organization and structure to your workout regimen.
A rep or repetition is any single movement of any exercise, where as a set is any series of reps of an exercise that is done sequentially.
The number of reps generally reflects the amount of weights used and the intensity of the exercise. For example, doing a set of 10 reps will not require as much resistance as an all-out set of 2 reps with heavy weights.
If you are looking to improve your strength moderately you should use higher reps. Furthermore you should always consider how heavy the weight is in relation to the number of reps done (more on this later). For example, you can lift a weight 10 sets of 3 reps or 3 sets of 10 reps; whatever will give you the results you are looking for.
In a nutshell, volume in strength training refers to the total amount of work/reps done while working out. It can be measured in a number of ways. For instance, the training volume and be determined by the amount of sets done each training session, the total amount of reps for each exercise, the amount of weight lifted per training session, the total amount of reps or sets dome daily or weekly etc.
An example of a low volume workout is 3 sets of 5 reps, which would give you a total of 15 reps. A high volume workout could include 10 sets of 10 reps that would give you a total of 100 reps.
Intensity is very important to build muscles and gain strength. In layman terms, intensity in strength training refers to how hard you train. ‘Hard’ in this context does not mean how much you exert yourself, but rather how heavy the weight is relative to your maximum.
Low intensity would indicate that you are lifting lighter weights, whereas a high intensity would indicate that you are lifting heavier weight. For instance, if you can only complete an all-out rep with 100 lbs per session, then that is your 1 rep maximum.
Resting Between Sets
Do I need to rest in between sets? Yes! Here is why.
Anyone will tell you that it is important to rest between workouts to allow your body to recover and perform at optimum level. What most people don’t know is that it is important to rest between sets also.
Resting between sets is imperative to allow your ATP to regenerate. The amount of rest that your body needs will vary depending on how heavy the weight is and the intensity of each workout session.
If you plan on training with extremely heavy weights to enhance your power and strength you will need about 3 to 5 minutes of rest between sets to allow your body to recover for optimal performance. If your aim is to improve your overall body composition, you’ll need a combination of moderate-intensity sets.
With this you should take short rest of 30-60 seconds. In most cases this may result in better muscular endurance.
Learning the most complex moves/exercises that involve the movement of many joints are usually more rewarding.
To enhance your strength and power try exercises such as deadlifting, squatting and pull-ups. These multi-joint complex exercises will give you the results you are looking for. For a greater effect combine it with a few ‘functional’ exercises (tire flips, sledgehammer swings, sandbag carries).
For greater endurance do power-type and strength exercises, using lighter weights. Isolation exercises might also help you with endurance. Some examples are leg curls, and overhead triceps extensions.
Rehabilitation exercises are also a big part of strength training can improve endurance for most body parts with simple exercises such as arm raises.
This refers to how often you do a certain move or train a muscle. Frequency can be low or high. Low frequency is when you workout no more than 2 times weekly but most times less. High frequency is when you work out more than 3 times weekly. For most people 2 to 3 hours per week of strength training will be more than enough for good results.
The intensity, volume and the type of exercise will determine how much time you have to invest to accomplish your goals. If your time is limited – increase the intensity.
There are many reasons why you should ensure that you are exercising in the correct sequence. One of the most important reasons is energy management and to avoid fatigue. In general, you should exercise the larger muscle first and then the smaller ones.
This means that you would do the harder exercises first and then the easier ones. Larger muscles require the most energy to contract, so it makes sense that you work them first. For example hamstrings should come before squatting and biceps curls before pull-ups.
The most important goal in working out is to get results – to progress. By increasing, the demands being place on different body parts over time you are aiming for greater results. Here are some of the most common methods of weight training:
- Increasing the weight you lift. For instance if you are currently lifting 100lbs, you can gradually move up to 105lbs.
- Increasing the number of reps and sets per weight you lift.
- Increasing the amount of work you do in a given session. For instance, if you rest 3 minutes between sets of an exercise, you can start resting for 2 minutes instead.
- Increasing the difficulty of the exercises, you do. For example after doing split squats for a period of time you can move up to a more difficult version such as Bulgarian split squat.
Pushing Your Limits
Last but not least, it is also important that
you know how to boost your intensity with strength training. Here is how you can accomplish this:
A superset is when you do one set of exercise immediately after a set of different exercise without taking a break. Once the superset is completed, you can rest for a maximum of 2 minutes. An example of a superset is leg extensions followed by squatting.
A strip set is three or four sets of an exercise that is done without rest, using a lighter weight for every subsequent set. For example, when doing a bicep curl you can start with a 25 pound dumbbell, do as many reps as possible without compromising your form and then change to a 20 pound weight and use it until exhausted.
Rest/pause training refers to when one set is broken down in several mini-sets with short periods of rest between each set. An example is doing 5 reps with 100lbs on squat, resting, then doing 4 reps with 100lbs before finishing off with 3 sets with 100lbs also.
Think of circuit training in the way you play musical chairs. It’s just as fast paced and you start with one exercise and then move on to another, sticking with each for 30 seconds to 5 minutes. The lifter may rest for longer periods after each round. For instance, you may start off with a set of squats followed by a set of curls then a set of upright rows etc.
In density training, the lifter tries to complete as many reps as possible in a designated time frame. An example would be doing pull-ups and push-ups for 5 – 10 minutes with the least amount if rest.
Eccentric training often referred to as negative training, is when the muscle lengthens during contraction, generally when returning from a shortened (concentric) position to a resting position. An example is when you lower the dumbbell when doing bicep curls.
Isometric literally means without movement. Isometric exercise involves maintaining a fixed position under resistance. Examples are chair leg extension, arm press and wall push off which is usually done for 30 seconds or more.
To get the results you are hoping for, you can’t get too comfortable. Remember, your body is smarter than you think. When you do the same movements continuously, your body will become used to it over time and you have to put in more work. When it comes to exercising, your aim is to challenge your body. Here are some tips on how you can do so:
- Always get adequate rest so your body can fully recover.
- Vary the loading
- Change your exercises, reps and sets frequently and
- Always ensure that you have a good understanding of what you are doing
Anyone can strength train! Start by building a routine that will help you to reach your goals and stay motivated. Make note of all the points that were discussed earlier and you will be well on your way to success.
Most people will chose to use a strength program as part of an overall fitness routine. It is great for inserting into existing habits. Combine your cardio training – running, rowing or elliptical training with strength sets on alternate days – results will be quick and impressive.
Strength training is highly recommended for all people – not just the fit ones! Remember you don’t need to be a body builder to get a lot out of strength training. It can be a very effective exercise program for beginners as they will often see tangible results quite quickly.
Always prepare your body with a dynamic warm-up to enhance your strength before you begin a session and remember – no pain no gain – keep pushing your body!