Successful training programs don’t happen by accident. They are well planned. To obtain results you have take time to learn how to approach resistance training to achieve a result. Many gyms have people who start training, but 60 percent will stop training after many months of training because they don’t obtain the results they desire. One of the main reasons for this lack of results is only because the person does not acquire knowledge of the many parts of resistance training required to obtain the desired results. By reading the articles contained on this website, results will be easily achieved.
The most common theme of most resistance training studies is that the chosen training program must be progressive in order to produce some substantial and continuing increases in muscle strength and size. Progression means “the act of moving forward towards a specific goal” So in weight training this would mean a continued improvement over time until your goal has been achieved. It is impossible to continually improve at the same rate with long term training, the proper manipulation of your program variables (choice of resistance, exercise selection and order performed, number of your sets and reps, length of rest period) can limit natural training plateaus (point in which there is no further improvement taking place) and consequently enable achievement of higher levels of muscular fitness. The trainable fitness characteristics include muscular strength, power, hypertrophy (growth), and muscular endurance. Other variables such as speed, balance, coordination, jumping ability, flexibility and other measures of motor performance have also been positively enhanced by resistance training.
An increased physical activity and taking part in aerobic endurance activities, resistance training, and not forgetting flexibility exercises has been known to reduce the risk of several chronic diseases.
For beginners the recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness and flexibility in a resistance training programme is one set of 8-12 repetitions for 8-10 exercises, which should include one exercise for all of the major muscle groups. This has been shown to be effective in untrained individuals for improving muscular fitness for the first 12-15 weeks.
To progress in your training you have to increase the stress placed on the muscle during training. This is called progressive overload. The adaptive processes of the body will only respond if they are continually called upon to exert a greater force to meet higher physiological demands.
Considering that these physiological adaptations to a standard resistance training program may occur in a short time, increasing the demands on your body is necessary for further improvement to your training. There are several ways that an overload can be introduced during resistance training. For strength, hypertrophy (muscle growth) muscular endurance and improving power either.
- Training load (resistance) may be increased
- Repetitions may be added to the exercise
- Repetition speed with sub-maximal loads may be altered depending on goals
- Rest periods between sets may be shortened for endurance improvements, or lengthened for strength and power training
- Volume (total work represented as the total number of repetitions that are performed and the resistance used) may be increased within reasonable limits
- Any combination of the above.
It has also been recommended that only small increases in training volume (2.5-5%) be used to avoid overtraining.
The principle of specificity states that your training must go from general training to highly specific training and also implies that to get better at a particular exercise you must perform that exercise (in other words if you don’t do it then you can’t get better at it). So the physiological adaptations to your training are specific to the (1) Muscle actions involved (2) Speed of movement (3) Range of motion (4) The muscle groups being trained (5) The energy system being used (4) Intensity and volume of your training. Although there will be some carryover of the training effects, the most effective resistance training programmes are those that are designed to target your specific training goals.
Variation in your training is a fundamental principle that supports the need for alterations in one or more program variables over time to allow for the training muscle stimulus to remain high. It has been shown that varying the volume and intensity is the most effective for long term progression to your training. The most commonly used variation to resistance training is periodisation.
Periodisation uses variation in resistance training program design by altering the training intensity and volume to optimize both the performance and recovery. There are many forms of periodisation, such as using a yearly plan (training split into phases) or split the year into sections. One classic form of periodisation is using a high initial training volume, and low intensity, then as your training progresses the volume decreases and intensity increases in order to maximise strength, power or even both. Each training phase should be designed to emphasise a particular physiological adaptation. For example, hypertrophy (muscle growth) is stimulated during the initial high volume phase, whereas strength is developed during the later high intensity phase. Another form of periodisation which is a shorter variation enables variation over a 7-10 day period by rotating different training protocols over the course of the program this method trains the various components of the neuromuscular system within the 7-10 day cycle. During a single workout only one characteristic is trained in a given day, (e.g., strength, power, or endurance) For example, in training for the core exercises in the workout the use of heavy, moderate, and lighter resistances may be rotated randomly over the training routine (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) (e.g., 3-5 RM loads, 8-10 RM loads and 12-15 RM loads may be used in rotation).
Training Experience and Progression.
Training experience plays an important role in the rate of your progression during resistance training. Your level of fitness, experience and genetic endowment all contribute to your progression. In untrained individuals (those that have no resistance training or those that have not trained for several years) respond the most. The rate of strength increases differs considerably between untrained and trained individuals; people who are experienced show slower rates of improvement. Studies have shown that muscular strength increases of approximately 40% in untrained people, 20% in moderately trained people, 10% in advanced trainers, and only 2% in people who are classed as elite trainers over a period of 4 weeks to 2 years (People who are trained or intermediate are those who have 6 months of consistent training experience, advanced have years of experience and elite trainers are highly trained an achieved a high level of competition). The studies have shown that slower rates of progression with training experience. The difficulty in continuing strength appears to occur even after several months of training. It is well documented that the changes in muscular strength are obtained most early in the training. Another study also demonstrated the rapidity of initial strength gains in untrained individuals but also shows slower gains with further training.
The ability of the body’s neuromuscular system to generate force is necessary for all types of movement. The muscle fibres are classified according to their contractile and metabolic characteristics and show a relationship between their cross sectional area, and the amount of maximal force they can generate. In whole muscle, the arrangement of the individual fibres vary according to their angle of pull as well as other factors, such as the muscle length, joint angle, and the velocity of the contraction, can alter muscular strength. The force generated in muscle is dependant on muscle motor unit activation. Motor units are recruited according to their size (from small to large). Adaptations with resistance training enable greater force generation. These adaptations include enhanced neural function, increased muscle cross sectional area. The amount of strength enhancement is dependant on the muscle actions used, intensity, volume, exercise selection and order, rest periods between sets, and training frequency.
Most resistance training programs include dynamic repetitions that contain both concentric (muscle shortening) and eccentric (muscle lengthening) muscle actions, whereas isometric muscle actions play a secondary role. Greater force per unit of muscle size is produced during eccentric actions. Eccentric actions are also more neuromuscular efficient, less metabolically demanding, and more likely to cause muscle to hypertrophy (grow), yet may result in more delayed onset muscle soreness as compared with concentric actions. Dynamic muscular strength improvements are greatest when eccentric actions are included in the repetition movement. The role of muscle action manipulation during resistance training is minimal with respect to progression. Considering that most programs include concentric and eccentric muscle actions in a given repetition, there is not much potential for variation in this variable. However, some advanced programs use different forms of isometric training (e.g., functional isometrics) in addition to use of supramaximal eccentric muscle actions in order to maximise gains in strength and hypertrophy.
By altering the training load it affects the acute, metabolic, hormonal, neural, and cardiovascular responses to resistance training. The load required to increase maximal strength in untrained individuals if fairly low, using loads of 45-50% of the 1RM (1RM = maximum weight that can be lifted once with strict form) and maybe less, has been shown to increase dynamic strength in previously untrained individuals. Greater loads are needed to produce any further progression. At least 80% of 1RM is needed to produce further neural adaptations and strength in experienced lifters. Several studies have shown that loads of 1-6 RM (mostly 5-6 RM) have been shown to produce the best maximal strength increases. Although strength increases have been shown with using 8-12 RM this may not be as effective as heavy loads for experienced lifters.
For novice lifters it is recommended that using a training load of approx 60% of 1RM is used to learn proper form and exercise technique, and using a variety of loads for long term improvement in muscular strength. It is also recommended that novices and intermediates train with loads of 60-70% of 1RM for 8-12 repetitions and advanced trainers use loads of 80-100% of 1RM in a routine for maximum strength.
The training volume is the total number of repetitions performed during a training session, multiplied by the weight being used. Training volume has also shown to increase hypertrophy, metabolic and hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance training. Altering the training volume can be accomplished by changing the number of exercises performed per training session, the number of sets per exercise. Low volume (i.e. high load, low repetitions, moderate to high number of sets) programs have been a main component of strength training routines. In studies fitness enthusiasts respond favorably to single and multiple sets programs. But in resistance trained individuals multiple set programs have shown to be superior to enhance muscular strength.
Recommendations are that single or multiple sets be used by novice lifters initially, but for continued progression into intermediate and advanced levels then multiple set programs should be used with variation in training volume and intensity have been shown to be effective for strength improvements.
In exercise selection both single and multiple joint exercises have been shown to be effective for increasing muscular strength in the targeted muscle groups. Multiple joint exercises (i.e. squats and bench press) are more neurally complex and have been shown to be most effective for increasing the overall muscular strength, because they enable a greater weight to be lifted. The single joint exercises (i.e. leg extension, and leg and arm curls) have been used to target specific muscle groups and may pose a lesser risk of injury because of the reduced level of skill and technique involved.
It is recommended that both types of exercise be included in a resistance training programs with the emphasis on the multiple joint exercises for maximising muscular strength.
Free Weights and Machines.
Weight machines have been regarded as being safer to use and easier to lean and allow the performance of some exercises that may be difficult with free weights (e.g. leg extension and pulldowns). Machines help to stabilise the body and limit movemement about specific joints involved in that particular exercise, and also focus on the muscle being that is being used.
For novice to intermediate training, it is recommended that the resistance training program include free weights and machines. For advanced strength training, it is recommended that the emphasis be placed on free weights, with machines being used to compliment the needs of the program.
The exercise order will affect the training for muscular strength. Multiple joint exercises have been shown to be effective for increasing muscular strength, learning the correct technique of these exercises is necessary for muscular strength. The recommendations for multiple joint exercises are that these exercises are performed early in the training session when fatigue is minimal. In addition, the muscle groups trained each workout may affect the order. Therefore recommendations for the sequence of these exercises for novice, intermediate, and advanced strength training include:
- When training all major muscle groups in a workout: large muscle group exercises are performed before the small muscle group exercises, multiple joint exercises before single joint exercises, or rotation of upper and lower body exercises.
- When training upper body muscles on one day and lower body muscles on a separate day: large muscle group exercises before small muscle groups exercises, multiple joint exercises before single joint exercises, or rotation of opposing exercises (agonist-antagonist)
- When training individual muscle groups: multiple joint exercises before single joint exercises, higher intensity exercises before lower intensity exercises.
The amount of rest between sets and exercises significantly affects the metabolic, hormonal, and cardiovascular responses during resistance exercise sessions as will as the performance of subsequent sets, and training adaptations. It has been shown in studies that a heavy training session performance may be compromised with short (i.e. 1 minute) rest periods. (Studies have shown greater strength increases with long rest periods of 2-3 mins). Further studies have also demonstrated the importance of recovery during optimal strength training. It is important to note that rest period length will vary on the basis of the goals of a particular exercise (i.e. not every exercise will use the same rest interval). Muscle strength may be increased using shorter rest periods but at a slower rate, which demonstrates the need to establish goals prior to selecting a rest interval
For novice, intermediate, and advanced training, it is recommended that rest periods of at least 2-3 minutes be used for multiple joint exercises using heavy training loads that stress a large muscle mass (e.g. squat, bench press). For other exercises, including exercises on machines (e.g. leg curl, leg extension) a shorter rest period of 1-2 minutes may suffice.
Training Velocity (Speed of Repetitions).
The velocity of muscular contraction used to perform dynamic muscle actions affects the neural, hypertrophic and metabolic responses to resistance exercises. Dynamic constant external resistance (isotonic) training poses different stress when examining training velocity, significant reductions in force production are observed when the intent is to perform the repetition slowly. In interpreting this, it is important to note that the two types of slow velocity contractions exist during dynamic resistance training: unintentional and intentional.
Unintentional slow velocities are used during high intensity repetitions in which either the loading and/or fatigue are responsible for limiting the velocity of movement. One study has shown that during a 5RM bench press set, the concentric phase for the first three repetitions was approximately 1.2 – 1.6 seconds in duration, whereas the last two repetitions were approximately 2.5 and 3.3 seconds respectively. This demonstrates the impact of loading and fatigue on repetition velocity in individuals performing each repetition maximally. Intentional slow velocity contractions are used with sub maximal loads where the individual has greater control of the velocity. It has been shown that concentric force production was significantly lower for an intentionally slow velocity (5 seconds concentric and 5 seconds eccentric) of lifting compared with a traditional (moderate) velocity.
This suggests that muscle motor unit activity may be limited when intentionally contracting at a slow velocity. In addition the lighter loads required for slow velocities of training may not provide an optimal stimulus for strength gains in resistance trained individuals. Although evidence does exist to support its use as component part of the program in the beginning phases of training for highly untrained individuals.
It has recently been shown that when performing a set of 10 repetitions using a very slow velocity (10 second concentric, 5 second eccentric) compared with a slow velocity (2 second concentric, 4 second eccentric) a 30% reduction in training load was necessary which resulted in significantly less strength gains in muscle exercises tested after 10 weeks of training. Compared with slow velocities, moderate (1-2 second concentric, 1-2 second eccentric) and fast (<1second concentric, 1 second eccentric) velocities have been shown to be more effective for enhanced muscular performance (e.g. number of repetitions performed, work and power output, volume) and for increasing the rate of strength gains. Recent studies have shown examining training at fast velocities with moderately high loading, have shown to be more effective for advanced training than traditional at slower velocities.
For untrained individuals, it is recommended that slow and moderate velocities be used initially. For intermediate training, it is recommended that moderate velocity be used for strength training. For advanced training, the inclusion of different velocities from unintentionally slow to fast velocities is recommended for maximising strength. It is important to note that proper technique is used for any exercise velocity in order to reduce any risk of injury.
Optimal training frequency (the number of workouts per week) depends on several factors such as training volume, intensity, exercise selection, level of conditioning, recovery ability, and the number of muscle groups trained per workout session. Numerous resistance training studies have used frequencies of 2-3 alternating days per week in previously untrained individuals. This has been shown to be an effective initial frequency. Studies also show that 1-2 days per week appears to be an effective maintenance frequency for those who are already engaged in resistance training program.
It is recommended that novice individuals train the entire body 2-3 days per week.
It appears that progression to intermediate training does not need a change in frequency for training each muscle group, but may be more dependent on alterations in other acute variables such as exercise selection, volume, and intensity. Increasing the training frequency may enable greater exercise selection and volume per muscle group in accordance with more specific goals. Performing Upper body exercises during one workout and lower body exercises during a separate workout (upper/lower body split) or training specific muscle groups (split routines) during a workout are common at this level of training in addition to total body workouts. Similar increases in strength have been observed between upper/lower and total body workouts.
It is recommended that for progression to intermediate training, a similar frequency of 2-3 days per week continues to be used for total body workouts. For those individuals wanting a change in training structure (e.g. upper/lower body split, split workout) an overall frequency of 3-4 days per week is recommended such that each muscle group is trained 1-2 days per week only.
The training frequency for progression during advanced training varies considerably. Advanced weight lifter and bodybuilders use high frequency training (e.g. 4-6 days per week). The frequency for elite weight lifters and bodybuilders may be even greater. Double split routines (two training sessions per day with emphasis on different muscle groups) are common during training, which may result in 8-12 training sessions per week. Frequencies as high as 18 sessions per week have been reported in Olympic weightlifters. The reason for this high frequency training is that frequent short sessions followed by periods of recovery, supplementation, and food intake allow for high intensity training through maximal energy use, and reduced fatigue during exercise performance. One study reported a greater increase in muscle size and strength when training volume was divided into two sessions per day as opposed to one. Elite power lifters typically train 4-6 days per week.
It is recommended that advanced lifters train 4-6 days per week. Elite weight lifters and bodybuilders may benefit from using very high frequency (e.g. two workouts in one day for 4-5 days per week), so long as appropriate steps are taken to optimise recovery and minimize the risk of overtraining.
Muscular Hypertrophy (Growth).
It is well known that resistance training causes muscular hypertrophy (growth). Muscular hypertrophy results from an accumulation of proteins, through either the increased rate of protein synthesis or decreased protein degradation, or both.
Studies have shown that protein synthesis in human skeletal muscle increases following only one vigorous training session. Protein synthesis peaks approximately 24hrs after exercise and remains elevated from 2-3 hrs after exercise up to 36-48hrs after exercise. It is unclear whether resistance training increases synthesis of all cellular proteins or only the myofibrillar proteins.
The types of protein synthesised may have direct impact on various designs of resistance training programs (e.g. bodybuilding or strength training). Several other factors have been identified that contribute to the amount of muscle hypertrophy. Fast twitch muscle fibres typically hypertrophy to a greater extent than slow twitch fibres.
Muscle lengthening has been shown to reduce protein catabolism (breakdown) and increase protein synthesis. It has not been shown that muscle damage is a requirement for hypertrophy. This tissue building process has been shown to be significantly affected by the concentrations of testosterone, growth hormones, cortisol, insulin, and insulin like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which have been shown to increase during and following an acute bout of resistance exercise.
The time taken for muscle hypertrophy has been examined during short term training periods in previously untrained individuals. The nervous system plays a significant role in the strength increases observed in the early stages of adaptation to training. However, by the 6th or 7th week of training, muscle hypertrophy becomes evident, although changes in the quality of proteins, fibre types, and protein synthetic rates take place much earlier. Less muscle mass is recruited during resistance training with a given intensity once adaptation has taken place. These findings indicate that progressive overloading is necessary for maximal muscle recruitment, and consequently, muscle fibre hypertrophy.
Advanced weightlifters have shown strength improvements over a 2 year period with little or no muscle hypertrophy, indicating an important role for neural adaptations at this high level of training for these competitive lifts. Alterations in program design targeting both neural and hypertrophic factors may be most beneficial for maximising strength and hypertrophy.
Program Design for Increasing Muscle Growth.
Similar to training for strength it is recommended that both concentric and eccentric muscle actions be included for novice, intermediate, and advanced resistance training.
Loading and volume.
Numerous types of resistance training programs have been shown to stimulate muscle hypertrophy in men and women. Resistance training programs targeting muscle hypertrophy using moderate to heavy loads are typically high in volume. These programs have been shown to initiate a greater increase in testosterone and growth hormone than high load, low volume programs with long (3 min) rest periods. Total work, in addition to the forces developed, has been implicated for gains in muscular hypertrophy. This has been supported, in part by greater hypertrophy associated with high volume, multiple set programs compared with low volume, single set programs in resistance trained individuals. Traditional strength training (high load, low repetitions, and long rest periods) has produced significant hypertrophy; however, it has been suggested that the total work involved with traditional strength training may not maximise hypertrophy.
For novice and intermediate individuals, it is recommended that moderate loading be used (70-85% of 1RM) for 8-12 repetitions per set for one to three sets per exercise. For advanced training, it is recommended that a loading range of 70-100% of 1RM be used for 1-12 repetitions per set for 3-6 sets per exercise in a periodised program type with the majority of training in the 6-12 RM rather than in the 1-6 RM loading.
Exercise Selection and Order.
Both single and multiple joint exercises have been shown to be effective for increasing muscular hypertrophy. The complexity of the exercises chosen has been shown to affect the time course of muscle hypertrophy such that multiple joint exercises require longer neural adaptive time than single joint exercises. Less is understood concerning the effect of exercise order on muscle hypertrophy. However, it appears that the recommended exercise sequencing guidelines for strength training may also apply for increasing muscle hypertrophy.
It is recommended that both single and multiple joint exercises be included in a resistance training program in novice, intermediate, and advanced individuals, with the order similar t that recommended in training for strength.
Rest period length has been shown to significantly affect muscular strength, but less is known concerning hypertrophy. One study has reported no great difference between 30, 60, 90, and 180 seconds rest in muscle size, skin folds, or body mass in recreationally trained men over 5 weeks. Short rest periods (1-2 minutes) coupled with moderate to high intensity and volume have given the greatest anabolic hormone response to resistance training in comparison with programs using very heavy loads with long rest periods.
It is recommended that 1-2 minutes rest periods be used in novice and intermediate training programs. For advanced training, rest period length should correspond to the goals of each exercise or the training phase such that 2-3 minutes rest periods may be used with heavy loading for core exercises and 1-2 minutes rest periods may be used for all other exercises of moderate to moderately high intensity.
Not much is known concerning the effect of repetition velocity on muscle hypertrophy. It has been suggested that higher velocities of contraction, poses less of a stimulus for hypertrophy than slow and moderate velocities. It does appear that the use of different velocities of contraction is warranted for long term improvements in muscle hypertrophy for advanced training.
It is recommended that slow to moderate velocities be used by novice and intermediate trained individuals. For advanced training, it is recommended that slow, moderate, and fast repetition velocities be used depending on the load, repetition number, and goals of the particular exercise.
The frequency of training depends on the number of muscle groups trained per workout. Frequencies of 2-3 days per week have been effective in novice and intermediate men and women. Higher frequency of training has been suggested for advanced hypertrophy training. However, only certain muscle groups are trained per workout with high frequency.
It is recommended that frequencies similar to strength training be used when training for hypertrophy during novice, intermediate and advanced training.
The subjects of Muscular Power and Muscular Endurance will be discussed in a further article for the forum.
American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand on Progression in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. Vol 34.