Often the terms Resistance-Training or Strength-Training are used interchangeably with Weight-Training.
All 3 are related, and whether you use your own bodyweight, barbells or kettlebells, the idea is to employ resistance as a means to work and stimulate your muscles.
This kind of training is arguably the most integral component of a Fitness Program.
Make your yours count by understanding the various types, principles and techniques involved, as well as the factors in designing an effective program.
Although MyFitnessRoad.com focuses on the Sensible Fitness Program, this page talks about resistance- (or weight-) training in the generic sense – and for goal-specific applications.
You may have noted that the Site also contains a generic page entitled 'Workout Routines.' This instead takes a look at various types of exercises and workouts which comprise a workout routine or program.
Back to the topic of resistance training workouts:
A word of caution before jumping in
So, if you're keen to get your muscles toned or pumped, you simply get involved in weight training, right?
Not that simple, I'm afraid.
Yes, you need to train with weights (resistance) if you want to stimulate your musculature. But if you want to enjoy real results, your approach needs to be informed, selective and consistent – in other words, 'sensible.'
And you will need to take into account things like your present physiological condition, genetics, age, gender, intentions, time available, and so on.
You can then set about designing your weight-training workouts, or consider consulting a qualified individual.
Yes, strength-training does hold massive rewards for those who are methodical, and who follow responsible eating plans. Regardless of whether you're a beginner (or not), a consistent effort will afford you steady and appreciable gains from your workouts.
I’ve traveled that road and speak from experience. It’s so easy to go wrong, by being too eager or too compulsive. Acting on a whim, you could risk making the wrong choices or decisions, waste valuable time, lose interest and give up, or worse – you could injure yourself.
It’s also opportune to advise you not to be duped by the media at large and the fitness industries – where it concerns training principles, workouts, supplements etc.
They either oversimplify, over-glamorize or confuse the real truths.
Read widely, and with a challenging mindset! There is a lot of good 'stuff’ out there, but not all is as simple as it seems in the world of health and fitness. (The FAQ page has more on that.)
Why am I telling you this?
Because this Site is about me giving straightforward and honest advice, and because I care. With so many rip-offs, quick-fixes and scams out there – I strongly believe it’s partly my job to help spread truthful information.
It's very important to me that I help as many people as I can to avoid unnecessary mistakes and/or pay out unnecessary sums of money.
A practical definition
Before we tackle the various ‘types’ of resistance-training exercise, let's briefly find our bearings on what it is:
Resistance-Training comprises physical activity or exercise aimed at building strength and/or size in the skeletal muscles. Methods can involve the use and movement of own bodyweight, free weights (e.g. dumbbells) and/or specifically-designed machines with weight-stacks, etc., in opposing the force of gravity.
As you'll see further on, depending on specific needs or aims, resistance-training workouts can be used as part of an exercise plan to improve anaerobic endurance – or simply to tone the muscles – something which might be more ideal for my audience (people I usually refer to as ‘Al’).
But on the other hand, however, specialized weight-training routines are used to build significant strength and/or muscular size, as in the case of Olympic-style weight-lifters, power-lifters or bodybuilders. Primarily, this group trains intensely with free weights (barbells and dumbbells), regularly increasing the poundage they lift (e.g. progressive-resistance training).
Again and quick reminder: both weight- and strength-training are interrelated. Whereas you would combine strength and weight training disciplines to tone or build muscle, the likes of weight-lifters, power-lifters and 'strongmen' will focus primarily on strength-training – because of their specific needs.
We'll touch on some of the various techniques further on down the page.
My personal experience and position on resistance-training
For years I've used resistance-training workouts as part of my overall health and fitness program. Since my late teens, there's no period longer than a couple of weeks where I forewent training with weight of some sort. I still to this day look forward to my workouts and continue to enjoy the results. (As often mentioned around the site, my go-to is the Sensible Fitness Program.)
Although all 5 Components of Health Related Fitness contribute to overall wellbeing, working out with weight/resistance is particularly important. It's therefore a no-brainer that it forms part of the sensible approach to health and fitness.
As already mentioned, weight-training routines are not all created equal. You practically have a myriad of possibilities from light toning to all-out herculean strength. I incorporate some variety in my own activities for purposes of functional strength, size and tone.
The benefits (which you can also read about here) mean a feeling of ever-ready strength in my body, capacity to do general everyday things, and confidence in my overall being.
For example: I can pick my kids up, swing them about and sprint around with them without first having to think, "hang on, can I do this without hurting or spraining something?" Similarly, I can lift and move heavy objects when necessary – like replacing a dishwasher at home, and then loading the old one in the car to take to the local recycling depot – or positioning the family’s bicycles on the car’s roof-rack when we go on one of our cycle trips.
All this and more is possible because my physiology is continually primed, courtesy of the ‘training-effect’ from my strength-training workouts.
I hear you asking, "what about cardio? Surely that’s also an important health and fitness component?"
It absolutely is! If you look at the Sensible Fitness Program, and you'll see that cardio is very much part of my ongoing routine. But we're focusing on training with weights on this page. (I focus a bit more on cardio workouts here: cardiovascular training.)
Returning briefly to the sense-of-confidence then. It’s actually amazing! And I am not talking about the destructive, vain sense-of-pride many bodybuilders exude because of their brimming muscles.
I absolutely detest that! What I am talking about is the sense-of-wellbeing from your inner connectedness of the spiritual/emotional state with an athletic, healthy, resistant physical constitution, and knowing – because you’re in good shape – that you have the best armor you can have, to tackle what life throws at you.
You’ll only really appreciate what I mean when you you’ve actually realized a transformation and able to connect the dots.
Do I hear you saying: "it’s all too much effort and I don’t know where to start?"
Perhaps you're still not entirely convinced, though I sincerely hope you'll take the time to read: about the importance of exercise.
Why are resistance-training workouts so important?
You get multiple payouts when you do this kind of training correctly. Here are only a few benefits:
It strengthens not only muscle and connective-tissue, but also prevents bone-loss and osteoporosis;
The physical effort involved during weight training elevates your breathing and blood circulation, which in turn speeds up your metabolism, which burns additional calories;
The longer term 'training-effect' derived from regular weight-training enhances lean body mass, thereby boosting the metabolism and causing a consistently higher calorie-consumption than would otherwise happen in an unexercised state;
Not only will you look good at any age, but regular resistance-training will stand you in good stead as you grow older. Improved muscular strength in older adults also means avoiding common back-related trauma due to better posture and balance, and the resultant ability to better resist unnecessary falls and injuries.
Who needs weight training?
Whoever you are and whatever your fitness needs, resistance exercise presents an invaluable part of your life – regardless whether you aim to lose or maintain weight, transform your body, or out-and-out build hardcore muscle.
Now that we have an overall idea of what resistance or strength or weight-training is, let’s see what factors are usually considered when developing a typical program.
Factors to consider in resistance-training exercise selection, program design and execution
Developing muscle strength, tone and/or size depends on the selection of appropriate exercise protocols as part of your overall fitness program.
Laws and principles of Fitness Training
In line with the ‘sensible’ way, I believe it's wise to take heed of the various philosophies and laws pertaining to fitness, physical training and adaptation.
I could go into a lot of detail here, but suffice it to say that the common intent among these laws is to get the most out of your exercise program – while improving overall health and fitness. As with my experience, you may also find that a hybrid plan is the best choice, because it best suits you.
In short, merely following one law is highly unlikely to deliver optimal results.
Through my certification with the ISSA, and following the highly-influential work of Dr. Fred Hatfield, here are 7 laws which are fundamental to weight training. These are:
Law of Individual Differences
The Overcompensation Principle
The Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID) Principle
The Use/Disuse Principle and Law of Reversibility
The Specificity Principle
The General Adaption Syndrome (GAS)
Where do you start?
Even though I always have my money on the Sensible Fitness Program – it's a solution for Al (and me).
Again, since this page is generic, it really comes down to you asking yourself what your objectives are. At the same time, you need to know what your options are. The only real sensible way is by carefully informing and enlightening yourself through research or consulting resources/experts. If you're already actively performing resistance exercises, you probably have an idea of your unique tendencies judging by the results and training effect you've acquired.
I personally found the principle of individual differences to be the most applicable, as it makes perfect sense to me in setting out realistic goals and being satisfied – because I achieved them.
As stated by David Q. Thomas, Pd.D., “We all have similar responses and adaptations to the stimulus of exercise, but the rate and magnitude of these changes will be limited by our differing genetics.” I highlight the topic of genetic predisposition in detail on the page dealing with Somatotypes. I consider myself an Endo-Ectomorph, but my response and adaptation to exercise, may vastly differ from the next individual.
This is again why I place so much importance on the fact there's no real one-size-fits-all training program in the fitness industry. You need to start somewhere, be consistent and gauge/correct your progress as you evolve.
Types of resistance-training
Remember, you can’t simply just dive in and start heaving weights and expect the ‘right’ results.
The ‘types’ of weight training disciplines are so varied that, depending on your focus, you could potentially achieve a number of differing outcomes in strength, muscle conditioning, size and so on.
Workout length (volume), number of repetitions, intensity, poundage and form, all influence your results.You could be training for any one or a combination of power, speed, strength, hypertrophy (increase in muscle cell size), functional fitness, or purely for flexibility.
Before discussing Weight Training Principles, let's take a look at the table below, which provides an idea as to how the number of sets and repetitions (reps) performed can affect the results of an athlete's weight training workouts:
Although the above table shows distinctions between training objectives and focus (specialization) for specific goals, in reality, athletes of various disciplines will at times also combine high and low-rep training, along with varying volume and intensity in their weight training. This would also be true for professional bodybuilders, who go through different training cycles, e.g. when they bulk up, consolidate and go through their pre-contest cutting phases.
Nevertheless, professional athletes will tend to 'prefer' one sport-specific weight training type over others most of the time, in order to appropriately condition their bodies.
The following 4 images (color-coded to correspond with the above table) show just how training-focus influences physical aspects and appearance – most notably the musculature:
Regardless of these athletes' physical condition on the surface, each of them has an optimally tuned fitness-level geared towards their individual sporting activities.
WEIGHT TRAINING PRINCIPLES
By now you should be clearer on the fact that program objectives pretty much ‘drive’ program design, which together dictate your weight training principles.
Here are some of the major ones:
NUMBER OF SETS AND REPS
Generally speaking, training in the low rep-range (1-5) produces explosive power, absolute strength and speed strength, while low to medium reps (6-12) afford muscle-size gains. Medium to high reps (10-20) develop anaerobic strength endurance and high reps (20+) provide aerobic strength endurance.
While serious or professional bodybuilders wanting to add bulk focus their training on gaining muscle, they might also do several sets with varying poundage at different speeds and/or rep-range to spark as many muscular adaptations as possible, thereby optimizing muscle size (hypertrophy).
This 'keep-the-muscles-guessing' approach is touted as particularly useful for getting beyond a plateau by 'shocking' muscles into growth.
So, which of the athletes shown above is the strongest?
Surely the bodybuilder, right? He's got the most pronounced musculature.
Not true. Even with the accumulation of significant muscular size, bodybuilders will not possess the explosive power or absolute strength as individuals who specialize their training purely for these gains, e.g. power-lifters or Olympic-style weight-lifters.
Now that we have an idea of what rep-range to use for specific gains, how many sets of reps do you one need to perform?
Excellent question, and the best-placed person to answer that is, or will be, you.
If you're a beginner, you'll first need to see how your body adapts – to know what works best for you. Remember the law of individual differences, and what I said about health and fitness being a thinking-person’s activity? As a newbie, it won’t be too long before you experience signs of the adaptation process. You’ll begin to feel and see the training effect.
Use the above table as a guide to vary and optimize your weight training, or overall training program.
In the previous point, we looked at how the number of reps and sets are considered for different desired outcomes. But what about ‘intensity’, or the level of effort involved when executing the respective exercises?
Most authorities will tell you that intensity is a vital ingredient. But you can be sure that they will differ when it comes to ‘how much’ of it ‘when’ and ‘how.’ Differing philosophies like high-intensity training (HIT) and other theories that support high-volume training (HVT) are typical examples. Now you may say that doing 15 reps of a particular exercise may require a greater effort to complete than doing 6, and so automatically constitutes a higher-intensity set. This would mean more reps/sets = more effort, right?
Not quite. Intensity and rep-range are not mutually inclusive. Different levels of intensity can apply across the various rep-ranges. Again, it comes down to your needs and therefore how you will train, adapt and revise your protocols. An important point to bear in mind here is that, the level of intensity while lifting a weight, has a direct bearing on the muscle-fiber recruitment in the body parts affected by the particular exercise.
In short: muscle fibers together form ‘motor units.’ Each of these units contain several hundred fibers (fast and slow twitch) and motor neurons, which trigger the biochemical reactions for muscles to contract. (More on the page dealing with fast-twitch muscle fibers.)
But with what intensity do muscles need to contract? Lower intensity exercise does not adequately activate the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Therefore, with little stimulus, the adaptation will be negligible. Ever heard the phrase “use it or lose it”? That’s exactly true here. If we’re training to develop strength, power, and/or muscle size, we need to primarily target our fast-twitch muscle fibers, by lifting heavier weights.
So, more effort = more muscle fibers recruited = higher strength/muscles gains?
Yes – for the most part.
If your goal is hypertrophy, then you would choose a load such that performing the desired reps of an exercise taxes the involved muscle/s to the point that completion of the set is difficult, but not impossible. On occasion, it would be advisable to train to ‘failure’ on certain sets. This means using a weight that does not allow you to complete the intended number of reps.
This technique (as you will see further on) is useful for spurring the muscles on to handling more and more poundage, and so afford better gains in strength and size. As already indicated, continually increasing poundage in successive workouts of a training cycle is known as ‘progressive-resistance training.’
My rule of thumb regarding intensity? I use the Sensible Fitness Program 95% of the time.
The focus is on strength, hypertrophy, as well as cardio conditioning. I vary intensity, alternating between maximum and moderate intensity levels week on week to ensure that my muscles get the stimulus they need, and some respite for repair and growth.
During ‘heavy weeks’, I ensure that all strength-sets are completed using full range-of-motion and smooth form, whilst training to failure on hypertrophy-sets.
There are already tons of opinions on this, and I don't want to add any more confusion to the topic.
What I will say, is that I've tried different durations. I found that shorter/more intense workouts gave me the same (if not better) results than longer, or higher-volume training. What's more, I needed much less recovery time from the shorter/more intense workouts and ultimately used that approach as the optimal solution for the Sensible Fitness Program.
Average workout duration is 15 minutes. Simple, effective, sensible. Especially since it's an excellent argument against the complaint of 'not-enough-time.'
TRAINING CYCLES AND PERIODIZATION
You'll note that I often refer to these terms.
Periodization is simply a term to describe the systematic planning and execution of training over time in order to optimize a desired fitness goal or outcome.
These could relate to one of several objectives like 'cutting', 'bulking', pre-contest conditioning, post-season recovery, or any other measurable goal.
Basically, time (probably wise to think in terms of 1 year) is broken into cycles (periods) which could be as short as a week (microcycle), a month (mesocycle), or as long as a macrocycle (3 months or more). Various aspects or protocols of required training can then be programmed into one or more of these defined periods.
In sum, we 'periodize' or divide the calendar time into phases called cycles, whereby training focuses on specific goals. In my professional experience, there's no better way to achieve a fitness goal, than with proper planning and execution in line with a program and a deadline.
I find that people who belong to the same group as Al, do best when working toward their transformation goal over three months.
WEIGHT TRAINING EXERCISE TECHNIQUES
Among several techniques, those most pertinent to the Sensible Fitness Program are:
As with the Sensible Fitness Program, optimal intensity comes from performing weight training reps and sets correctly and responsibly. It also means breathing correctly – exhaling during the effort part of the exercise and inhaling during the return phase. I consider a set 'good' if done properly, not just because a specific number of reps were completed. (I allow no more than 60 seconds of rest between sets.)
Heaving progressively heavier weights is desirable. But more important is 'how' you lift or press them.
To progress you obviously have to lift heavier and heavier, but never at the cost of proper performance.
As you'll note from the Sensible Fitness Program, strength-training reps should be performed using a weight which is significantly challenging – but allows full range-of-motion (ROM) and smooth controlled form.
In the case of hypertrophy-training, I do incorporate sets where training is taken to momentary muscular-failure, but without sloppy or jerky form.
ADVANCED TRAINING TECHNIQUES
The following are advanced weight training techniques. I'm including some of them merely for sake of information.
The above techniques should never be attempted by anyone without a significant knowledge and experience in weight training. Some of these techniques are only effective when combined with larger and more strategic protocols.
NOTE: Failure to use good form can: 1. Impede your training goals if the overload-threshold of a targeted muscle (or muscle group) is not reached–and therefore insufficiently challenged; 2. Cause serious injury.
Advanced techniques can be used to allow experienced trainees to move beyond plateaus, thereby affording the desired neurological and muscular adaptations.
NOTE: Failure to use good form can: 1. Impede your training goals if the overload-threshold of a targeted muscle (or muscle group) is not reached–and therefore insufficiently challenged; 2. Cause serious injury.Advanced techniques can be used to allow experienced trainees to move beyond plateaus, thereby affording the desired neurological and muscular adaptations.
As you'll appreciate, a single page cannot do full justice to the important aspect of weight training, simply because of the sheer magnitude of the topic, related principles, methodologies and approaches.
There are literally tons of resources available, but beware of getting scammed or bogged down in this plethora of information. And PLEASE, don't use the confusion as a means to procrastinate.
If you want or feel you need to explore weight training further (without the hype and 'hard-sell'), I'd recommend reliable factual sources like the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), Wikipedia, and ExRx.net
You're of course also more than welcome to send me any questions you may have. If I don't have the answers, I will definitely get them for you
IMPORTANT: When in doubt regarding weight training issues, rather than chancing mistakes or injury: challenge, qualify and/or ask.