You’ve heard that lifting weights is good for you. In fact, lifting weights in some form or another, is one of the best health-enhancing habits you can introduce into your lifestyle. If you aren’t already shifting loads from one place in space to another, in some systematic way, then it is time for you to flex your resolve and determination and find out what pumping iron can do for you.
When you systematically stress your muscles by lifting weights, your goal is to train all muscle fibres, moving beyond activation of slow twitch (st) muscle fibres in order to activate fast (ft) twitch fibres. Slow twitch fibres are for endurance — long duration, low intensity — and are aerobically fired. Fast twitch fibres are used for high intensity activities and are anaerobically driven. To create changes in muscle size and strength requires working with resistance intense enough to recruit your ft fibres.
Your training results will, in large part, be determined by exercise resistance. And, resistance must be sufficient to fatigue the muscle(s) within a specified framework. The weight load you pick, which must bring the muscle to failure, is an important factor to make your time with weights efficient and effective.
Generally, any weight you can move 15 to 20 times or more will use only st fibres. In order to move into activation of ft fibres, fatiguing the muscle in about 12 repetitions or less is necessary.
Intensity is , of course, related to your current strength fitness level. What will present a heavy load to one person might present a light load to another. For example, a person able to complete 5 push-ups before failure is working a heavy load. The person who can push out 60 push-ups is working with a light load. A 15 – 20 repetition range might be a great place to start if you are deconditioned, allowing muscles, tendons and ligaments to adjust to resistance training and preventing the new-to trainer from overworking. Moving to 12 – 15 repetitions after a 4 – 6 week conditioning period will allow for continued changes to muscle size and strength. Eventually dropping to 6 – 12 repetitions will help maximize results.
It is a necessary condition to increase the load as the number of repetitions to fatigue increases. So, if at week 1 a 20 pound biceps curl brings you to failure in 10 repetitions, you are in the perfect intensity zone. However, at some time not too future distant, your strength gains will allow you to curl that same 20 pounds more than 12 times before reaching failure. That would be the time to increase the weight, so that failure is still reached within the framework of your training program.
As you become a consistent trainer it will be useful to begin using periodization in your program. I’ll cover this topic in a future post.
Each time you perform a group of repetitions to failure, you have completed a set. How many sets should you do? Well, at least one set to failure twice a week will have a training effect for the new-to and untrained trainer. However, if you are looking to increase your results and have been training for a while, 2 or 3 sets will be warranted. This will require a greater time commitment as well.
Resistance training requires that you employ proper lifting mechanics. Terrible lifting technique with the correct load might still get you strength increases and muscle mass, but there will be health costs. Incorrect lifting form may not create immediately apparent problems, but rest assured that each incorrect mechanical move, coupled with resistance, will create microtrauma – tiny injuries.
Microtrauma is cumulative – over time, repeated trauma will make itself known. It may even come to your awareness at a time when you do not connect the injury to the forces which brought it about. If you are resistance training for health and longevity, it is incumbent upon you to learn the proper lifting techniques. Your spine and vulnerable joints like knees, hips and shoulders will stay healthy and strong with good form.
Just starting out with resistance training requires at least two lifting days a week with at least one day of recovery in between. Your gains happen during the rest, not during the work, so make sure you build in rest days to your training schedule. Three to four training days a week will optimize results.
These are the very basics of weight training. There are a number of principles to observe in order to maximize your returns, but intensity, execution and consistency form the skeleton upon which you can add your muscle gains.
Weight training can add an exciting and results-oriented activity to your exercise regime. Just be careful, muscles can be addictive!