“Not less than two hours a day should be devoted to exercise and the weather should be little regarded. If the body is feeble, the mind will not be strong”
Thomas Jefferson April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826
Resistance training is arguably the best form of training, it is the use of dumbbells, barbells, cables and other forms of equipment which mean you have to overcome a force. The benefits are numerous, resistance training is best known for developing strength and muscle mass, but the benefits extend much further. In a book titled ‘The 10 Determinants of Aging You Can Control’ by Dr William Evans and Dr Irwin Rosenberg, the 10 things we can do to improve our life and ageing process are:
- Muscle mass
- Muscle strength
- Basal metabolic rate
- Body fat percentage
- Aerobic capacity
- Blood sugar management
- Cholesterol/HDL ratio
- Blood pressure
- Bone density
- Regulating internal temperature
All of these 10 things can be improved with resistance training, so as a method of training it covers various aspects of our health. Another benefit of resistance training is the cognitive benefits and brain health that can come from strength training!
Making a quality strength training program
There are several key ingredients to making a great strength training program. Much like a good meal requires good ingredients, a good program requires certain key things which make it successful and effective.
“Every training program is only as effective as its assessment and as successful as its accounting.”
Firstly, log what you do in training! Writing down what you do in the gym is very important but commonly overlooked. Logging the weights you lift and how many reps you did is an objective measure of progress and gives you knowledge of the numbers you should be trying to improve.
If you are lifting more weight, doing more reps or both, you have definitely developed strength and muscle mass. Use your logbook and try to make gains where you can. You can use good old pen and paper, your phone notes or an excel sheet on an iPad or laptop…whatever works for you and is consistent.
Weekly Organisation of Training
How you organise your training is referred to as a ‘training split’, for example, if you train 3 days a week, that is a 3 day per week split. The 2 best training splits for beginners or novices are either:
- Full Body split, 3 days/week (training all major muscle groups)
- Upper Lower split, 3 or 4 days/week
The table below displays these splits over the course of a week.
|3 Day Full Body||3 Day Upper/Lower||4 Day Upper/Lower|
|Monday||Full Body A||Upper Body||Upper Body|
|Wednesday||Full Body B||Lower Body||Rest|
|Friday||Full Body A||Upper Body||Lower Body|
|*With 3 day per week splits, you will start with session A, and naturally rotating
between sessions you will be starting the next week with session B.
Longer-Term Organisation of Training:
How you plan training over the long term (weeks, months and years) is termed ‘Periodisation’.
Periodisation is important because the body needs to experience different and progressive stimuli in order to adapt and change. This is called the ‘Law of Accommodation’, if you keep doing the same thing you will not continue to improve, and thus periodisation is a way to prevent stagnation by constantly challenging you.
Basic periodisation revolves around manipulating these variables:
- how heavy the loads you lift (intensity)
- number of reps you perform (i.e how many times you lift a weight in 1 set)
- number of sets you perform
- the amount of both sets and reps you perform (volume)
One proven and successful way to periodise your training is to alternate phases of ‘Accumulation’ with ‘Intensification’.
Accumulation is characterised mainly by doing more reps and lifting less load.
Intensification is characterised by greater intensity (i.e the loads you lift), more sets, but with lower reps. So the first 4 phases of training for a beginner may be as such:
- Phase 1 – Accumulation – 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Phase 2 – Intensification – 4 sets of 8-10 reps
- Phase 3 – Accumulation – 5 sets of 8 -10 reps
- Phase 4 – Intensification – 6 sets of 6-8 reps
Using these two phases means you are preventing yourself from stagnating because the next phase of training is a progression from the last. Over the course of a year, your average rep range might be around 5-7 reps, which is ideal for functional hypertrophy the father of body composition (developing strength with muscle) getting stronger for reps.
Micro-Periodization – Structuring Sets and Reps
So you may have a certain set and rep scheme in your program, say 5 sets of 6-8 reps, but you can perform this in a few ways for different goals:
- Final Heavy Set – each set is a heavier up to one final hard set. This has the highest neural adaptions resulting in getting stronger.
- Same Weight All Sets – the weight is kept constant each set. This will allow a high amount of volume of great reps with high movement, allowing the body to get stronger.
- Wave Load – the weight varies up and down in a wave-like fashion. This has high potentiation on the nervous system, allow the body to stronger.
- Starting Heavy Set – the first set is the heaviest and thereafter loads decrease. This highest level of metabolic stress on the body.
The table below examples how you may structure the set and rep scheme
|Set 1||Set 2||Set 3|
|Final Heavy Set||100kg – 8 reps||105 – 8 reps||110 – 7 reps|
|Same Weight||100kg – 8 reps||100 – 8 reps||100 – 8 reps|
|Wave Load||80 – 8 reps||90 – 6 reps||100 – 4 reps|
|Start Heavy Set||120 – 8 reps||110 – 7 reps||110 – 7 reps|
|Set 4||Set 5||Set 6|
|Final Heavy Set||115 – 7 reps||120 – 6 reps||125 – 6 reps|
|Same Weight||100 – 8 reps||100 – 8 reps||100 – 8 reps|
|Wave Load||90 – 8 reps||100 – 6 reps||110 – 4 reps|
|Start Heavy Set||100 – 8 reps||100 – 8 reps||95 – 8 reps|
Now how do you organise each session itself? Well, there are 2 main ways:
- Single station – where you do just 1 exercise then move to the next
- Supersets – where you pair to exercises and alternate between them
The benefit of a single station is that it is easy to set up, and you can focus on a single exercise. The benefit of supersets is that it is time-efficient, you can pair two exercises that work well together and while you do one exercise you are resting for the other.
So take, for example, the superset below means that you rest 120 seconds between the 2 exercises and thus at least 240 seconds between just each one of them, which allows for full rest and thus greater performance.
A1. Bench Press, 5 sets x 6-8 reps, rest 120 seconds,
A2. Chin-up, 5 sets x 6-8 reps, rest 120 seconds
The tempo is another often overlooked element of a successful program, this simply describes the speed at which you do an exercise, so how fast you lower weight and how fast you lift it.
The tempo is written as 4 digits, so 3:2:1:0 means you lower the weight for 3 seconds, stop at the bottom of the lift for 2, and raise the weight in 1 second.
Lowering a weight for 3, 4 or 5 seconds is very different from lowering weight for 1 or 2 seconds, it is more than double the time you are controlling the weight for! This is going to positively affect your strength and muscle mass greatly by using tempo properly.
Even though it is termed the warm-up, it is actually just preparation for the training session. The warm-up should mobilise key areas of the body that are typically restricted; such as the hips, ankles and upper back.
It should also include something to get your nervous system (brain and spinal cord) to awaken and ramp-up, this can be done by gradually exposing the body to progressively heavy loads as part of the warm-up before the first working set of the first exercise. So if you have squats first in your session, part of your warm-up should include squats building up in weight.
As we move forwards with the foundation series we will expand upon the why behind the various concepts we have included in this article. This will give you further understanding, for example why 1 heavy set is great for the nervous system and strength or why wave loading might be useful. We can then work into more strength focussed methods versus more metabolic methods, which have different training effects. So stay tuned!
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