General Tips

General Weight Training

general weight training

Contrary to the beliefs of many, strength training is not just an activity for athletes and bodybuilders. In fact, strength training is an activity that’s appropriate to literally all individuals, including men, women, teenagers, the elderly and everyone in between. Even if you’re completely happy with the outward appearance of your body, regular strength training will provide many benefits to your overall health and fitness for years to come.

Although strength training may be an intimidating proposition for some, it doesn’t need to be this way. Individuals of virtually all body types can enter a strength training program at the beginning level and, with hard work, experience rapid increases in myriad areas of health and fitness.

Beginning a strength training program now certainly doesn’t mean that you’ll need to graduate to advanced weight training and bodybuilding later; rather, it simply means that you’re taking a major step toward improving your overall health.

At its surface, strength training seems rather simple: lift weights, wear out your muscles, and reap the benefits. However, the science behind weight training – as well as the ways in which it benefits your body and mind – is quite deep and complex. This guide is intended to introduce you to some of the fundamentals of weight training, including how and when to do it as well as the benefits you can expect to see as your program continues.

Physical and Mental Benefits of Weight Training

Many people assume that the only tangible benefit of weight training is the fact that you’ll gain larger, stronger, denser muscles than you had previously. Although this is certainly a primary benefit of weight training, there are many additional benefits as well. Regular, intense strength training offers a wide range of advantages for both the body and mind, including sweeping improvements in your overall health, fitness and well-being. These benefits are listed below:

Physical Benefits

  • Increases your basal metabolic rate to promote safe, effective weight loss

  • Mitigates the natural decline in basal metabolic rate which occurs as we age

  • Improves the efficiency of the cardiovascular system, increasing your energy, stamina and endurance levels in the process

  • Places a measured level of stress on the skeletal frame in order to improve bone density

  • Increases physical strength, making routine daily chores much easier

  • Strengthens all soft tissues of the body

  • Increases muscle definition, giving you a toned, sculpted and attractive physique

  • Improves overall structural strength, making you less likely to incur an injury

  • Improves the efficiency of the cardiovascular system, lowering your resting blood pressure

  • Improves glucose utilization, reducing your chance of developing Type 2 diabetes

  • Improves efficiency of the digestive system, reducing your chance of developing colon cancer

  • Increases levels of HDL (good) cholesterol

  • Strengthens the structural frame, improving good posture

  • Bolsters the immune system

  • Improves cardiovascular efficiency, lowering the resting heart rate

  • Improves balance, coordination, flexibility and range of motion

Mental Benefits

  • Alters certain hormone levels to reduce junk food cravings

  • Alleviates symptoms of depression and anxiety, also thanks to the release of endorphins

  • Causes your pituitary gland to secrete endorphins, calming and centering your mind while improving your mood

  • Improved physical appearance will boost your self-confidence

How Weight Training Affects the Muscles

As mentioned previously, one of the primary purposes of weight training is to incite your muscles to grow in strength, mass, density and definition. These gains occur due to the fact that regular, intense, progressive strength training causes tiny rips and tears in your muscle tissue. Following your strength training session, your body will be forced to repair these tiny rips and tears with the help of protein, the primary nutrient responsible for gains in muscular tissue. This process mostly occurs while you’re asleep, which is why receiving adequate rest is so important for strength trainers.

Once your body heals these tiny rips and tears in your muscle fiber, your muscles will be stronger, denser, larger and more defined than they were prior to your workout. When you engage in a subsequent strength training session, your freshly-repaired muscles will incur additional rips and tears, and the process repeats itself. Although the gains from a single strength training session are small, they continuously compound with each weight training session you perform.

Explosive vs. Rhythmic Exercises

Strength trainers employ different types of exercises in order to achieve different types of gains in their muscle tissue. Explosive exercises are generally used to achieve gains in muscle mass, strength and density, while rhythmic exercises are normally used to promote gains in muscle definition. Explosive exercises require a relatively large amount of weight and a small number of reps, while the opposite is true for rhythmic exercises. Maintaining the perfect form is very important for rhythmic exercises, but slightly less important for explosive exercises.

Regardless of the type of strength training exercise you’re performing in a given session, it’s important to work your targeted muscle groups to the point of total muscular fatigue, at least for some exercises. This will ensure that your muscles are properly stimulated (i.e. ripped and torn) to make the desired gains.

Appropriate Rest in Between Workouts

As mentioned earlier, an overwhelming portion of muscle growth occurs while you sleep. For this reason, it’s of crucial importance that you do your best to sleep for approximately 8 hours per night, particularly while you’re actively pursuing a strength training program. This will ensure that your body has the time necessary to fully repair the rips and tears in your muscle tissue that resulted from a weight lifting session.

In addition to overall sleep requirements, it’s important that you pay attention to the amount of time that passes before working the same muscle group again. If you work your shoulders and back today, can you exercise them tomorrow? The simple answer is “probably not,” especially if you’re relatively new to strength training. In general, strength trainers should wait approximately 24 to 48 hours before working the same muscle group again. The necessary recovery period falls at the higher end of this spectrum for beginning strength trainers, and the lower end for advanced strength trainers.

Since all individuals respond to strength training slightly differently, it’s important that you listen to your body to determine whether a given muscle group is ready to be worked again. If it still feels sore from a previous workout, this probably means that your body is still actively working to repair the rips and tears in the muscle fiber. Choosing to work the same muscle group again before it’s ready could result in overtraining or injury, and will be less effective than if you waited the proper amount of time.

Dividing Muscle Groups Among Workouts

When creating your strength training schedule, you’ll be faced with two options:

  • Working all of your muscle groups in a single session

  • Working all of your muscle groups across multiple sessions

Most individuals who exercise all muscle groups in a single session do so once per week for the purpose of enhancing the toning of their body and maintaining existing levels of overall health and fitness. Although it’s possible to utilize a 1-day cycle several times per week, most serious strength trainers looking to make gains in muscle mass, density and definition choose to divide their muscle groups among multiple sessions.

Doing so allows you to target just two or three muscle groups in a single session, ensuring larger gains than if you’d only devoted a small amount of attention to all muscle groups in one session.

The concept of dividing muscle groups among separate workouts can be described as cyclical training. Your cycle is defined by the number of days you’ll spend strength training in a single week. Examples of typical cycles are listed below:

1-Day Cycle

  • Exercise all muscle groups in a single session, with only a limited number of sets applied to each muscle group

2-Day Cycle

  • Exercise the upper body on the first day and the lower body on the second day

or

  • Exercise all muscle groups in a single session, twice per week
  • This approach is better suited to toning than building mass, strength and density

3-Day Cycle

  • Exercise the upper body on the first day and the lower body on the second day
  • Exercise your upper body again on the third day
  • Repeat the process the following week, trading upper body workouts for lower body ones

or

  • Exercise all muscle groups in a single session, three times per week
  • This approach is better suited to toning than building mass, strength and density

4-Day Cycle

  • Exercise half of your muscle groups on the first day and the other half on the second day
  • Repeat this exact process within the same week

5-Day Cycle

  • Exercise half of your muscle groups on the first day and the other half on the second day
  • Perform some type of cardiovascular exercise on the third day
  • Exercise half of your muscle groups on the fourth day and the other half on the fifth day

6-Day Cycle

  • Exercise half of your muscle groups on the first day and the other half on the second day
  • Repeat this process two more times in the same week

or

  • Exercise one-third of your muscle groups on the first day, one-third of your muscle groups on the second day, and the final one-third of your muscle groups on the third day
  • Repeat this process one more time in the same week

These concepts are explained in additional detail under the Cyclical Training subheading of the Strength Training section.

Types of Weight Training Workouts

While your approach to cyclical training determines when you’ll train, is does not define exactly how you’ll train. To do this, you’ll need to choose from one of several different weight training routines. Some of these routines are suited to weight trainers of all experience levels, while others are specifically intended for intermediate and advanced strength trainers.

Muscle groups can be described as either push muscle groups or pull muscle groups. A push muscle group contracts when weight is pushed away from the body, while a pull muscle group contracts when weight is pulled toward the body. Muscles contract during the hard part of the exercise, and extend during the easy part.

general weight training

Push muscle groups:

  • Calves
  • Deltoids
  • Gluteals
  • Pectorals
  • Quadriceps
  • Triceps

Pull muscle groups:

  • Abdominals
  • Biceps
  • Forearms
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Hamstrings
  • Obliques
  • Trapezius

Push/Pull Routine

In order to perform a push/pull strength training routine, you’ll need to perform a single workout that targets both push and pull muscle groups. Doing so will minimize the chance that you’ll be too fatigued from one exercise to perform a later exercise in the same session, since you’ll be using a wide variety of muscle groups instead of only a few. Push/pull routines are extremely common in strength training, and are chosen more frequently than any of the other routines included in this list. Push/pull routines are appropriate to strength trainers of all skill and experience levels.

Push/Push Routine

To perform a push/push strength training routine, you’ll need to perform a single workout that exclusively targets push muscle groups. Push/push routines are generally more challenging than push/pull routines because you’ll be focusing all of your efforts on a limited number of muscle groups. As such, many of your muscles that you’ll work in the later exercises of your routine will be pre-fatigued from previous exercises in the same session. Push/push routines are excellent for breaking through strength plateaus that may exist in the push muscle groups. However, their additional challenge means that they’re only intended to be used by experienced strength trainers.

Pull/Pull Routine

To perform a pull/pull routine, you’ll need to perform a single workout that only targets pull muscle groups. Pull/pull routines are more challenging than push/pull routines for the same reason as push/push routines, and are only intended for experienced strength trainers.

Supersetting Routine

A supersetting routine is defined as a strength training routine in which you’ll combine multiple exercises into a single super set. This is accomplished by performing the first set of one exercise, followed by the first set of another exercise, followed by the second set of the first exercise, and so on. Two or more separate exercises can be combined into a super set. Spend as little time as possible resting in between each set within the super set. Super sets are very challenging for most individuals, and are best suited to advanced strength trainers.

Pyramid Routine

In a pyramid routine, you’ll need to decrease the reps and increase the weight with each subsequent set in a single exercise. The goal is to progressively overload your muscles in order to realize the largest possible gains in mass, strength and density. It’s also possible to perform a reverse pyramid, which will have you decreasing the weight and increasing the reps with each subsequent set.

Adding Cardio to a Strength Training Program

Many individuals who enter into a strength training program are seeking to not only build muscle, but to burn fat as well. Adding cardiovascular exercise to your strength training program (and paying careful attention to your diet) is the best way of accomplishing this. However, regular cardio is also beneficial to those not actively seeking to lose weight because it improves functioning of the respiratory and circulatory systems while providing many other benefits as well.

As a rule of thumb, you should strive to perform cardiovascular exercise twice a week at a minimum. If your fitness goals are more aligned with weight loss than pure strength training, performing cardio three, four or more times per week would be more appropriate. Keep in mind that the goal of any cardiovascular activity is to achieve an aerobic effect, which occurs when you elevate your heart rate to its target level for a minimum of 20 minutes.

couple weight training

As you can see, strength training is rather flexible. Although the goals largely remain the same (achieving a more attractive physique, improving overall health, increasing strength, building muscle mass and density), there are many ways to arrive at your destination.

This is fortunate considering that the busy and hectic nature of modern life often prevents us from engaging in pursuits that are too rigid or time consuming.

Weight training, alternatively, only requires a relatively small percentage of your time in order to provide you with a large array of health, fitness, and mental well-being benefits.

If you’re just starting a strength training program for the first time, avoiding injury should be your primary focus. Incurring an injury now will be extremely discouraging, not to mention the fact that it will temporarily or permanently prevent you from engaging in certain strength training exercises. Start by focusing on the proper form, and use only a small amount of resistance until you’re comfortable with all of the exercises you plan to include in your routine.

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