Strength Training 1

Strength Training I - An Introduction


Physical activity is one of the key lifestyle risk factors that warrants attention. Lack of regular exercise and excess sedentary behavior are clearly associated with cardiovascular risk and mortality in both men and women. Diminished levels of fitness as measured by exercise testing correlated with increased risk of mortality. Even modest incremental increases in physical activity and exercise yields a measurable reduction in mortality. The effect of exercise on health outcomes appears to be dose-dependent. Also, increased physical activity favorably impacts a range of cardiometabolic indices, including weight, blood pressure, glycemic parameters, blood lipids, inflammation, and psychosocial factors.

Starting Strength and Fitness Level

This first series of workouts is designed for the individual that is sedentary and has been for quite some time. It is assumed that the individual has not run in a long time and even when they did, they did not run for much distance, intensity, or consistency. At this phase, the individual has not done any kind of strength training, most likely for their entire life. A single pushup may be a struggle as would be a series of sit ups, and a pull up would be out of the question.

Guidelines

Intensity - Push the muscles as close to fatigue as possible.
The first part of our training regimen will be focused on just getting the motions down properly. The muscles we will be working may not be used to the resistance and movements we will be putting them through, but over time (maybe only a couple weeks) the movements will get easier and it is at this point that we can start to push for an increase in intensity. Pushing the intensity too soon is a recipe for disaster. Once the movements start to feel comfortable, we can start pushing the muscles to near failure during each set (i.e. we should be straining to get that last rep or two - which is why having a training partner can be very advantageous).

Reps - 8 to 12 reps is the general rule for gauging the proper intensity.
This does not mean that we just do 10 reps and stop. This is just our guideline. If we can do more than 12 reps, then we aren’t lifting enough and we need to add more weight on the next set. Basically, our point of failure should come at around 10 reps, not 30. The general rule is that we can lift 70% of our max lift 8 times, more or less. So by lifting for 8 to 12 reps, we are pushing to a certain percentage of our maximum strength.

This guideline also takes safety into account - we will start to feel the muscle reaching a point of failure before it actually does, allowing us to end our set before our muscles actually fail. If we lift too much weight (maybe we are shooting for 3 reps) we may not even feel the failure coming until we have actually started the third rep. This can have dire consequences during certain types of lifts (like chest presses or squats with a barbell) that could surely lead to injury. Get to know what that feeling of fatigue feels like and don’t let it get to failure, at least not without a spotter.

Sets - 2 to 4 sets is ideal for a given muscle group.
Remember, we are trying to push the muscles we are working to fatigue. Even though we have pushed our muscles to fatigue on our first set, our muscles have the ability to recover and they will (assuming we are past the initial breaking in period).  What we want to do next is push the muscles to exhaustion. If we just wait a few minutes the muscles we are working will be almost fully recovered and ready to go for another set. This means that we have not fully exhausted the muscle group. To reach near exhaustion we will need to do some more sets. The number of sets has been argued for quite some time, but for the best physiological effect, the minimum number of sets is at least two. Three starts to push for more returns and by the fourth set, we may be testing the law of diminishing returns. I say three is a great compromise that provides sufficient gains while keeping us from being in the gym all day. But your goals will dictate how many sets you choose to do with a given muscle group.

Volume - The degree in which we train over time
In strength training and in training in general, there is a trade off. This trade off is intensity vs. volume. An increase in one side will need to be offset by a decrease in the other. You cannot have both, not even the greatest athletes on Earth, because the levels on each side are relative to the individual. Attempting to circumvent this formula is called over-training and the ones who tried to ignore this ultimately ended their careers.

We can drive up the volume we are capable of by increasing the intensity, and we may even be able to elevate our potential intensity by increasing the volume of work we do, but eventually we will max out this equation. Pushing to this limit is a great goal, but we need to recognize when we have reached the level of overtraining and take a break (a longer term recovery even), otherwise we risk a permanent decline in our overall capacity.

Note - Overtraining means that we have pushed our bodies beyond the point where its systems can recover and repair properly and damage has begun. For the vast majority of us, we are training nowhere near our personal training capacity and overtraining. To prioritize our concerns when it comes to training, overtraining should be near the bottom of the list. I am saying this because my concern is that there will be individuals out there who will stay at reduced levels of training out of fear of overtraining and will ultimately short-change themselves.

Starting Out - Baby Steps

For at least the first few weeks we should focus on just getting the proper form and movements down. Lifting improperly could be worse in the long run than not lifting at all. Once through this initial phase, we need to start bumping up the intensity, the number of reps and sets, and finally the volume. Always keep in mind that what we are doing here, we are doing for life, so starting slow will have absolutely no negative impact on our long-term results and will have everything to do with our short-term gains as well as our adherence to the program.

Phase I Workouts

  • These first workouts are designed specifically for adherence and success.
  • Perform each workout until proficient and comfortable
  • Each workout may be done in conjunction with the others

Strength Workouts 1 - Coming soon!

Conclusion

In addition to the exercises in these workouts,  the individual should increase overall activity, including less sitting, using stairs, and parking a distance from their destinations.
The most important take-away is that we just need to get moving, and these first workouts are designed for that goal.