Get The Proper Amount of Strength Training Exercise
When starting out with a new fitness routine, questions should arise regarding the proper amount of exercise volume, reps, sets, days in the gym, and at what intensity the strength training exercise should be set at. How these questions are addressed will have a real and important impact on the short and long term success of your program. For the truth one must look at what science has to say. First it must be understand that exercise must be utilized with some restraint. More is not always better when it comes to exercise. Instead the precise amount to reach your goals without reaching an overtrained state is what should be strived for. In order to strike a balance between all of the variables implicit in a properly constructed exercise program the program must be broken down into singular parts. First how many sets of each exercise should be utilized. According to a literature review carried out in 1998 comparing 33 studies on the subject of resistance exercise volume, single set training was as effective as multiple set training (Carpinelli and Otto, 1998). This level of volume (one set of exercise) was again substantiated as optimal in multiple other studies (Ostrowski, K.J., et al., 1997) (Fincher G. E., 2000), (Hass, C. J., Garzarella, L, de Hoyos, D., & Pollock, M. L., 2000), (Fincher, G. E., 2001), (Wolfe, B. L., Vaerio, T. A, Strohecker, K., & Szmedra, L., 2001), (Journal of Exercise Physiology online, 2004). In most of these studies exercise was carried to momentary muscular failure. What this means to the person looking to maximize their time and fitness endeavors is that a relatively short exercise session consisting or just one set of 5 to 10 weight training exercises taken to failure can be just as or more productive then an exercise session taking three times as long. Exercise frequency is another consideration when looking at putting together an exercise routine. Considering that most of us have limited time, a productive exercise routine should be based on maximizing not only the time one spends in the gym, but also the number of times one visits the gym each week. According to the research done on single set high intensity training, one to three training sessions per week seems to be the optimal frequency of training for most people (McLester, Jr., J. R., Bishop, P., & Guilliams, M., 1999), (J DiFrancisco-Donoghue, W Werner, P C Douris, 2007) and training more frequently has not been shown to add any additional strength gains (Teixeira, M. S., Silva, E. B., Santos, C. B., & Gomez, P. S., 2001) . This frequency is based on a person's strength level, age, intensity of training, volume of training, and a host of genetic traits that can only be assessed once a training routine has been started. In most cases the stronger you becomes the less often you need to train and the less volume of training you need while training. In most cases a two to three times per week training routine of Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Monday and Thursday works well for most beginning strength trainers as long as the intensity of lifting is high enough. More advanced trainers, those with a low innate tolerance to exercise, or those employing higher intensity lifting techniques may get better results from training as little as once per week. The important point to remember in scheduling workout frequency and volume is that accurate records should be kept in order to gauge your own unique exercise tolerance and recoverability. Again, each person has an innate tolerance to exercise that can change as one gets older, experiences other outside stressors, gets stronger, etc.. As such, accurate records of what is working and what is not, helps guide you and keeps your training goals on track.
Another important facet of a properly conducted strength training routine has to do with repetition cadence, the speed of lifting, and the number of repetitions in each set. When considering these points it bears mention that muscular fiber is recruited based on the amount of weight the muscle is required to contract against. The lighter the weight, the less muscle fiber that is required to contract against it in order to move it. Speed of lifting also has an impact on the amount of muscular fiber utilized. Faster speeds of lifting result in momentum at the cost of muscular contraction, the result of which is less muscular involvement and a higher incidence of injury due to impact forces created by sudden starts and stops within the range of motion. These facts preclude the use of light training loads and explosive lifting techniques when training for strength and muscular growth. As such each repetition should be started under control, lifted smoothly at a controlled pace, and contracted fully before lowering under strict control. Again research backs up this contention in that exercise cadences of as long as 10 seconds lifting and 4 seconds lowering resulted in 50% greater strength increases than strength training routines with standard, much quicker, lifting cadences (Westcott, W. L., Winett, R. A., Anderson, E. S., Wojcik, J. R., Loud, R. L., Cleggett, E., & Glover, S., 2001).
Repetitions should be based on the lifting cadence. The body operates through the use of three energy cycles. There are two anaerobic energy cycles, the ATP-Pc energy cycle and the glycolytic energy cycle. These cycles operate without the use of oxygen. The third energy cycle is the oxidative energy cycle and it can be thought of as the aerobic energy cycle, or the cycle requiring oxygen. Strength and size are built utilizing the anaerobic energy cycles. This is due to the recruitment of muscular fiber, the ones most apt to growth (fast twitch fibers) being those utilizing the anaerobic energy cycles. These muscular fibers can only be tapped utilizing intensities that allow muscular fatigue at around one minute or less. Past one minute the body begins to move out of the anaerobic energy cycle and into the aerobic energy cycle. By two minutes the body has shifted gears to the almost exclusive use of the aerobic energy cycle and the intensity of muscular contraction is much less allowing the body to cycle through mostly the slow twitch fibers which do not add a great deal to muscular strength and size. A good lifting cadence will allow for uniform speed of movement at a pace slow enough to guard against momentum spikes and allow for maximum tension to be built. A lifting cadence of five seconds up and five seconds down, with a one to two second pause at the top and bottom works well for most compound exercises. Exercises in which the limbs are not locked out at the top of the movement such as machine pec-deck, pull-ups, pulldowns, and preacher curls should have a 5 second contraction in the top fully contracted portion of the exercise to really work the isometric portion of the repetition.
The number of repetitions in the set should be based on the amount of time it takes to finish each set. If you are completing a set of bench presses with a 5 second lifting phase and a 5 second lowering phase, with a 1 second pause at the top and the bottom of each repetition, then each repetition will take 12 seconds. If each set should be completed in around forty-five seconds to one minute then you should strive for 4 to 5 reps of bench press. The total amount of volume in a given set does not seem to be as important as the intensity at which the lift is conducted. A study in 2001 comparing two lifting volumes utilizing two versus eight reps per set indicated that there was no difference in strength development between the two protocols (Conway, P. T., Edwards, S. W., Ransone, J., & Edgley, B. M., 2001). Again the lower the reps, the more squarely the exercise resides in the anaerobic domain. Remember, the longer each set goes the less intense the set in regards to energy cycles and muscular recruitment. Just be certain to keep your repetitions high enough to guard extremely heavy weights which can cause extreme forces the result of which could cause injury in the untrained. This means, as a general rule, utilize a cadence that allows for the completion of 3 to 6 reps per set.
Based on all of the cited findings a productive strength training routine will consist of a single set of exercise taken to momentary muscular failure utilizing a cadence that reduces momentum and maximizes muscle fiber recruitment with a weight allowing for momentary muscular failure at a time frame of around forty-five seconds to one minute. This routine can be carried out, based on a host of genetic and outside influences with a frequency of one to three days per week. An exercise manual should be kept wherein exercise selection, volume, frequency, and cadence are kept. In order to maximize time and intensity the training should be conducted with resting times from around thirty seconds to one minute between sets. Utilizing proper lifting form and following these basic guidelines the beginner and intermediate strength trainee can expect steady and positive changes in both strength and muscular development with minimal time investment.
Carpinelli, R.N. and Otto R. M. (1998). Strength training: Single versus multiple sets. Sports Medicine 26: 73-84.
Fincher, G. E. (2000). The effect of high intensity resistance training on peak upper and lower body power among collegiate football players. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32(5), Supplement abstract 657.
Hass, C. J., Garzarella, L, de Hoyos, D., & Pollock, M. L. (2000). Single versus multiple sets in long-term recreational weightlifters. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32, 235-242.
Fincher, G. E. (2001). The effect of high intensity resistance training on sustained anaerobic power output among collegiate football players. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(5), Supplement abstract 756.
Wolfe, B. L., Vaerio, T. A, Strohecker, K., & Szmedra, L. (2001). Effect of single versus multiple-set resistance training on muscular strength. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(5), Supplement abstract 435.
Journal of Exercise Physiology online 7, no. 6 (2004): 52-68.
McLester, Jr., J. R., Bishop, P., & Guilliams, M. (1999). Comparisons of 1 and 3 days per week of equal volume resistance training in experienced subjects. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 31(5), Supplement abstract 443.
J DiFrancisco-Donoghue, W Werner, P C Douris (2007) Comparison of once-weekly and twice-weekly strength training in older adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2007; 41:19-22
Teixeira, M. S., Silva, E. B., Santos, C. B., & Gomez, P. S. (2001). Effects of resistance training with different sets and weekly frequencies on upper body muscular strength in military males 18 years of age. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(5), Supplement abstract 753.
Westcott, W. L., Winett, R. A., Anderson, E. S., Wojcik, J. R., Loud, R. L., Cleggett, E., & Glover, S. (2001). Effects of regular and slow speed resistance training on muscle strength. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 41, 154-158.
Conway, P. T., Edwards, S. W., Ransone, J., & Edgley, B. M. (2001). Effect of two near maximum lifts compared to eight lifts in relation to strength development. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(5), Supplement abstract 1827.
- Shane, Provstgaard
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