Strength Training Guidelines

Training Form

Correct lifting techniques are critical for achieving maximum benefits and preventing injury (see Appendix C). If your form is incorrect, strength training can lead to injury, not strength gains.

♦ Use minimal weight when learning a new exercise.

♦ Use a closed grip (fingers and thumbs wrap around the bar or handle and touch each other), and place hands equidistant from the ends of the bar. Load the weights evenly across the bar.

♦ For free weights, feet should be hip to shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, and your back should keep its natural curve. Keep your head level and eyes focused straight ahead. If maintaining this posture is difficult than the weight is too heavy.

♦ For resistance machines, adjust the pads to fit your body so the pads can support you during the lift. Keep your head level and eyes focused straight ahead.

♦ Lifts should be slow, smooth, and controlled. Lift and lower the weight for 2-4 seconds in each direction to ensure that your muscle, not momentum, is moving the weight.

♦ Exhale during the exertion (moving the weight against gravity), and inhale when returning to the start position. Never hold your breath while exercising!

♦ Always use a spotter when lifting free weights.

The most common training errors occur when people focus on lifting the weight rather than focusing on stabilizing themselves and controlling the weight. The best way to avoid training mistakes is to ask a staff member at the gym to teach you new exercises and to suggest the best exercises for you based on your fitness level and goals. See Appendix C for examples of common errors in training techniques and how to avoid making them.

FITT Principle Guidelines

Once you are comfortable with the basic training techniques for performing strength exercises, follow the FITT Principle, illustrated in the Physical Activity Pyramid (Chapter 4, Figure 4-2), to set up your routine. The FITT guidelines for strength training are:

♦ Frequency - 2 to 3 times per week for each major muscle group on non-consecutive days.

♦ Intensity - the total weight lifted or the resistance applied.

♦ Time - the duration of the exercise.

♦ Type - equipment used and the exercises performed.

Two terms you need to know are repetition (rep) and set. A rep is a single lifting and lowering of the weight. For example, one rep of a leg curl is lifting your ankle toward your buttocks, pausing one second, then returning your ankle to the start position. A set is the number of reps performed without stopping to rest. For example, if you perform 10 leg curls, rest for 60 seconds, followed by another 10 leg curls, you would have performed 2 sets, each of 10 leg curls. When recording the number of sets and reps performed, write "sets x reps" (i.e., 2x10 for the leg curl example).

Intensity of Exercise

Focus on the intensity of your training only after you have perfected your lifting form. The basis of strength training is to gradually increase the amount of weight that you lift during training to ultimately increase the amount of force your muscles are capable of generating. This is called progressively overloading the muscle to achieve gains in strength without causing injury. The following intensity guidelines for general strength gains are for beginners, for people who are restarting their routines after a break, and for people learning new exercises.

♦ Once your form is perfected (page 44), gradually increase the weight you are lifting until you reach a weight that you can lift only 12 times with good form. Finding this 12-rep weight will be trial and error at first.

♦ Your 12-rep weight will increase as you gain strength, so increase the weight you are lifting appropriately (but no more than 10% each week).

♦ Start a training routine consisting of one to two sets of 12 reps for each major muscle group (defined in "Type of Exercise" on page 46).

A long-term strength routine of one to two sets of 12 reps is excellent for maintaining and increasing general strength. In addition, this type of routine only takes about 30 minutes to perform. Once you have developed a solid strength and endurance base (after about eight weeks) you may be interested in pursuing more specific training goals. In general, the following guidelines apply to the various types of strength training goals:

♦ Muscle endurance - two to three sets, 12-15 reps with a 15-rep weight; 30-60 seconds rest between sets.

♦ Muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle mass) - three to six sets, eight to 12 reps with a 12-rep weight; 30-90 seconds rest between sets.

♦ Muscle strength - three to five sets, two to eight reps with an 8-rep weight; at least 120 seconds rest between sets.

Note: Do not perform maximal lifts when strength training.

Type of Exercise

For maximum benefit and to decrease the risk of injury, pay attention to:

♦ Muscle balance - perform exercises that target the opposing muscle groups across the joints to strengthen the major muscles and improve joint function; e.g., strengthen the biceps and triceps muscles in the upper arm.

♦ Exercise selection - Select at least one exercise for each of the major muscle groups. The major muscle groups are the chest, back, shoulders, arms, legs, lower back, and abdominals (abs). (See Figure 7-2 and Worksheet B-2.)

♦ Exercise order - perform multi-joint exercises before single-joint exercises. In a multi-joint exercise more than one joint (per side) moves during the exercise; e.g., your shoulders and elbows move during a bench press. In a single-joint exercise one joint (per side) moves during the exercise; e.g., only your elbow moves during an arm curl. Perform lower back and abdominal exercises at the end of your workout since those muscles are used for balance and posture during other exercises.

Use Worksheet B-2 to design your workout and to record your training progress. Change the exercises you perform for each muscle group every four to eight weeks, even if you keep the same set and rep routine. Changing exercises will overload the muscles differently, increase your strength gains, and alleviate boredom. There are a variety of exercises for each muscle group listed in Figure 7-2. To increase their upper body strength, women should perform exercises that target the back, neck, chest, shoulders and arms.

Bench Press Arm Cur1

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Figure 7-2. Exercises for Various Muscle Groups



shrug, pull-ups, rows

(Deltoid, Rotator Cuff)

lateral raise, upright row shoulder press, bench press, reverse fly, rotations

Triceps triceps extensions, dip, push-up bench presses, kickback


(Latissimus Dorsi, Lats) lat pulldown, pullover, rows pull-up

Low Back

(Erector Spinae)

back extension, superman

_ Forearm

(wrist extensors)

reverse wrist curls

Gluteals leg press, lunge, squats, hip extension, glute-ham raise rear thigh raise

Hamstring leg curl, leg press, squats lunge, glute-ham raise


(Gastrocnemius & Soleus) calf raise, heel raises, lunge

Figure 7-2. Exercises for Various Muscle Groups

Chest f (Pectorals) bench presses, chest fly, dip chest press, push-up

Curls (arm, preacher, hammer concentration), chin-Up, rows lat pulldown


(Rectus Abdominus and Obliques) crunches, knee raises, rotary torso


(wrist flexors)

wrist curls

Outer Thigh

(hip abductors) hip abduction, leg raises

Quadriceps leg extension, leg press, squats, lunge, step

Inner Thigh

(hip adductors)

hip adduction, leg raises


(Tibialis Anterior)

toe raises, foot flexion with resistance




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