In all aspects of life, achieving goals always require a form of organization in order to establish rules, set objectives and establish priorities. It’s no different when designing a weight training routine. Strength and fitness goals are best achieved through organization and having the dedication to follow through on commitments. Below are 5 essential elements of a strength training program that you can use when designing a work out routine.
1) Warm Up
In previous articles I’ve stressed the importance of warming up and provided details of how you can incorporate warm up exercises into your strength training routine. Be sure to use multi-joint movements that challenge the range of motion of the limb or body part being warmed up. For example, exercises like foot sweeps, walking lunges (bodyweight only), and cat-camels are exceptional for utilizing different body parts that will be trained throughout a workout. The warm up should be thorough and it ought to increase your core temperature enough so that you are almost sweating. Altogether having 5 or 6 go-to warm up exercises organized into at least 1 set with 5 to 10 repetitions per exercise is a good start.
2) Objectives of the Program: Sets, Repetitions (Reps), and Rests
With any resistance training program, typical goals are to produce strength, power, endurance/fat loss (fitness) or hypertrophy (muscle tissue building). Be sure that you are confident in your choice and stay determined to meet those goals because persistence and commitment is key to seeing results. Strength coaches and personal trainers help athletes and clients achieve their goals by manipulating sets, repetitions and rests. Below are the typical schemes used for different objectives.
Strength: Sets of 3-6 with repetitions of 1-8 and rests of 3 to 2 minutes, respectively. This is because strength requires lifting heavy weight, which means completing lower repetitions, thus requiring longer rest. Having longer rests between low repetitions provides sufficient recovery that allow you to handle the exertion that is required in heavy lifting. Longer rest times also ensure energy levels are restored so that you are able to maintain appropriate technique, thus preventing injury.
Power: Sets of 3-6 with repetitions of 1-5 and rests of 5 mins to 2 mins, respectively (same reason as strength training). Power training exercises are geared towards increasing overall athleticism as required by most athletes. Outdoor fields offer a wide range of space to perform power exercises that allow you to work on your speed and explosiveness. Some examples of power exercises that don’t need equipment are jump squats, vertical jumps, clap push ups, box jumps, bounding and medicine ball throws.
Hypertrophy (muscle building): Sets of 2-5 with repetitions of 10-15 with rests from 30 seconds to 1 minute. Hypertrophy training has its roots in bodybuilding and its goal is to increase muscle mass by exhausting the body part trained. Hence why there is little rest between sets.
Endurance/Fat Loss: Sets of 2-5 with repetitions of 15+ and rests of 30 seconds to 1 minute, respectively. With endurance you have the ability to substitute repetitions for time. For example, when performing body weight jump squats, instead of 3 sets of 20 repetitions, try 3 sets of 45 seconds. If using a timed approach for endurance, try aiming for over 30 seconds. Endurance training is the easiest to train at home, as it doesn’t require heavy resistance, if any. The good thing about endurance training is that it challenges your cardiovascular system as much as it does your muscle tissue, meaning that you’ll get a great sweat and your lungs will be getting stronger from all their work replenishing oxygen in your blood.
3) Exercise Order
When organizing exercises in your workout, it is important to remember your training objective. From my observations, I believe that the majority of people complete their favorite exercises first and then deviate from there, working with what’s available. Below is a standard arrangement to use when determining what to do in a typical session.
i. Warm Up
ii. Preparatory Exercises: From a coaching perspective, I typically like my athletes and clients to start with an easier exercise that we call “preparatory exercises”. These exercises are an extension of the warm up, but do require exertion against resistance, such as completing 2 sets of 12 repetitions of banded lateral reverse fly’s before an upper body main exercise (see point iii).
iii. Main Exercises: We now move on to our “main exercises (or lifts)” that challenge the body and may require great exertion. Main exercises are primarily multi-joint, meaning that two or more joints of your body are involved in the exercises such as pressing (dumbbell, bench, shoulders etc.), pulling (chin ups, rows, deadlifts etc.). squats and many more. Aim for 1-3 main exercises.
iv. Assistant Exercises: After performing your main exercises, you want to move to “assistant exercises (or lifts)” specific to smaller muscle groups that support the main exercises. This is commonly seen in strength and power training. For example, on a day you perform a dumbbell chest press as on of your main exercises, you might perform a standing face pull as an assistant exercise to help train the upper back and rotator cuff muscles. Depending on your energy levels, aim for 2-4 assistant exercises. In regards to building muscle (hypertrophy training) and endurance, exercise order is similar however, assistant exercises may be focused on building muscle that not only supports the main lifts but also as an aesthetic appeal based on personal preference. For example, the common “back and biceps” day.
After completing assistant exercises you can finish your session with static stretching (holding stretches) or foam rolling. Altogether, a typical session does not require more than 1 hour. If you are strict with your rest times and putting in the best you can, an hour will be more than enough.
Having a routine holds you accountable for your overall success and prevents you from skipping workouts. Building a routine may seem daunting at first but it is quite simple, with the rule of thumb being not to train the same muscle group two days in a row. Typical beginner routines are 2-3 full body workout days per week, with at least one day of rest between each session. For those of you who are advanced and/or are, seeking strength/power, you can increase the frequency during the week with split routines. For example, when training 4 days a week trying incorporating two upper body days, and two lower body days. If training for hypertrophy, you may want to focus on 1-3 muscles groups per session which may require 4-6 days per week.
Recovery methods are an often-overlooked aspect of a training program. Recovery is important for muscle tissue to repair itself, thus increasing your chances of achieving your objectives faster and to mitigate future injuries and pain. In order to get the most out of recovery, you want to plan ahead and have a day of active or full rest depending on the intensity of your program. Active rest refers to light activity that doesn’t stress the body, such as a light bike ride, playing some basketball or going for a swim. Full rest days don’t necessarily mean just laying on the couch, to be successful you need to be getting enough protein, vegetables, sleep and hydration to restore your energy for your next session and help with muscle tissue repair.
I hope that you are able to appreciate some of these important tips that strength and fitness professionals dedicate their lives learning and applying. No matter who you are, dedication to your craft will always yield positive results, no matter how grim the present may feel. Stay active, stay safe and stay healthy.