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One of the most common types of training that has taken hold of fitness routines worldwide is weight training. Weight training can take your training routine to a whole other level. If weight training isn't already a part of your daily workout, I will cover why you should think twice in your decision to omit it. This section will cover what weight training is about, the benefits it can lead to, and some common weight training guidelines.
Weight training is a form of exercise that utilizes the muscular system to adapt in terms of strength, size, and endurance. You may have seen your friends or family begin to work out at the local gym in attempt to build muscle or lose fat. The two will go hand in hand with weight training which can be a considerable benefit unique to weight training. This is because when you build muscle, you will increase your metabolism and burn more calories which cause weight loss.
Throughout the history of weight training, it has predominately been a 'male' activity. I would like to see this changed because it is important for everyone to have strength. One of the main concerns I here from females regarding weight training is the amount of muscle it can add to their bodies. I find this often humorous and I will explain why. It takes many, many weight training sessions to build muscle, and strength is what they will achieve short term. For some reason many women don't mind adding strength to their bodies, only muscle bothers them. The only conclusion I can come to is that society has placed this crazy image into all their minds that women with muscle is unattractive. This couldn't be farther from the truth and as an example all the beautiful female celebrities are guaranteed to utilize some form weight lifting into their fitness regimen. Although this material is important I will try to stick to the scope of the current subject. To summarize, both men and women should absolutely incorporate weight lifting into their lives to attain their goals.
Weight training is sometimes referred to as strength training. Strength training implies a focus on gaining strength while weight training can be to improve upon many goals as stated earlier. What many won't realize is the order in which your body adapts to any kind of weight lifting activity. This may disappoint some of you out there but it is purely neuromuscular strength that you will gain far before actual muscle mass. This is because our bodies adapt very quickly to stress placed on it. This stress comes from the micro tearing of muscles during training and your body knows strength must come before muscle to deal with this new stress source.
This tearing is what causes you to feel sore a day or two (or 5) after training and is a natural part of building strength and muscle. Essentially when you weight lift you are tearing your muscle fibers down only to be rebuilt even stronger. This is what causes strength gain and you want to cause this breakdown of muscle otherwise you are doing nothing and wasting time in the gym.
So this stress causes our bodies to quickly create new connections from our muscles to our brain. These connections are called "motor units". This is another fun term that everyone lifting should know as it explains why we get stronger. A motor unit is a motor neuron AND all the muscle fibers it innervates. When you first lift a weight you will use less motor units than the next time you decide to pick that same weight up. I'll use a simple example to explain motor units and how strength improves:
"Jon picks up a 10lb dumbbell to do bicep curls during his first weight training session at his local gym. He feels sore the next couple of days and goes back to work out about a week later. He does the same bicep curls with the 10lb dumbbell and finds that it is much easier this time. So what gives? Why has Jon increased his strength?"
The first visit to the gym Jon had used his biceps muscle which recruited a certain amount of motor units. For simplicities sake I will say 100 motor units were active affecting 1000 muscle fibers. So this means every 1 motor neuron (communication wire from brain to muscle) was in charge of contracting 10 muscle fibers. Remember that the definition of the motor unit is the motor neuron and ALL the muscle fibers it attaches to.
So he exhausted all those motor units and the body decided that it cannot continue this exercise should Jon lift again soon. This is your bodies' defensive system which activates other motor units currently not activated in the local area. Simply put, your body turns on more of these motor units so next time you pick up that weight you don't get your butt kicked (or at least less kicked).
Wait a second, doesn't that mean that we have tons of these motor units that are in our bodies that we never use? The answer is yes and I will tell you why. You have many inactive motor units in your body just waiting to be activated should it become necessary. Most of the lifting that goes on in the gym can or will never be applied to real life situations. Think about it, will you ever really curl anything heavy? Maybe, but the likelihood is that you will not. So your body doesn't NEED to have a lot of motor units active for curling. This whole process of recruiting motor units, and therefore strength, is called "neural adaptation". It is the basis of every weight or strength training protocol.
It will come to a point where all the motor units have been activated and therefore strength will need to increase from something else. Your muscle fibers will actually start to "hypertrophy" or grow bigger. So now you will have a ton of motor units active accompanied by bigger muscle fibers to adapt to your training. This is when you will start to see the muscle growth and can happen as quickly as 4-6 weeks into your training program.
Many have brought weight training into their lives for very good reasons, it brings results! Strength, muscle, endurance, power, and agility can all be improved under this umbrella term called, "weight training". As stated earlier, building muscle equals burning fat so you kill two birds with one stone.
One benefit to weight lifting is not just to make your muscles stronger, but everything else as well. Your bones, tendons, and ligaments will all benefit from weight training to adapt to the stress you place on it. Muscle will be built the quickest, followed by ligaments, and bone. These structures take time to build and are often long processes to carry out. This is why it is not recommended to train too vigorously or increase the weight too fast. This can cause the muscles to grow in-proportionate to your other tissues and that's when injury happens. All of a sudden the ligaments can't hold bones together due to strong muscles placing force on them. The morale of the story: don't increase weight too heavy, too fast.
Train appropriately and you can actually help prevent injuries to your body. This great benefit will eventually occur due to increases in bone and ligament strength. Next time you accidentally fall your ligaments may hold your hip in a place a little bit better, improving your chances of walking away injury free should an accident occur.
Increasing your confidence and self esteem are two highly important benefits from weight training. Whether it be to lose weight and fit into that bathing suit for the summer or bulk up and show off your muscles, weight training can lend a hand. Other benefits that stem off will be a boost in those "feel good" hormones especially while working out.
How about keeping your body healthy so you can live up to your true potential? Sounds like a good deal to me. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day can lead to dramatic reductions of incidence in common disease and disorders. Some such diseases and disorders include CHD, CVD, diabetes, stroke, etc.
Having high levels of strength is an important attribute to have. Although the majority of us may hardly use it in today's society with our desk jobs, it can open the doors to opportunity. Say you have always wanted to start up a sport or high level activity such as snowboarding. In order to do so, adapt quicker, and become successful in that area you may need the strength.
It can also save you money in many ways. One example can be that you are planning on moving to a new house and require all the furniture be loaded onto a truck and carried up stairs. If you are not physically able to do so, money will be required to hire furniture movers.
Weight training guidelines:
There are multiple goals that one can achieve through this one type of training and therefore the level of variation in training plans increases dramatically. No one plan should be used for two different people. Everyone is different in size, shape, goals, genetics, strength, and the list goes on. Considering this important complexity variable, every attempt at weight training needs to be carefully planned to maximize results. This section could literally be written on for days but for your sake I will make this as straightforward as possible. I will give a few terms you may be unfamiliar with and why they are important for weight training.
Undoubtedly you have heard the term "reps" or "sets" in your local gym. These refer to the overall "volume" of exercise. I'll give a simple example to illustrate:
"Susie begins to do a bench press exercise and presses the bar up 6 times. She can't do anymore and sets the bar on the rack. She then picks is up again and does another 6 presses, fatigues, and racks the bar".
In this example, Susie did a total of 6 reps because this was the total amount of times she went through the exercise movement, from start to finish. For the bench press this is lowering the bar and pressing it back up. That's 1 rep.
She performed these 6 reps twice so she did 2 sets of 6 reps. The term "set" simply refers to how many 'groups' of reps you plan on completing.
The "volume" is a simple arithmetic, reps x sets = volume. In this case Susie's volume will be the product of 6 x 2 or 12.
Become familiar with the "Overload Principle". This principle simply states that to build strength and muscle you need to overload your muscles with weight in which they are unaccustomed to. If you don't you will reach a training plateau and further improvement will not be seen. So keep this tip in mind, lift only a weight that you know you will struggle with the last rep on in order to create muscle overload.
"Progression" is another popular term in the weight lifting world relating to continuous improvement. When you begin to notice your strength or size has not increased, you have hit a plateau and need progression. This can be tweaking your fitness routine such as changing reps, sets, volume, exercise order, etc. Anything that will throw your body off guard will be effective as your body will have to continue to adapt to the changing exercise stimulus. Exercise tip: Change your exercise plan (even slightly) every 2-4 weeks to see progression.
"Specificity" is the certain way of training that you should do to most improve your personal goal. Typically this can be done by changing your rep count for each set. If you want to build strength as your primary goal, lift for lower reps each set (3-8 reps). If you want to build muscle as your primary goal, lift for a moderate amount of reps (8-12 reps). If you want muscular endurance, train for even higher reps (>12 reps). Keep in mind that you can manipulate this however you want. Do you want strength and muscle gains to be relatively equal with one another, go somewhere in between the recommended (ex. 6-10 reps).
Exercise tip: Follow these guidelines to suit your goal. Then tweak it if you notice better gains experimenting with higher or lower reps.
Rest is a term that everyone can relate to and is probably the most important piece of advice here! Get the appropriate amount of rest after your weight training session. Your body needs it and will actually break itself down if you continue to "over train" or weight lift more than your body can recover. How can you expect to grow if you are constantly tearing (micro tears) your muscles apart without allowing them to grow back stronger (or at all). This is the number one mistake most people make and can even have an effect on your health if you continuously over train.
Exercise tip: Allow at least 4-5 days in between sessions for beginners, 2-3 for experts. Note that everyone will be different and recover at different speeds. Know your speed!
Well that about does it for this basic weight training guide. If you want to get into the fun details and specifics, check out the other weight training articles. There is a wealth of information that exercise beginners and veterans alike can benefit from on this site. Take every training session one day at a time and don't get overwhelmed with information! Use the old saying, if it doesn't feel good- don't do it.
Weight Training 101