Strength Training Guidelines
By: Matt Russ
This document is to serve as a basic guideline for designing your own strength training routine. It is not an exercise prescription and does not take into account any previous injuries or physical conditions. It is highly recommended you see a physician before starting any exercise routine.
Men vs Women
Men and women are created very differently and correspondingly must train differently. First of all women have a fraction of the testosterone necessary to build large amounts of muscle mass, therefore it is counterproductive for a female to train on a heavy resistance mass building routine. In my experience very few females are desirous of building large muscles, in fact this is probably the most common anxiety women have concerning strength training. Second, it is important to note that the single most significant factor in determining body shape is your pre-set genetic code. The maximum your muscle can hypertrophy (get bigger) was largely determined before you were born. That is not to say that you can not drastically change the shape and size of your body, just that it is important to set realistic and attainable goals.
With these facts in mind women and men generally proceed slightly different with a strength training plan. Females use lighter resistance and more repetitions whereas males who want to build muscle mass use heavier weights, increased resistance, and fewer repetitions. If you are a male not wanting to increase the size of your muscles or a female wanting to "get big" this book is not for you. It is written from the prospective of the most common goals of strength training for men and women. "Toning" is not a specific goal and is an ambiguous term that in my experience implies both leanness and muscle size. You can use this book to build muscle size or endurance, increase strength and power.
I. Exercise Frequency
I recommend a minimum of two sessions per week of strength training for men and women to ensure continue results. If you attempt to work out more
Than three times per week you are probably wasting your time, conversely one total body workout is enough to maintain your progress, but is not enough to adequately exercise the entire body. Bear in mind that frequency is ultimately affected by the workout intensity, and that frequent low intensity strength training may not yield the same results as a few high intensity work outs.
II. Basic Guidelines for Advance Weight Training
Vary Your Routine: There should be nothing "routine" about your routine. Your body acclimates very quickly to any stress put on it. You can reach a plateau after just a few weeks of strength training. In order to keep getting results you must constantly change your routine to keep your body guessing what is coming next. I recommend you change one or more of the following on a weekly basis.
1. Exercises: Changing the type of resistance placed on a muscle keeps
It off balance by recruiting new muscle fibers. I recommend using a
Combination of machines and free weights, each having their pros and
cons (we will discuss this latter). Use a variety of exercises listed in the last section for each muscle or muscle group.
2. Rest: Muscles can recover up to 90% after two minutes of rest
Between sets. By reducing the rest period between sets you can place
Additional stress on the muscle, however, this type of training may be
Too intense to use every week. For men I recommend using a 1.5 - 2
Minute rest period between sets, especially for the larger muscle groups
of the legs. Every fourth workout I would reduce the rest period to
about half, placing additional stress on the muscles. You will not be
able to lift as much weight or accomplish as many sets. At this level
of intensity a chest workout may take as little as 10 minutes.
For women who are building strength and endurance I recommend a minimum of 1 minute of rest between sets.
3. Order: Change the order in which the muscles are worked weekly
with the following exception, always work the bigger muscles first.
You can not fully work the large muscles of your back if the biceps are
Exhausted, and if you can't lift your shoulders how are you going to
work your chest. The following plan provides more than enough variety for changing exercise order.
2 Day Split
week 1week 2
1-legs & shoulders1-legs & triceps
2-Chest/Back/Triceps/Biceps2-back / chest / biceps / shoulders
week 3week 4week 5
1. legs / biceps1. legs / chest1. legs / back
2. back / chest / triceps / 2. back / arms / 2. chest / arms /
shoulders shoulders shoulders
start over with week 1
3 day split
week 1week 2week 3
1. back / biceps1. chest / triceps1. back / chest
2. legs / shoulders2. legs / biceps2. legs / shoulders
3 chest / triceps3. back / shoulders 3. arms
week 4week 5week 6
1. chest / shoulders1. arms1. chest / biceps
2. legs / triceps2. legs / chest2. legs / back
3. back / biceps3. back3. triceps / shoulders
start over with week 1
Number of exercises per body part: The number of exercises performed will vary from muscle group to muscle group. For example, the biceps (a frequently overworked muscle group) will require just a few exercises versus the large muscles in the legs. Also, the number of exercises performed per muscles group will also be directly related to the number of sets per exercise. To keep you from getting confused I recommend the following number of exexercises be performed for each muscle group. Once again this is only a guideline to adequately recruit the fibers of each muscle group. The exact number of exercises performed will vary with intensity, repetitions, and fitness level.
Chest 4-6 exercises
Repetitions per exercise: When selecting the number of repetitions per set
it is important to note that the intensity level. For males wanting to build
mass each set should be performed to "failure with form." This simply means as many repetitions you can do to momentary muscle failure while maintaining proper form. Women may not need to train this intensely and should concentrate on getting a good muscle "burn" without complete failure.
Men: The following repetition scheme is based on protein breakdownor "tearing down" of the muscle in order to build it back up and make it stronger. More reps will not stress the muscle enough and too few will stress it too much and may promote injury.
Repetitions per set (cont.)
2 sets3 sets4 sets
- 10 reps- 12-12
- 6 reps- 8-10
- 6- 8
Women: Women do not need to "pyramid" like men and may perform the
same number of repetitions per set.
1 set2 sets3 sets
- 16 reps- 12 to 20- 12 to 20
Weight: I often tell my clients that the amount of weight they are lifting is not relevant. This is for several reasons. Because you are changing your routine to keep your body "off guard" you may not be able to lift the same amount as your last work out. For example, if you started out fresh with a dumbbell press last week and lifted to failure with 4 repetitions of 60 #'s, and this week you did two sets of push-ups prior to performing the same exercise, you may only be able to lift 45 #'s for 4 reps. If you are lifting each set to failure you have reached the maximum load your muscle can take for X number of reps, and you can not go beyond that limit. This is your
primary objective, not to increase the amount of resistance. The amount you are able to lift on any given day is based on factors such as diet, rest between sets, prior activities, and stress. Do not get discouraged by the amount you are lifting. Concentrate on using proper form to muscle failure. Your first set should be used to warm up the joint and muscle and should be a comfortable weight. Use your first set to judge the progressive weight of your next sets. If your warm up set was very easy, and your goal is to lift 8 reps to failure on your next, you will know to adjust the weight accordingly. Once you get comfortable with your bodies abilities, selecting resistance will become intuitive. "Pyramiding" simply means matching the resistance to the number of repetitions. An example of pyramiding for 3 sets of 12-10-6 repetitions would be using 20 #'s on your first set, 25#'s on the second, and 30#'s on the third.
III. Advanced Training Techniques
There are several ways to stimulate muscle growth and endurance without
necessarily increasing resistance. These techniques are used to keep your body
adjusting and avoiding plateaus. It is important to note that each technique should
be used sparingly because it might be too intense to use on a regular basis, and may not give a muscle group adequate time to recover and repair.
It you are beginning to strength train I would avoid most of these techniques until you have adequate tendon, joint, and ligament strength.
1. Drop Set: Start with 1 warm up set. Select the amount of resistance you would normally use on your last set to failure. Lift to failure, drop 10% resistance, and lift to
failure and drop another 20%, lift to failure, drop 50% and do as many reps as you
can. You can do a drop set with four, three, two, or a single drop in weight.
2. Compound Set: A compound set is performing two exercises for the same body part back to back with no rest in-between. Ex. bench press / push up; preacher curl / hammer curl; triceps kickback / bench dip. Compound sets will quickly bring a muscle group to failure therefore it is unnecessary to perform multiple exercises.
3. Super Set: A super set works opposing muscle groups back to back with no
rest in-between sets. An example would be performing a bicep curl and triceps extension, leg extension (quadriceps) and leg curl (hamstrings), seated row (back) and chest press. Super sets are great for minimizing the amount of time needed to
4. Partials: Normally an exercise works a joint through a complete range of motion. Partials are used when the muscles are too fatigued to do a complete range of motion and attempt to squeeze the last bit of strength out of them. Once you have reached failure in the full range, complete several more reps to failure using the last half of the range of motion.
5. Negatives: You can accomplish just as much in the lowering or negative phase of an exercise as the positive or exertion phase. The negative phase for a bicep curl would be lowering the weight to the starting position. For biomechanical reason your muscles can accommodate 20% more resistance in this phase therefore increased weight and usually a partner are needed. Negatives increase the load on tendons, joints, and ligaments therefore I use negatives on only my most stable clients who have been strength training for some time. You can perform a form of negative resistance by taking as much as ten seconds to lower the weight. This is much safer and easier on the joint. Note that negatives are used for mass building not endurance.
6. Super Slow: When you work out you attempt to recruit as many of the fibers in a muscle as possible; at failure you are achieving maximum recruitment. The super slow method is an effective way to recruit muscle fiber without using a lot of weight. Simply take ten seconds to perform both the positive and negative phases of an exercise. You will want to use lower weight. The first few reps will be easy but the muscle will quickly begin to burn. Because the super slow method is tedious I do not recommend its' use in an entire workout. I would use this method sparingly in one set per body part.
7. Rep Sets: Your muscles are composed of mix different fibers, some are used for short bursts of power others for endurance. Generally speaking the power fibers hypertrophy, or get bigger than the endurance fibers, but the endurance fibers still can be worked. A rep set works a muscle group using low weight and high repetitions versus the normal mass building routine. I use a single rep set occasionally at the end or a workout for a muscle group.
8. Pre-Exhaustion: An example of pre-exhausting the chest would be to perform two sets of push-ups to failure prior to doing your bench press. I like to schedule pre-exhaustive outlines approximately every four weeks. Use light weight and high reps isolating the same muscle group you will use on your next exercise.
9. Burn Out Set: A burn out set is similar to a drop set. Perform your normal set group (ex 12-10-6) of an exercise, immediately following the last rep performed drop the weight in half and continue to do as many reps as you can to failure.
IV. The Exercises
Compound versus Isolation exercises: For the sake of simplicity we will assume your body can be worked in two ways, by tackling each muscle individually or by working a group of muscles at once. When we work an individual muscle or a muscle group that acts on a joint in the same manner, it is called an isolation exercise. Examples of isolation exercises for the legs are leg extensions (quadriceps), leg curls (hamstrings), and calf raises. Compound exercises work several muscles or muscle groups at once. Examples of compound exercises for the legs include squats, leg presses, and lunges which work the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps as well as a variety of smaller support muscles.
Once again I recommend using a variety of compound and isolation exercises. Sometimes I pre-exhaust my quadriceps with leg extensions making them work extra hard when I perform squats, or I finish my leg presses with hamstring curls to really make sure I got everything out of them. Alternate between isolation and compound exercises but remember the large compound movements should be the emphasis of your workouts.
About the Author
Matt Russ has coached and trained athletes around the country and internationally. He currently holds licenses by USAT, USATF, and is an Expert level USAC coach. Matt has coached athletes for CTS (Carmichael Training Systems), is an Ultrafit Associate. Visit www.thesportfactory.com for more information.
Return to Index
The Power of Stretching - Dave Snape
muscles ache from a good stretch. This is quite
normal and is part of the process. Stretching has
seemingly been with us and particularly with athletes
since the beginning of time.
A very key point to good stretching is to hold the
stretch for at least seventeen seconds. This is a
pearl of wisdom gleaned from a ballet teacher a few
years back. She said that any stretch under 17
seconds was just not effective.
The 17 second rule is exceeded in the high intensity
Bikram's yoga where stretches are held for about 30
seconds. Don't forget the high level of heat that is
used in Bikram's to extract that last little bit of
stretch out of your muscles. An interesting twist
is not necessary to gain benefits from stretching.
it can't hurt, right?
So what kind of benefits can you expect from
stretching? That's an easy one. Have you ever seen
movie, Blood Sport? Did you know that Frank Dux could
truly stretch his body to the extreme. The actor that
played him was quite elastic as well.
Great elasticity is also something you might see in
well trained Spetsnaz (Russian) agents. They often
out with Russian kettlebells too. They are for
strength gains and the ability to withstand ballistic
Why are stretching and flexibility considered
to these people? Stretching gives one the ability to
have explosive power available at one's fingertips
without the need to warm up. Of course most of us are
not martial artists or agents. But, you'll be happy
know there are plenty of other benefits.
Let me give you an example. After learning to sit in
the full lotus position for long periods of time, my
ankles became very flexible. One day I was walking
along and my left foot fell into a pothole. This
pushed my ankle sideways to about 90 degrees from
Amazingly, this didn't even hurt, not one bit. If my
ankle hadn't been so flexible, I may have suffered a
sprained ankle. At the very least, it would have hurt
Key point: stretching helps you to avoid injuries.
Not only that but if you do have a muscle, tendon or
ligament injury it should heal faster, theoretically
Stretching actually grows the ligaments, tendons and
muscles being stretched. They really grow longer over
Check with your physician before undertaking any type
of exercise, including stretching.
Here is some good
instructional material on stretching:
If you enjoyed 'The Power of Stretching' article, consider
signing up for my free email list below:
Email List Reveals health, fitness and wellness tips
- secrets and information - delivered directly to your
For under $3,977