woman holding weight behind head

When it comes to strength training there is a variety of options available – but why? And what is best to reach your specific goal?

The Basics

THE IMPORTANCE OF CORRECT FORM – THIS IS NON-NEGOTIABLE.

Choose your starting weight based on your ability to complete the move with correct form throughout.

  • Strength & Power
    • 1-5 reps per set
    • 80-90% of 1 rep max
    • 2-3 sets
  • Hypertrophy (Muscle Size)
    • 6-12 reps per set
    • 60-08% of 1 rep max
    • 3-6 sets
  • Endurance
    • 12-15 reps per set
    • >40% of 1 rep max
    • 3-4 sets
  • General Fitness
    • 8-12 reps per set
    • 40-60% of 1 rep max
    • 1-2 sets

Muscle Types

Slow Twitch Muscle Fibres

Type I produce long term contractions and are fatigue resistant to support aerobic activity, stabilisation, and postural control.

Think long-distance running and endurance training.

Anything that needs a steady pace to keep you going over long periods of time.

Fast Twitch Muscle Fibres

Type II produce a greater and quicker force but are quicker to fatigue.

Think sprinting and Olympic Power Lifting. Anything that needs a short burst of power and energy.

Concentric Movement – the 1st part of a move – think the lowering portion of a squat.

Isometric Hold – the end of the concentric part of the movement – think the hold at the lowest position of the squat.

Eccentric Movement – the return part of the move – think when you return from the bottom part of the squat to standing position.

Starting out – the weight you have is heavy and you can only achieve 1 to 5 repetitions in a fast 2 count concentric, 2 counts eccentric movement and firing up those fast-twitch muscle fibres.

When you repeat the exercise over consecutive sessions your strength increases due to desired muscle fibre tears and repair and you are now able to:

Increase repetitions.

Increase the 'time under tension’ of muscle fibres by increasing time in concentric, isometric, and eccentric movement – in other words, slow it down and add a hold which will also increase slow-twitch fibre involvement.

PROGRESSION: You can now achieve 6+ reps at a fast tempo (think 2 count lowering into your squat and 2 count to return to the start) you are moving into Hypertrophy where you are increasing muscle size.

As you increase muscle size and strength you will again begin to achieve higher reps of the exercise, and again begin to lengthen the time under tension of each rep by slowing down the concentric, isometric, and eccentric movement.

PROGRESSION: At this point, you need to assess –

What are your goals?

Strength & Power

Are you looking to continue increasing strength? Then go back to step one but with a heavier weight and repeat the process again.

Are you looking to increase your muscular endurance? Then continue with the same weight but to increase the number of reps you achieve by 1 or 2 in each set until you reach 15+ reps.

So that is the basic system of progress. But what happens if you do not have a wide variety of weights to move onto? OR you are not interested in building strength but want to build muscle size or muscular endurance only?

Muscle Size (Hypertrophy)

If you are only looking to building muscle size: You can increase the weight or complete are more challenging bodyweight move (ie from push-ups on the wall to box push up on the floor).

Choose the weight where you can complete 6 reps while maintaining good form.

Complete 3 sets to begin with.

As you progress, start to increase the number of reps you complete and then move onto slowing down the concentric, isometric, and eccentric movements. For instance, with a chest press:

  • CONCENTRIC - Lower the weight slowly down counting to 5.
  • ISOMETRIC – Hold the weight at the lowest point for a count of 5.
  • ECCENTRIC – Press the weight back up to the start position for a count of 5.
  • Finally, increase the number of sets you complete.

Once you can complete 6 sets of 12 reps using the slow tempo movement you are ready to increase the weight and repeat the process.

Endurance

If you are only looking to build muscular endurance: This can still relate to using weights or bodyweight exercises. For instance, you stick to the same weight or stick to the same type of push up you have been completing already and just increase the repetitions.

Choose the weight where you can complete at least 12 reps while maintaining good form.

Complete 2-3 sets to begin with a 3-count tempo for the concentric and eccentric movements.

As you progress, start to increase the number of repetitions until you can comfortably complete 30+ reps.

Now begin to slow down the concentric and eccentric movements and add in an isometric hold at the central point.

When you can complete 4 sets of 30+ Reps you can increase the weight.

But hey, maybe you are looking for increasing your general fitness.

General Fitness

If you want to build general fitness and lean muscle mass:

Choose a weight where you can complete at least 8 reps while maintaining good form.

Complete 1 set.

Complete with a 3-count tempo for concentric and eccentric movements.

As you progress, start to increase the number of repetitions until you can comfortably complete 12 repetitions.

Now begin to increase the length of time under tension by increasing the time spent on the concentric and eccentric hold and add in an isometric hold in the central part.

When you can complete 3 sets of 12 reps you can increase the weight.

This can still relate to weights or bodyweight exercise. As you can complete 12 box push-ups for 3 sets comfortably, incorporate 2 reps of the 12 in a knee push up position and then continue in your box form.

Continue this until you can complete 12 reps on the knees. Then repeat the cycle again on the toes!

In Summary

So now I have described all the technicalities, does it really matter?

IF you are training for an Olympic Lifting Competition or for a marathon then yes.

You will want to concentrate mostly on the strength and power or endurance side of things. But this will still need to be balanced out with some training in other areas for maximum progress.

IF you are looking to increase general fitness, no it does not. If your muscles get to a position of stress, where you feel that burn, then they are being sufficiently tested and will repair stronger and more durable.

When it comes to general fitness, particularly fitness at home, time available and equipment available are often the key factors.

If you do not have much time available and are looking for a short strength workout, bodyweight exercises are just as challenging as heavy weight exercises.

If you only have heavy weights available, keep the reps low to start and gradually increase over time.

If you only have light weights available, keep the reps high and incorporate some bodyweight exercise to fully challenge the muscles.

Think of it this way – 6 reps with a heavy weight completing hammer curls will give you the same burn as 90 seconds of light weight high curl reps will!

It is getting the workout done with great form that matters!

About LivFit

LivFit runs online fitness classes, and personal training sessions, for all abilities. LivFit owner, Zoe, qualified as a PT in 2015 and hasn't looked back since.

Zoe is passionate about healthy living and its benefit to body and mind. Get in touch today if you'd like to be stronger, fitter, and happier!