Want to do some weight lifting, but have no idea how to make your workout effective? Get these four basics down and your resistance program will take off!
When it comes to improving your health, performance, and physique, there's no doubt that resistance training is vitally important—perhaps more so than any other form of exercise. While it seems the word is getting out about this, and more and more first-timers are stepping into weight rooms to strengthen their bodies, there is a still a large gap between knowing strength training is important and knowing how to go about it effectively to achieve the results you're after. While there are many popular programs out there that will help a new lifter get started, there are four important components that any program should have to maximize the chances of long term success.
4 Essential Components of a Resistance Program
1. The Foundation Exercises:
While getting some variety in your program is important, many popular programs put too much emphasis on variety and not enough on the basic exercises that have been shown for decades to produce long term positive changes in the human body. These exercises can be broken into the following three classes:
- Presses: Bench press with a barbell or dumbbells, using a horizontal, incline or decline bench. Overhead presses with a barbell or dumbbells, and all manner of pushups and dips.
- Pulls: Vertical pulls such as pull ups and cable pull downs with all grips, rows with a barbell, dumbbells or cables, and deadlifts.
- Legs: All varieties of squats and lunges.
For a program to be well rounded, it must contain at least one or two exercises from each of the above three classes. These movements will elicit the greatest gains in functionality, performance, and physique improvement in the shortest time, every time.
2. A Practical Schedule:
There are an infinite number of ways to schedule your workouts into your weekly routine, and while many of them work just fine, some are certainly better than others. A workout schedule should not just look good on paper, it should fit into your lifestyle well, be enjoyable rather than monotonous, and most importantly, it should be effective. In my experience, there are two ways to structure strength training workouts that will meet all the aforementioned guidelines: total body training and split training.
- Total body training focuses on working the entire body in each training session. This style of training is great because it allows you to spend fewer total days in the gym while still training each muscle group regularly, and it also burns a lot of calories. The downsides are sessions may run long and the workouts tend to be grueling.
- Split programs focus on breaking the body up into different muscle groups which are worked in separate training sessions. This allows you to get more variety during your week, which will prevent boredom, and each individual training session is generally shorter and less strenuous than working the entire body. Some great split routines to try out are Upper Body Day/Lower Body Day and Push Muscles/Pull Muscles/Legs.
3. Adequate Frequency:
The frequency with which you train the different muscle groups of the body can have a huge impact on your results, yet is often times overlooked. For all but the most advanced of trainees, a given muscle group is generally recovered and able to be trained again within 48 to 72 hours after the previous training sessions. This means that any program training each muscle group less often is missing out on a lot of potential workouts, and thereby slowing results.
A good rule of thumb given the above time frame is to train 2 to 4 times per week with a total body program, or 3 to 5 times per week with a split program to make sure you're hitting each muscle group often enough to maximize results while still recovering properly. Just remember, the more often you're training hard, the more mindful you must be about adequate recovery and injury prevention.
4. Periodization (Changing the workout over time):
We can all intuitively guess that doing the exact same program week in and week out will eventually lead to stalled progress, frustration, and boredom, and the latest exercise science supports this. The way to ensure sustainable progress over the long run is to make sure your program utilizes some form of periodization, or changing of variables over time to allow continued progress. There are many forms of periodization and most belong in a strength and conditioning textbook.
The basic concept is very straightforward: set short term goals on a regular basis and vary your program in order to reach them. This could entail spending a month working with heavier weights to get stronger on a certain exercise, changing the rep range week to week, or even reducing your rests between sets every week to see how quickly you can get through a set routine. The possibilities are endless, but including some sort of periodization in your program will keep your workouts fun and lead to lasting results.
While it seems there's a new great exercise methodology hitting newsfeeds every few months, the above tenants will always be true. Strength training is extremely beneficial, and to get the most out of it make sure that the program you choose to follow includes the foundation exercises, a practical schedule you can easily adhere to, adequate frequency to stimulate progress, and some sort of periodization to keep you progressing over the long haul.
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