Benefits and Uses
Are you looking for an exercise routine that will make you stronger, healthier, and even better-looking? Then strength training might be an excellent physical workout for you.
Strength training, or resistance training, is a set of exercises that causes our muscles to contract. Muscle contractions happen when we force the muscles to ‘resist’ an increasingly enormous pressure. As a result, the muscles become bigger and stronger. Also, strength training improves our heart and joint function, and it boosts our metabolism. Thus, it can improve our overall physical health.
Benefits of strength training
Strength training can make us more physically attractive. According to research, people value certain physical traits in the opposite sex. For example, women find men with broad shoulders highly attractive — they see them as suitable partners. Not to mention that, combined with a narrow waist, those shoulders will surely be an even bigger hit among the ladies. We can achieve this combination with strength training.
When it comes to women, this exercise routine can help them improve muscle strength and firmness. Studies show that people only see us as attractive if we can display an absolute strength. For men, the most critical feature is physical strength. Furthermore, those who don’t shy away from strength training have much higher self-esteem. It makes us feel accomplished and more satisfied with the way we look.
Strength training makes our muscles and bones stronger. In turn, that improves our posture and joint support. That essentially means that we will be less likely to injure ourselves because our muscle and bone structure will be more durable.
Thus, the exercises are especially beneficial for older people. As we get older, we start to lose muscle mass. Our muscles atrophy and become smaller. With strength training, we can slow this process down a bit. The effects are quite significant, even for people in their 70s and 80s. With strength training, older people can slow down some effects of the natural process of aging. They can also improve conditions such as osteoporosis and bone fragility.
Get better faster
Strength training is suitable for people with disabilities or for those who are recovering from a stroke or surgery. It improves the strength of weakened muscles and helps us bounce back quicker, which is essential for a swift recovery. However, in these cases, specialized health professionals should organize and supervise strength training routines.
Excel at sports
Because strength training increases our muscle strength and endurance, all athletes can benefit from it. However, different routines work better for some sports. It’s essential to coordinate all physical activity, including strength training.
How we incorporate strength training in our workout routines depends on our goals. We won’t use the same equipment or follow the same plan if we’re focusing on endurance rather than muscle gain or pure strength. The basic formula of every routine is constant change. For example, we need to change not only the type of exercises, but also the force we do them with, how many times we repeat them, and the tempo. The point of routines is to avoid injury. Also, it aims to challenge muscles, so they get enough strength. There is a wide variety of recommended methods.
One of the most common ones is the one that the American College of Sports Medicine issued. If you trust the experts (and why wouldn’t you), the ideal routine has two or three sets of eight to twelve repetitions. Of course, we need to do this for each muscle group. Resting is also essential, and we can rest for three minutes after each repetition.
We need to set training goals so that we can plan how to achieve them. For example, if our goal is endurance, the most effective approach is to increase the number of times we repeat a particular exercise. At the same time, the intensity should decrease. For anaerobic endurance, we can stick to 13–20 repetitions, although that would limit the overall impact on muscle strength. For beginners, repeats can be tricky. If you’re in this category, work your way up from a single set. That is better for muscle strength and size. If you are an experienced athlete, multiple-set routines are recommended for better results.
The progressive overload method claims that we should challenge our muscles. This is done by lifting. We need to lift weights — as much as we are able and increase that weight as we progress. As a result, our muscles become more prominent and stronger, and in turn, we can lift even heavier weights.
This principle is considered risky for beginners at strength training. Sets that only have one repetition work well for growing muscle size. But, keep in mind that they are not suitable for developing strength and endurance.
So, it seems that beginners need an alternative to the progressive overload method. The best solution is to lift lighter weights but repeat the exercise more times. We can repeat each exercise until we have pushed our muscles to their limit. Or, we can stop just before reaching this breaking point. Of course, pushing ourselves too much is riskier and might lead to injury.
Weight lifting is a handy form of progressive overload training. We can adjust both the weight and the number of sets for each muscle group and according to our capabilities.
Split training is the practice of working specific muscles to their fullest. It requires at least three days of rest. What’s more, we don’t recommend working on more than two or three groups of muscles per day. Rest is also crucial. So, follow each set of exercise with several days of full recovery. While the exhausted muscles recover, other muscle groups can be trained. Advanced athletes use split training to push their limits and develop specific muscles.
Intensity, volume, frequency
There are specific crucial variables when it comes to strength training. Intensity indicates how much work we have to put in to complete a particular activity. Volume is simply the number of times we repeat an exercise, or it can refer to the number of times we work on a specific muscle group. Finally, frequency refers to the weekly number of training sessions.
The relationship between these variables is essential. They cannot be overloaded at the same time. Otherwise, serious consequences might follow. For example, increasing one usually requires decreasing the other two. Failing to do so involves the risk of injuries and overtraining. A low-medium-high method can be a great approach to avoid injury. For example, keeping intensity high, volume medium, and frequency low, and so on.
Periodization involves distributing our training programs into periods with different targets. It governs the relationship between the frequency, intensity, and volume that we develop over time. Its goal is to maximize the benefits of the training program and allow for recovery. Furthermore, periodization can be daily undulating, or linear. The daily undulating periodization constantly changes stimulation during training. The linear periodization gradually increases one variable only.
- Weight training
- Super Slow
- Isometric exercise
- Circuit training
- Wobble boards
- Hydraulic exercise equipment
- Swiss balls
- Pneumatic exercise equipment
- Resistance bands
- Gymnastics apparatus
- Indian clubs
- Other exercise machines
- Weighted clothing
- Weight machines
- No equipment at all (in the case of bodyweight exercises)
Aerobic vs. anaerobic exercise
Strength training is mostly anaerobic. Usually, during exercises, muscles would engage both anaerobic and aerobic metabolism. At greatest intensity, the anaerobic process takes precedence over the aerobic one. Weight training, in particular, is considered an anaerobic activity. This is because its primary goal is to build up strength. In the case of anaerobic types of exercise, repetitions are limited because the blood needs time to refuel the muscle fibers.
Circuit weight training
This is a set of exercises separated by brief intervals. To recover, our hearts have to put in a lot of work between workouts — this cycle is much like aerobic.
Specific muscle group training
There are ten muscle groups that we can focus on. Most trainers will start with the big lower body muscles. Then, we can move on to our upper bodies or the smaller muscle groups. It’s vital that we train the core body muscles before the shoulder and arm muscles. As a result, the waist muscles that stabilize the body are usually trained last. Also, training alternates between two sets of training exercises to allow for recovery. These are known as “pushing” and “pulling” days.
If we want to make our routines more intense, and if we’re looking to achieve more and progress faster, then advanced techniques should be our next step.
In drop sets, we “drop” the weight with each consecutive set. This should happen when we start to experience muscle failure.
Pyramid sets are named like that for a reason. We start by using light weights, and we repeat each exercise multiple times. Then, we lower the number of sets. We can also go for the reverse pyramid — heavyweights with a set number of repetitions. In the reverse pyramid, we decrease the weight, not the number of repetitions.
The idea behind burnout sets is to push ourselves until the very limit. Burnouts combine drop and pyramid sets. We can work with increasing weights with low reps or vice versa. When the muscles are forced in this way, they grow faster.
Here, we choose a weight that we can lift for 20 repetitions. Then, we perform 70 repetitions but try to keep the number of sets as low as possible.
With this method, we break an exercise set into many smaller sets. Primarily, we use it to boost muscle strength or hypertrophy.
This training routine involves four exercises targeting only one muscle group, performed quickly. The exercises are often performed until muscle failure. Since it puts a lot of strain on the muscles, it is mostly done by advanced athletes.
As the name implies, supersets maximize our efforts. We combine similar routines to push one muscle group to the limit. One of the examples is the bench press. And, like when you’re benching, there’s no rest in between.
The bench press is also an excellent example for a push-pull superset. So is the shoulder press. With these exercises, we employ the push-pull method. In other words, we combine exercises that are opposites and that trained muscle groups that don’t usually work in tandem.
Here we train one muscle group until we hit our very limit, and we don’t train anything else. Then, when we’ve reached the limit, we train the surrounding muscle groups and push ourselves even more. A good example is a relationship between pectoral muscles and the triceps. When we bench press, our triceps will fail quickly. So, considering that the triceps muscles and pectoral muscles help each other, if we perform the pec fly before sitting down on the bench press, we will pre-exhaust the pectorals. Thus, during the following exercise, both muscle groups will benefit equally.
Breakdowns stimulate various muscle fibers. It’s best if we do them in a setting with exercises that stimulate the same muscle group. For example
- 5x heavyweight
- 12x medium weight
- 20–30x lightweight
Forced reps require us to go beyond our breaking point. We need to push ourselves even after our muscles fail. Usually, an exercise partner can provide us with some help. After we go beyond our plateau, we can continue with the repetitions. However, not all exercises require a partner. If we do bicep curls with one arm, we can support ourselves with our other arm.
During cheat reps, our goal is to increase repetitions. Even though it’s not entirely safe, we can do this by ourselves. For example, bicep curls are a cheat rep exercise. During the exercise, we should position the load at the waist. Then, we need to swing the weight forward and up. We can use the momentum to help our biceps move the weight. As a result, we can lift greater weights. That is especially helpful during the concentric phase, which is quite tricky. Also, it prepares the muscles for the eccentric phase. In effect, this exercise prepares us for the next phase because it requires more resistance to the muscles. When training alone, we can do forced reps more efficiently — with the help of cheat reps; we won’t have to rely on a training partner.
Weight stripping a.k.a. Number Setting
During weight stripping, a weight trainer will slowly reduce the resistance. This will happen after muscle failure, at the end of a set. Trainers usually use easily adjustable machines. The technique is often employed when muscle failure occurs after normal resistance.
Negative reps need considerably heavier weights. First, the training partner lifts the heavyweight. Then, the trainer tries to resists the weight’s downward movement. However, you don’t need a partner for negative reps. You can always use a machine. For example, you can train limbs in sets — lift the weight with two legs but meet it with only one. Or, lower the weights at a lower speed than when you lift them — lift for two seconds, lower for four.
Partial reps can also be performed with bigger weights. They involve movement through a partial path of a regular exercise. For example, we can perform only a certain part of the repetition — the easiest one.
During burns, we mix partial reps to create a set of full range reps. As a result, we increase the intensity of the training. Partial reps can be performed at any part of the movement. Furthermore, they can be added at the end of a set or incorporated in the full range reps. For example, we should perform a set of biceps curls until we reach muscle failure. Then we can cheat the bar to the most contracted position. Finally, we should perform several partial reps.
Strength training can sometimes combine different training methods. For example, these can include weight training, plyometrics, bodyweight exercises, and ballistic exercises. The goal of this combination is improving one’s ability to apply explosive power. Better said, it helps apply one’s strength more quickly.
During loaded plyometrics, we add weights to jumping exercises. We can either hold or wear them. For example, jump split squats while holding dumbbells. Or hold a trap bar while doing vertical jumps. These exercises improve one’s explosive power.
Complex training alternates weight training and plyometric exercises. It is also known as contrast training. Preferably, both types of exercises should follow similar ranges of movement. We call this pairing of exercise sets a complex or a contrasting pair. A good example would be a set of heavy back squats, followed by jumping exercises. After the plyometric exercise, the nervous system gets activated. As a result, more muscle fibers get involved. Thus, performance power increases. Over time, the athlete will be able to perform the plyometric exercise independently. Complex training can also include a sports-specific action can be combined with heavy lifting. As a result, the athlete will act more effectively and with more power.
Ballistic raining maximizes the acceleration phase of an exercise. At the same time, it minimizes the deceleration phase. It is also called power training. That improves the explosive power of an athlete. Ballistic training can include throwing of weights. For example, ballistic training can consist of throwing a medicine ball or jumping while wearing a weight.
This involves alternating between heavy and light loads. For example, a heavy bench press set followed by a light bench press set. The heavy bench set is done quickly, while the light set is performed as quickly as possible. During the exercises, joints should be free, not locked. This allows muscle fiber recruitment and improves the speed of performance. We can replace the light lift set with a loaded plyometric exercise or a ballistic exercise.
Contrast loading is like complex loading. Here, the nervous system gets activated, and more muscle fibers get involved. As a result, this improves the power for the following exercise. We usually call this effect post-activation potentiation or PAP. For example, we lift a lightweight, followed by a heavyweight. Finally, we lift the lightweight again. As a result, the lightweight will feel lighter the second time. We can apply greater power thanks to the increased PAP effect from the heavy lift. As a result, the next lifting of the lightweight feels even lighter. Explosive power training programs often use the PAP effect to their advantage.
Risks and concerns
The goal of bodybuilding is improving muscle size and looks. As a side effect, bodybuilding also enhances muscle endurance and strength. Bodybuilding competitions have strict principles and strength training methods. The aim of those methods is usually the enormous muscular size and extremely low levels of body fat.
Unlike body-building, strength training does not try to reduce body fat levels. At the same time, it improves strength and endurance. Strength training focuses on complex exercises to build strength. In contrast, bodybuilders isolate and train specific muscles. Thus, their primary goal is to improve their definition and symmetry. In preparation for contests, bodybuilders try to keep muscle size while following a rigorous diet at the same time. To achieve that, they have come up with many strength training principles, methods, and traditions.
To be effective, strength training needs to be combined with dietary changes. Most importantly, dietary protein in a daily diet should be increased. This is crucial for building strength and the size of their muscles. Protein intakes of more than 1.6g/kg daily do not increase muscle strength anymore.
The kidneys release protein not used for cell growth and repair or energy. Studies have shown that there is no risk of kidney problems as a result of a high-protein diet. It might be an issue only in the case of preexisting kidney disease. Proper hydration during increased protein intake is necessary. This is especially important to ease the kidneys’ functioning. Furthermore, an ample supply of carbohydrates is needed as an energy source. Also, it is essential for the body’s ability to restore glycogen levels in the muscles.
We need to ensure that enough energy and amino acids are available to the body during an intense workout. Thus, we should consume a balanced and light meal one to two hours before the training. Don’t forget that the timing of the meal is also essential for muscle growth.
We should consume enough proteins and carbohydrates before and after the workout. Also, the meal type is crucial as it affects body reaction.
Furthermore, we avoid dehydration as it can impact our performance. Right after the workout, we should consume a protein and glucose shake. We need this to replenish the exhausted resources. The recovery drink should also contain hydrolysate and leucine.
A Few Parting Words
Training and increasing muscle growth is no easy task. It takes dedication, commitment, hard work, and resolve. Some people think that taking a shortcut in the form of anabolic steroids is the perfect way to achieve extreme muscle mass in a short time. However, the results surely bring more harm than good. Not only will steroids endanger your health, but they also won’t be as effective as you’d like them to be.
Therefore, strength training and muscle growth should only be pursued naturally.