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STRENGTH TRAINING- Key Concepts

Colton Tessener, ACE


Conditioning Specialist
COMPOUND VS. ISOLATION MOVEMENTS
A compound exercise is one which uses multiple muscle groups and moves multiple
joints (i.e. deadlift, squat, kettlebell swing) while an isolation exercise has only one
muscle as its prime mover (i.e. bicep curls, leg extension). A workout comprised of
nearly all compound movements is appropriate for most goals as they are the most
effective for building strength, improving functional movement, and burning fat. If
isolation movements are included in a workout they should come after all compound
movements.

REPETITIONS PER SET


Your goal will determine the scheme of repetitions, sets, and weight to use. High
weight that you can only perform 5 reps with is most effective for gaining strength
while lower weight for 15 reps is better for building muscle endurance. Think of
the number of repetitions as a spectrum, you dont work only one or the other. As
such, the range of 6-14 reps will be some combination of strength and endurance.
Always make your weight load match the goal repetitions! Whether I choose 3 reps
or 30 in a particular exercise, the weight should be proportional so that the desired
number is the most I could perform with the weight.

PROGRESSION
Dont fall into the trap of stagnation! Your body will only adapt in strength,
endurance, or aesthetics if you STIMULATE it to do so. Continued progress requires
that you increase the stimulus of your workouts as you improve. Do this by making
gradual increases in weight load, repetitions, set quantity. For endurance,
decreasing rest time is also a method of progression. When should you progress?
The simplest strategy is to progress when you can complete all reps with the
planned weight in all sets. If my plan is to deadlift 225X5 for 5 sets and I can
complete that, I have already adapted for that level of work and now need to
increase weight (to 235) or reps (to 6) in order to improve any further.

TARGET FAT LOSS


The most prolific myth of exercise is that resistance training for a particular area of
the body will cause fat loss in that region, this has led millions of people with the
best of intentions to poor exercise selection (i.e. crunches to lose belly fat). In truth,
fat is lost or gained throughout the body in a pattern dependent upon genetics,
hormones, and age. Overall body fat must be reduced to lose fat in any particular
area. The most effective exercises for fat loss are compound movements for large
muscles since they require the most energy and cause the greatest effect on
metabolism.

MYTH OF TONING WITH HIGH REPS


Another common misconception is that weight training using low weight and high
repetitions is the best for fat loss or tones a muscle. The reality is that the
appearance of having muscle tone comes down to how large the muscle is and how
much fat is between the muscle and skin. As stated above, the number of
repetitions only determines what sort of performance is enhanced; strength or
endurance. Heavy for few reps or light for many reps can both cause fat loss and
muscle enhancement. To promote a toned appearance, focus on losing fat and
growing/maintaining muscle.

SPLIT ROUTINE Vs. FULL-BODY


A common strategy in weight training is exercising muscle groups on different days
(Monday: Chest, Tuesday: Legs, Wednesday: Back, Arms, etc.). This is called a Split
Routine. Another alternative is full-body training in all sessions. Both have their
advantages and your strategy should depend on your goals and workout frequency.
If someone is weight training 5-6 times each week, a split routine is most
appropriate because it will allow for adequate recovery of a muscle group before it
is utilized again. This is most common in bodybuilding where trainees may want to
focus on the aesthetics of certain individual muscle groups. Full-body training,
however, is best for someone who will be weight training 2-4 times per week (every
other day) or is new to weight training. This way the trainee ensures that no muscle
group goes very long without working and progress in muscle development will be
more proportional throughout the body. Another factor to consider is that full-body
training with compound movements trains the nervous system to make muscles
work together in correct timing rather than muscles simply being individually strong
but unable to perform tasks requiring full-body coordination.

FREE WEIGHTS VS. MACHINES


While machines can be suitable in certain situations, training with free weights
(Dumbbells, Barbells) is almost always the superior strategy. Because the resistance
follows the path of gravity and requires controlled movement, free weight use more
closely mimics functional activities outside the gym. Additionally, free weights yield
more muscle activation because the user is required to not only move the weight,

but also to stabilize their body and control the movement with co-contraction of
stabilizer and assistor muscles. In comparison, a machine typically moves in a
predetermined path which isolates the primary muscle from others it should
naturally work in tandem with. While most users of fitness equipment see machines
as the safer option, injuries can easily occur when a machine puts you in a position
and movement path that doesnt necessarily fit your body.

WORKOUT A.D.D. and Variation


A common error that is made by trainers and trainees is what I call workout A.D.D.
To put it simply, it is making too many changes too often. While variety is necessary
to make your body adapt to training, it should be programmed over periods of 4 to
8 weeks to make your training most effective. Repetition of exercises and set/rep
strategy is necessary to get the most benefit from workouts because changing
exercises every workout prevents you from making improvement in any given
exercise. The physiological reason behind this is that the initial improvements in
performance are due to neurological adaption, the nervous system is being trained
to engage the right muscles at the right time. Studies performed by the National
Strength and Conditioning Association indicate that a particular movement must be
repeated a minimum of 16 separate times before it will illicit physical adaptation of
the muscle in addition to those neural changes. While variety is necessary to make
the body continually adapt, consider all the possible variables besides just what
exercise is performed. These are Sets, Repetitions, Tempo, Rest, and Intensity
(weight). Dont fall into the trap of moving away from a strategy before getting all
the benefits it can offer!

REST PERIODS
Make your rest periods an intentional, planned aspect of the workout that promotes
your goal. For building endurance with high reps, make your rest periods somewhat
short; around 30 seconds. For strength training which requires more force from the
muscles, a longer rest of 60-90 seconds is appropriate. If muscle hypertrophy is the
focus, you want a high volume of work to keep the muscle under tension; take rest
in the 30-60 second range. Bottom line: rest should correlate with the scheme of
sets and reps which you determined by your goal.