Workouts for improving muscular endurance or strength must follow the principles just described. There are also other factors to consider, namely, safety, exercise selection, and phases of conditioning.
Major causes of injury when strength training are improper lifting techniques combined with lifting weights that are too heavy. Each person must understand how to do each lift correctly before he starts his strength training program.
One should always do weight training with a partner, or spotter, who can observe his performance as he exercises. To ensure safety and the best results, both should know how to use the equipment and the proper spotting technique for each exercise.
A natural tendency in strength training is to see how much weight one can lift. Lifting too much weight forces a compromise in form and may lead to injury. All weights should be selected so that proper form can be maintained for the appropriate number of repetitions.
Correct breathing is another safety factor in strength training. Breathing should be constant during exercise. The lifter should never hold his breath, as this can cause dizziness and even loss of consciousness. As a general rule, one should exhale during the positive (concentric) phase of contraction as the weight or weight stack moves away from the floor, and inhale during the negative (eccentric) phase as the weight returns toward the floor.
When beginning a resistance-training program, the trainer should choose about 8 to 16 exercises that work all of the body's major muscle groups. Usually eight well-chosen exercises will serve as a good starting point. They should include those for the muscles of the leg, low back, shoulders, and so forth. The exerciser should choose exercises that work several muscle groups and try to avoid those that isolate single muscle groups. This will help him train a greater number of muscles in a given time. For example, doing lat pull-downs on the "lat machine" works the latissimus dorsi of the back and the biceps muscles of the upper arm. On the other hand, an exercise like concentration curls for the biceps muscles of the upper arm, although an effective exercise, only works the arm flexor muscles. Also, the concentration curl requires twice as much time as lat pull-downs because only one arm is worked at a time.
Perhaps a simpler way to select an exercise is to determine the number of joints in the body where movement occurs during a repetition. For most people, especially beginners, most of the exercises in the program should be "multi-joint" exercises. The exercise should provide movement at more than one joint. For example, the pull-down exercise produces motion at both the shoulder and elbow joints. The concentration curl, however, only involves the elbow joint.
There are three phases of conditioning: preparatory, conditioning, and maintenance. These are also described in the Fitness Introduction section.
The three phases of conditioning are preparatory, conditioning, and maintenance.
A beginner should use very light weights during the first week (the preparatory phase) which includes the first two to three workouts. This is very important, because the beginner must concentrate at first on learning the proper form for each exercise. Using light weights also helps minimize muscle soreness and decreases the likelihood of injury to the muscles, joints, and ligaments. During the second week, he should use progressively heavier weights. By the end of the second week (4 to 6 workouts), he should know how much weight on each exercise will allow him to do 8 to 12 repetitions to muscle failure. If he can do only seven repetitions of an exercise, the weight must be reduced; if he can do more than 12, the weight should be increased.
The third week is normally the start of the conditioning phase for the beginning weight trainer. During this phase, the lifter should increase the amount of weight used and/or the intensity of the workout as his muscular strength and/or endurance increases. He should do one set of 8 to 12 repetitions for each of the heavy-resistance exercises. When he can do more than 12 repetitions of any exercise, he should increase the weight until he can again do only 8 to 12 repetitions. This usually involves an increase in weight of about five percent. This process continues indefinitely. As long as he continues to progress and get stronger, he does not need to do more than one set per exercise. If he stops making progress with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions per exercise, he may benefit from adding another set of 8 to 12 repetitions on those exercises in which progress has slowed. As time goes on and he progresses, he may increase the number to three sets of an exercise to get even further gains in strength and/ or muscle mass. Three sets per exercise is the maximum most lifters will ever need to do.
Once one reaches a high level of fitness, the maintenance phase is used to maintain that level. The emphasis in this phase is no longer on progression but on retention. Although training three times a week for muscle endurance and strength gives the best results, one can maintain them by training the major muscle groups properly one or two times a week. More frequent training, however, is required to reach and maintain peak fitness levels.
As with aerobic training, the trainer should do strength training three times a week and should allow at least 48 hours of rest from resistance training between workouts for any given muscle group.
Timed sets refers to a method of physical training in which as many repetitions as possible of a given exercise are performed in a specified period of time. After an appropriate period of rest, a second, third, and so on, set of that exercise is done in an equal or lesser time period. The exercise period, recovery period, and the number of sets done should be selected to make sure that an overload of the involved muscle groups occurs.
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