Resistance training: the fundamentals

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Offering a multitude of health benefits, resistance training is an integral part of most good workout programmes. Increased muscle size, strength and power as well as enhanced rate of recovery and reduced risk of musculoskeletal injury are just a few of the reasons why this form of training is so popular.

However, popularity invariably brings misconceptions. With so much conflicting information, it can be difficult to know where to start. The following provides an overview of the four fundamental principles of resistance training. If you’re keen to incorporate resistance training into your regime, or simply need refreshing on the basics, read on.

resistance training2Principle 1: Overload
Resistance training is any activity, action, movement or ‘stimulus’ which places your body under an extra load (e.g. lifting weights).

This action causes micro tears in the muscle and bone tissue which is why we feel sore for a few days following a hard workout (which is where the terms ‘Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness’ or DOMS comes from). Over the 24-48 hours following a workout, our body repairs the muscle and bone tissues back to its original state (referred to as homeostasis).

If we go through this process often enough, our muscles and bones will adapt to the training and begin to grow bigger and stronger. Resistance training is the continual process of muscle breakdown and repair.

Growth doesn’t happen overnight and can take months depending on nutrition and recovery but if we continue to place the body under load, it will adapt and grow.

Remember that the overload principle relies on frequency and regularity. In order to increase strength and size, we need to undertake resistance training regularly enough to allow the body to adapt to the stimulus. A good starting point for those new to this form of exercise is to train two-three times per week. Once you’re conditioned to that frequency, you can start to experiment with split workouts, different muscle groups, etc.

resistance training3Principle 2: Repair and Recovery
As mentioned above, it can take 24-48 hours (sometimes longer) for the muscles to repair following a resistance training session. The recovery process is facilitated by amino acids – the building blocks of our body which are obtained from the different protein sources we eat throughout the day. If we don’t have enough protein in our diet, the body takes longer to repair and reach homeostasis.

Allow your body enough time to recover – don’t expect to be able to work the same muscle group day after day. Use split programmes to target different muscle groups each day so that sore muscles are given adequate time to recover. If you don’t allow the body to recover properly, your performance will drop and the likelihood of injury will dramatically increase. With regards to nutrition, ensure that you are eating a well-balanced diet which provides sufficient protein intake to give your body the fuel it needs for recovery.

Principle 3: Periodisation
Periodisation follows on from the first two principles and is centred upon planning out your workouts, rest periods and training intensity to meet specific goals. Some people want to focus on developing muscle size or ‘hypertrophy’ whilst others want to focus on developing strength or power. Goals should dictate the structure of workouts and the number of sets and reps you aim to do.

The following set /rep ranges provide a basic guide:
•     Hypertrophy: 3-4 sets per exercise, 10-12 reps per set
•     Strength: 3-4 sets per exercise, 6-8 reps per set
•     Power: 2-4 sets per exercise, 2-6 reps per set

For beginners, hypertrophy should be considered as the base of your training. Your muscles need this base before you can work on strength, and you need to undertake a phase of strength training before you can work on power.

Note: The number of exercises per muscle group will depend on a number of factors, such as physical ability, previous injuries, experience with resistance training, etc. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you consult a fitness professional to ensure that your programme is suitable and safe.

Principle 4: Muscle Groups and Range of Motion
There are more than 640 muscles in our body, meaning that it can be hard to fit everything into a resistance training programme. To make programming easier, muscles can be split into major groups: chest, back, shoulders, arms, abdominals, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.

Range of motion refers to how far you flex (bend) a particular joint. The larger the range of motion, the more muscle activation you receive which leads to greater muscle breakdown. Remember the Overload Principle? One of the biggest mistakes made in gyms is when individuals shorten their range of motion by trying to lift too heavy too soon.

Those new to resistance training should start with a workout consisting of eight exercises, each of which targets one major muscle group. This will help keep your body balanced and will prevent overuse and postural injury. Ensure that you start with exercises that allow you to work your joints through a full range of motion. This typically activates multiple muscles and results in a more effective workout.

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