As a Personal Trainer, one of my goals is to help people learn safer, more effective and efficient ways of exercising. Sometimes that means helping my clients undo bad habits that they have learned and teaching them proper foundational methods. It also means dispelling fitness myths and providing my clients, instead, with solid scientific or time tested practices.
In my last blog, I talked about common mistakes that I see in the gym everyday. In the weeks to come, I want to address some of these mistakes individually in order to give you a better and more complete understanding of how to correct or avoid them. Hopefully, the information that I am giving you will enable you to surge ahead towards your fitness goals.
One of the most common mistakes I see is lifting incorrect poundage. All too often, I see people trying to lift either weight that is so heavy that they can't perform a proper rep or weight that is so light that not a whole lot is being accomplished in their exercise. So, how are you to know what kind of weight you should be lifting and for how many sets and how many reps?
The first thing we need to understand is that there is not one workout "recipe" that meets the needs of everybody. I have to shake my head when I see trainers in the gym put five different clients through the exact same workout, exercise for exercise and pound for pound. Trust me....it is a common practice! Either these trainers don't understand exercise, or more likely, they have just gotten lazy and don't want to spend the time customizing a workout for each individual client. We are all unique creatures with different body compositions, gene pools, training experience and fitness levels and we each have our own set of goals and desired outcomes. Therefore, your program must be designed specifically for you!
Secondly, I want you to understand that there is some disagreement in the fitness world over the issue of sets and reps and how many to perform to achieve particular goals. Arguments range from one all-out gut busting set per body part to marathon muscle mashing sets. Every top body builder seems to purport their own method which works best for them and the proof is in their physique. Power lifters, from country to country, employ different training strategies that all produce positive results as seen in their record breaking lifts. Scientific studies continue to reveal new and better ways of exercising while the time tested training experience of superior athletes sheds other light on the subject.
So who is right? What works best? Let's start with the fact that we are all different and that each of us must be proactive in discovering what works best for us at the particular level we're at. What is also agreed on is that in order for exercise to be effective, you need to continually do more because you are literally forcing your body to change. And most of the fitness community would tend agree that there are particular set, rep and poundage ranges to work within to produce particular outcomes. These ranges have proved successful over time and will work very well for those of you who want to get in shape, stay in shape and continue to increase your potential.
So, when you go into the gym to do a resistance training workout, just how much weight should you be lifting and for how many sets and reps? I gave you some guidelines in my previous blog but today we are going to break it down even further. I want to help you to be able to design your own workout. By the time you get through this blog, you will be able to determine the number of sets, reps and the amount of weight you should be moving to start achieving the results that you are looking for.
The first thing that you need to determine is, "What is my goal?"
What is it that you are trying to achieve? Are you trying to lose weight? Are you wanting to add lean muscle weight to your frame? Do you want to be quicker and have more endurance? You have to determine where it is you want to go so that you can then map out a course for getting there. Too many people in the gym are getting nowhere because they have no direction. I don't want you to be that person! Define your goal!
Now that your goal is defined, let's begin to build a plan. The following chart will help you determine how many sets and how many reps you should be doing for a particular desired outcome.
Hypertrophy is the enlargement of muscle cells which in turn increases muscle size. This would be the goal that a body builder would be particularly interested in.
Strength is the ability to apply muscular force. The more force you can apply to a certain object, the stronger you are. Using the principles above, you will develop the ability to move greater and greater amounts of resistance.
Power is work performed per unit of time. It is a combination of strength and speed. Strength is the ability to move weight, power is the ability to move weight quickly.
You must understand that the above numbers are guidelines and that most people train incorporating a combination of principles. For example, if your goal is to lose body fat, you would use endurance training to get your aerobic workout but you would also incorporate hypertrophy training to build lean muscle mass since lean muscle burns fat. You might cycle these workouts during the week (one day endurance, another day hypertrophy) or you may do a four week cycle of each training method. It all depends on your ultimate goal and what you find over time works best for you.
If you are a beginner at resistance training, regardless of your goals, I would recommend you doing two exercises per body part and doing 2 sets of 15 reps per exercise. This will give you a workout that will begin to stimulate your muscles, strengthen your tendons and ligaments, get you used to working out and prepare you for training towards your ultimate goal. My recommendation, to anyone who is an intermediate in the gym, is to do three to four exercises per body part. So, if you are training for hypertrophy, you would do about 3 sets of 10 reps per exercise. That means you would be doing 12 working sets per body part (3 sets x 4 exercises). It is also important that you understand that warm-up sets are not included as working sets. A working set is a set where you are actually taxing the muscle.
So far, you have defined your goal and determined how many sets and reps you will do per body part to achieve that goal.
Now it's time to determine how much weight you should be moving. This can be determined by your One Rep Maximum (1RM). Your 1RM is the maximum amount of resistance that you can move through one repetition of an exercise in good form. You can approxiamately determine your 1RM using the following chart:
Let's say you want to determine your 1RM for the bench press. Warm up your chest with some light lifts. Then load the bar with a weight that you believe would be a bit difficult for you to perform ten reps. For example, you know that you can press 135 pounds for 10 reps so load the bar with about 10-20% more weight. We'll use 155 pounds. Make sure to have a spotter present and begin your lift. Push out as many reps as you possibly can. Let's say you were able to do six reps. From the chart, you will notice that six reps is 85% of your 1RM. Therefore, your 1RM would be around 182 pounds (155/.85=182).
Using your 1RM, we can now determine what weight you should be lifting. Since maximum power occurs in the 55%-85% range of your 1RM. your training weight should fall somewhere within those parameters.
The weight you will use for a particular exercise now depends on your training goals which you have already established. If you will be doing higher reps (endurance), then your training weight should fall on the lower end of the scale (55%-65% of 1RM). If you are training with lower reps (for strength or hypertrophy) then your training weight would be somewhere in the 75%-85% 0f 1RM range.
Let's say you are training for hypertrophy. Using our bench press example with a 1RM of 182 pounds, you should be performing about 3 sets of ten reps at a weight of 135-140 pounds (182 x. 75=136.5). If you are not able to perform three complete sets, drop the weight back a bit until you can. If you can perform 3 sets easily, then add some weight until it becomes work.
It is important to keep adding weight as you progress in your training. Using our above example, a good rule of thumb is that when you can perform 3 sets of 10 reps in good form three workouts in a row, then it is time to increase the load. A good rate of increase is 2%-5 % if you are an advanced trainee and 5%-10% if you are a new or intermediate trainee.
I realize that this is a lot of information with a lot of numbers! But I use these numbers effectively for myself as well as for my clients in order to maximize results, keep good progress records, to forecast potential, and to set new goals. If you feel overwhelmed by all of this, you can simply find weights that work for you by trial and error. The danger in this is that you may not progress as quickly as you would like because of improper poundage. Like I said before, the ladies tend to work with too little weight while men tend to macho it up and use too much. With the methods I have presented here, you will be able to find the correct range that you should be working in to produce the greatest results.
There you have it! Establish your goal, determine your sets and reps and apply the proper poundage and you will be on your way to seeing results like you have never seen before!
If you have any questions, need advice or would like to discuss your personal workout, feel free to contact me and I will be happy to help. Remember...this is about you!