Use the following advice to create workouts that will help you achieve your exercise goals:
Staring a workouts without knowling what you want to achieve, what exercises you're going to do or how you're going to perform them isn't going to give you optimum results. To achieve your workouts aims, you need to design and stick to a specific programme. But you can't do that without understanding the key variables involved in how you perform each exercise and how you design your workouts. The main variables to think about are:
~ Repetitions - Also known as reps, this is the number of times you lift a weight or perform a particular exercise within a set.
~ Sets - Groups of repetitions performed back to back.
~ Rest - The inactive time you take between sets and exercises.
~ Tempo - The speed at which reps are performed.
~ Frequency - This refers to how often you perform a workout.
Once you understand these variables, you can decide how to use them to achieve your muscle-building goals. There is, however, no such thing as the perfect muscle-building routine. To understand that, you need to have a basic appreciation of what makes your muscle grow. When you perform resistence exercises you create microscopic tears in your muscles. Your body then respond to this stimulus and your muscle repair themselves to become bigger and stronger than they were before. But if you continue to repeat the same workout your body will stop adapting to the stimulus and your gains will plateau. To avoid that happening, you need to make sure you regularly alter the variables described above.
The exercise you choose to perform and the order in which you perform them will also have an effect on the result you see. This section will give you all the information you need to decide what reps, rest and tempo to use as well as a brief guide on how to order exercises.
The most common and effective methods of grouping exercises have been given workout names. These names tell you broadly what the session involves so, for example, a 'superset' workout will typically involve doing pairs of exercises performed back to back, resting between sets of pairs of exercises rather than sets of individual exercises.
It's worth noting that the following advice is a guide and that there isn't one perfect way to addressing workout variables. That's partly because people respond to training in slightly different ways and partly because strength and conditioning research is constantly evolving. But it's still rare that new findings challenge fundamental workout principles and the reason that conventions, such as performing multiple sets, exist is because there's substantial and credible sports science to back them up.
The number of repetitions per set you perform of each exercise is, arguably, the most important workout variable. The reps you choose to perform will affect all the other variables and they have a huge impact on whether the primary effect of your workout is developing muscle strength, size or endurance.
Strength coaches generally agree that certain repetition ranges have particular training effects. Low reps in the 1-8 range are best for building strength; between 8-12 reps is best for adding muscle mass and 12-20 reps will develop muscle endurance. These are, however, broad guides and are on a spectrum rather than self-contained blocks. Performing three or seven repetitions of an exercise, for example, will have a strength building effect but the seven repetitions will have more of a size development effect than performing three repetitions because it's closer to the size gain range of the spectrum.
In each case, to get the desired effect, you should aim to reach failure (the point where you are unable to complete another rep without compromising perfect form) at your target rep count on the final set of the exercise. If you reach your target rep and feel that you could perform more reps, you're not using a heavy enough weigth.
It's also important to remember that these rep ranges are general guides. Not everyone responds to resistence training in exactly the same way and even different muscles in the body can respond differently, depending on their functions. Slow-twitch muscle fibres (the smaller muscle fibres involved in long-distance endurance efforts), for example, will generally experience strength gains at a higher rep range than fast-twitch muscle fibres (the larger fibres involved in short, explosive movements).
Your level of training experience will also play a part in the results you see. Generally, people new to weight training will develop strength into a slightly higher rep range than more experienced exercisers.
The convention for standard weigth training programmes is to recommend doing 3 sets or 10-12 repetitions because that allows you to fatigue your muscles in a time that will maximise your training effect. Current guidelines from the American College Of Sports Medicine (ACSM), for example, advise beginners to do between 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.
The number of sets you perform should be directly linked to the number of repetitions you do. Generally the two should be inversely related so the mor esets you do, the fewer reps you should perform and vice versa.
Studies have shown that the most effective workout duration for strength and muscle building is about 45 minutes. After that, your training efforts can be counterproductive, because testosterone levels drop and stress hormone levels rise, so the number of exercises in your workout should affect how many sets you perform. If you include a high number of exercise in your workout you may need to reduce the sets per exercise you perform.
Your level of experience should also be a factor, If you're very new to training, you may want to consider doing one or two sets of each exercise to get your muscles used to performing the movement without overstressing them. As you improve, you can increase the total number of sets you complete. Experience lifters often get better strength and hypertrophy (muscle growth) results by doing higher repetitions. That's why the ACSM guidelines for advanced weight trainers suggest doing 3-6 sets of up to 12 reps to maximise hypertrophy.
The number of sets and reps you perform isn't the only variable that determines the training effect you'll get from your workouts. The speed at which you complete each phase of a rep also plays a part. Doing ten repetitions of a biceps curl, for example, as fast as possible won't have the same effect on you muscles as going the move slowly.
To maximise strength and size gains, conditioning research suggests that your muscles should be under tension for between 40 to 70 seconds per set, provided you're not using extremely low repetition ranges. Lifting in this way will cause you to use anaerobic energy, which produces lactate and prompts the release of testosterone and growth hormones.
It's also important to use the right lifting speed within a rep. To make sure your muscles are under tension for long enough, take one second to lift the weight, pause then take two to three seconds to lower. the reason you should take longer to lower the weight is that size gains are best made during the eccentric (lowering) phase of the lift. Taking your time will also help you recruit stabilising muscles, which protect your joints and support your bigger muscles when you attempt beavy lifts. Another benefit is that slower lifting takes momentum out of the exercise.
Some exercises, however, such as the snatch, have to be performed at speed because they require explosive movements to lift a weight that's heavy enough for you to get a training benefit. As with sets and reps, it's also important to vary the tempo, so try to avoid using the same speed for every exercise and every workout.
The rest you take determines whether or not you're able to complete the next section of your workout. As a rule, sets with few reps will require the most rest. This is because they train the nervous system and fast-twitch muscles fibres, which fatigue easily and the minutes when you perform very low reps of an explosive more with heavy weights. As you increase the number of reps you train your slow twitch muscle fibres, which are harder to fatigue.
Different exercises also require different rest times. Big compound moves such as squats and deadlifts require longer rests of about two minutes than single-joint isolation moves, which may only require 30 seconds rest between exercises.
Those new to weight training may need to take longer rest than move experienced lifters, who have a higher tolerance to the lactate produced during lifts. How much you weigh can also affect your rest times, with heavier lifters needing longer to recover between sets.
Essentially, your rest periods are effective when you can reach positive failure on the last rep of the set. This means that you are unable to lift the weight with perfect form but are able to lower it under control. If you don't reach that point by the end of your set, your rest may be too long.
It's also important to remember that rest is that same as any other training variable and that you should change the rest you take to stimulate your body into new muscle growth.
Selecting & Ordering Exercises
The exercises you should perform depend on what you want to achieve. Structuring your workout properly is important because various exercises place different demands on your body. Some work multiple muscle groups, whereas some isolate small muscle groups. The speed, pattern of movement and body parts targeted should all influence how you order your exercises. The following guidelines will help you to structure your workouts to maximise muscle growth and strength gains and to minimise injury risk.
Do big explosive moves early in your workout -explosive exercises such as the hang clean are very demanding so they need to be performed when you are relatively fresh. Do these moves either in your workout than simpler moves such as triceps extensions.
Do difficult moves first and easier moves last -Complete large muscle group moves, such as squats and deadlifts, at the beginning of your workout to make sure you keep perfect form and your core is strong enough to stabilise your body. Easier moves, such as biceps curls, should be done later in the workouts.
Keep your workouts balanced -Unless you are specifically doing an unbalanced workout (made up, for example, exclusively of pushing movements), try to keep your workouts balanced, So for every pushing exercise you do, you should do a pulling one.
Save core moves until last -If you do core moves early on in your workout you'll fatigue the muscles. When you then come to do big dynamic lifts, such as lunges, that call on your core to stabilise your movement, they may not be able to provide adequate support, which can increase your injury risk.
How many workouts you do per week is often influenced by work and family commitments. The good news, if you lead a busy life, is that you don't need to work out seven days a week to see great results. Doing from three to five workouts per week should be sufficient to achieve your workout goals.
Exactly how many sessions you do depends on a number of factors. One thing that should influence training frequency is what sort of workouts you're doing. A hard fully-body session may mean 48 hours between sessions in order for your muscles to recover and repair themselves to be stronger then before. If you're focusing on a particular body part each workout, you may be able to train the following day if you work on a different body part.
One common mistake is to think that the more workouts you do, the stronger and more muscular you'll become. In fact it's while you're resting, rather than while you're working out, that your muscles get bigger and stronger. If you stress your muscles before they've had a chance to repair themselves thsi may cause what's known as overtraining, where you lose strength and muscle mass and feel lethargic.
Some muscle groups take longer to recover than others. Larger muscle groups, particularly those with a comparatively higher percentage of fact-twitch muscle fibres, such as the hamstrings, may take longer to recover than smaller muscle groups such as the calves.
Doing big compound lifts such as deadlifts also places more stress on you nervous system than smaller lifts, such as wrist curls, so you'll need longer to recover. You should also take longer to recover from intense sessions, where you do low reps of heavy weights, than you do from endurance and stability sessions, where you do high reps of light weights.