Understanding Key Resistance Training Principles

Now that you realize all the benefits weight training brings to your life, you need to understand key resistance training principles to get started with your program. Once you comprehend these principles, your training becomes much more meaningful. Rather than simply going through the motions, you understand why you're doing the number of reps, sets, and exercises that you follow in your program. Here's a brief overview of all the essential concepts that you need to master.

  • Strength: Muscular strength is the maximum amount of weight that you can lift at a single time, known as your one-rep max. To improve strength, use heavy weights and do few reps. Strength training tends to build larger-sized muscles.

  • Endurance: Muscular endurance is the number of times that you can lift a sub-maximal weight over time before you can no longer lift it again. To improve endurance, use lighter weights and do more reps. Endurance training tends to build longer, leaner muscles.

  • Overload: To improve strength or endurance, you need to challenge your muscles or “overload” them to do more than what they usually do.

  • Failure: To achieve overload, you need to take your muscles to “failure.” When your muscle reaches failure, you cannot do one more rep of that particular exercise with perfect form.

  • Rest and Recovery: After your muscle experiences failure, it must “rest and recover” before it can do more work. Rest refers to the time in between sets, as well as the time in between workouts. For strength training, rest periods are longer between sets than for endurance training.

  • Specificity: Muscles develop “specifically” in response to how they are trained. For example, if you emphasize strength training, muscles will become stronger. Muscles become conditioned through the “SAID” principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand.

  • Reps: A repetition or “rep” is one completely executed exercise movement. For example, one pushup is one rep.

  • Sets: A set is a group of consecutive reps that you do without resting. In other words, when you do the last rep of your set, your muscle has reached failure.

  • Workout: A workout is an organized training session composed of particular exercises, reps, sets, rest periods between sets, and a specific exercise order.

  • Progression: As your muscles respond to overload and become stronger and increase their endurance, you need to progress or advance your program to continue to experience overload. This is referred to as progression. Always progress conservatively to avoid injury.

The frequency, duration, and intensity of your weight training refers to how many days per week you need to train, how long you need to train during each session, and how hard you need to train to achieve your desired results. These aspects of your training program depend on your goals. For example, a program to build strength emphasizes fewer sets and heavy weight loads. A program to increase muscular endurance focuses on multiple sets of high numbers of repetition and lower weight loads. If you want to achieve a combination of strength and endurance, your program would feature a mix.

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