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Weight Training Principals

From eDiets - The online diet, fitness, and healthy living resource

How Often, How Long... The Joy Of Fitness!

Manipulating sets, repetitions and recovery is one of the most confusing subjects for beginning and intermediate weight trainers. The following is a series of questions I recently received from an eFitness subscriber concerning how to manipulate sets and repetitions within a workout. They speak volumes concerning the confusion many experience in this regard.

How do I know the amount of repetitions and sets to perform in my workouts? Do I perform different sets and reps for endurance versus muscle? Does weight training work against cardio training? Does cardio training actually undo what weight training has done? Can more muscle sometimes be too much? Does more muscle actually act negatively against endurance? When training, how long does it take for a muscle to rebuild? Sorry for all the questions, but I jumped at the chance when you asked for suggestions for newsletter articles, and I’ve been wondering about this for a long time.

As in most cases, once you understand the formula and fundamentals of a subject, the remainder becomes clear. I'm going to outline the fundamentals of sets and reps. Hopefully, by the end you’ll say, "Aha, now I finally understand."

When designing a fitness program, the first question that absolutely must be asked is, “What is my goal?” I see countless people in gyms every day doing the same exercises day in and day out. No wonder so many people find exercise boring! They make it boring! You must analyze the most efficient method to get you to your goal. The goal becomes a plan, the plan becomes a process and the process leads to success. It works like magic.

There are four different training parameters that will assist you in determining the proper amount of sets and reps for your own specific goals. Let’s take a look at each of them:

1. Muscular Endurance -- This individual is a long distance runner, cyclist or tri-athlete. They are not concerned with adding muscle the way a bodybuilder would. The goal is to improve the muscle endurance fibers, also referred to as slow twitch fibers. This person should use 55-65 percent of their one-rep maximum. In other words, if they can perform 150 pounds for one rep on the bench press, their working weight would be 85-100 pounds.

I advise 2-3 sets per exercise, performing 20 total sets for the workout. Approximately 15-17 reps is the best range for this individual. I don't advise more than 17 reps, because the muscle requires some degree of overload, even for endurance athletes. The pace of the workout should also be brisk, resting no longer than 30-45 seconds between sets. The whole idea is to keep the weight relatively light, and the reps high with minimal rest between sets in order to continually train and challenge the endurance of the individual.

2. Hypertrophy -- Increase in muscle size! If you're interested in putting on muscle, read carefully! This is where you belong. The individual whose goal is hypertrophy should use 70-80 percent of their one-rep maximum in order to increase the size of the muscle fibers. Once again, using the bench press as an example, if your one-rep maximum is 150 pounds, then you should use 105-120 pounds as your working weight.

The goal is to perform 7-12 reps for 3-5 sets per exercise. The total number of sets per muscle group (chest, back, etc.) can be anywhere from 5-12 depending upon experience and recovery ability -- as well as the size of the specific muscle group being worked. For example, chest may require 9 total sets, but biceps may require only 4. I don't recommend more than 15 total sets for larger muscle groups even for experienced bodybuilders. The goal of hypertrophy is to stimulate a muscle, not annihilate it.

Just remember, the more damage you inflict on the muscle, the longer the recovery period between workouts. Concerning time between sets, I recommend one to two minutes. It’s important to give the muscle a bit of time to recover in order to use additional weight loads. If your goal is to put on just a bit of muscle, then stay in the higher rep range. However, keep in mind that a muscle cannot change unless it is overloaded. In addition, for maximum muscle, cardiovascular activity must be kept to a minimum. The body functions most efficiently when it has one goal at a time.

3. Strength -- If strength increase is the goal, select a resistance that is approximately 85 percent of your one- rep maximum. Continuing with our bench press example, if your one-rep max is 150 pounds, then you should use a weight that is approximately 130 pounds. The repetition range will be about 4-6. In addition, sets will be 3-6 per exercise, with total working sets for the entire workout being no more than 20-25.

It’s also important to take ample rest, waiting 3-5 minutes between sets. This is a very demanding workout with high levels of intensity and an excellent method for athletes who need to increase overall strength. When one handles excessive weight in this type of routine, proper form, technique and a spotter are necessary in order to prevent injury.

4. Power -- For those looking to increase power, use resistances that are at 85 percent of your one-rep max range. The individual seeking power will occasionally perform a one-repetition maximum lift to test absolute power. Powerlifters tend to focus on the bench press, deadlift and squat as their main exercises.

On the other hand, an Olympic weightlifter tends to fall into a different category. They focus on exercises such as The Snatch, Clean and Jerk, and Clean and Press, all of which are extremely difficult and require technical proficiency. Do 1-5 repetitions with 5 minutes rest between sets, performing 3-5 sets per exercise. I recommend no more than 15 total sets. Once again, proper form, technique and a spotter are essential.

Depending on your goal, you may also wish to mix some of the above parameters into your workout scheme. I tend to train in phases where I perform hypertrophy training for nine weeks followed by a nine-week strength phase. Every fifth week, I take an active recovery week, performing light training in order to not over train. This helps keep me psychologically stimulated.

If you incorporate any of the strength or power moves into your training, just make sure to perform them first during your workout. Keep in mind, the effectiveness of a routine will always be determined by your individual genetics, nutrition, stress levels and sleep patterns.

I hope this clarifies some issues related to sets, reps and recovery time, and I wish you well in your own individual health and fitness goals.

A competitive bodybuilder and former 2001 Mr. Connecticut, Raphael is a veteran of the health and fitness industry who specializes in a holistic approach to body transformation, nutrition programs and personal training. He earned his B.A. in Communications from Southern Connecticut State University and is certified as a personal trainer with ACE and APEX. In addition, he successfully completed the RTS1 program based on biomechanics.

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