Strength is a measure of how much force your muscles are able to produce. You can increase your muscles' force production with regular weight training. Over time, your muscles adapt to lifting the heavier loads and gradually get stronger. Your strength workout will vary depending on your training level. If you’re just starting out with strength training, begin by mastering exercise technique before lifting heavy weights. More experienced lifters, however, will need to adjust their training intensity to experience strength gains.
Training Volume for Strength
If you’re just starting to strength train, take the time to learn exercise technique and to allow your body to adapt. For the first two months of training, use light weights and perform one to two sets of each exercise, with each set consisting of eight to 15 reps. Rest one minute in between sets.
Once you've consistently trained for eight weeks, transition into a more advanced workout designed for building strength. Perform two to six sets of four to eight reps of each exercise. The low number of reps allows you to use heavier weights, which is ideal when you're focused on building strength. Rest two to five minutes in between each set. When you lift with heavier weights, you work your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which fatigue quickly and need more recovery time.
Significance of Intensity
The weight that you use for each exercise will make a significant impact on your strength gains. If you do sets of four to eight reps but do so while using a weight that’s too easy, you won’t provide your muscles with enough stress to force them to adapt. Select a weight for each exercise that allows you to do at least four reps but makes it difficult to complete any more than eight. If you get to the eighth rep and you could easily continue, you should be using a heavier weight.
Select eight to 10 exercises to include in your workout. Put together a collection of exercises that target all your major muscle groups, including your gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major, deltoids, biceps brachii, triceps brachii, rectus abdominis and erector spinae. A workout that contains squats, leg curls, calf raises, chest presses, shoulder presses, rows, biceps curls, triceps extensions, crunches and back extensions will work all the major muscle groups. You can tailor your workout, however, if there are particular muscles you’re looking to strengthen. For example, if you’re mostly interested in strengthening your legs, you could substitute lunges for biceps curls and deadlifts for triceps extensions.
Your strength workouts should be performed two to three days per week. Spread your workouts out throughout the week so that there’s one to two off days between each one. The rest days in between your workouts are when the muscle tissue tears heal and your muscle increases in strength. Strength training on back-to-back days prevents your muscles from adapting and thus limits your strength gains. As you advance, you could potentially get to the point where you're lifting extremely heavy weights. If this is the case, you may find you need at least two days off in between workouts for your muscles to heal and not feel fatigued.
- American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine: Begin a Strength Training Program
- NSCA’s Performance Training Journal: Basics Principles of Strength Training and Conditioning
- American Council on Exercise: When Strength Training, Is It Better To Do More Reps With Lighter Weights or Fewer Reps With Heavier Weights?
- Men's Health: How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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