There are so many different opinions and ideas within this area of fitness, that it can seem confusing to the average gym goer, or often appear to be contradictory.
New buzz words and training fads come and go, but what is the correct and most ideal way to perform strength training, and how do I know which one is best for me, or my client? This is the million-dollar question.
Before anyone starts training, a series of questions need to be asked. A good personal trainer, or strength and conditioning coach, will always have a preference, or set of guidelines they adhere to. In this article, I will give you a brief insight into my personal thought process, focusing on resistance training as the most common tool to improve strength.
There is always a place for new ideas and modern practices, but my fitness philosophy always returns to the basic-fundamentals, by getting this right the desired results will surely follow.
The way we resistance train defines the results we are going to achieve, but the basic-fundamentals should always be applied no matter what our end goal may be.
Perfect form - How we perform movements is essential. It is important not only for the isolation of muscle groups, but it can also help in preventing injuries. I witness many people within the gym only concentrating on the concentric phase of muscle contraction, this counts for only half of the muscles work load in its full range of movement, resulting in limited results.
By working the eccentric contraction (lengthening of the muscle fibres), slower and under control for all types of training, greater gains in muscle density and strength can be obtained, as the muscle contracts throughout the full range of movement. Even with a slow eccentric contraction, power can be improved through an explosive concentric phase, making sure the transition from eccentric to concentric phase happens smoothly and vice versa.
Primary, synergists and antagonists – With any type of resistance training, it is imperative that we try and achieve equilibrium when it comes to our body shape.
I am a strong believer that all muscles should be worked equally hard, with equal intensity, thus preventing muscle imbalance, and poor posture.
I notice many people like to train chest more frequently than any other muscle group, often neglecting their back, limiting their exercises to Lat pull downs and bent over rows.
There are more muscles in the back than in the pectoral region, thus requiring a variety of exercises to achieve this equilibrium. The way I simplify this is to look at the specific movements performed by the muscle group, working the antagonist muscles equally as hard as the primary mover, and replicating the movements in the opposite way by reversing the process e.g.
• Shoulder press (primary movement for deltoid)
• Lat pull down (antagonist movement for shoulder press)
• pectoral flies and bent over lateral raise
• Chest press and bent over bar row
The best results can be achieved through splitting this routine, and working on preference, based on time constraints.
Symmetry – This is essential in maintaining good posture and preventing muscle imbalance. The mirrors are not just there to admire one’s abs or biceps, but to ensure muscle movements are symmetrical. A good spotter is also very useful here, in order to correct and adjust individual movements.
Intense training - Sessions should be short but intense, lasting no longer than an hour ensuring rest periods are regulated effectively. The length of these rest periods will vary depending on what results you are trying to achieve, but regulated throughout the session.
Rest and recovery – Give muscles sufficient time to repair and recover, allowing hypertrophy to take place. Feed your body with the right and sufficient amount of nutrients, such as protein and carbohydrates. Protein is needed for cell growth and repair with the recommendation being 1.4 to 1.8 g of protein per kg of body weight per day. An adequate supply of carbohydrates (5-7g per kg) is also needed as a source of energy, and for the body to restore glycogen levels in muscles. This is just as important as the lifting itself.
To train for strength effectively, one must manipulate the number of sets, reps and weight effectively when performing lifts. The way you do this will be what sets it apart from other forms of training, and can be measurable. An exercise on a muscle group should consist of between one and five sets, with the aim to achieve between 1 and 6 repetitions, depending on the method used.
We could get complicated here and talk in terms of percentages, but the weight lifted should be enough so that you can just about perform the desired amount of repetitions per set, with maximum effort.
Improvements in strength can then be obtained through the principle of training known as progressive over load. In its simplest form, this is when you increase weight, intensity or frequency of the individual workouts once milestones have been reached, in order to obtain the long-term gains in strength.
To keep the body guessing periodization on a daily basis can be used, and achieved, using techniques such as pyramiding, drop sets, and burn outs, but there are many different ideas and formats to shock the system.
Athletes should use methods that mimic the sport or activity they are participating in by adjusting sets, reps and weight accordingly to suit specific needs.
As a practitioner myself, I sometimes get frustrated when fellow professionals insist on their specialism being the most effective and only way to train. I believe in simplicity, combining ideas and practices that work for me and my clients, this is often found in the simplest of forms. I understand this isn’t new and ground breaking information, but it amazes me when I visit and teach in gyms how people neglect the basics.
The philosophy is that there is no wrong or right way to train, providing the basic principles and fundamentals are applied. The importance of doing this is the real key to achieving those goals.
If you want to hear more from Mark, read up on his outlook on supplements here, and what he uses to enhance his diet and training.