Training for Strength

Posted: August 19, 2012 in General Health

For those who aren’t familiar with different types of cycles or phases of training, the general guidelines are governed by the reps, sets, overall volume, and rest time between sets for each exercise. The National Strength and Conditioning Association classifies muscular endurance as 15 reps per set, hypertrophy (muscle mass growth) between 7-12 reps, and general strength between 1-6 reps per set. For each phase, the premise is that you are using a weight that is heavy enough that completing all of the reps for 1 set is challenging, and the last rep of the last set is very difficult. So for the strength cycle the weights would obviously be a lot heavier as you only need to do, lets say, 4 reps for 5 sets. Hopefully all of this information is review for you, but I thought I would include it as an introduction.

Since we are focusing on the strength today, I will delve deeper into that phase. Through my limited experience of working with people and observing the general population in the gym, I would say the strength phase is the most overlooked aspect of training. Any strength and conditioning coach working with high school, college, or professional athletes worth his/her weight in salt should have the strength/ power phase as the focus of their program. If you are in the camp that thinks, “That’s great Barrett, but I’m just trying to get tone, not bulky.” Good news. This won’t happen for women unless you are on steroids and for guys unless you do some serious hypertrophy training.


The Benefits

Finally, to the good part. Changing your workout every 3 to 4 weeks is a great way to challenge your body and increase gains for whatever your goal may be The popular marketing term you hear now is “muscle confusion”. The change in training stimulus is a great way to stimulate your muscle and your neuromuscular system. The stress put on your body is higher resulting in more energy spent in a shorter amount of time (think running sprints vs long distances). There is also the obvious fact that general strength is a great thing.


How to Get Started

Just like any new physical activity, it is best to ease your way into it. If you are crazy and enjoy 11 mile runs or have been doing body weight workouts, DO NOT go to the gym tomorrow and set personal records for your squat and bench. Take a few weeks of gradually increasing the weight and decreasing the reps. 5 reps x 5 sets is a basic beginners strength template that would be good to use if you have never done anything with heavier weights.

Most importantly, put your safety first. As the weight increases, there is always more of a chance of injury. Make sure you are using proper technique with the exercise and have a spot if the lift calls for it (i.e. squat or bench).

Because of the increased stress on your body, the overall volume of your training session should be reduced. For example, if you are used to doing a 3 sets x 15 reps scheme, that would be 45 total reps for that exercise. Work your way down to the 5×5 scheme and you are at 25 reps, almost half of the volume for that body part. Increase the rest time between the sets. 90-120 seconds is the recommended break for sets under 6 reps. Since there is less volume, limit the carbs you are consuming during your strength phase. Unfortunately, carbs is not the energy source used when completing a strength phase. That honor would go to creatine. Also limit the other activity or exercise during this time period. Your muscles and neuromuscular system will need proper time to recover from the additional stress.


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