Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Introduction to Working Out: Part 2 -- Resistance Training Focus

Having been running this blog for a year, I'm going to go right back to basics. This is going to be a brief series on general principles and methods of exercising, and as new year resolutions are right around the corner, this should be a helpful go-to guide. In it I'll cover:

Part 1 -- Goal Setting
Part 2 -- Resistance Training Focus
Part 3 -- Cardiovascular Training Focus
Part 4 -- Selecting Starting Loads
Part 5 -- Selecting Starting Exercises
Part 6 -- Warming Up
Part 7 -- Stretching

Resistance Training Focus

So, you've established your goals and figured out you're going to have to move some sort of heavy object/s to achieve them. Excellent.

You won't have to search very far to find information resembling the following as a guide for how to handle your resistance training based on your goal:

Endurance 15+ reps
Hypertrophy 6-15 reps
Strength 1-5 reps
Power 1-5 reps

As someone who's new to training, the above guide doesn't really matter a whole lot. Yep, I just said that. Right now, you could do 50-rep sets of an exercise, and you would get hypertrophy, strength and power out of it. Likewise, you could practice your 1RM (which I don't advise without strict supervision and strict definitions of what counts as a successful lift, basically determining technique degradation as failure) and get more power, muscle and endurance out of it. Heck, you could probably look at a barbell, imagine lifting it 3 days a week, and that would be enough to build more muscle mass.

Instead, the following is what you actually need to worry about:

- TECHNIQUE: This is going to come before everything else right now.
- SAFETY: This comes with both practicing good (or at least sensible) technique and using sensible workloads.
- PRACTICE: It's said that it takes about 300-500 repetitions with deliberate good technique in order to learn a movement pattern. Whether or not that's accurate, the main point is that you want to practice your movements a lot. A LOT.
- THINKING: Or lack thereof. As a beginner, you generally don't know how to move your body very well, which means that to make the above 3 things happen consistently, you're going to need to think a lot about your key cues for the exercises you're doing. You're primary goal is going to be to get to the point where you don't have to think as much about each exercise, to the point that you only need to focus on one cue and everything else just falls into place. Starting out you'll be thinking a lot; you want to get to the point where you're not thinking much at all.

Once you reach the point at which you don't have to think much about each exercise, you've reached the first level of mastery. Now it's time to start thinking about training specifically for endurance, hypertrophy, strength or power; or to advance to a more complicated exercise which builds on the skills you've just mastered.

Referring back to technique, safety, practice and thinking, a good starting point is often the upper end of the stated hypertrophy range, with beginner programs often advising sets of 12-15. If you're doing sets in that rep range, then the weight is going to be relatively light (compared to, say, 1-5 reps), which is relatively safe. The caveat to that is that you want to be practicing good technique and thinking through your cues on every rep. Your mental focus, and your control over both your prime movements and your supporting muscles throughout the range of motion of an exercise, will limit how many reps you can realistically perform. If you can perform 12-15 reps per set with consistent adherence to your main cues, I'd recommend it. If not, don't. Your ability to maintain technique will be the limit of how many reps you do, and of how much weight you use. So you might only be doing 5 reps of an exercise starting out, not because it's heavy, but because your technique degrades beyond that point. Practice those 5 reps, and then progress onto 6 reps, then 7, etc. Keep building up the reps, and building up your discipline with each rep. Now, looking at the estimation on how long it supposedly takes to learn a movement, once you get up to a consistent 12-15 reps per set, doing 2-3 sets you're looking at up to about 20 workouts before you're likely to have reached that first level of mastery. If you're doing a full-body program and you're doing the same exercises each time, 3 days a week, that's about 7 weeks before it might be time to start worrying specifically about strength, hypertrophy, power or endurance. Of course, it could take more or less time than this.

Point is, your primary goal right now is simply to learn movements -- increased strength, endurance, power and hypertrophy will flow naturally from this, simply because you're learning to do more than you could before and exert yourself in ways you're not used to.

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