Strength training is only one part of the overall fitness package but it is probably the most important. Through strength training, we can improve our ability to take on our day to day tasks, decrease aches and pain, increase our lean muscle mass, and even improve our mood.
All too often people use their strength training time to focus on small muscle groups that, while important, don’t improve our overall strength too much. For example, some people have an entire workout comprised of bicep curls, triceps extension, and lateral (side) shoulder raise. Did you know that by doing compound lower-body focused movement you are likely to increase your overall strength? (Cook, Movement, 2010)
Are you now asking what a compound lower body movement is? Well, the basics are squat and deadlift variations. Both movements are exercises that target different muscles in the legs but require upper body engagement. Because lower body exercises can be very energy-depleting, some people skip them thinking running or cycling is building muscle. When if fact running and cycling might actually burn muscle for energy. Especially when done in high volumes without the strength training component.
How do you even go about writing your own strength training program?
Here are the basics you need to know. A set is the total amount of consecutive repetitions of the movement, usually written out as sets x reps, i.e. 3×10. In this example you will end up doing 30 total reps split into 3 different sets with a rest in the middle of each set.
Now, how many reps and sets should you do? That depends on your goal. If you are just getting started to try to only worry about learning the movements, being mindful of your form and technique, and tracking your body’s reaction. Your mind and body have to build a better connection. For this learning, phase starts with 2 sets of 8-10 reps with 1-minute rest for most exercises. This should feel like a 60-80% effort.
Once your body has learned the movements and you are ready to challenge yourself with more resistance it is time to have different reps and set schemes in your workout. To increase overall strength you want to put in a lot of effort on the big muscle group movements and their variations. This means 3-6 repetitions for 5-6 sets with 2-3 minutes rest in-between. To increase strength it it important to aim for 85-95% effort meaning, if you had to you could only do 1-3 more reps. Hard stuff right here!
The next few exercises will focus on increasing muscle and strength together. For these movements, focus on 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions with 30-45s rest between each set. This is the heart pumping, sweat breaking part of your strength training session or 70-85% effort.
Once you hit your strength and builder movements, you can now accessorize your workout with those small muscle groups like triceps and biceps with a little more for muscular endurance and growth. This is 2-4 sets of 15 or more repetitions with very little rest.
Now you need to plug in the exercises:
- Strength focus:
- Squat: Goblet, Zercher, Barbell Front Squat, Barbell Back Squat
- Deadlift: Kettlebell, Trap/Hex Bar, Sumo, Conventional
- Bench: Dumbbell or Barbell flat, incline, decline, or floor press
- Pull Up: Prone (palms down), Supinated (chin up), Neutral
- Split squat
- Good morning
- Overhead press
- Romanian deadlift
- Lat Pull Down
- Lying Tricep Extension
- Front & Side shoulder raise
- Hamstring curl
There are 2 other components to work into your workout somehow some way: core work and carry variations. Instead of saving it for the end, core exercises can be done as a superset or paired with another builder. Carry variations are walking exercises while holding weight, i.e. farmer walk, suitcase carry, waiters carry, etc.
We can go into a lot more detail. The point here is to make sure you incorporate major muscle groups to your program and know that each exercise should not be done with the same reps and sets and weight-load. Our bodies do 5 different things every day: we pull, we push, we hinge, we squat, and we carry things around. Train all these movements and you will be a stronger you!
If you have more questions or are still not sure how to write your program you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more on strength and resistance training in our archive