So here’s a scenario for you: you have made the decision to get in shape for the first time, or it has been several years since your last attempt. You head to the gym and grab a copy of the latest fitness magazine on your way. When you get there and flip open to the latest and greatest workout, guaranteed to get you into the best shape of your life in only 5 minutes a day, and still allowing you to eat whatever you want…*gasp* What this guaranteed workout is leaving out is that the exercises it utilizes are intended for advanced lifters and not at all suited to a novice lifter. Where does that leave you? You still don’t know what to do while in the gym. Let’s get to that now.
When designing a starter workout, the first question you need to answer is: what is my goal? Is it to lose weight, gain muscle, get stronger, increase flexibility? The structure of the program needs to reflect that goal, as well as your current training status. The rest of this article will briefly discuss training splits, exercise selection, training intensity, volume, and rest. Proper nutrition is extremely important to any exercise plan’s success, but is outside the scope of this article.
A program’s split refers to what you are doing on each day (e.g. cardio or weight training) and the muscle being worked. When looking to lose weight, focus on total body, large muscle group exercises. By doing that, you will burn more calories with each workout and keep your metabolism raised for a longer period of time.
When first starting out, your workouts should be less than 60 min (no marathon workouts). To get the best bang for your buck, use more multi-joint exercises (bench press, shoulder press, squats, deadlifts) and their variations and less isolation exercises (bicep curl, calf raise, leg extension). Multi-joint exercises will allow you to work more muscles in less time. During your workout, always work from more complex exercises to less complex exercises.
Training Intensity and Volume
These two factors are tied together. Intensity is basically how hard a weight is for you to lift, and volume is how many repetitions you do during your workout. When selecting a weight to use, remember the last 1 or 2 reps of the set should be difficult. If the last few reps are too easy, your body won’t be forced to adapt. For weight loss, the workout intensity should be low to moderate with high volume (15-30 reps, 2-3 sets). To gain muscle, intensity should be moderate and the volume should be moderate (5-12 reps, 3-5 sets). For strength gain, intensity should be high, and volume should be low (1-5 reps, 2-4 sets).
Rest is often the most overlooked training variable but can have one of the greatest effects on the outcomes of a plan. The amount of rest in between sets can dictate the type of fuel your body uses during the workout and the adaptations to your muscles in response. Rest between sets for weight loss is 15-60 sec; muscle gain is 45-90 sec; and strength is 90sec-3min.
In a future article I will discuss cardio programing and how it can complement your strength training. If you have any questions, leave me a comment and I will do the best I can to try to answer them.