An effective training plan is comprised of several key variables to ensure you are progressing and not regressing. It’s funny how many people go to the gym and think they can just do what they feel like doing that day and expect to get results. If you only did what you felt like doing, you wouldn’t see much progress. The point of training and going to the gym is to challenge your body and force yourself out of your comfort zone. Force yourself to perform in new, challenging ways to create an adaptive response in your muscles. Make them work in ways they aren’t used to so they breakdown and repair stronger.
Here are seven training variables for strength and hypertrophy.
If you’re gonna do something, do it right. Don’t half ass the gym because you will get half assed results. Anything that requires effort to achieve, requires frequency and consistency. Twice a week for 45 minutes isn’t going to cut it for most people. Even if you’re putting your body through hell with two brutally intense workouts every week, there are still a lot of hours left over to screw things up. That’s not to say that you need to live in the gym if you’re hoping to see any results, that’s actually not true at all. But there has to be a level of frequency where you are consistently training your body to perform in new, challenging ways. Four moderately intense workouts spread out over the week is a smarter approach than two overly intense workouts.
Similar to training frequency, training intensity depends on the type of program you’re following. If you’re just starting out at the gym and are looking to improve your general health while losing a bit of weight, intensity shouldn’t be your focus right now. An individual that is new to the gym should aim at getting to the gym, moving, sweating, and repeating that consistently until it is a lifestyle habit. Intensity should be taken into consideration when you have been going to the gym consistently and are aiming at more specific goals in the gym. Getting stronger, adding muscle, preparing for a competition, or performing better at your sport are all focused directions that require certain levels of intensity during your program.
The length of your workouts will vary depending on the goal of the session. When athletes max out or are working with high volume, submaximal weights, training sessions tend to last longer due to warm up sets and longer rest periods (sometimes up to two to three hours). Conditioning or auxiliary training should be no longer than about an hour as the goal of the workout is to fine tune the body with light resistance exercises to strengthen the supportive muscle groups.
Simply put (in regards to weightlifting and powerlifting), volume is how much work has been completed in a given training session. Strength and muscle development require athletes to complete high amounts of volume in their training sessions in order to sufficiently break down muscle fiber and stimulate muscle fiber activation for growth and repair. Ideally, athletes want the total amount of weight lifted to add up to an optimal amount at the end of training.
EXAMPLE: OVERHEAD PRESS AT 60KG FOR 3 SETS OF 8 = 24 REPS = 24 X 60KG = 1,440KG
Volume work will vary depending on where the athlete is in their training program. High amounts of volume are usually performed during the beginning and middle phases of programming when learning technique and performing multiple sets in a strength phase. While maximal lifting requires more weight with less sets due to the stresses put on the body and CNS.
How quickly you move a weight or perform a movement depends on a few things. Before you engage in the exercise, ask yourself this: Am I trying to get stronger? Am I looking to add muscle? Am I warming up with this movement? Is this a dynamic exercise? Breaking down muscle tissue in order for it to repair and grow back fuller and stronger requires what is commonly referred to as time under tension. This is how long your muscles are working to perform an exercise. In regards to muscle development, time under tension is a good thing since it allows your muscles more opportunity to break down and grow back stronger.
However, when performing maximal or sub-maximal lifts, the brain has to think fast. You can’t lift heavy weight slowly. Even though it may seem like it is physically traveling at a slow rate, the brain and body are thinking, get this fucking thing up as fast as I can. During the concentric motion of a lift (ex. the way up from a squat, the press on a bench, the pull from the floor of a deadlift), the brain thinks fast. Use this philosophy when doing your warm up sets and working with max weight. When performing exercises purely for the purpose of muscular development and musculoskeletal strengthening, control the weight during the eccentric (lowering portion) of the lift in order to create more time under tension.
6. REST PERIODS
How long you rest in between sets also depends on what the goal of the training session is. If you are performing max effort lifts, rest periods can be roughly two to five minutes. Strength and power movements lasting shorter than 10 seconds require fast twitch muscle fiber activation and utilize the ATP-CP (adenosine triphosphate – creatine phosphate) energy system. ATP-CP levels restore during rest periods of about two to five minutes with minimal to no activity.
If the goal is muscle hypertrophy and the athlete is working with lower-resistance weights, rest periods will typically be about 60-90 seconds, going down to even 45 seconds if minimal weights are being utilized with supersets (going back and forth between two exercises which are usually performed with, but not limited to, opposing muscle groups).
7. EXERCISE SELECTION
There is no shortage of exercises weightlifters have at their disposal to get better and stronger. With regards to muscle hypertrophy and overall strength development, variety is key. Performing the same movements over and over again, even with changes in frequency and intensity, will cause the weightlifter to plateau and regress in their training. You want to keep the body on its toes and not give it any chance to get used to anything. The harder the body works in new, challenging ways, the more response you will get out of your training sessions. In addition to adding variety to your exercise selection, there are certain exercises that are better suited for varying goals. Compound movements such as squats and deadlifts help get you stronger, while auxiliary exercises like lunges and hip thrusts help develop the supportive muscles used in the big lifts.