So you want to get strong - you've got the fire inside of you, the willpower to overcome adversity and be great. Good for you, but where do you start? Depending on where you are as a weightlifter, be it a beginner, intermediate or expert, we all have self-specific goals and visions of strength training that we'll use to better our lives. With so much misleading "bro-science" on the web and in magazines; I hope you'll find relief here - and a solid, genuine set of guidelines to follow.
The five words every athlete should keep in mind are Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type and Enjoyment (FITTE). Here, ripped from the pages of the ACSM's textbook, you have the guidelines of ACSM's Exercise Prescription Principles for muscular strength.
Muscular Strength Guidelines
• Frequency: 2-3 days per week or more
• Intensity: 8-12 RM range
• Time: 2-4 sets each of 8-10 exercises (less than or equal to 1 hour)
• Type: Major muscle groups, Full ROM, controlled speed
• Enjoyment: Enjoy what you're doing. If you're not enjoying it, you simply will not obtain the results you're after, or stay in it for the long run.
2-3 days of training a week is adequate for strength gain, though in some studies, best results are received with strength training 5 days a week. I'm personally a fan of the 5-day split, because it allows you to keep a better balance in your strength training and physique. 5-day-a-week training allows a deeper, more personal approach to your strength training - in other words, you get more 1 on 1 time with your muscles.
Your rep range should be 8-12, reaching positive failure (or, the inability to properly complete another repetition without compromising form, etc.) by the target repetition. Keep a pad and pen with you to jot down your weights and reps. Track your progress and see your growth! In a year or two, it's always fun to look back at how far you've come.
Sets: should be in the 2 to 4 range on 8 to 10 exercises.
Rest: Allow 45 to 60 seconds of rest between sets, and 3 to 5 minutes between exercises.
Muscle Groups: Only training 1 or 2 body parts a day is ideal to prevent over-training a certain muscle group.
Example Strength Workout: I usually suggest 3 or 4 exercises per muscle group. Workout two main-focus muscle groups, then two minor-focus muscle groups, with the muscles in minor-focus groups getting 1 exercise with 2 to 5 sets of 10 to 20 reps with no rest between sets.
For example: biceps and triceps as two main-focus muscle groups, and forearms and abs as two minor-focus muscle groups.
Main/minor-focus muscle groups are referred to as such by their roles in the example workout. They should not to be mistaken for their actual place in major and minor muscle groups.
During strength training, you want your main focus to be big, compound movements. The main three are the Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift.
Start from your biggest muscle groups, your biggest lifts with the biggest range of motion, and work your way down to the smaller lifts and muscle groups with a smaller range of motion.
For example: On your "Bench Day" - start your workout with bench press first. This is your biggest compound movement and your biggest muscle for this day, working your pectoralis muscles, deltoids and your triceps. Then move on to close-grip dips, a medium compound movement, with emphasis on your triceps, a smaller muscle group that is still important to the success of your bench press. Finish up with an isolation exercise, such as standing cable flyes, to exhaust the chest muscles.
Remember: working out is personal. These are your goals, your dreams, and your body. You should train for you and towards the goals and dreams you have, not for anybody else. Keep it fun and enjoy it - you deserve it! Leave your favorite strength training tips and suggestions in the comments below.
Rocky Wanek is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and natural amateur bodybuilder. He owns Element 26 Personal Training, where as head trainer, he assists clients in pushing past perceived barriers to reach new heights in their fitness endeavors. Rocky has an incontrovertible passion for helping people achieve their best and leaving them feeling inspired. In his spare time, he can be found building projects or furthering his education in fitness & health as well as giving back to the community through community service.