We have all heard about the benefits of strength training. As a result, more and more people are becoming interested in and starting to enjoy lifting weights.
But we must ask: what is strength training and are you really practicing it?
Strength training is define as, progressively overloading your bodies capability of moving a certain weight in a certain posture. The result is; stronger muscles, gains in lean muscle mass, higher metabolic rate for a reduction in body fat, stronger bones, a healthier heart and the list goes on.
However, today I’m not talking about the benefits thereof; rather whether you are truly training for strength or not.
The key term mentioned previously, is ‘progressive over-load’ and I’m going to discuss the differences in training, to ensure you understand how and when you are training for strength and when you are not.
Just because you hold a weight in your hand, does not mean you are necessarily training for strength; allow me to expand on this.
Adding weight to a movement puts a stress on the muscles and connective tissue, that requires a physical adaptation, so the next time that task is performed the body isn’t damaged. Continuing to add load to these movements sustains the stress so the body must adapt, which is a gain in strength and muscle mass. This must mean there is a point in which your body will become too well adapted to that specific style of training and the stimulus must be changed for the adaptation to continue.
So, let’s start from the bottom up. Let us first determine what strength training is NOT.
If the weight you are holding is less than 65% for the one rep max you can lift for that movement, you will have no physical adaption to overcome. E.g. If you can squat 100kg and you are doing a training session (only lifting 65kg or less) your body has no stress to over-come. However, exceptions are given for: very high reps (30+) or if you’ve never attempted weight training before.
In retrospect, what you may really be practicing is: ‘Metabolic Training’ (if performed at a high intensity with little to no rest) like a Tabata protocol or ‘Neural Training’ (if performed at low intensity with decent rest) which is basically teaching your body how to move. Now, some of you might be saying “but i’m lifting heavier and heavier after interval training with weights that are no more than a few kilos in a workout”. That’s the effect of neural training, it’s not that your getting stronger, you are more coordinated and confident with the movement.
At my facility, True Technique; I take everyone through a 6-8-week training block that focuses on that ‘Neural Training’ to correct how people perform the lift. This is done so that they are prepared in a stronger posture, ready for to be taken through an actual strength training block.
When lifting 65% or more of your one rep max, there are a few things you need to consider, to make sure you are getting the most of your training. So, let’s say you are doing a hypertrophy training block, which is usually done after the endurance phase we just addressed. Generally, you would be lifting 70-80% for 10 or 12 reps which is the ideal range for building lean muscle mass and the beginnings of an increase in strength. To complete a whole block of sets, you would need at least 2-3 minutes of rest between sets. This gives your central nervous system time to recover and come back online so you can complete the next set to your full potential. Otherwise you will fatigue to early and will not get enough reps/sets in to put adequate stress on the muscles, to allow them to adapt.
This must be progressively trained every week to get the best result, as hypertrophy doesn’t occur until reaching 4 consistent weeks of training. As a result, (depending on your goal) six, eight or twelve weeks of consistent training must be completed to reap benefit. However, there will be a point at which that specific style of training does not provide enough stimulus for an adaptation to occur. Hence why we often hear stories of body builders working out for excessive hours in a day; their muscles are well adapted to their style of training.
The solution to this suggests changing up your training in the same way; through max strength training e.g. 3-6 reps at 80-95% and 4-6 minutes rest. If you ever get the chance to step inside a professional powerlifters gym, any compound movement performed over 5 reps is considered excessive; for calorie expenditure purposes and or simply that the weight is just not heavy enough. Lifting that heavy requires huge amounts of calorific energy and rest. So, powerlifters must be careful with their attempts; lifting too many reps will wastefully burn energy, for them to train at the level required for progress. Lifting such a heavy weight takes a huge toll on the central nervous system, so a long rest is key. You would typically see a powerlifter rest for 5-10 minutes between each set, mentally psyching themselves up for just 1-3 reps. Because, if the rest period is too short (insufficient recovery time), a powerlifter can leave themselves open to injury or simply waste energy on an attempted lift because the nervous isn’t online yet.
The next phase of training is ‘Power Training’, which involves taking the weight back down to 70-90% but focusing on how fast the lift is performed. This would have to be the most taxing style of training on the nervous system, so the number of reps and rest required is about the same required for ‘Max Strength Training’. You must be careful performing Snatches, Cleans Jerks or any plyometric/power focused exercise because of how exhausting it is for the nervous system. The complexity/weight of these movements have the highest rate of injury, so please keep those reps down and rest high.
When heading into your next strength workout have a think, “Am I really lifting heavy enough to get a strength gain? Do I have enough rest between sets to recover my central nervous system? Will this get the results I am after and still avoid injury? Am I changing up my workout style to continually achieve the stimulus required to grow, improve and avoid a plateau? Will I progress month after month and year after year?”
At True Technique everyone is coached through all phases of strength training to continually improve without the risk of injury, whilst preventing plateaus or boredom with repetitive training. We practice regular changes in training methods, to keep your sessions fun, educational, engaging and challenging. Exercise with True Technique becomes something to look forward to!
If you have questions about the science behind Strength Training, please contact us at: [email protected]