By Andrew Luscutoff

Fit For Sisters - Getting started with weight training


Last updated 4/6/2023 at 2:30pm

Weight training uses resistance applied to the muscular system to promote strength, muscle health, and sports performance. It is simple in concept, yet very nuanced in application.

When external forces apply stress to a working muscle, small amounts of damage occur within the muscle fibers. This damage is recognized and cleaned up by the naturally occurring rebuilding process. The intention is to elicit an adaptation by building stronger, more resilient muscle fibers after a resistance training workout.

There is also a neurological connection. An impulse is sent from one's movement center in the brain. This impulse tells which muscles to contract, therefore producing movement. The neurological system judges how many fibers to activate by the perception of tension on the muscles. This system also adapts by activating more fibers, more efficiently, with greater tension applied at the muscle. This is part of why someone gains strength so quickly once they begin a resistance training program.

With the mechanisms of adaptation laid out, how can resistance training application fit these concepts?

Progressive overload is the concept that the trainee will manipulate higher loads on the muscles as they perform more training sessions. As more training is accrued (ie, sessions/time), the body should be able to handle more resistance (ie. heavier weights). This is because the body, growing stronger, will need to continue to be challenged to produce the same stimulus.

Periodization is a concept in which one changes the scheme of repetitions/resistance one performs during a set amount of time. One might train with lower weight and higher repetitions for a few weeks, then adjust this to a lower repetition, higher weight scheme. This manipulation is great for keeping things fresh, not allowing a training program to get too routine before another variable in employed.

The next consideration is the weight training session in itself. This is the most nuanced concept, but a simple formula can be followed.

For the beginning exerciser, a global approach is a good way to approach weight training. Training all the major muscle groups through one workout will be beneficial because the carryover from one muscle group to another will give the body a good training response. Also, lack of fitness makes focused training specifically for each muscle group a challenge because of early fatigue.

Think of the body as a movement system, rather than muscle groups. Many muscle groups work in a partnership to produce a movement. When trained in such a way, not only is someone more efficient, but they are also developing sound movement patterns. Squat, (knee bend to lower the body); hip lift, (body in a crouched squat lifting up); push (arms start near the body, push out); and pull (arms away from body pulling towards) are the four basic categories to consider.

Two exercises per category will give you a good starting workout for the entire body. Start with 2-3 sets of each exercise; 10-15 repetitions is a good starting point because using a lower load for many repetitions helps practice good form. The low weight wards off the injury risks of heavier resistance.

Be sure to exercise with good form. A strong activated core will protect the low back, keep one balanced, and produce better strength when lifting. It is interesting to note, the core is activated far greater while an exercise is performed moving a weight with the feet on the floor than when lying on the floor doing crunches. For this reason, the popular core exercises may ignite a slight burn in the abdominals but aren't functionally helping to strengthen the core as it is while stabilizing a weight movement.

Selecting the right weight to get the job done is another area in which beginners typically fault. Some choose a lesser weight that they can do many more times than the prescribed repetitions. This doesn't provide the challenge that asks the body to adapt. On the other end of the spectrum, the ambitious want to lift much more than they're capable of. This is often compensated for with bad form. Injury is imminent. Using a weight that can be lifted with good form for the specified repetitions and not many more is ideal. It is important to incrementally try heavier weight, because without failure someone will never know limits.

The frequency of training is important. Studies with seniors all the way to athletes have proven that weight training benefit can be accessed in just one session a week. With the law of diminishing returns in mind, the same benefit is reduced as one trains more frequently. Someone training twice per week might get 90 percent of the results of someone training five times. It depends on what the overall goal is. Find a balance.

Weight training can be and should be a part of a fitness program. If you need more information, seek out a professional to get you started. That will help you to start with the proper technique and program.


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