A lot of programs out there are over complicated and complex. The truth is, you don't need a revolutionary program to get strong, fast and fit. Instead, progress takes consistency, commitment and effort. Today we talk about the basics surrounding strength training, the different types of strength training, and how you can use fundamentals to reach your fitness goals.
What is Strength and Resistance Training?
- Strength is defined as the body's (and the muscles') ability to generate force.1
- Resistance Training is generally referred to as the method to develop this strength and the different types of muscle strength (i.e. strength, power and muscular endurance).1
Strength training is often performed using training implements such as free-weights, machines or external forces, but you can perform many variations of strength training using only body weight. What you choose as a training tool is influenced by multiple factors such are the outcome goal and available resources.
TYPES OF EQUIPMENT
1. Free Weights
Free weights are everything that is heavy and not attached to the ground of a machine. This includes dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, medicine balls, etc. They are by far my favorite training tools because of their versatility and superiority in developing the stabilizing muscle (i.e. the accessory muscles that keep your lifts smooth and controlled, but are hard to train individually).
Machines are traditionally associated with body building and are a very good implement for developing absolute power and hypertrophy. However, I almost never use them, simply because of the limited ROM and versatility. They are generally very safe, especially for beginner lifters, and can help you to develop lifting technique, but ONLY IF the machine is properly fit.
3. Resistance/Exercise Bands
I often use resistance bands in my own training (usually for accessory work) and in the programs of my clients. Bands offer a high amount of versatility, can be easily transported, and the exercises are easy to learn. Some people have a negative connotation with resistance bands as a basic or beginner training tool, but the contrary is true. With the proper resistance band, you can train to develop some serious strength.
4. Fixed or Hanging Implements
These include training tools like the chin up bar or suspension trainers. Like resistance bands, they can be extremely portable (see my favorite: gymnastics rings), or fixed (e.g. pull up bar). These types of implements are used to perform Closed Chain Exercises (exercises when you move your body towards and away from a fixed point. A push up would be another example of a Closed Chain Exercise). Fixed/hanging implements are often used to maximize the efficiency of body weight exercises.
TYPES OF EXERCISES
1. Compound/Primary Exercises
These are exercises that incorporate multiple primary joints throughout the range of motion and are generally considered the higher "bang-for-your-buck" exercises. They recruit higher musculature involvement and demand more stabilization throughout the movement. Squats, push ups, and lunges would all be great examples of compound exercises.
Compound exercises usually receive priority while programming a workout session.
2. Assistance/Secondary/Accessory Exercises
These are exercises that incorporate only a single primary joint. Assistance exercises are most often used when targeting specific muscle groups (e.g. biceps curl or triceps pull-down). They are also used often for increasing muscle mass or in prehab/rehab exercises.
TYPES OF MUSCLE CONTRACTIONS AND PHASE OF A(N) EXERCISE/MOVEMENT
In order to understand a program or an exercise, it is also to understand the different types of muscle contractions and their pros/cons.
1. Concentric Contraction/Phase
A concentric contraction means that the muscle SHORTENS while under tension. In the case of a Biceps Curl, the CONCENTRIC phase would be when you are pulling the weight up to your shoulder, while your elbow is bending.
Concentric training is what you probably see in your head when you think of resistance training. If is effective for stimulating hypertrophy and increasing strength.
2. Eccentric Contraction/Phase
An eccentric contraction means that the muscle LENGTHENS while under tension. In the previous example of the Biceps Curl, the eccentric phase would be when the weight is being lowered slowly to full extension. Throughout the change in joint angle, the Biceps are keep the weight from dropping.
Eccentric training is often used to develop strength and stimulate hypertrophy. Certain protocols call for eccentric only training, where you don't pick the weight up, but instead lower it under control. This is most often seen when people are training for Pull Ups. The person will jump up to the bar and slowly lower, under control, and then jump back up to start the next rep.
While Eccentric training is a super effective way of developing strength, it can also lead to INCREDIBLE soreness! Be careful implementing eccentric training, and always do fewer reps/sets than you feel you can.
3. Isometric Contraction
An isometric contraction is when the muscle contracts without a change in joint angle. Imagine trying to push down a wall. Your joint angle is going to change, and neither is your muscle length, but your muscle is still working hard. Isometric training is usually effective in developing strength without a large increase in muscle mass.
The catch is that the strength is usually specific to the joint angle you train at, so it requires you to train at multiple joint angles.
EXERCISE CHOICE AND EXERCISE ORDER
Sometimes, the exercises you choose and the order you perform them in can have a large influence on your strength gains an development. While the most important aspect of strength training is still that you engage in resistance training (with clean technique), below are a couple of solid principles you can live by.
1. Choose Compound Movements First
Compound/Primary movements require the largest recruitment of musculature and also have the most carry over into sports and performance. For those reasons, it is usually beneficial to start your workout with compound exercises (e.g. squat, lunge, bench press, pull-ups, etc.). That being said, accessory movements can be used in your warm-up if you are trying to fatigue certain muscles, or activate others. As a general rule though, you are better off saving the "bodybuilding" type movements for after your primary exercises are complete (you don't want to do a pyramid of biceps curls before performing pull-ups, or the limiting factor will likely be biceps fatigue).
2. Push-Pull or Upper-Lower
As a general rule, it is beneficial to alternate between either pushing (e.g. bench press, squats) and pulling (pull-ups, deadlifts) exercises or upper and lower body exercises. This allows you to perform more exercises in a given amount of working time, without fatiguing the primary musculature. For instance, performing squats followed by lunges (two lower-body pushing exercises) will end up causing you to fatigue much quicker than performing squats followed by push-ups, and ultimately allowing you to performing more work in a session,
You should now have a solid foundation of what resistance training is. While there are literally thousands (if not hundred of thousands) or variations of resistance training protocols, a little knowledge will go a long way and help you maximize the efficiency of your training. The important thing is to start somewhere and remain consistent.
In Part 2 we will talk about Hypertrophy and how to maximize muscle growth through proper reps, sets, and exercise selection.
No matter when you are in your resistance training journey, remember....
Train with Pride.
B.Kin, Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology CPT
- 1RM: the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted for a single repetition
- Accessory Muscles:
- Hypertrophy: muscle growth
- Range of Motion or ROM: the degrees of rotation or movement that a joint goes through in an exercise, or the range of movement.
- Reps or Repetitions: the number of times you perform an exercise in a given SET
- Set: a group of repetitions, not separated by a rest period.
1. Wilmore, Costill & Kennery (2008). Physiology of Sport and Exercise, 4th Ed.