Friday, 4 January 2013

Design Your Own Weights Program: Part 1 - The Theory

I don't know why, but I've aimed this post particularly at girls. However, the theory also applies to you guys, so enjoy the information and insight into the feminine psyche... well, mine at least.


So, girls, do you want the good news or the bad news first about weights training?

Well, the good news is that when doing weights training it takes a lot of effort to really bulk up, and takes a dedicated type of training, despite what you hear. When you start doing weights you can appear to bulk up as during and after the exercises the muscles swell while being repaired. However, this is not permanent and won't leave you looking like Arnie for the rest of your life. So that's the good news (unless you want to look like Arnie, that is).

However, the bad news is that unlike the men, we lose our muscle tone really, really quickly. While I was training I was told by my coach that basically without continuing exercise, in four days you beginning to lose it. Four days!

So if you are trying to build up strength so you can take on your work colleagues in arm wrestling, doing weights just once a week is not going to be enough. If you want to maintain and then increase your strength, you need to flex all your major muscles at least twice a week.

Now, this doesn't have to be a separate workout, as will be discussed next time, but can be just three sets of squats and pushups at the end of your jog if that is all you can manage. There is absolutely nothing wrong with body weight exercises.

However, if you secretly want to sidle into the weights room and shove some macho-man out from in front of the mirror, girl power to you.

Here is some of the knowledge you need to develop a safe and effective weights workout.


As much as they are loved by female gyms such as Curves, and as easy and stress free as they seem, I do not endorse weights machines. They have one advantage in that often you can't get the movement too wrong, and so can't inadvertently injury yourself.

Having said that: they are aimed at working individual, particular muscles. But your body is not made to have individual muscles built up by themselves. You need to also be building up the stabilizers around those muscles to prevent injury.

Doing free weights adds in a risk of incorrect technique, but also allows your body to naturally build up all the elements required for the movement. As I will have great videos next week on good technique (by people who know what they are talking about, and vetted by me), I therefore recommend that you be brave and go free. 

Where to start:

There are two aspects you need to take into account to design a program:

1. the major muscle groups:

When designing a weights program over the cycle of the week, you want to make sure you have exercised all of the major muscle groups or else you are going to do bad things to your body, as well as eventually looking funny.

As a beginner, it is probably best if you try to include all the major muscles in each strength workout, as you won't be doing enough sessions to split them up.

When starting out, it's perfectly alright to think of your major muscle groups as:

Arms - Legs - Core 

(Core = abs and back... never forget your back, trust me on this.) 

Work those out for a few months, and then you can get into more specialized muscle training.

2. the different types of weights training:

All weights training does not produce the same results, and unless you are specifically specializing for competition, it is generally best to work out across at least two of the types. Now there are probably a thousand different terms and concepts that people have developed for describing the different types of training. However, for simplicity I'm sticking with Wikipedia on this one, who use a table from Siff (2003) which you will see next week. This table focuses on the following 4 types of weights training. 

4 Types of Weights Training:

Strength: While we often refer to all weights training as 'strength training', in particular this means being able to lift heavier things. The more you can lift, the stronger you are. Building up strength is useful for everyday life, such as being able to lift your partner off the ground when they tease you for being weak (it also works well on brothers, just saying.) 

Power: power is work per time. While a strong person might be able to lift 100kgs, a more powerful person can life it in less time. This can also be referred to as dynamic strength. I like to think of it as being bouncy. You know those people that just spring up flights of stairs two at a time? Well, they have serious power in their legs, and it is a great thing to have.

Hypertrophy: This is your 'make big muscles' type training. If your goal is purely to bulk up - this is your baby. It also explains why guys with big muscles tend not to be as useful around the house: none of the power, strength or endurance to actually use it all. Pah. I'm not actually a fan of big but useless muscles, so I would generally leave this one out of my training programs, but that's just me. 

Endurance: this is how long you can go for at a lighter weight. Instead of lifting up your partner, think about lifting up your baby cousin as you play aeroplanes again, and again, and again. That's endurance.

And with these strength powers combine, you too can be Captain Planet! Or at least functionally strong.

Tune in next time for how to practically design your amazing new program!

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