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Developing a Weight Training Program

Strength training is part art, part science, and part luck. The science is how to lift and when. On the physiological front, we know a lot about what happens when you follow specific training guidelines. The art is applying this knowledge to your body. For example: How hard do you lift? Are you able to back off when you're tired and push harder when you're stuck at a plateau? Does your diet complement your fitness goals or sabotage them? And there are a host of other factors that govern the way one progresses in the game of fitness. The luck part revolves around one word: genetics.

In other words, there are a lot of variables that surround a lifting program – some you can obviously control, some you can't. We'll discuss the various x-factors involved so that you have a better understanding of how you can best progress in the gym. For example, here's a question that continually stumps people: Why will two people who work out together, doing virtually the same routines, progress at different rates? Read on.

That Was Intense!
Having said that, of all the variables in your lifting program, how hard you work – let's call it the intensity factor – is the single most important one that you can control. We'll give you plenty of tips on how to safely increase this intensity factor so that you get better results faster.

Of course, there are the variables that aren't under your control: age, gender, muscle fiber types, and a few other genetically determined variables that play a major role in your strength development. We'll talk about what they are and how you can work with them instead of getting frustrated and giving up.

Here's the how and the why.

It's Quality, Not Quantity
There are no real differences between the muscle fibers of men and those of women. On a pound-for-pound basis, women are capable of becoming as strong as men. (When Deidre competed as a powerlifter, on a pound-for-pound scale she routinely outlifted most of the men at the meets.) However, because men tend to be larger and have a greater percentage of lean tissue (lower percentage of body fat), men generally have greater strength potential. Dr. Wayne Westcott put it best: Men are stronger than women due to muscle quantity, not muscle quality. While there are differences between the sexes, the methods used to train women need not be any different than those used for men. And in fact, the glut of women's exercise programs arises more from a marketing angle than from genuine need.

How Long?
Consider this scenario: Tim and Tom, identical twins, are seated on opposite sides of a seesaw. If Tim sits all the way at the end while Tom sits three feet from the end, Tom will be airborne despite the fact that they are exactly the same size. It's an issue of simple physics.

Now picture two workout partners who have been training together for one year. Let's say they're doing biceps curls. If both lifters are using the same weight and lifting with the same intensity, one may outlift the other by a substantial margin. Why? Again, it's physics, because the lifter with the shorter arms will have much less work to do. Clearly, there's no reason for the longer-armed lifter to alter his training program – and reducing your arm length is far too drastic a course to follow – but it would explain why the shorter-armed chap is progressing at a faster rate.

Now here's one you've probably not spent a lot of time pondering: tendon length. Re-member that tendons attach muscle to bone. Let's consider the biceps curl again to show how tendon length can affect strength. The biceps muscle runs from the shoulder to a point just below the elbow. Sparing you the physiological details, you might be interested to know that if your tendon attaches farther from the elbow, it's analogous to being at the far end of the seesaw. Similarly, an attachment closer to the joint is analogous to being in the middle.

Of course, there's nothing you can do about where your tendons attach to the bones; however, this will help you understand why you and your training partners don't always progress at the same rate. Because many people get discouraged when their partners progress faster, it's good to know why not all arms were created equal. Other than the fact that everyone is different, here's the good news: Lift diligently and intelligently and you'll get stronger. In short, you'll be building the body that you've always dreamed about.


Excerpted from he Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training © 2003 by Deidre Johnson-Cane and Jonathan Cane. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide website or call 1-800-253-6476.


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