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Developing a Weight Training Program

Schedule
When it comes to weight lifting, more is not always better. For instance, while your initial temptation may be to take your ambitious mind and eager muscles to the gym as often as possible, that strategy can actually work against you. Again, one essential key is to know when to work out and when to rest. Too much of one or the other and you've upset the apple cart.

Keep in mind that as you lift, you're actually fatiguing and wearing down the muscle tissue. It's during the recovery process that your muscles actually grow bigger and stronger. So as you can see, you should never train the same muscles on consecutive days because it's actually counterproductive.

That's where a split routine comes in. This is a program in which you train different muscles on different days. So while you might lift on consecutive days – chest, shoulders, and triceps on Monday; legs, back, and biceps on Tuesday – you'll be using different muscles each day. Not only does this allow ample time for your muscles to recover, it means you'll be doing fewer exercises on any given day. This prevents burnout, allows you to spend less time lifting on each visit, and means you'll be able to work more intensely on the exercises that you will do.

At the other end of the "too many" spectrum, if you train too infrequently, the strength gains you made in one session will be lost by the next. That means even if you do the best routine in the world on January 1 and little or no training until February 1, the result would be minimal at best in the strength gains department. That should come as no surprise, but we hear people who lift twice a month lament the fact that they're not making much progress.

So what is the ideal frequency? That varies from individual to individual and has a lot to do with how hard each training session is. Here's another immutable rule to note: A hard workout will require more recovery time than an easy one.

Individual strengths and weaknesses aside, two workouts per week is good; three may be better. Whenever possible, we advise beginners to aim for three workouts. If you manage to do two, fine; however, if you're shooting for two, the tendency is that you miss one and compromise your gains. There's another reason why three sessions may be better than two. Early in your workout life, one of our primary goals is to get your brain and body used to the exercises. At this stage we're less concerned with intensity than frequency. So don't worry about your body's ability to tolerate three workouts a week. Once you make going to the gym a regular part of your life – when your weight-lifting workout becomes part of your regular routine – we'll up the intensity and really start to see significant gains.

Reps
The repetition, or rep, is the basic unit of any weight-lifting program. Think of each rep as the nails that a carpenter uses to hammer the studs of a house. While you need to know the big picture, the walls will fall down if you don't pay proper attention to which nail goes where. The point is that unless we first focus on each and every rep, other variables like how many reps per set, how many sets per exercise, and the choice of exercise don't really matter.

How Fast?
Because it's quite important that each and every rep be performed with proper technique, let's do a quick rep check review.

A good guideline to follow while you're performing that perfect rep is to count to three during the positive or concentric phase, hold for a count of one, and count to three for the negative or eccentric phase. By controlling the speed, you accomplish a couple of productive things:

  • First (and foremost), you maximize your safety and minimize the stress on your joints.
  • You also ensure that momentum is a non-factor, which means that you stress the muscles as much as possible and get the best bang for your buck.
  • Finally, by keeping constant form for every rep of every workout, you're able to measure your progress.
For those of us who are goal-oriented (which tends to be just about everyone who works out regularly) or for those who just like to know that something is working, doing each rep as we just described is vital.

Consider the following scenario. On Jan-uary 1, you do a biceps curl with 15-pound dumbbells and are able to do 11 repetitions in a 3-1-3 cadence with textbook-perfect form. If by March 1 you're up to 13 reps, with the same weight and form, clearly you have made progress. On the other hand, if you never pay any attention to anything other than how much weight you hoist and how many reps you've done, an increase in how many reps you do could be due to changes in form rather than strength gains. This type of approach highlights our "lift to gain strength, not demonstrate strength" philosophy. While it's not the best way to impress your musclehead friends in the gym, it's a great way to get strong and healthy while staying injury-free.

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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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