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You’re holding a barbell. Now what?

13 Nov

Ever wonder how body-builders do it? Aside from strict diets, hours in the gym, immense dedication and the possible consumption of illegal and harmful steroids, body builders get their bulky look from lifting higher weights at lower repetitions.  So if you want to be the next Salman Khan, a good start is with 3 sets of 6-12 reps at 70-80% 1RM.

Resistance training has been found to provide a range of health benefits including the prevention of sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass with aging) and osteoporosis (the loss of bone density with aging) and improvements in metabolism.  Although these benefits are reason enough to hit the gym, most of us don’t know where to start, or are concerned more so with the aesthetics of strength training (be it the pursuit of a lean tone, or a ‘bulging t-shirt’ effect), or with the improvements in our ability to play certain sports.

Before starting a resistance training program, there are a few concepts you should become familiar with.

Reps and Sets

In the resistance training world, a repetition, or rep, refers to how many times an exercise such as a bicep curl is repeated. A set is simply how many groups of repetitions you do.  For example, you could do 3 sets of 12 reps for a total of 36 reps. You should always take a break between sets to rest and stretch the muscle.

1 RM

One Repetition Max, or 1RM, is the maximum weight you can lift through your full range of motion, only once. So if you are doing bicep curls, it is the maximum weight you can hold in your hand with your arm extended, and bring up to your shoulder while bending at the elbow. If you can do two of these movements with this weight, this is not your 1RM, it is your 2RM for your biceps muscle. Calculate your 1RM for all muscles you want to work on.

Muscular Power

Power is defined as efficient muscular contraction and requires a balance of speed and strength.  Power is demonstrated in actions where quick acceleration is required such as jumping for a basketball rebound or throwing a football. It is not surprising then that power is developed through performing maximum contraction in the shortest time possible. The best way to improve power in your sport activities is very simple: practice the action. That means if you want to jump higher in basketball, practice jumping and not throwing.  But be careful! Power training is particularly dangerous because of its quick nature. It is also important to have some degree of muscular strength and endurance (described below) before working on power. Do not focus on power if you are relatively inactive since you may get hurt.

Muscular Strength

This is often what we think we are improving when we lift weights, which is understandable since we often refer to resistance training as strength training.  However, strength, or the ability to exert force (and this force doesn’t have to be exerted quickly as in power), is most optimally improved at a certain workload.  Specifically, you need to do 3 sets of 5-8 reps at 80-90% 1RM.  Improving muscular strength improves your ability to do things such as open pickle jars, lift heavy boxes and climb stairs, which is especially important in older adults.

Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance is the ability to contract a muscle repeatedly over a period of time, and individuals with high muscular endurance often have a lean and toned appearance. Muscular endurance is required for running, swimming and dancing and although participation in these activities will improve endurance, you can also include a resistance-training program of 3 sets of 12-15 reps at 60-70% 1RM.  Keep in mind that you will also be improving your muscular strength during muscle endurance training.

Bulk

Ever wonder how body-builders do it? Aside from strict diets, hours in the gym, immense dedication and the possible consumption of illegal and harmful steroids, body builders get their bulky look from lifting higher weights at lower repetitions.  So if you want to be the next Salmaan Khan, a good start is with 3 sets of 6-12 reps at 70-80% 1RM.

Rehabilitation

If you ever have the misfortune of being injured and you don’t have the ability to consult with a physiotherapist, you can improve muscle functionality by performing 3 sets of 6-10 reps at 50-60% twice a day. Be sure to see a doctor before doing this.

Remember: Be careful! You can hurt yourself training so make sure you stretch and have a buddy nearby who can help you lift weights safely if you get tired. And always give your muscles 48 hrs of rest before you start working out again. A good method is to alternate muscle groups everyday so you don’t injure yourself.

% 1RM Reps
Power 90-100 1-5
Strength 80-90 5-8
Bulk 70-80 6-12
Endurance 60-70 12-15
Rehabilitation 50-60 6-10
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