There are two basic terms you must understand before planning your strength training routine: reps and set. A rep (repetition) indicates one complete motion of an exercise; a set is a group of reps. So, if you performed two sets of 10 reps of bicep curls, this means you did 10 bicep curls, rested, and then did 10 more.
The number of reps you should do depends on your fitness level and your goals. For building strength and bulk, it's generally recommended to do fewer than eight to 10 reps per set with heavier weights. But for tone and general conditioning, aim for 10 to 12 reps using more moderate weight.
You will want to adjust the amount of weight you use for each exercise depending on which muscles you are working. Larger muscles such as your thighs, chest, and upper back are stronger and will require a bit heavier weight.
Smaller muscles, such as your shoulders and arms, require less weight. Just make sure that, regardless of how many sets you do, your last rep is challenging. Use basic exercises focusing on your legs, back, shoulders, and abs. You will need to perform two sets per exercise:
- First set should have about 12 to 15 repetitions, with the last three reps crucial for reaping benefits.
- In the second set, you'll need to do about eight to 11 reps. You need to increase weight in the smallest increment possible. Lift until you reach muscle failure and you feel you can't lift anymore. "Failure" refers to the part of the exercise where you can no longer maintain good form, but still be able to lift the weight.
As for your tempo, make sure you lift slowly as follows: three-second positive, one-second isometric squeeze, three-second negative. Don't just concentrate on moving from point A to B. Focus on contracting your muscle through the entire range of motion.
SuperSlow Weight Training
Did you know that you can combine high-intensity interval training and weights? This is called SuperSlow Weight Training, created by Dr. Doug McGuff.
The idea is, by slowing everything down, you turn your routine into a high-intensity exercise. This benefits your muscle at the microscopic level to access the maximum number of cross-bridges between the protein filaments that produce movement in the muscle.1
SuperSlow exercises can be done using either free weights or machines. It is beneficial to use the latter, because it will allow you to focus your mind on the effort rather than on the movement. As for weights, it is best to choose one that is light enough for you to do at least eight repetitions, but heavy enough that you can perform 12 reps. You can apply SuperSlow Weight Training to these five exercises:2
- Pull-down or chin-ups
- Chest press
- Compound row (a pulling motion in the horizontal plane)
- Overhead press
- Leg press
Here's how to do SuperSlow Weight Training with the exercises mentioned above:3
- Start by lifting the weight as slowly and gradually as you can. Also, when pushing, stop about 10 to 15 degrees before your limb is fully straightened, then smoothly reverse direction.
- Slowly lower the weight back down to the slow count of 4.
- Repeat these until exhaustion. This should be around four to eight reps. It is important that when you reach exhaustion, you don't try to jerk or heave the weight just to get one last rep in. You should keep trying to produce the movement for another five seconds or so, even if it seems ineffective. By using the appropriate amount of weight or resistance, you're sure to finish four to eight repetitions.
- Immediately switch to the next exercise that will target a different muscle group. For that group, repeat the first three steps.
This routine will take no more than 12 or 15 minutes.
Peak Strength Training
What distinguishes peak strength training from regular weight-lifting is that it’s a process where you’re trying to generate a stimulus to cause strength and metabolic improvements, as opposed to simply trying to demonstrate strength by lifting the weight by any means possible.
Ideally, you’d incorporate both versions of peak exercises, as they each provide important pieces of the fitness puzzle. For example, you might do conventional HIIT using a stationary bike once or twice a week, and SuperSlow peak weight training once a week — or vice versa, to end up with a total of three high-intensity sessions per week.
Remember that, as your fitness increases, the intensity of your exercise goes up, and the frequency that your body can tolerate goes down. As a result, you need to continuously customize your program to your own fitness level and other lifestyle issues. As a general rule however, you do not want to do high-intensity interval training exercises more than three times a week.
High-intensity strength training can be done twice a week initially, but as you get stronger you will need more recovery time and eventually drop down to once every seven to 10 days. Any more than that and you’ll put your body under too much strain. Your body needs time to fully recover in between sessions.
Body Weight Exercises
As its name implies, bodyweight exercises are routines wherein your own body provides all the resistance you need to get fit — no special equipment needed. Another great benefit of bodyweight exercises is that they can be done at your own pace, and you don’t need a personal trainer to design the perfect system for your lifestyle and/or fitness level.
Because of their convenience, many people are now becoming inclined to do bodyweight exercises. Unfortunately, many folks are doing them incorrectly. This is a significant concern, as it not only wastes your time, but may also put you at risk of injury. To learn how to do bodyweight exercises properly, watch this video:
4 Bodyweight Workout Apps
- You Are Your Own Gym ($2.99): With over 200 video demonstrations and quick workout options, this app lets you craft a customized workout for your skill level. You can either build a workout from scratch or pick from their quick workouts, which have 81 different combinations per difficulty level.
- 500 Bodyweight Challenge (Free): This app has videos with exercise demonstrations along with challenges designed to, well, challenge you. For instance, one challenge will have you complete 50 jump squats in seven minutes. The user interface is clean and simple, allowing you to focus clearly on your workouts.
- Gorilla Workout ($0.99): Gorilla Workout, which was named the iPad Health & Fitness app of the year by Apple, has 175 different bodyweight workouts with 40+ unique exercises. You can choose from four different fitness levels along with signature workouts to get fit. Every exercise also has real-life video and text descriptions.
- Sworkit Pro (Free): This app provides randomized circuit training workouts that you can do anywhere. You choose the length of your workout and the area of your body you want to focus on (such as upper body, core, cardio, full body or stretching), and Sworkit designs a customized routine instantly.