There are many ways to arrange the sequence of exercises in a resistance training session. Traditionally, large muscle group exercises are performed before smaller muscle group exercises, and multijoint exercises are performed before single-joint exercises. Following this exercise order allows you to use heavier weights on the multijoint exercises because fatigue will be less of a factor.
Perform more challenging exercises earlier in the workout when your neuromuscular system is less fatigued. In general, it seems reasonable to follow the priority system of training in which exercises that will most likely contribute to enhanced muscular fitness are performed early in the training session. The sample resistance training programs presented in this chapter include exercises that reflect this sequence (see Exercise Program and Resistance Training).
Number of Repetitions
One of the most important variables in the design of a resistance training program is the amount of weight used for an exercise. Gains in muscular fitness are influenced by the amount of weight lifted, which is inversely related to the number of repetitions you can perform. As the weight increases, the number of repetitions you can perform decreases. Although you should never sacrifice proper form, the training weight should be challenging enough to result in at least a modest degree of muscle fatigue during the last few repetitions of a set. If this does not occur, you will not achieve the desired gains from your resistance training program.
Because heavyweights are not required to increase the muscular strength of beginners, weights corresponding to about 60 to 80 percent of the 1RM for 8 to 12 repetitions are recommended for adults (10 to 15 repetitions for middle-age and older adults with limited resistance training experience). Although weights that can be lifted more than 15 times are effective for increasing local muscular endurance, lighlightweightsely result in meaningful gains in muscular strength. If you are a beginner, the best approach is to first establish a target repetition range (e.g., 8 to 12), and then by trial and error determine the maximum load you can handle for the prescribed number of repetitions. If multiple sets of an exercise are performed, the first set may be performed for 12 repetitions before fatigue occurs whereas the last set may be performed for about 8 repetitions.
Although it may take two to three workouts to find your desired training weight on all exercises, keep in mind that the magnitude of your effort will determine the outcome of your strength training program. For example, training within an 8RM to 12RM zone means that you should be able to perform no more than 12 repetitions with a given weight using proper exercise technique. Simply performing an exercise for 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12 repetitions does not necessarily mean you are training within the 8RM to 12RM zone. You should be stopping because of the onset of muscle fatigue, not just because you have reached a predetermined number. However, regardless of the number of repetitions, it is important to maintain proper technique on every repetition to optimize adaptations and reduce the risk of injury.
When should the weight lifted be increased?
Consider how many repetitions are currently possible. For example, initially it may be possible to lift a 20-pound (9 kg) barbell only eight times. As training continues and muscular fitness improves, this repetition number increases from 8 to 12 before fatigue (i.e., repetitions number 11 and 12 are a bit of a struggle to complete). Increasing the repetitions is one way to overload the muscle. When you are able to easily complete 12 repetitions in two consecutive training sessions, this is evidence that the muscles have adapted to the overload and now it is time to progress to a higher weight to provide greater resistance. The repetition number will drop back and the process of increasing number of repetitions from 8 to 12 will start over again.
Number of Sets
The number of sets performed in a workout is directly related to the overall training volume, which reflects the amount of time the muscles are being exercised. For beginners, even one set can provide benefits. Healthy adults should perform two to four sets for each muscle group to achieve muscular fitness goals. Although single-set protocols can enhance your muscular strength if you are a beginner, multiple-set protocols have proven more effective in the long term, with evidence of a dose response for the number of sets per exercise. That is, greater gains in muscular fitness can be expected with additional sets per exercise (up to a point). What’s more, you do not need to perform every exercise for the same number of sets. As a general recommendation, perform more sets of large-muscle group exercises than of smaller-muscle group exercises.
You can use different combinations of sets and exercises to vary the training stimulus, which is vital for long-term gains. For example, if you complete one set of two different exercises for the same muscle group (e.g., leg press and leg extension), the quadriceps on the front of the thigh will have performed two sets. From a practical standpoint, your health status, fitness goals, and time demands should determine the number of sets you perform per muscle group.
Strength-building exercises should be performed at a controlled, or moderate, velocity during the lifting and lowering phases. Movement control can be defined as the ability to stop any lifting or lowering action at will without momentum carrying the movement to completion. Uncontrolled, jerky movements not only are ineffective but also may result in injury. Intentionally slow velocities with a relatively light weight (e.g., a 5-second lifting phase and a 5-second lowering phase) may be useful to enhance muscular endurance, but this type of training is not recommended to optimize gains in muscular strength. Although different movement speeds have proven effective, if you are a beginner, you should perform each repetition at a moderate speed, with about 2 seconds for the lifting phase and 3 seconds for the lowering phase. A longer lowering phase places more emphasis on the eccentric muscle action, which is important for muscle growth and strength development.
Rest Periods Between Sets and Exercises
The length of the rest period between sets and exercises is an important but often overlooked training variable. In general, the length of the rest period influences energy recovery and training adaptation. For example, if your primary goal is muscular strength, heavier weights and longer rest periods of 2 to 3 minutes are needed, whereas if your goal is muscular endurance, lighter weights, higher repetitions, and shorter rest periods of 30 to 60 seconds are required. Obviously, the heavier the weight is, the longer the rest period should be if the training goal is to maximize strength gains.
The cool-down brings the body systems back to resting levels. Just as the warm-up led into the conditioning phase, the cool-down helps to transition the body from the higher demands of the conditioning phase to the lower levels of physiological demand seen at rest. Shifting to moderate-intensity and then low-intensity aerobic and muscular endurance activity will lower your heart rate and blood pressure gradually and safely (1). See Safety First for additional ways to maximize safety when training.