With over 52.9 Million Americans working out in a health club, less than 13% work with a certified fitness professional and 44% who quit working out annually claim it is related to lack of results because they “don’t know what to do” or an injury they acquired while exercising (IHRSA, 2014). It was this statistic, among others, that caused me to conceptualize Forge. I knew there had to be a way to make personal training more accessible or affordable for the thousands of people who try and fail to achieve their fitness needs.
Anyway, one of the biggest mistakes made by nearly all gym-goers is applying the incorrect weight training strategy as it relates to their goal. In most cases, people turn to the internet, magazines or friends for workout advice. This is possibly the worst way to start a program as these resources often suggest a program that is outside the current condition of the questioning individual or scientifically unsound. Unfortunately, the average American is significantly deconditioned and most popular programs or fad workouts are overly intense and inappropriate because the “Acute Variables” are incorrect for that person. This post has some gritty detail so hang in there!
1, Acute Variables: Weight, Sets, Reps and Tempo.
Acute variables are simply the design of a program including load, sets, repetitions and contraction tempo. Please note, for the sake of simplicity in this article I have omitted several acute variables including: Training intensity, training volume, rest interval, exercise selection, exercise order, training duration and training frequency. But let’s start at the beginning. In order to even determine how much to lift and how to lift it, one must first have an accurate picture of their current condition level. Because we tend to be a very sedentary nation, many people have developed compensation patterns in our movement that have altered our musculature balance and joint function. These human movement imbalances are the result of excessive sitting, hunching, and lack of activity or even injuries.
Because weight training involves muscle contraction with resistance along the tissue and joint, we are already at a great risk of injury when we possess an imbalance. Lifting too heavy or with the incorrect set/rep range and tempo is likely to place an excessive amount of force against the joint and connective tissue such as tendons, ligaments and fascia. Weight training should be a progressive activity where one takes the time to build strength in joint stabilizer muscles prior to attempting major prime mover (large muscle group) work. As a basic rule, weight training stages start with stabilization exercises and then strength building by either muscle growth (hypertrophy), maximal strength or strength endurance variables. Here is a common approach for applying acute variables through each phase covered in this article:
- Stabilization Phase & Muscle Endurance: 50% – 70% of One Rep Max
- Hypertrophy: 75% – 85% of One Rep Max
- Maximal Strength: 85% – 100% of One Rep Max
- Stabilization Phase & Muscle Endurance: 1 – 3 Sets
- Hypertrophy: 3 – 5 Sets
- Maximal Strength: 4 – 6 Sets
- Stabilization Phase & Muscle Endurance: 12 – 20 Reps
- Hypertrophy: 6 – 12 Reps
- Maximal Strength: 1 – 5 Reps
- Stabilization Phase & Muscle Endurance: 4-3/1-2/2-4 (4-3 sec contraction, 1-2 sec hold, 4-3 sec return)
- Hypertrophy: 2/0/2-3 (2 sec contraction, 0 sec hold, 2-3 sec return)
- Maximal Strength: Explosive concentric contraction and a “drop” on eccentric or a “safety” return.
- Posture & Form: It’s Not How much you lift… It’s how you lift it.
Posture is also critical to ensure muscle groups and joints are at their optimal positions to safely and effectively move weight. Posture is the gateway to improving nervous system and muscle communication and greatly reducing the chances of injury. Basically, proper posture is fundamental to static (standing or sitting) or dynamic movements (active or athletic) in order to maintain skeletal alignment, reduce abnormal wearing of joint surfaces, decrease tendon and ligament stress, prevent excessive muscle fatigue and reduce injuries related to improper movement. Many postural imbalances become even more pronounced during a dynamic movement and that’s exactly when you want to be stable and in proper “form” or posture. This is especially true in a load bearing activity such as weight training or deceleration maneuver in a sport.
The best way to think of proper posture in weight training is to avoid any activity which causes you to swing your body to move the weight, arching or rounding your back, lifting your shoulders, jutting your head forward or locking your knees. This is a sign that the weigh is just too heavy and you are unable to safely move it without compensation or the assistance of momentum. It is also important to remember the tempo of your acute variable mentioned above and move the weight in a slow and controlled manner all while maintaining the best posture possible.
- Recovery: Active and Passive recovery is key.
Any time we place stress or train any muscle that is underdeveloped, the result is typically soreness that develops over the next 6-12 hours. Many people new to weight training think soreness is something to fear or a setback in their program. However, muscle soreness is an indicator of progress in some ways and a natural product of intense resistance or activation in the muscle structure. While soreness may be more prevalent in a deconditioned person or someone who has intensified their routine, it is a temporary result of weight training and not to be feared. Weight training participants should understand the difference between Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and overtraining so be sure to check with a fitness professional whenever possible.
It is important to allow the affected tissue time to recover and for the body to mend the muscular tears before working that muscle group again. This can be done through Passive Recovery by limiting that muscle group’s activation over a period of approximately 2 or 3 days. Active Recovery is when muscles are stimulated through light stretching, foam rolling or mild resistance for a period of time depending on the acute variables of the program. Recovery must be aligned with your training goal, adequate sleep and proper nutrition. Recovery time for stabilization exercise is far shorter than recovery of larger muscle groups and sleep is where most of the full recovery takes place. But of course, nutrition is the bedrock to the whole program. Weight training requires the proper ration of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and water to be truly effective so be sure you have food intake dialed in.
I have always encouraged students, clients and question-askers to be patient and thoughtful when developing a weight training program and be sure the weight, acute variables, and even exercise section are right for their need. It may seem overwhelmineffortlessly create an immersing and su