Setting Resistance Training Goals

26 Oct

Today I took my first of five personal trainer exams at the Personal Fitness Trainer Association school in Austin. After two weeks of learning the Green section, which is all about program design for clients, I sat down for an hour and fifteen minute test that consisted of over 60 multiple choice questions, 25 matching questions, and identification of all the main muscles in the lower body and abdomen.

PFTA of Austin Notes

A lot of what we learned I would consider basic fitness knowledge that anyone who reads health magazines already knows, things like aiming for 3-5 days of cardio a week, and resting muscle groups for 48 hours before working them out again. Then there is a whole chunk of new information I learned that I never quite knew the details of before: from what types of exercises to avoid when working with a pregnant woman, to types of plyometric training and stretching techniques.

Of everything I learned, I think one practice that escapes many people is how to do resistance training for a certain goal. When most of us head to the gym, our goals are fairly general: lose weight, tone up, or get big (I’m clearly doing it to get big). How we choose to get there is also fairly general: run on the treadmill, do some crunches, do some bicep curls and call it a day. “That was good right? A little of everything, feeling tired, my arms hurt. Let’s get a smoothie,” –and this is where we go wrong. Because we’re just wingin’ it, there is no structure to stick to or results to look for besides movement in the scale (do I weigh more/less this morning? The same AGAIN? WTF). What happens next is, you lose motivation, seethe at your gym bag, and buy a chocolate chip cookie for comfort because nothing seems to make a difference anyway. I was totally guilty of this in the past.

Now I realize that one of the most important things to do before ever walking into a gym is to make a plan. I learned this mostly from my own experience with bodyrock (high intensity interval training). Writing down my reps day in and day out gave me something to fight for the next time I worked out–one more push-up to beat last week’s count. But what if I wasn’t doing a bodyrock workout? I wouldn’t know how many reps to do to achieve my goals, or more importantly, how to structure a plan for a future client of mine who wants to “get big.”

There are four main types of resistance training to plan for:

  1. Endurance. This is typically used for weight loss efforts and involves 15-20 reps of an exercise with only 30 seconds rest in between sets. This is where most people who want to lose weight should start, and with weights that make the last two reps burn.
  2. Hypertrophy. This is when a person wants to get larger muscles (get ripped, get huge, become a bouncer). Here you want 8-12 reps, with 30-90 second seconds rest in between, with heavier weights that in the endurance category.
  3. Strength.This is… when someone wants to get stronger (seriously, that’s my best definition). Think power lifters, strong man competitors, or loggers like Paul Bunyan. This means exercises consist of only 3-6 reps with 3-5 minutes of rest in between, and very heavy weights.

    paul bunyan

    Nice to see you again, Paul

  4. Then there’s also Power. This is the need to generate force quickly to meet a certain demand. Think athletes like football players–they need to react with quick, powerful movements at all times. There are many different ways to train for power, but generally it’s 3-5 reps of exercises that prevent deceleration (like squat jumps–no slowing down on the way up) with about 2-4 sets. *Thanks for this, Dave G.

By textbook definition, this would make bodyrock a mix of endurance training and strength training. I’m completing circuits of exercises with between 8-15 reps each depending, with 10 seconds in between each new exercise set, but maybe a minute and thirty seconds before I go back to repeat the first exercise (if that confused you, don’t worry–I got confused just writing it). The point is, if someone is trying to get a “toned” look, it’s a mix of endurance and hypertrophy resistance training that will accomplish that. I’m not there yet though, my six pack is still Bud Light-like at the end of the day, but let’s not focus on that.

Now if someone were to ever approach me and say “Mel, I want to get toned! What’s the deal?!” I have the answer: less cookies. I kid–it’s starting with endurance training and mixing in some strength over time (a good diet and weekly cardio will help drop the pounds hiding your muscles, too–that’s key). Also, writing down the reps and weights you’re using will ensure you’re staying on track to achieve a specific goal. No more jumble of crunches that will hopefully do something if you just can get 100 more reps in. You’re gettin’ real, baby.

Do you follow a training plan when you workout?

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