When your goals are to build muscle, burn body fat, and improve health there are 3 areas of importance to focus on - nutrition, cardio, and weight training.
Many people jump straight into the deep end of dieting and cardio without much thought for weight training. If you really want to take control of how you look and feel then make sure you place just as much emphasis on planning weight training.
The list of benefits weight training offers is massive. The most obvious being the ability to reshape the structure of your body through building more muscle.
For the record here are a few of the added bonuses weight training develops:
- Stronger, heavier bones
- Strengthened tendons, ligaments, greater flexibility - all contributing to reduced risk for muscle strains and pains
- Slowed onset of age related muscle degradation
- A faster metabolism
- Increased strength and muscular endurance
- Positive effects on blood pressure
- Higher natural levels of testosterone
Let's take a look at how to go about designing your own weight training program. How this is structured will depend on where you are starting from. Over time the body becomes conditioned to the loads exerted from weights so it's important to start with this in mind, then as the body adapts and strengthens change the program regularly to provide for continual progress.
Weight training sessions are broken down into exercises to target specific body parts. These exercises are made up of sets of repetitions (reps) ie 1 set of an exercise maybe made up of 12 reps. A rep is the singular movement you are undertaking within each set and repeating. Most of the time 3 - 5 sets per exercise is necessary to produce the stimulation necessary for the muscle to respond and develop.
Here are some examples of weight training programs for different levels:
Complete body workout
1 session, 1 exercise per body part, 3 sets per exercise, 10 - 14 reps per set
Perform the same routine 2 - 3 x per week
Follow this program for the first 6 - 12 weeks
2 separate sessions ie train upper body on day 1, and lower body on day 2.
1 - 2 exercises per body part, 3 - 5 sets per exercise, 10 - 12 reps per set
Perform each routine 1 - 2 x per week
Follow this program for 12 weeks
3 - 6 separate sessions. Some advanced trainers train one muscle group per workout (ie 5 - 6 sessions per week). The most common system is 2 - 3 muscle groups per session (ie 3 or 4 sessions per week)
2 - 3 exercises per body part, 4 - 5 sets per exercise, 6 - 10 reps per set
Perform each session 1 x per week
This is an advanced approach to weight training, you should spend at least 3 months building up to this level.
When choosing exercises it's important to target the major muscle groups: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Back, Shoulders, Chest, Biceps, Triceps, Calf Muscles, and Abdominals. Pay close attention to how your body develops - this is the art of weight training. If you notice a muscular imbalance occurring then spend time correcting this through changes to your exercises. Apart from looking better aesthetically, this can also help prevent potential injuries. If you find you have a lagging body part, prioritise the particular area early in the week so that you can hit this with more emphasis.
When performing any exercises always make sure you are warmed up properly before hand. You can do this by using light weights and performing some reps with these. Once warmed up, for all sets after this you should be using a weight heavy enough to build a 'burning' sensation of fatigue within the muscle. On the final rep of each 'work' set you should be either close to failure, or failing completely ie not be able to perform any more reps in that set.
For general weight training have a rest of 30 - 90 seconds between sets and different exercises. When strength training is your goal, rest times of 3 - 5 minutes between sets and exercises is the way to go.
Whatever your level is, the rate at which you will build muscle is dependent on the intensity of your training. Train hard, make every workout count, and you will be well on your way to reaching your goals.