How many of you go to the gym, pick up a weight in Goldilocks’ fashion thinking “not too heavy, not too light, juuuuust right”…and then knock out 3 sets of 10 reps and think, “Whew! I feel stronger already!”
First of all, good for you for hitting the weights in the first place. Second of all, yes you are getting stronger, but let’s get there faster and smarter, shall we?!
It is far too common that we throw out random numbers like 3 sets of 10 or 2 sets of 20 and end up just winging our gym routine.
Why do we do this? Is this effective?
Would your physician randomly say, “Hmm I think 20 milligrams sounds good. Let’s go ahead with that and hope for the best!”
Just like your physician, Physical Therapists (PTs) do not, so neither should you. We are constantly watching our patients to monitor for compensations or poor form to make sure they get the best recovery possible.
You may think, “Well I’m not a patient. Why does this matter?”
Well, here is where you have that very same power to take matters into your own hands and get that body with a well thought out plan!
Regardless of your fitness goals, you NEED to know your exercise prescription to get results.
1. Determine your goals
Are you trying to build that perfect physique, or are you simply looking to get stronger for your general health? Do you want those bulging biceps, or do you want to move your furniture without feeling completely helpless?
Everyone has different goals, but here are the general resistance training categories:
- Endurance: generating sub-maximal force over a longer time. A long distance runner has good muscular endurance.
- Hypertrophy: growth in muscle size. This usually makes me think of Ahhhnold, but that’s obviously a bit extreme.
- Strength: The amount of force your muscle can exert. I’m thinking of that time I carried my very over-packed suitcase down a flight of stairs (note to self: pack lighter or “damn, I wish I was stronger”).
- Power: the amount of force per unit time. Basically think of generating force with speed like a jump squat or golf swing orrrr that output number on your spin bike! A somewhat complicated topic that definitely needs a lot more explanation.
2. Think FITT
For our purposes, we are applying this to resistance training.
Frequency: How often?
Intensity: How hard?
- Combination of Sets, Reps, % Rep Max (RM), Rest Period
Time: How long?
- # of reps
Type: What exercise?
- Resistance training: free weights, resistance bands, body weight, etc.
- Endurance: 2-3 sets, 12-20 reps at 50-67% 1 RM with 30 seconds recovery between sets
- Hypertrophy: 3-6 sets, 6-12 reps at 67-85% 1 RM with 30-90 seconds recovery between sets (higher volume of training, overload principle)
- Strength: 5-6 sets, 4-6 reps at >85% 1 RM with 2-5 minutes recovery between sets
- Power: (heavier lifting, closer to maximal, speed component with power) – 3-6 sets, 1-4 reps, >85% 1 RM with 2-5 minute recovery between sets
Whoah, whoah, whoaaah. Hold up. I thought you said this was simple. Why is there math involved?!
I’m sure many of you have heard of the term “1 Rep Max” but not all of us (including me) are hitting the weight racks on the regular to bang this out. I know that some of us just want to grab the dumbbells or kettlebells and get to work with confidence.
This final step simplifies everything.
3. Become a “technical failure”
Technical failure=loss of form; body begins compensating with other muscles to complete the task.
Yes, when it comes to exercise, we absolutely MUST FAIL to learn how to build our success. Think those quotes such as, “Failure is the key to success” or the quote by Malcolm Forbes, “Failure is success if we learn from it” have a place here?
I first heard this term when one of my coworkers (shout out to Dr. Ashley Marrapode) presented on a functional strengthening continuing education course that she attended. I thought it was brilliant.
Okay, yeah, yeah great term. How do I use it?
Okay, so you’ve set your goal. You’ve determined how many sets and reps you want to do. Now, select a weight you can confidently complete the desired reps safely (better to start lighter than heavier).
Failed before reaching that final rep? Go down in weight.
It was a breeze and you could go on for days? Pick up a heavier set.
You finished that last rep with fatigue and could not perform another rep without sacrificing form? CONGRATULATIONS! You are a technical success!
As Dr. Marrapode explained, the basic principles of strength training still apply. Instead of using your 1RM, use your “technical failure” weight as your reference point. She also warns, if you are using your RM as your guideline, beware if you are compensating just to throw up a ton of weight. Youre exercise prescription will be off!
Wrong prescription=Mediocre results
So you’ve figured out your prescription?
Write it down. Monitor your progress. Reassess. Refill as needed.
How, you ask?
Simple. Channel Brian McKnight, of course, and start… Back at One.