With any exercise program it is important to have a goal in mind. Strength, fitness, appearance, health, weight loss, and improvement in a sport-specific activity are common goals for individuals practicing strength training.
Specific programs cater to specific goals. For example, if an individual is a competitive power lifter he or she will have a very different program from someone wishing to improve overall fitness.
Repetitions, or reps, refers to the number of consecutive times one performs an exercise. A set refers to one group of repetitions. So 3 sets of 8 repetitions means that an individual performs an exercise 8 times, takes a short break, performs the exercise 8 more times, takes another short break, then performs the exercise 8 more times.
The following chart illustrates the number of reps generally used to train for certain goals:
|--STRENGTH-- STRENGTH Strength Strength
|--POWER-- POWER Power power
| hypertrophy --HYPERTROPHY-- Hypertrophy hypertrophy
| muscular endurance Muscular Endurance --MUSCULAR ENDURANCE--
Strength is the ability to exert force. It is useful in activities of daily living such as lifting heavy objects without injury.
Power is the ability to generate force divided by the time it takes to do it. Power is useful in sports such as sprinting and other short-distance events, boxing, jumping etc. Power is also useful in daily activities such as stair-climbing and rising from a chair.
Hypertrophy is muscle growth. Muscles grow by individual muscle fibers increasing their size. Hypertrophy is especially useful for bodybuilders and individuals seeking that “cut-out” appearance. In addition, hypertrophy training is good for mid-level muscular endurance. This type of endurance is good for supporting the body during repetitive tasks like yard work.
Muscular endurance is the ability to consistently produce a slight to moderate amount of strength over an extended period of time. This is good for endurance events such as cycling, running, swimming, kayaking, and triathlons. It is also useful as a means of supporting the body throughout the day.
For the first month of resistance training 1-2 sets is appropriate. During this period focus on form, and do not go to failure (see below). After the first month the most common recommendation is to do 2-4 sets of a given exercise. During this period intensity can be ramped up.
When beginning resistance training 8-12 reps is a good place to start. This minimizes the chance of injury associated with using heavier weights and lower reps, and allows you to reap benefits in all categories (strength, power, hypertrophy, endurance).
Failure is an important concept in resistance training. “Going to failure” means that you cannot finish the final rep due to fatigue. Since strength gains are directly related to exercise intensity, going to failure can be an effective way to make gains. Be sure that the last rep in a set is very difficult to perform. If not, add weight!