coaching@joedowdell.com

An Introduction to Strength Training

Strength training is one of the most popular forms of training around; professional athletes who are looking to perform better

in their sport and to avoid injury use it. Regular gym goers, who want to live a life free of injury, and perform simple tasks such

as carrying their shopping bags with ease, use it. Bodybuilders and fitness models also use it to improve their physiques. It

really is a very diverse method of training.

 

In this article, we are going to look at what strength training is, what the benefits are, the two main categories of strength

training movements, as well as an explanation of how to use sets, reps, tempo and rest periods effectively. Finally, I am going to

include a 4-week training program for someone who is a beginner to intermediate, in terms of fitness level, and is looking to

improve their body composition.

 

What is Strength Training?

 

The obvious answer here is that strength training is using weights, machines, and bodyweight exercises to increase muscular

strength and endurance. You can also use it to increase muscle size (known as hypertrophy training). And finally, it can be used

to increase durability against injury, and as a way to improve sporting performance.

 

What are the Benefits?

 

Of course, the clear benefit of strength training is increased strength! However, what about other, lesser-known benefits?

Strength training can lead to increased muscle size, increased muscular endurance, body fat losses (i.e. improved body

composition), and increased testosterone and growth hormone levels. It can improve sleep quality as well as aerobic and

anaerobic performance (yes, really), which can result in a reduced chance of Cardiovascular Disease.

 

You will benefit from increased power, reduced injury risk, an elevated metabolism, improved sporting ability, and many more

benefits. It seems amazing that anyone would avoid strength training when there are SO many documented benefits to

performing it.

 

Multi-Joint vs Single Joint Exercises

 

Any exercise that you perform is technically a strength training exercise, but there are some exercises that better suited for

increasing overall strength more than others. These exercises are multi-joint exercises or exercises that involve more than one

muscle group (also known as compound movements). Examples of these would be: Barbell Squats, Bench Press, Deadlifts,

Shoulder Presses, Bent Over Rows, Pull-ups/Chin-ups, Lat Pulldowns, Leg Press, Walking Lunges, Romanian deadlifts – the list

goes on and on.

 

The other type of strength training exercise are single joint exercises such as Dumbbell Curls, Triceps Pressdowns, Lateral

Dumbbell Raises, etc., and they are also beneficial to incorporate into your routine particularly if you are looking to build

muscular size in a particular muscle group(s). When I explain to clients about the difference between these two types of

exercises, I like to use the analogy of building a rock wall. Multi-joint exercises would be the big rocks (boulders) in the wall and

the single joint exercises are all of the small rocks that you use to fill in the areas in the wall around the boulders.

 

Sets and Reps

 

Training for strength versus training for endurance, or training exclusively for hypertrophy involves different set and rep ranges.

Sets simply refer to the number of times a particular exercise will be performed. Reps are the number of times the movement

will be performed within a given set. Often times when reps are prescribed, you will see it noted as 8-10 RM (or Repetition

Maximum). Essentially this means that you should use a load/resistance that will allow you to perform between 8-10 reps

(maximum).

 

Muscular endurance requires a set that has 15+ RM in it, while hypertrophy seems to have a sweet spot somewhere between 8-

15 RM (though you can still achieve hypertrophy with higher and lower rep ranges). When looking to develop strength, you

should utilize 1-8 RM range with 1-3 RM eliciting the greatest effects on maximal strength development.

 

In terms of progression, many strength-training programs involve using higher rep ranges for the first few weeks (or phase of

training) and then slowly lowering the reps on a weekly basis, while increasing the weight. This approach to training is known as

linear periodization and it works well especially for beginners or those returning from injury. But, as you become more and

more experienced in your training, you may want to consider alternating between 4-week phases of higher volume (i.e., more

sets with moderate to high rep ranges—great for hypertrophy) and 4-week phases of higher intensity (i.e., fewer reps per set

but much heavier loads—85-95% of your 1 RM—great for building strength).

 

Load (or Resistance)

 

The load refers to the amount of weight or resistance being used in any given exercise. The “Load” that you will use will be pre-

determined by the number of repetitions in the range.  For example, if the repetition range is 12-15 RM, then you should

choose a resistance that you can complete (with perfect form) at least 12 reps but not more than 15 reps. So in this instance, if

you are unable to reach 12 reps, the load is too heavy and you should reduce it slightly. On the other hand, if you can do more

than 15 reps, it’s too light and you should increase it slightly. In the sample program below, you will see the abbreviations TBD

(To Be Determined) and B/W (Body Weight) for the Load. Since we don’t know what “Load” you will be using for most of the

exercises, except for the two that say “B/W”, I’ve noted it as To be Determined.

 

Tempo  

 

Tempo refers to the speed of movement of the exercise. Its use can have a tremendous effect on the time under tension (TUT)

that a muscle(s) are exposed to during an exercise. Higher amounts of TUT can help improve muscular endurance as well as

muscular hypertrophy. Tempo is often denoted as either a 3 or 4 digits number and as you will see I prefer to use four digits.

Please note: If there is ever the letter “x” as one of the digits, it means to perform that phase of the movement ‘explosively.’

 

  • The first digit represents the eccentric movement {i.e., the lowering of the weight/resistance}
  • The second digit represents the length of the pause in the muscles lengthened position.
  • The third digit is the concentric movement {i.e., the raising of the weight/resistance}.
  • The last digit refers to the length of the pause while the muscle is in the contracted position before repeating the movement.

 

So, if we use an example of 2011 Tempo, it means the following:

 

  • 2 seconds lowering the weight
  • 0-second pause in the lengthened position
  • 1 second to raise the weight
  • 1-second pause in the contracted position

Rest Periods

 

 One of the things that many people do not pay particular attention to when embarking on a training regime is the amount of

rest they take between sets. Some people keep their rest periods as short as they can while others spend several minutes

between sets sending text messages or checking Facebook or Instagram. 😉

 

Generally speaking, if you are looking to lose weight then shorter rest periods somewhere between 30-60 seconds between

sets are going to be better, but if your goal is to increase strength and/or size than your rest period should be somewhere

between 1-2 minutes between sets. Now, if you are performing maximum effort sets in the 1-3 RM range than rest periods can

be extended to 2 ½-3+ minutes between sets. These longer rest periods will give you enough time to recover and allow you to

continue to train at a higher intensity than you would with shorter rest periods.

 

In summary, all of the above variables can and should be manipulated based on your current fitness level and what your desired goals are.

 

Sample Training Program for Improving Body Composition

 

Below, you will find a sample workout routine which should be performed three times per week on non-consecutive days for 4 weeks.

 

For the dynamic warm-up, I would suggest clicking on the words Movement Preparation and it will take you to the previous

week’s post which includes a warm-up routine that can be utilized prior to a total body strength training session. The warm-up

should take about 5 minutes but it is well worth it.

 

As for the strength training section, every exercise in the program has one or more options for regressions or progressions that

you can choose instead of the prescribed exercise. This option will allow you to customize the program a little bit to your needs

based on your current fitness level. You will also notice that you have two ways to monitor your rest periods. The first option is

by using a timed rest interval or if you own a heart rate monitor, you can use heart rate option instead. I prefer the heart rate

monitor version whereby you will rest until your heart rate (HR) reaches a certain percent of your Max HR before repeating your

next set. This approach really individualizes the recovery period to your current fitness level.

 

Now, one of the toughest things for most people when they are new to training or starting a new program is to know what

resistance they should be using for each exercise. Truthfully, even the most experienced lifters, have to play around with a

couple of sets at first in order to dial in the exact resistance. The more experience you have the quicker this process will

become. For most people, except competitive lifters, I like to have the repetition bracket dictate the training load. In other

words, if the prescribed repetition bracket is 10-12 RM than you should choose a resistance that will allow you to just get 10

repetitions with good form but not be able to exceed 12. If you can’t get 10 reps with the weight you picked than lower the

weight slightly. If you can get more than 12 reps than increase the weight slightly (i.e., 2.5-5 lbs.). I find this to be a very user-

friendly approach to finding the appropriate training load for each exercise.

 

Movement Preparation:

Strength Training:

 

A1) Goblet Squat

 

  • 3 sets; 10-12 reps; Load = TBD, 3010 tempo, 45-60 seconds rest (or until your heart rate is between 60-65% of Max HR)

 

A2) Bench Press—Dumbbell—Flat Bench—Bilateral

 

  • 3 sets; 10-12 reps; Load = TBD, 3010 tempo, 60 seconds rest (or until your heart rate is between 60-65% of Max HR)

 

B1) Hip Bridge-Leg Curl Combo—Body Weight—Slideboard or Valslide

 

  • 3 sets; 10-12 reps; Load = TBD, 2010 tempo, 45-60 seconds rest (or until your heart rate is between 60-65% of Max HR)

 

B2) Row—Dumbbell—Bent over—3-Point Stance—Neutral Grip—Unilateral—Elbows In 

 

  • 3 sets; 10-12 reps/side; Load = TBD, 3010 tempo, 60 seconds rest (or until your heart rate is between 60-65% of Max HR)

 

C1) Curl to Shoulder Press—Dumbbell—Seated—60° Incline

 

  • 3 sets; 10-12 reps; Load = TBD, 2020 tempo, 30 seconds rest (or until your heart rate is between 65-70% of Max HR)

 

C2) Row—Body Weight—TRX—Standing—Elbows Out

 

  • 3 sets; 10-12 reps; Load = B/W, 2011 tempo, 30 seconds rest (or until your heart rate is between 65-70% of Max HR)

 

C3) Plank—Body Weight—Forearm Position

 

  • 3 sets; 45-60 sec., Load = B/W, Tempo = Hold*, 60 seconds rest (or until your heart rate is between 60-65% of Max HR)
  • * Hold the position for 45-60 seconds.

Conditioning (Optional):

 

E1) Choose one of the following modalities: Fan Bike, Rower or Spin Bike (Hill Climbs)

  • Start with a low intensity 3 minute warm-up on whichever piece of equipment you choose.
  • Next, perform 5-7 reps of 30 seconds of work at 80-90% of your Max HR followed by 60-90 seconds of recovery or until your heart rate is between 60-65% of your Max HR.
  • Repeat the work and recovery intervals for the prescribed number of reps.

 

Goblet Squat—Dumbbell

Primary Muscle(s):

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

Secondary Muscle(s):

  • Core

Starting Position:

  • Select the proper dumbbell resistance that will allow you to perform the prescribed number of repetitions.
  • Stand tall with your feet about shoulder-width apart and holding a dumbbell in front of your chest in a Goblet position.

Execution:

  • Initiate the movement by shifting your hips down and back while also bending the knees as you descend into a squat.
  • Continue to squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor or as far as you can while maintaining a flat back.
  • Reverse the motion by driving down into the ground through your feet while extending your hips and knees returning to an upright position.
  • Repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.

Coaching Tips:

  • Keep your core tight.
  • Keep your chest up and back flat.
  • Make sure you keep the dumbbell in the Goblet position throughout the movement.
  • Do not let knees collapse to the inside during the movement.

Movement Regression:

  • Use a lighter weight

or

  • Goblet Squat—Dumbbell—To Box or Bench

Movement Progression:

  • Use a heavier weight.

or

  • Goblet Squat—Dumbbell—One and a Quarter Reps

Bench Press—Dumbbell—Flat Bench—Bilateral 

Primary Muscle(s):

  • Pecs
  • Anterior Deltoids
  • Triceps

Secondary Muscle(s):

  • Core

Starting Position: 

  • Select the proper dumbbell resistance that will allow you to perform the prescribed number of repetitions.
  • Lie back on a flat bench.
  • With your arms fully extended toward the ceiling, hold the dumbbells with a pronated grip (palms facing away from you) about shoulder width apart.
  • Keep feet planted firmly on the ground.

Execution:

  • Breathe in; lower the dumbbells to chest level; exhale and drive them back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.

Coaching Tips:

  • Keep your core engaged throughout the exercise.
  • When lowering and raising the dumbbells, your upper arms should form a 70-80° angle with your torso.
  • Make sure you use a smooth and controlled motion.

Movement Regression:

  • Use a lighter weight.

or

  • Bench Press—Barbell—Flat Bench

Movement Progression:

  • Use a heavier weight.

or

  • Bench Press—Dumbbell—Flat Bench—Alternating

Hip Bridge-Leg Curl Combo—Body Weight—Slideboard or Valslide

Primary Muscle(s):

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Lower Back

Secondary Muscle(s):

  • Core

Starting Position:

  • Lie on your back; legs fully extended and your heels on top of a Slideboard (or a pair of Valslides).
  • Before you begin make sure you put the slideboard booties over your footwear or you can rest your feet on top of them.
  • If you are using Valslides make sure you are on a smooth surface that will allow them to slide.
  • Your arms should be extended at a 45-degree angle to your torso (palms up).

Execution:

  • Start the movement by tightening your core; pressing your heels down into the Slideboard or Valslides and slightly elevating your hips off the ground.
  • Next, contract your Hamstrings and pull the heels toward your butt.
  • As you are pulling your heels inward continue to contract the Glutes and elevate the hips toward the ceiling.
  • Your shoulders, hips, and knees should form a straight line when your heels are closest to your butt.
  • Reverse the movement by extending your legs and return to the start position.
  • Repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.

Coaching Tips:

  • Keep your core and Glutes tight.
  • Keep your toes pulled to your shins.
  • Do not arch your back.
  • If you can, do not let your hips touch the floor until the set is finished.

Movement Regression:

  • Hip Bridge-Leg Curl Combo—Body Weight—Supine—Eccentric Accentuated—Slideboard or Valslide

Movement Progression:

  • Hip Bridge-Leg Curl Combo—Body Weight—Slideboard or Valslide—Unilateral

Row—Dumbbell—Bent over—3-Point Stance—Neutral Grip—Unilateral—Elbows In

Primary Muscle(s):

  • Lats
  • Teres Major
  • Rhomboids
  • Middle Trapezius

Secondary Muscle(s):

  • Core
  • Brachialis
  • Serratus Anterior

Starting Position:

  • Select the proper dumbbell resistance that will allow you to perform the prescribed number of repetitions.
  • With both feet about hip-width apart bend your knees about 20-30 degrees; hinge forward from your hips until your torso is slightly above parallel to the floor and place your hand on the bench.
  • Hold a dumbbell in the other hand with your arm fully extended and your palms facing in toward your body.
  • Your hips, shoulders, and head should form a straight line.

Execution:

  • Leading with the elbow, pull the dumbbell until it is beside your lower rib cage.
  • Your upper arms should stay tucked into your side and your hand should be directly in line with your elbow at the top of the movement.
  • Make sure you retract the shoulder blade toward your spine at the top of the movement.
  • Reverse the movement; continue for the prescribed number of repetitions; switch sides and repeat on the other side.

Coaching Tips:

  • Keep the core tight.
  • Maintain the straight line from the hips to head.
  • Do not rotate your torso or hips.
  • As you row on one side, actively push down with the other arm into the bench in order to activate the Serratus Anterior.

Movement Regression:

  • Use less weight

or

  • Row—Dumbbell—Kneeling—Supported—Neutral Grip—Unilateral—Elbows In

Movement Progression: 

  • Use more weight

or

  • Row—Dumbbell—Bent over—Unsupported—Neutral Grip—Bilateral—Elbows In

Curl to Shoulder Press—Dumbbell—Seated—60° Incline

Primary Muscle(s):

  • Biceps
  • Deltoids
  • Triceps

Secondary Muscle(s):

  • Core

Starting Position:

  • Select the proper dumbbell resistance that will allow you to perform the prescribed number of repetitions.
  • Bench at 60-degree angle with feet flat on the floor.
  • Rotate the dumbbells into a supinated position (i.e., palms facing away from the body).

Execution:

  • Bend the elbows; flex the biceps and curl the dumbbells to the shoulder level.
  • Once at the shoulder level, rotate your hands so your palms are facing away from you.
  • Next, press the dumbbells overhead, fully extending your arms.
  • Reverse the motion and bring the dumbbells back down to your sides.
  • Repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.

Coaching Tips:

  • Perform with a smooth and controlled motion without sacrificing form.
  • Keep your core tight.

Movement Regression:

  • Use a lighter weight.

Movement Progression:

  • Use a heavier weight.

 

Row—Body Weight—TRX—Standing—Elbows Out

Primary Muscle(s):

  • Posterior Deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Middle Trapezius

Secondary Muscle(s):

  • Core
  • Rotator Cuff
  • Glutes

Starting Position:

  • Grab the TRX with one handle in each hand.
  • Place your feet side by side in a parallel stance; with your heels on the ground and lean back with your arms fully extended.
  • Keep your entire body in a straight line.
  • Palms facing each other.

Execution:

  • Leading with your elbows, pull yourself towards the TRX handles until your chest is about even with the handles.
  • Your upper arms should be almost in line with the shoulder joint.
  • Make sure you retract the shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
  • Slowly lower yourself to the starting position and repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.

Coaching Tips:

  • Keep your core and Glutes tight.
  • Make sure the body maintains a straight line from the ankles to head and it should move as one unit.

Movement Regression:

  • Decrease the angle of your body by walking your feet further from the anchor point.

or

  • Row—Body Weight—TRX—Standing—Assisted Stance—Elbows Out

Movement Progression:

  • Increase the angle of your body by walking your feet closer to the anchor point

or

  • Row—Body Weight—Inverted Position—Pronated Grip—Elbows Out

Plank—Body Weight—Forearm Position

Primary Muscle(s):

  • Rectus Abdominus

Secondary Muscle(s):

  • Transverse Abdominus
  • Internal Oblique
  • External Oblique
  • Shoulders
  • Serratus Anterior
  • Glutes

Starting Position:

  • Start in a pushup position but instead of being on your hands, rest on your forearms.
  • Your elbows should be directly under the shoulders and your fists in line with your forehead.
  • Your body should form a straight line from the ankles to your head.

Execution:

  • Push down through your forearms so your chest moves away from the ground and your shoulder blades hug tight to your rib cage.
  • Hold this position for the prescribed amount of time.

Coaching Tips:

  • Keep your core, legs, and Glutes tight.
  • Keep the shoulder blades tight to your rib cage while holding the position.
  • Think about pushing your sternum as far away from the forearms as possible.
  • Do not let the hips and lower back sag.

Movement Regression:

  • Plank—Body Weight—Modified Position

Movement Progression:

  • Plank—Body Weight—Forearm Position—Feet in TRX

Fan Bike

Primary Muscle(s):

  • Total Body

Secondary Muscle(s):

  • None

Starting Position: 

  • Make sure you adjust the seat so that when you pedal there is a slight bend in the knee when your leg is extended.

Execution:

  • Begin pedaling your feet and pumping arms.
  • Continue for the prescribed number of intervals or time.

Coaching Tips:

  • Keep the core tight.
  • Maintain an upright posture.

Movement Regression:

  • None

Movement Progression:

  • None

 

Rower

Primary Muscle(s):

  • Total Body

Secondary Muscle(s):

  • None

Starting Position: 

  • Set the fan setting to the appropriate resistance that will allow you to achieve the prescribed heart rate training zones as well as complete the prescribed workout.
  • Sit on the seat, adjust the foot straps and secure your feet inside of them.
  • Bend your knees and grab hold of the handle.
  • Make sure your shoulders are down and your back is flat before beginning.

Execution: 

  • First, drive with your legs.
  • Keep your back and arms in the same starting position.
  • As your legs extend, lean your body backward slightly and row the handle to your lower chest.
  • Keep your shoulders down and chest up as you row.
  • Reverse the motion by letting your arms extended, the body comes forward, and legs bend as you slide the seat to the starting position.
  • Repeat the cyclical motion for prescribed time or distance, maintaining proper form the entire time.

Coaching Tips:

  • Keep your core tight.
  • Maintain good posture.

Movement Regression:

  • Adjust the resistance setting to a lower number.

Movement Progression:

  • Adjust the resistance setting to a higher number.

 

Spin Bike—Hill Climbs

Primary Muscle(s):

  • Lower Body

Secondary Muscle(s):

  • None

Starting Position:

  • Make sure you adjust the seat so that when you pedal there is a slight bend in the knee when your leg is extended.

Execution:

  • Begin pedaling your feet.
  • Next, increase the resistance; raise up off the seat; continue to pedal for the prescribed time of the work interval; lower yourself back to the seat; decrease the resistance and continue to pedal for the prescribed time for the recovery interval.
  • Repeat this process for the prescribed number of intervals or time.

Coaching Tips:

  • Keep your core tight.
  • Maintain an upright posture.

Movement Regression:

  • Use less resistance.

Movement Progression:

  • Use more resistance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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