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How To Lift Weights Correctly - Weight Profiles




“Nah, bro. You want to do it like this. What you want to do is cross your fingers, look up, count to ten and then sing your favourite ABBA tune.” Anyone who has stepped into a gym to lift weights has probably been given advice that isn’t too dissimilar to this. When it comes to resistance training, there are so many different exercises and ways in which we can actually lift a given weight that it can become confusing and easy to lose focus of what we actually wanted in the first place.


The truth is, it doesn’t need to be complicated. What I’m going to do for you here is break down the different ways in which we can train with weights and keep it nice and simple, because really, that's what it is. I won’t delve into what exercises benefit which muscle groups, but instead I’ll focus on the composition of the training session itself. At the end of this article I will present 5 easy to follow profiles to help you get lifting in the right way.


It really depends on what you want the fruits of your labours to be. In general, the way we train can be determined by the weight we lift, how many times we lift it in one go (perform the exercise) and the intensity, or speed, the exercise is performed at. For example, if you are looking to get stronger, the most beneficial training will be maximal strength training. This involves very heavy weights and low repetitions. On the other hand, your training goals might be served best by endurance training. This would involve a lighter weight for more repetitions. If you are wanting to train for more of an aesthetic look, then hypertrophy training would be more suited, a method that looks closely at the tempo (the speed) at which you perform an exercise.


My advice, make your strength and resistance training specific to your goals. If you need to build maximal strength for a given sport or hobby, then work at maximal strength training rather than focusing on making your muscles look bigger. Remember, strength comes in the quality of the muscle fibres. Hypertrophy (how big your muscles actually look), lies in the size of the muscle fibres. Just because your muscle fibres are bigger doesn’t necessarily mean that they contain more strength.


If you are involved in an endurance sport, like running, cycling or climbing, your time in the weights section might be better served by strength endurance training. If you want nothing more than a ripped physique for your summer holiday, then hypertrophy training is probably the right path. Again, make sure you know what you want from your training before you commit to a programme. For most, your strength and resistance training will be aligned with one of these three methods, max strength, endurance or hypertrophy. Each has a different method in regard to sets, reps, weight, tempo, exercise order, rest and frequency. So, before we look at the profiles themselves, let’s just strip it back to its foundations so everyone reading this is on the same page.


What does it all mean?


Repetitions (Reps) – This is the number of times you perform an exercise before taking a rest. For example, if you had 12 reps to complete, you would complete the exercise 12 times before taking a predetermined rest.


Sets – A set referrers to a collective number of repetitions. For example, if I had 3 sets of 12 reps, I would perform my 12 reps, have a break, perform 12 reps, have a break and then perform my final 12 reps.


Tempo – This refers to the speed at which each rep is performed. Each exercise can be broken down into 3 parts, the concentric (when the muscle contracts), the isometric (when the muscle is held in position, usually halfway through the exercise before reversing the movement) and the eccentric (when the muscle lengthens again). Different ways of training demand different tempos for the best results. For example, if I have a bicep curl at a tempo if 1-2-3, I would take 1 second to curl it up, hold it for a count of 2 seconds at the top, then take 3 seconds to let it back down into the starting position.


Weight – This one is obvious, but worth a mention. The best way of training for all 3 of these main methods of lifting is by working at an appropriate percentage of your 1 rep max (1RM). A 1 rep max refers to the maximum weight you can lift in a given exercise for 1 repetition.


Rest – Depending on the type of strength and resistance training we are doing, we should be prepared to take predetermined rests between our sets. In general, the heavier the weights, the longer the rest.


Exercise Order – Believe it or not, there is an optimal order in which exercises should be performed. More often than not, the best way to lift is working from your larger muscle groups to smaller. Only very specific sports training tends to stray from this path.


Frequency – This refers to the number of times we should be training over the course of a week. The best way to structure a programme is only a weekly basis. This allows for adaptability and changes to be made to the programme as it develops.


If you are planning on working with large compound (multi-jointed) movements in your programme (which everyone should be to a certain extent), such as a back squat, deadlift, bench press or even Olympic lifts, it is best to find out what your 1RM is for these so you can appropriately lift them at the correct weight to suit your training. Regarding isolation and accessory exercises, it can be useful to work at what is called ‘reps in reserve’ (RIR). This is an easy tool to use. This is how it works. When you finish a set, ask yourself, ‘how many reps did I have left in the tank, with good form and technique?’ If the answer is more than 3, consider increasing the weight for the next set. A good place for maximal stimulus in the muscles is to be finishing a set with 2-3 reps left in the tank. This is of course hypothetical, but as we get used to doing it, can be a very advantageous tool in our lifting box.


Now we are on the same page and understand the terminology of lifting weights and what it all refers to, let’s break down the different ways of lifting itself. I have put some general profiles together to help you grasp a good idea about what you should be doing with your exercises when in the gym. Remember, the most important thing is to train in a way that will achieve the results you want most efficiently and effectively.


To determine what level of lifting you are at, I’d stick to this general rule of thumb. Novice refers to those starting out or have been training for less than 18 months. Intermediate is 18 months and onwards. I’d put advance lifters in their bracket after a number of consecutive training years.


General Strength & Maximal Strength Training


Exercise Order / Selection

Olympic & Powerlifts > Multi Joint > Single Joint

Loads / Weights

Novice (60-70% 1RM) / Intermediate (70-85% 1RM) / Advanced (80-100% 1RM

Repetitions

Novice 8-12 / Intermediate 6-12 / Advanced 1-12

Sets

3-5 For Primary Exercises / 1-3 For Accessory & Assistance Exercises

Tempo

1-1-2 = 1(Concentric) 1(Isometric) 2(Eccentric)

Rests

2-5 Minutes Depending on Experience

Frequency

2-4 Workouts Per Week


Hypertrophy Training


Exercise Order / Selection

Push & Pull / Pre-Exhaustion / Large Muscle Groups > Small Muscle Groups / Most Demanding > Least Demanding

Loads / Weights

75-85% 1RM

Repetitions

6-12

Sets

3-12 (High Number For Very Advance Programmes)

Tempo

2-2-4 = 2(Concentric) 2(Isometric) 4(Eccentric)

Rests

1.5-2.5 Minutes

Frequency

Each Muscle Group 2-3 Times A Week


Muscular Endurance Training


Exercise Order / Selection

Exercises Corresponding To Specific Sports Needs / Predominantly Multi Joint In Endurance Training

Loads / Weights

60-70% 1RM

Repetitions

12-20

Sets

2-3 Of Each Exercise

Tempo

1-2-3 = 1(Concentric) 2(Isometric) 3(Eccentric)

Rests

45 Seconds - 1 Minute

Frequency

3 Times Per Week


Here are some additional training profiles for other programmes outside of the key three covered in this article. These types of programmes often correspond to specific sports training. I would recommended this type of training only after you have got to grips with regular strength training as outlined above, unless you are working with a personal trainer or coach.


Power Endurance Training


Exercise Order / Selection

Exercises Corresponding To Specific Sports Needs / Predominantly Multi Joint In Endurance Training / 2-5 Exercises Per Muscle Group / High Number Of Sets For Each Prime Mover

Loads / Weights

30-50% 1RM

Repetitions

20-30 (Terminate Set At Loss Of Explosive Power)

Sets

2-5 Of Each Exercise

Tempo

Fast As Possible Throughout

Rests

3-5 minutes

Frequency

2-3 Times Per Week


Isometric Strength Training


Exercise Order / Selection

Isometrics Only

Loads / Weights

100% Maximum Voluntary Contraction (MVC)

Repetitions

5 Second Contraction

Sets

5-10 Of Each Exercise

Tempo

Full Isometric

Rests

As Needed

Frequency

As Needed


Isometric Endurance Training


Exercise Order / Selection

Isometrics Only

Loads / Weights

60% Maximum Voluntary Contraction (MVC) or Less

Repetitions

Until Fatigued

Sets

1 Of Each Exercise

Tempo

Full Isometric

Rests

As Needed

Frequency

5 Times Per Week

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