Strength Training Principles and Guidelines
by Chad Tackett
Almost any form of exercise will stimulate some degree of strength and muscle development. Unfortunately, misconceptions, myths, and misunderstandings plague the fitness industry, especially in regard to strength training. There is a huge attrition rate among those starting a strength training program primarily because most people are not taught the principles essential for a safe and effective program.
This article is part one of a five part series discussing the very important principles and guidelines of a safe and effective strength training program. Part one will explain the proper methods of warming-up, stretching, and cooling-down when strength training. Part two will discuss the importance of forcing blood to your muscles and proper lifting speed.
The following exercise guidelines are extremely important for your safety and the effectiveness of your strength training program.
Warming Up, Cooling Down and Stretching
Warming-up promotes safety, prevents injury, and increases performance. You should warm up two ways with the purpose of creating blood flow throughout the body and thus preparing your muscles for the workout. First, before beginning your weightlifting session, do some form of cardiovascular exercise at a light, comfortable intensity for about five to ten minutes. Walking or riding a bicycle works well. When you've completed your warm-up, be sure to stretch the primary muscles you've been using. For example, if you warmed-up on the bicycle, stretch your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and hips.
Then, for the first exercise of each muscle group, do a warm-up set with very light weight for 12-20 repetitions. For example, if your first chest exercise is the bench press, do a warm-up set of very light weight and then continue with your selected chest routine. When you have completed your chest workout and are ready to train the next muscle group, once again do a warm-up set; then continue training that muscle group, and so on.
Stretching provides better physical performance, prevents debilitating injuries, and makes you look and feel better by improving your posture. This is because when muscles are stretched, their elasticity improves, increasing your range of motion and improving the quality of your movements. Never stretch a cold muscle--always make sure your muscles are warm before stretching. When a muscle is properly warmed-up it is better able to become elastic and relaxes more easily; warming up also circulates blood to nearby tissues and helps remove unwanted waste products from your system.
In addition to stretching the muscles involved in the cardiovascular exercise, you should spend time stretching each specific muscle you have trained in your weightlifting program. This won't take much more time and the benefits are many. You have to rest between your strength training sets anyway, so you might as well use this time more productively--for stretching. Think about it: what better time to stretch than right after you have targeted blood to a specific muscle? After you have properly warmed up each muscle group, stretch between sets. Each set requires a resting period--usually between 30 seconds and three minutes (depending on what you are trying to achieve). Use your resting time wisely and stretch the specific muscle being trained. Stretch only after the muscle has been properly warmed-up and about once every two to three sets per muscle group.
By the time you have finished training each muscle of the body, you will have incorporated stretching into your program, and at the best possible time to stretch--right after exercise, when the muscle is warm. This stretching between exercises is a valuable technique and will make a tremendous difference in your health.
The cool-down after strength training is also crucial. Whenever a vigorous exercise session is stopped abruptly, blood tends to accumulate in the lower body. With reduced blood return, cardiac output decreases and light-headedness may occur. Because muscle movement helps squeeze blood back to the heart, it is important to continue some muscle activity after the last exercise is completed. Easy cycling, walking
, or any other cardiovascular exercise at low intensity is an appropriate cool-down activity, as is any other form of cardiovascular exercise. Cool down for about 5-10 minutes at light intensity, similar to your warm-up.
Please check back for Part Two, where I'll discuss the importance of forcing blood to your muscles, common mistakes that hinder the process, and proper lifting speed. Until then, remember to always include a warm-up, stretching, and a cool-down for maximum effectiveness and to prevent injury. Good luck, and enjoy all the wonderful benefits of strength training.