Fundamentals of Weight and Resistance Training - Part 1

A Detailed Guide to the Fundamentals

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Definition. Weight training is organized exercise in which muscles of the body contract under tension using weights, bodyweight or other devices in order to stimulate growth, strength, power and endurance. Weight training is also called ‘resistance training’ and ‘strength training’.

The basis of weight training success is a combination of factors sometimes called FITT.

  • Frequency of training - how often
  • Intensity of training - how difficult or demanding
  • Time spent - session time, periodization cycles
  • Type of exercise - which exercises

Muscle Contractions and Joint Movements

Isometric contractions: the muscle does not lengthen. An example of this is pushing against a wall.

Isotonic contractions: the muscle shortens and lengthens. The shortening phase is called a 'concentric' contraction and the lengthening phase is the 'eccentric' contraction. An example is a dumbbell arm curl where the muscle shortens as you raise the dumbbell (concentric) and lengthens as you lower it (eccentric). Eccentric contractions are more likely to give you sore muscles.

Joint movements. Muscle contractions relate to joint movements. Four important joint movements are flexion and extension, abduction and adduction. Flexion is when you decrease the angle in the joint. An example is the upward movement of an arm curl, which decreases the angle in the elbow joint.

Extension is the opposite movement, that is, increasing the angle while lowering the weight.

Abduction is moving a body part away from the middle of the body in the side plane. An example is raising a leg out to the side of the body. Adduction is bringing it back again.

Muscle Groups

Major muscle groups that make up the human body are the abdominals, adductors (inside thigh), dorsal muscles (middle back), shoulders, arm extensors, wrist extensors, gluteals (butt), arm flexors, wrist flexors, scapular fixers (shoulder blade), thigh flexors (hamstrings), lumbar muscles (lower back), surae (calves), pectorals (chest), quadriceps (front thigh) and trapezii (upper back).

Looking at it in less detail, the major muscle groups are the arms, shoulders, chest, back, legs, buttocks and abdomen. You can target all major muscle groups at a session with a range of exercises, or you can split target muscles up into separate training sessions.

Training for Strength

Strength, size and endurance of muscle is built by the overload principle. This entails lifting increasingly heavy weights or increasing the volume of work over time.

Strength, as distinguished from increased muscle size (called hypertrophy), is increased by training the neuromuscular system and the interaction between nerves and muscle, rather than muscle anatomy, the size and constitution of muscle fibers. Heavier weights with fewer repetitions and longer rest are employed to prioritize strength.

As a general rule, larger muscles will make you stronger, but probably not stronger than someone who trains for strength, all else being equal.

Building Muscle Size - Hypertrophy

Hypertrophy training usually emphasizes more repetitions with lighter weight than strength training, often with shorter rest intervals between sets.

This training enhances metabolic factors that result in size increases.

You can get stronger training for hypertrophy, but your goals should be quite clear if you are interested in competition for bodybuilding or powerlifting. If you want a combination of strength and hypertrophy then you need to identify a weight training program that will provide a compromise, which is what most non-competition weight trainers are looking for.

One way muscle gets bigger is by a process of damage and repair at the micro level. Small tears, sometimes called micro-trauma, occur in muscle fibers under load and are repaired and rebuilt stronger when the muscle recovers. It’s a bit like one step back and two steps forward at the cellular level.

Hypertrophy results from an increase in the contractile units called myofibrils and also from increased fluid in the cell called the sarcoplasm.

Building Muscle Endurance

Muscle endurance is trained at the higher end of the repetition spectrum. For example, doing 15-20 repetitions per set targets local muscle endurance rather than strength or hypertrophy. Again, doing this sort of muscle endurance training will provide some strength and hypertrophy compared to not training, and it can result in larger increases in aerobic conditioning than higher-intensity programs.

Building Muscle Power

Power is the rate at which work is done; so power involves time. If you can lift the same weight faster than your friend then you have more power. Training for power involves increasing the speed of the lifts. The concept of power is useful in weight training for sports such as football where strength, bulk and speed are desirable.

Power training involves building strength first, then progressing to light loads performed at very fast or even explosive contraction velocity. Loads as light as 30-60% 1RM with rests of 2-3 minutes between sets are recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine.

See also: The Fundamentals of Weight Training and Resistance Training - Part 2 and Part 3.

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