How to Structure Your Strength Training Routine
Strength training is a term that is often thrown around in fitness circles. It is a type of physical exercise that focuses on the use of resistance to induce muscular contraction, which in turn builds strength, anaerobic endurance, and size of skeletal muscles. But what does it really mean? How does it work? And how can you best incorporate it into your fitness regimen to maximize its benefits? Let's dive in.
What Exactly is Strength?
In the realm of fitness, strength is defined as the capacity to resist external forces. It is the result of various factors such as central and peripheral nervous systems, intramuscular and intermuscular coordination, joint functionality, leverages, technique, and motivation.
Maximal strength, which refers to the highest level of force that can be generated in a single effort, is closely related to physical performance in a broad sense, including speed and other expressions of strength. This makes it a highly desirable attribute for athletes across a range of sports, as well as for bodybuilders. In a natural subject, strength and muscle mass are closely related, meaning that an increase in one often leads to an increase in the other.
How to Train for Strength
Training for strength primarily involves performing specific exercises designed to increase muscle strength. In some sports, general muscle strengthening protocols can be used to lay the foundation for greater overall strength that can then be honed with specificity.
In strength-focused practices such as powerlifting, weightlifting, and bodybuilding, resistance training forms the core of the training regimen. This involves exercises that use weights, with heavy multi-joint exercises being particularly suitable. Examples of these include barbell back squats, flat bench press with a barbell, pull-ups (even with additional weight), and barbell deadlifts.
However, variations of these fundamental exercises and other complementary exercises can also be highly beneficial. These might include lunges, rowing, presses on an inclined or declined bench, leg presses, lat machine exercises, pulley exercises, bench press machine exercises, and low rows.
The Methodology of Strength Training
Strength training involves achieving high levels of muscle tension. This is typically achieved through a combination of repetitions (reps), sets, and passive recoveries. The most important training parameter is intensity, which refers to the percentage of maximal strength (1RM).
Other factors such as Time Under Tension (TUT), volume, density, and the number of training sessions per microcycle play a less significant role. From experience and research, it has been found that strength improves more when stimulated more frequently (multifrequency).
Fatigue is considered the worst enemy of strength, so it is crucial to ensure full recovery between efforts. This is particularly important between sets. Between training sessions, however, different types of exercises can be performed within the same microcycle.
Structuring a Strength Training Plan
The way you structure your strength training plan will depend on many factors, including your overall training regimen, your specific objectives, and your level of experience.
For instance, a moderately experienced bodybuilder who has been training to failure with high TUT and overall volumes may find that they benefit from shorter workouts with higher percentages on the 1RM. In this case, it is advisable to perform a gentle warm-up of around 7-10 minutes on an aerobic machine or similar, to engage the whole body.
It's also crucial to ensure you can perform all the essential movements, so getting assessed before starting a strength training plan is highly recommended. Even if your functionality is total, it's good practice to dedicate time each week to improving joint mobility and muscle flexibility.
Recoveries in heavy multi-joint exercises should be around 3-5 minutes, and around 3 minutes for other exercises. The average TUT and the relationship between the phases should be natural, to express the greatest possible strength. You should aim to stay 1-2 reps short of failure (buffer).
Here's an example of how you might structure your strength training plan:
- Lunges: 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps per leg
- Romanian Deadlifts: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Dumbbell Chest Press: 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
- Decline Dumbbell Flyes: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Lat Pulldowns: 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
- Cable Rows: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Barbell Deadlift: 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps.
- Step-Ups with Dumbbells: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps per leg
- Dumbbell Bench Press: 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
- Weighted Push-Ups: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Dumbbell Row: 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
- Seated Cable Rows: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Split Squats: 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
- Hack Squats: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Incline Bench Press: 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
- Dumbbell Flyes: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Weighted Chin-ups: 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
- Cable Row: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps
In conclusion, strength training is a powerful tool for improving physical performance across a wide range of sports and fitness practices. By understanding the principles behind it and how to structure your training regimen effectively, you can maximize its benefits and achieve your fitness goals.