Strength Training For Fitness



Strength training is the use of resistance to muscular contraction to build the strength, anaerobic endurance and size of skeletal muscles.

Primarily an anaerobic activity, there are many different methods of training with the most common being the use of gravity or elastic/hydraulic forces to oppose muscle contraction.

When properly performed, it can provide significant functional benefits and improvement in overall health and wellness including increased bone, muscle, tendon and ligament strength and toughness, improved joint function, reduced potential for injury, improved cardiac function and elevated good cholesterol.

Training commonly uses the technique of progressively increasing the force output of the muscle through incremental increases of weight, elastic tension or other resistance, and uses a variety of exercises and types of equipment to target specific muscle groups.

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The basic principles involve a manipulation of the number of repetitions (reps), sets, tempo, exercises, and force to cause desired changes in strength, endurance, size, or shape of a group of muscles by overloading them.

Sets are composed of a given number of repetitions (movements) designed for the particular muscle group targeted.

The specific combinations of reps, sets, exercises, resistance and force depend on the purpose of the individual performing the exercise: sets with fewer reps can be performed using more force, but have a reduced impact on endurance.

Strength training also requires the use of "good form", performing the movements with the appropriate muscle group(s), and not transferring the weight to different body parts in order to move greater weight/resistance (called cheating).

Failure to use good form during a training set can result in injury or inability to meet training goals - since the desired muscle group is not challenged sufficiently, the threshold of overload is never reached and the muscle does not gain strength.

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Types of exercises:

  • Isotonic: The force applied to the muscle does not change. Weight training is primarily an isotonic form of exercise, because the muscles are used to push or pull a constant weighted object.
  • Isometric: The muscles flex and hold a stationary position, and no movement takes place.
  • Plyometric: Involves rapid alternation of lengthening and shortening of muscle fibers against a resistance. It is used to develop explosive speed, and focuses on power instead of maximal strength.

Isolation exercises restricts the movement to one joint and muscle group (ex. leg extension involving just the knee joint) while compound exercises work several muscle groups together (ex. leg press involving the hip, knee and ankle joints).

Each type of exercises has its uses. Compound exercises build the basic strength that is needed to perform everyday pushing, pulling and lifting activities. While isolation exercises are for "rounding out" a routine, by directly exercising muscle groups that cannot be fully exercised in the compound exercises.

Three important principles of strength training are intensity, volume and frequency.

  • Intensity: Amount of force required to achieve the activity (mass of weights being lifted).
  • Volume: Number of muscles worked, exercises, sets and reps during a single session.
  • Frequency How many training sessions are performed per week.

These principles are important because they are all mutually conflicting, as the muscle only has so much strength and endurance, and it takes time to recover. Increasing one by any significant amount necessitates the decrease of the other two, e.g. increasing weight means a reduction of reps.

Trying to push too much intensity, volume and frequency will result in over training, and eventually lead to injury and other health issues such as chronic soreness and general lethargy, illness or even acute trauma such as avulsion fractures.

Strength training programs must allow the muscles time to repair and grow, otherwise over training can occur. Muscle growth is normally completed within 36 to 96 hours, depending upon intensity of the workout.

Novices may work out every other day, often scheduling workouts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

More advanced practitioners training at a higher intensity level may exercise specific muscle groups only every three or four days and will require longer periods to repair and replete to a greater strength.

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Weight training also provides functional benefits as stronger muscles improve posture, provide better support for joints, and reduce the risk of injury from everyday activities.

Older people who take up weight training can prevent some loss of muscle tissue that normally accompanies aging, regain some functional strength becoming less frail, avoid types of physical disabilities, and help prevent osteoporosis.

Body building is a sport and not at all related to, or the same as, strength training. Strength trainers tend to focus on compound exercises to build basic strength, whereas bodybuilders often use isolation exercises to visually separate their muscles and improve muscular symmetry.

Due to the androgenic hormonal differences between men and women, women are unable to develop large muscles regardless of the training program used.

And the position of the National Strength and Conditioning Association is that weight training is safe for children if properly designed and supervised.

Remember: if this type of exercise or any other exercise is new to you start off slow with short sessions and build your way up gradually. If you have any health concerns or medical conditions be sure to check with your doctor for advice before you begin a program.

Weight and resistance training are popular methods of strength training which can be both pleasurable and efficient in achieving your conditioning goals.

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