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Basic guide to resistance training

by | Feb 11, 2020 | Fitness Tips

The composition of repetitions, sets, resistance and exercises are created to provide a volume of work that a muscle must undertake. Now, importantly this composition can be manipulated for different desired outcomes. This outcome may be strength, size, muscular endurance. It’s unlikely that any of these come as a sole outcome but a training programme should focus on a particular end result. By that I mean, if you work on developing strength, you’re likely to gain both muscular size and muscular endurance. The same applies for the other outcome goals.


So, how can you adapt your training sessions depending on the outcome goal? Below is a rough guide for each pursuit:


Muscular strength

For strength training, the primary goal is to be able to lift heavier. For this to take place, the training needs to focus on effective neurological recruitment of sufficient motor units (in essence, muscle fibres) in order to shift as heavy a weight as possible. Working on the specificity principle, this means that training should focus on lifting a heavy weight. However, when training is focused on neurological development, it also requires longer rest time to allow the body to fully recover. You should be looking for the final repetition to be a struggle but not to be physically exhausted. The first rep of a follow up set, you should seek to be reasonably fresh. When a muscle has reached fatigue, the benefit to a strength training session has subsided.


Recommended reps/sets/rest/exercise number:
3-6 reps/4-6 sets/2-4 mins rest between sets/1-2 exercises per muscle group. Heavy resistance.


Muscular size

For getting bigger muscles, you are seeking to get as much blood into a muscle as possible. To achieve this, you need to be moving a resistance that is sufficient to challenge the muscle recruitment but also enough repetitions to send as much blood into a muscle as possible, ie, to give the muscle a ‘pump’. Now consider size training like pumping a slowly deflating tyre. To pump a muscle up, you need to stimulate that muscle until its ready to pop. During the rest time, it’ll slowly deflate, however you want to re-pump it up from a position where it already has a lot of blood in it already. By doing this you eventually get the body used to handling a larger cross-sectional size. This ‘trauma’ to the muscle fibres activates satellite cells, which are located on the outside of the muscle fibres. The result: increased thickness and number of muscle protein strands ie, bigger muscles.


Recommended reps/sets/rest/exercise number:
6-12 reps/3-5 sets/90 – 120s rest between sets/2-4 exercises per muscle group. Medium/heavy resistance.


Muscular endurance

Now one thing I want to avoid about this outcome goal is that it is interchangeable with ‘toning’ of muscles. You cannot ‘tone’ a muscle. What you can do is to develop some muscular size and endurance which will result in a change of body shape – usually due to increased muscular mass and decreased body fat. The result is a more ‘ripped’ look. However, muscles haven’t been toned. Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to sustain repeated contractions against a resistance for an extended period of time. This approach is focuses on lower resistance in order for a greater number of repetitions to be completed. This larger repetition number will help the muscles to develop a greater ability to withstand the build-up of acidity (lactic acid) which ultimately causes the muscle to stop working effectively. By getting used to this build-up, over time, the muscle develops a greater buffering capacity which ensures that it can filter more acid out without needing to stop. The result: more work and greater endurance capability of the muscle.


Recommended reps/sets/rest/exercise number:
12-20 reps/2-3 sets/45-60 seconds rest between sets/2-5 exercises per muscle group. Light/medium resistance.


Hopefully this will provide a little clarity when attempting to structure your own training plans. There are a host of training approaches which utilise different outcome goals, however, sometimes simplicity works just fine. Particularly for beginners. Don’t overcomplicate things.


Bespoke resistance training programme

If you are looking for further guidance or advice, or to have a bespoke resistance training programme developed for you, email info@dynamicfitnesstraining.co.uk or fill in the contact form.


Personal trainer, and fitness writer, editor and author. Darren is the founder of Dynamic Fitness Training, a personal training company based in north London.