The Basics of Weight Training

Let's start from the very this section, you'll learn the very basics of what to do in the gym when it comes to weight training.

The Basics of Weight Training


What Are Sets and Reps?


The basic unit of the workout is the repetition or rep for short.

  • This is simply one complete cycle of the exercise.
  • It consists of up, change of direction, and down (though not necessarily in that order - some exercises start with a down phase then an up phase, e.g. squats).



1. Up Phase

The up phase is known as the positive or concentric phase.

  • It is during this phase that the muscle is contracting.
  • An example of this is the part of the squat where you are coming out of the bottom and straightening your legs.


2. Change of Direction

The change of direction is self-explanatory.

  • There can be a pause here or no pause at all depending on your goals and the exercise.
  • This would be the bottom of the lunge where your knee touches the ground and you start to push back up to the top position.


3. Down Phase

The down phase is known as the negative or eccentric phase.

  • During this phase the muscle is lengthening under tension.
  • This phase is where most muscle damage occurs and hence can cause the most soreness.
  • In the squat, this would be where you lower the weight, coming down into the squatting position.




A set is a series of repetitions done one after another.

  • If you do 8 reps and stop, you just did 1 set of 8 reps.
  • Sets and reps are often listed together as 1 x 8, using the previous example.
  • If a workout program calls for 3 x 12, you would do 3 sets of 12 reps.



A workout consists of a group of sets and exercises.

  • An example would be 3 x 12 bench press then 3 x 8 leg press then 3 x 12 of bicep curls.

That is the basic structure of a workout. We will now go in-depth on the repetition, the basic building block of the workout.



Repetition Speed

Repetition speed is a factor that is often overlooked. It is very important to be aware of repetition speed and use it to your advantage.

As a beginning trainer, you should strive to do your reps in the medium tempo between fast and slow.

  • This means the phases of the reps should take between 2 to 4 seconds (the negative or down phase is generally longer).
  • You are basically moving the weight through the range of motion fairly quickly but not so quickly as to be using momentum to move the weight.


How to tell if your speed is right:

You are going too fast if...

  • You are taking less than 1 second to lift or lower the weight.
  • If the weight bounces off your body or you throw your joints out trying to slow the weight down at the end of the rep.
  • You don't feel any tension in the muscle during the reps.

You are going too slow if...

  • You are taking more than 4 seconds to lift or lower the weight.
  • You have to breathe more than one or two times during each phase of the rep.
  • You get a lactic acid burn on the first rep.


Note: Lifting too fast may be a result of using too little weight while lifting too slow may be a result of using too much weight. Adjust the weight you are using accordingly.



Repetition Style

Strict Form

This is perfect form, doing the reps to the letter of the law. When you can no longer do reps with strict form, you naturally move to loose form to continue the set and continue working the muscle.


Loose Form

This allows for some slight cheating movements such as swinging the bar up a little with the legs on barbell curls. Loose form should only be used to continue the set, making it harder and more effective, not to make it easier and less effective.


Sloppy Form

This is in the form of large cheating movements and terrible form. An example of this is bouncing the bar off your chest and furiously arching your back when doing a bench press. NEVER allow your form to go as far as sloppy. This often leads to injury.


How to Breathe While Training:

Breathing during a set should be as natural as possible.

  • Generally speaking, you should exhale on the positive phase and inhale on the negative phase, e.g. on the squat, breathe out when you push up and breathe in as you lower.
  • In many exercises, it is not advisable to hold your breath (trying to exhale without allowing any air to be expelled). This is called the Valsalva maneuver.
  • While it does increase the stability of your body by increasing pressure in your abdominal area, it causes large increases in blood pressure and can make you pass out. It is often done when very heavy weights or extreme effort is involved. Do not hold your breath during a set, especially as a beginning trainer. There are more advanced exercises where it can be useful but it's best to stay away from it when starting out.



Repetition Ranges

There are specific rep ranges that will target different results. These ranges should only be used as a general guideline. Your personal goals will indicate which rep ranges you should use.


 Mainly strength 1-3 reps
 Mainly strength but with some muscle growth 3-6 reps
 Even balance between strength and muscle growth 6-8 reps
 Mainly muscle growth 8-12 reps
 Muscular endurance 13+ reps


These definitions are not written in stone. You can increase your muscle mass by doing reps in the one to three range (it will take longer) and you will probably get somewhat stronger when doing reps in the 13+ range (not as strong as if you were doing lower reps). This is simply a guide to show what training effects are generally associated with what rep ranges.


When To End The Set

Too Soon:

  • End the set well short of any serious effort or sweating.
  • Go through the motions without concentrating on your form or the muscle you are trying to work.
  • Always stop your set when you reach a certain number of reps regardless of whether you worked the muscle or not.

For Best Results:

  • Do repetitions until you are near to the point where you cannot do any more.
  • Stopping just short of this point without pushing to absolute failure will give you the best results because you won't push your body so hard that it is slower to recover.
  • Work to increase your effort and intensity as you build up your strength and conditioning.

Training By Counting Reps:

Some trainers have a tendency to count reps to the detriment of their workout, focusing only on getting to that number and not on actually working the muscle.

  • Motion does not equal results.
  • It is not necessarily wrong to count reps - just wrong to live by the counting.
  • If you have a tendency to do this, try having someone count the reps for you to take the focus away from the numbers and put it on your muscle where it belongs.
  • If you are listed as doing 10 reps in your program but can do more, do more.
  • On the next set, increase the weight you are using.
  • Rep numbers are a just guideline, not a target. Do not view them as written in stone.


When To Increase The Weight

There will come a time when the weight you usually use becomes too light. This is what we're looking for as it means you're getting stronger.

That's where progressive resistance comes in.

  • This simply means that as you get stronger, you must increase the resistance on the muscle (overload) in order to keep getting stronger.
  • This is the foundation of weight training, which is often called progressive resistance training.

Here is an example.

1. Say you can squat 50 pounds for 8 reps. As you get stronger, you are able to squat that 50 pounds for 12 reps without resorting to sloppy form.
2. Increase the weight by five pounds. You may only be able to get 6 reps.
3. Work back up to 12 reps then increase the weight again.


Basically, if you can do it this time, try a little more next time, be it weight or reps.

  • You don't get anywhere by using the same weights on the same exercises for the same reps day in and day out.
  • There will be times, however, when you are unable to increase weight or reps for a period of time.
  • This is called a plateau and it happens to everybody.
  • The simple solution to a plateau is to change what you are doing. The body adapts to whatever you give it. To force it to adapt, you must change the what you do to it periodically.


About Muscle Soreness

If you are a beginning trainer, you are going to experience muscle soreness (you may even experience it as an advanced trainer with some exercises). It is not a cause for alarm!

Muscle soreness essentially means that there has been damage to the muscle fibers. Now your body must go through the process of rebuilding those muscle fibers bigger and stronger than they were before. This normally takes a few days, depending on how severe the damage was.

When you are first starting out in your training, DO NOT push yourself to muscular failure! Take the first 2 to 3 weeks to learn the movements otherwise you will experience so much muscle soreness that you'll have to take extra time off to recover from.

You always want to keep at least a rep or two in your tank. It's going to get you better results in the long run and make your training more enjoyable.


Learn how to warm-up properly.



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