The Importance of Strength Training for Health and Athletic Looks

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The Importance of Strength Training for Health and Athletic Looks

Strength really does matter! In the words of strength coach and author of numerous training books including “Starting Strength” Mark Rippetoe; strength makes everything better. He generally applies this statement to the field of sports but it can equally be applied to all aspects of life.

For many people, strength is often the last fitness characteristic that they think to develop but unfortunately is often the first one to go. As we age, muscle fibers get weaker and smaller; a condition called sarcopenia. Combined with a decrease in bone mass called osteopenia, this results in the frailty commonly seen in old age. Day to day tasks such as getting out if a chair or climbing a flight of stairs can become challenging and even dangerous for some older people. And there is a reason for that – it’s the combination of sarcopenia and osteopenia.

Looking on the bright side, while a degree of age-related osteopenia and sarcopenia are inevitable, the degree to which experience these two conditions can be significantly reduced by engaging in regular strength training. In addition to building healthy muscle and bone tissue, regular strength training offers some additional benefits:

  • Improved joint health
  • Increased joint mobility
  • Increased insulin sensitivity
  • Reduced incidence of lower back pain
  • Improved posture
  • Elevated metabolism

And, contrary to popular belief, regular strength training workouts will not make you “muscle bound”, muscle does not turn to fat when you stop exercising and, ladies, gaining a few pounds of muscle will not make you look manly. Like Rippetoe said, strength really does make everything better!

Strength is your ability to exert maximal force for a short period of time and is usually expressed as your 1RM short for one repetition maximum. To develop strength, you should perform short sets of between one and five repetitions and use fairly lengthy rest periods of two to five minutes. Don’t worry though, the program at the end of this article will explain your sets, reps and rest periods as well as how to work out how much weight you should be lifting.

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Ask most trainers to design you a strength training program and, chances are, they’ll design you a program that targets specific muscles on specific days. This is NOT strength training but, in actuality, is a bodybuilding-type approach program design. Strength training focuses on movements and not localized muscular development. The reason for this is simple: training movements and not muscles results in better results in less time and better carryover to real-life situations.

The six core movements of strength are:

  1. Knee dominant leg exercises such as squats
  2. Hip dominant leg exercises such as deadlifts
  3. Vertical pressing exercises such as standing barbell presses
  4. Vertical pulling exercises such as lat pull downs or pull ups
  5. Horizontal pressing exercises such as bench presses
  6. Horizontal pulling exercises such as bent over rows

Between these six simple movement patterns, every major muscle and the majority of your minor muscles are worked effectively and economically. In fact, the six example exercises listed above are pretty much all you ever need to do. That’s not to say you have to or will be limited to these exercises, just that they will make up the majority of your training volume. To make sure you develop muscular balance and to help you perform the main exercises as well as possible, a good strength training program will also include “assistance” exercises.

These exercises help to round out your program and address any weak links in your muscular development. They also provide an opportunity to work on any specific areas of your body that you feel need any extra attention. We’ve provided you with some great assistance exercises but feel free to add or substitute some of your own. Remember though, your focus should be on the first two exercises of each workout.

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So, to summarize strength training program design, a good program should be built around the six key movement patterns and complimented with a few assistance exercises to help round out your workout. While the main exercises remain fairly constant, you can rotate assistance exercises on a monthly or bi-monthly basis as you see fit.

The Strength Training Workout

This is a three days per week workout. Strength train on alternating days and, if you want to, perform some cardio and stretching on the days in between. Don’t overdo the cardio. If you need to lose some body fat, your diet is far more important. Save your energy for your strength training workouts.

To save time during the strength part of your workouts, primary exercises have been arranged in a superset. This means that, after completing exercise a), you move straight on to exercise b). Take the prescribed amount of rest and then repeat the pairing. To save more time, your core exercises are also arranged as a superset.

For the main, exercises you will be performing 5 sets of 5 repetitions. Increase the weight used on a set-by-set basis so that your last set is the hardest and you can only just complete the reps. Strive to increase the weight that you use on a week by week basis but not at the cost of good lifting technique.

Example

5 x 40kg
5 x 45kg
5 x 50kg
5 x 52.5kg
5 x 55kg (increase weight for next week if you complete all five reps in good form or leave it the same if you failed to get all five or found them especially hard to complete)

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Warm up before each workout with some light cardio, dynamic stretches and a couple of light sets of the first two exercises. Cool down with more cardio and static stretches for muscles you have just worked.

Workout one – e.g. Monday

Exercise Sets Repetitions Recovery
1a Squats 5 5 3 to 5 minutes
1b Barbell Shoulder Press
2 Romanian Deadlifts 3 8 1 to 2 minutes
3 Lying Triceps Extensions 3 8 1 to 2 minutes
4a Cable Wood Chop 3 12 1 to 2 minutes
4b 45 Degree Back Extensions

 

Workout two – e.g. Wednesday

Exercise Sets Repetitions Recovery
1a Bench Press 5 5 3 to 5 minutes
1b Lat Pull Downs/Pull Ups
2 Dips 3 AMRAP 1 to 2 minutes
3 Barbell Curls 3 8 1 to 2 minutes
4a Cable Russian Twist 3 12 1 to 2 minutes
4b Stability Ball Crunches

AMRAP – As Many Repetitions As Possible

Workout three – e.g. Friday

Exercise Sets Repetitions Recovery
1a Dead Lift 5 5 3 to 5 minutes
1b Barbell Shoulder Press
2a Leg Extensions 3 8 1 to 2 minutes
2b Leg Curls 3 8
3 High Bench Step Ups 3 8 1 to 2 minutes
4a Dumbbell Side Bends 3 12 1 to 2 minutes
4b Reverse Crunches

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