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Strength Training: The Guide

What is Strength Training?

In short, strength training is the exercising of muscles to increase their size, density, strength and endurance and typically involves techniques such as lifting weights, resistance training, bodyweight exercises, isometrics and plyometrics.

Strength training is done primarily to increase muscle, tendon and ligament strength while having the added benefit of improving bone density, metabolism, lactate threshold, and joint and cardiac function.

The basic principle of strength training involves the overloading of muscles by repeatedly contracting the muscles under heavy resistance and relaxing them until failure. This forces the muscles to adapt and grow stronger in order to be able to handle the resistance, which causes us to get stronger and therefore provides the ability to lift heavier weights to maintain adequate resistance over time.

The Science Behind Strength Training

Strength training, specifically, making muscles bigger and stronger is quite complicated. There is a lot of biology at work during the process of breaking down and rebuilding muscle tissue. [1]

The Process of Muscle Growth

When you ‘strength train’ by lifting weights or resistance training, you cause micro-tears in your muscle fibres. In response to this ‘trauma’, your body repairs damaged muscle fibers by forming new myofibrils (muscle cells). During the formation of myofibrils, satellite cells are activated and help to add more nuclei to the muscle cells and therefore contribute directly to the growth of microfibrils. These repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number each time this happens to create muscle hypertrophy (growth) over time.

It is important to note that strength training causes micro-tears in your muscle, while the “repair stage” happens afterwards while resting and the duration is different for everyone.

Macronutrients for Strength Training

When talking about strength training, there are three main macronutrients that come into play: proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates (carbs) in short, is turned into fuel for our cells. When we consume and digest carbohydrates, they turn into Glucose before turning into Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP).

Carbs -> Glucose -> ATP.

Glucose is the energy that cells use when we do things like lift weights. When glucose is not quickly used for energy, it is stored as glycogen in our muscles and liver. Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is an organic compound that provides energy to drive processes in our cells such as muscle contraction (important for strength training).

When energy is needed by a cell, it is converted from storage molecules like glycogen into ATP. ATP then serves as a shuttle, delivering energy to places within the cell where energy-consuming activities are taking place.

Carbs come in two forms; simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates are foods like:

  • Table sugar
  • Syrups
  • Sweets
  • Fruit (and fruit juices)
  • Sugary Drinks
  • Baked Treats

While complex carbohydrates are foods like:

  • Wholegrains
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Brown Rice
  • Oats

Simple carbohydrates are shorter chains of molecules, quicker to digest and are considered short forms of energy as they are both digested quickly (30-60 minutes) and used quickly.

Complex carbohydrates are longer chains of molecules, take much longer to digest (~5 Hours) and are more lasting forms of energy.

Protein

Proteins are broken down into amino acids. There are 9 types of amino acids, though

specifically for weight training and muscle growth, we are interested in the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): Leucine, Valine and Isoleucine.

  • Leucine enhances muscle recovery and stamina, stimulates growth hormone production and the release of insulin, promotes growth and repair of bone tissue and speeds up wound healing.
  • Valine helps maintain the body’s nitrogen balance, supports the immune and central nervous systems, as well as normal cognitive function, and aids in muscle metabolism, tissue repair, and blood sugar control.
  • Isoleucine promotes muscle recovery and repair, aids in blood clotting and wound healing, and regulates energy and blood sugar levels.

High-protein foods include:

  • Lean Meats – beef, lamb, veal and pork
  • Poultry – chicken, turkey, duck
  • Fish & Seafood – fish, prawns, crab, lobster, mussels, scallops
  • Dairy Products – milk. yoghurt (especially Greek yoghurt), cheese
  • Eggs

Fats

Fats are important for strength training, as it is very calorie dense and is a much more concentrated source of energy than both protein and carbohydrates, allowing your body to use energy from fats once fuel from carbohydrates is exhausted.

How often should I lift weights?

Muscle Recovery

How often you should lift weights depends on a number of things, such as your desired goal, your diet and how much you rest. There are scientifically-backed statistics that estimate how long it takes for muscles to heal, repair and grow, but ultimately – you know your body best and deciding how often you should lift weights should be a personal preference.

Should I Train in the Morning or Evening?

There are a few benefits and disadvantages to both, and again – one of the largest deciding factors will be when you can train, rather than when you should change. For example, it may be unrealistic to train in the mornings for people that need to wake up early, get the kids to school and get to work at 9 am. Additionally, each body clock is different and you may find that you are either a morning person or an evening person, and this will dramatically affect your performance in the gym.

If we look strictly at science, we can understand a few things. Firstly, training in the mornings is known to speed up the metabolism for the rest of the day and improve a range of mental health benefits, such as boosting mood and focus for the rest of the day. A lot of people say that training in the morning makes them feel more productive throughout the day, as well.

Alternatively, training in the evening may boast more benefits as typically your body will store more energy throughout the day allowing you to train harder for longer. The downside to training in the evenings, for some people, is that it is easier to “skip” a day in the gym after a long, tiring day at work.

Common Strength Training Routines

There are so many different ways to mix and match training routines that we can’t possibly list them all, though there are a few common exercise routines that people commonly choose, depending on their goals.

The first and most popular is the 3-day split, which involves working out 3 days per week with each day focusing on a different muscle group:

  • Day 1: Chest & Back
  • Day 2: Legs & Abs
  • Day 3: Shoulders & Arms
  • Day 4: Rest
  • Day 5: Repeat

This routine is very effective for people that are just starting to strength train, as it allows your muscles time to recover in between workouts.

Another common routine is the 5-day split:

  • Day 1: Chest
  • Day 2: Back & Abs
  • Day 3: Legs
  • Day 4: Shoulders & Arms
  • Day 5: Rest
  • Day 6: Repeat

This routine is a bit more advanced, as you are working out 5 days per week with each day focusing on a different muscle group. This routine is better for people that have been strength training for a while and have built up a good base of muscle mass.

There are also routines that focus on full-body workouts, which are very effective for people that are short on time or are just starting out. Such as:

  • Day 1: Upper Body (Arms, Shoulders, Chest, Back, Chest)
  • Day 2: Lower Body (Legs & Core/Abs)
  • Day 3: Rest
  • Day 4: Repeat

What Equipment Can Be Used for Strength Training?

There are so many different pieces of equipment that can be used specifically for weight training, from machines that are designed to isolate individual muscles to free weights that can be adapted and used differently to train different muscles.

Machine Types

Selectorised Machines – Selectorised gym equipment is the kind that has weight stacks with a pin that you insert to select the amount of weight you want to lift. These machines are great for beginners or people that are just getting started with weight training, as they are easy to use and don’t require much instruction.

Plate Loaded – Plate-loaded machines are similar to selectorised machines in that they are designed to isolate specific muscles, but instead of using a weight stack, they use Olympic plates. These types of machines are great for people that have some experience with weight training and want to be able to increase the amount of weight they are lifting, usually far beyond that of selectors machines.

Multi-Gym & Cable Machines Multi-Gym and Cable Machines are usually more popular for home gyms, as they generally allow many different types of exercise from one machine. These machines use a pulley system and weight plates to provide resistance, which can be adjusted to target different muscle groups.

Free Weights – While not a machine, free weights such as dumbbells and barbells are a great way to train specific muscles as well as work on your stability and balance. Free weights can be used in many different ways to target different muscle groups, making them very versatile.

Use GymGear for your Gym Equipment Needs

GymGear is a supplier to both commercial and domestic gyms, providing both equipment, gym design and installation services.

Contact us or build a quote for more information.

[1] Kamei, Y., Hatazawa, Y., Uchitomi, R., Yoshimura, R., & Miura, S. (Jan 2020). Regulation of Skeletal Muscle Function by Amino Acids. PubMed Central, National Institute of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7019684/

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