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Basics of Strength Training Training Database Advanced Training Tips Basics of Strength Training

Basics of Strength Training

Strength training is weight training that maximizes muscular strength. Beyond getting a larger muscle, this means increased neuromuscular efficiency and greater tendon strength. In fact, half of the increases in strength that you will have will be from neuromuscular changes; meaning your muscle is becoming more efficient rather than bigger. Hypertrophy will occur, but it will primarily be sarcomere hypertrophy rather than sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which is what bodybuilding causes your muscle to do, will increase muscle size but not necessarily strength. When you see a pumped up bodybuilder, you are seeing sarcoplasmic hypertrophy taken to an extreme level. On the other hand, sarcomere hypertrophy will result from strength training. Your muscle will not necessarily get bigger (though it probably will) but it will get stronger as more muscle tissue is built. Strength training will utilize many of the same exercises found in general weight training and bodybuilding but the principles of strength training are much different. Strength training places more strain on certain parts of your body than other types of training, and thus form and safety must be emphasized from the very beginning. Before you even begin a program, you must make sure that your body is able to handle the demands you will place on it: talk to your physician. If you are completely new to weight training, then try a beginners program to learn the basics, and come back here after you have gained some experience.

To start, let's go over some general guidelines someone engaged in strength training should follow. The first step is to get in a good warm up. Be careful with stretching though. Strength training subjects your tendons and muscles to very large forces, and so a tendon or muscle that is too loose could be dangerous. A proper warm up should be a very light exercise for the muscle you are about to work out with very little stretch involved. For example, if you were warming up for the bench press you would want to take some light dumbbells, do a few reps, and let the weight stretch your pecs lightly at the bottom of the lift. The second step is to make sure your technique is flawless because you are doing heavy lifts. Improper lifting technique will result in problems down the road, or worse yet, a severe injury while you are doing the lift (think hernia). Proper technique includes breathing technique, which is an entirely separate and much debated subject. As far as the general structure of the workout goes, the demands placed on your body from strength training dictate long periods of rest. This means 2-3 minutes between sets and an entire week between successive workouts of the same body part. Reps should be in the 8 and under range. At the most basic level, adaptations from strength training are an increase in neurological efficiency and sarcomere hypertrophy. Sarcomere hypertrophy is simply the growth, or hypertrophy, of the sarcomeres in the muscle. The sarcomeres are the units in your muscle that contract to produce force. So strength training works by making the muscle itself stronger and also by making your brain able to use more of the muscle at any given time. Strength training doesn't really make the muscle that much bigger, this is why you see Olympic lifters half the size of Arnold lifting twice the weight he ever could. This might sound complex, but think of it this way: Bodybuilders always strive to achieve the "pump." You know what this is...your muscle feels like it is burning and filled with blood. This feeling is a precursor to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which is basically when more protein rich fluid is stored in your muscle. In other words, bodybuilding increases the size of the muscle but not the actual part of the muscle that produces strength. Practically speaking there is some overlap and a bodybuilder will be much stronger than the average person, but strength training techniques will definitely lead to more gains in strength than any bodybuilding routine. So what does all this mean in for the average strength trainer? It means more rest and heavier weight.

Article by Andy Fairclough

Co-Founder and writer for

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