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Starting an Exercise Program (Strength): Part 3 of 4
By Laurie Batchelder   View more articles by this author
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October 06

The strength component of a well-balanced fitness program is probably the most familiar component.  Strength training used to be popular among males exclusively, however, due to recent health benefits and concerns relating to osteoporosis, it has gained interest among women as well.  Strength training increases muscle mass which equates to many benefits for our bodies including, increase in caloric expenditure, decrease in % of body fat, increase in bone density, increase in joint stability, and an increase in appreciation for the way our bodies look and feel.  There are many ways to add strength training to your routine.  You must consider your goals and how much time you are willing to commit to each training session along with the time needed for the cardio and flexibility components.

Let’s discuss the F.I.T. of a strength training program.  The F or frequency of your strength training program should be 2 to 3 days per week.  During each session, you should cover every major muscle group in the body to achieve optimum health benefits in a reasonable amount of time.  It is advised to have a basic knowledge of the major muscle groups of your upper, mid and lower body.  The upper muscle groups include:  pectoral muscles (pecs), which are the chest muscles, latissimus muscle (lats), rhomboids, trapezius muscles (traps), which are the back muscles, bicep muscles (bi’s), which are the front or anterior arm muscles, triceps muscles (tri’s), which are the back or posterior arm muscles, and the deltoids (delts), which are the shoulder muscles.  The abdominal muscles (abs) include the rectus muscles which are the center muscles and the obliques which are the muscles which make up your waist.  The lower body muscles include the quadriceps (quads), which are the front or anterior thigh muscles, hamstrings which are the back or posterior thigh muscles, gluteus muscles (glutes), which are the buttock muscles and the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles which are the calf muscles.

The I or intensity of your strength training program should be 8 to 20 repetitions (reps), which is called a set.  Choose a weight which allows you to perform the set where the last repetition is the absolute last one possible in good form.  Two to three sets should be performed for each muscle group.  The rep range is determined based on your strength training goals.  A lower rep range concentrates on the strength of the muscle, while a higher rep range focuses on the endurance of the muscle.  A combination of both strength and endurance training can be beneficial.  For example:  if you are considering running a a marathon, endurance training along with distance training will help you complete the race, however, if you are looking to decrease the time in which it will take you to run the entire distance, then strength training, in addition to sprinting, will help you achieve a shorter time. 

The T or time of your strength training program will take approximately 30 to 60 minutes in length depending upon the number of exercises you choose and the amount of repetitions and sets you perform.  When deciding upon the number of sets to perform, time is one of the most important components to consider.  If you perform three sets for every muscle group, this will add approximately 15 to 20 minutes to your workout session.  There are many ways to organize your exercises for each muscle group by either performing the same exercise for each set or choosing different exercises per set.  I like changing the exercise every set because each exercise has a slightly different effect on the muscle.  For example:  if you are training the quadricep muscles you could choose to perform two to three sets of leg extension or you could choose three different exercises such as leg extension, squats, and lunges.  The nice thing about squats and lunges is that they work all of the leg muscles in one exercise and from a time perspective this is beneficial.  Also, these exercises can be performed anytime and anywhere since equipment is not needed.  An example for an upper body muscle is the pectorals muscle.  You could do two to three sets of chest press either on a machine or free weights or you could do push-ups, chest press, and pec dec.  As for the abdominal muscle you need to do different exercises in order to strengthen each muscle such as center crunches for the rectus abdominus and bicycle (an ab exercise lying on your back) for the obliques.  Keep in mind that push-ups, squats or lunges and ab exercises cover every major muscle group in the body which makes for a convenient traveling gym.

It will take approximately 6 to 12 weeks before you begin to see physical results, however, after approximately two weeks you will see an increase in your strength.  You may need to increase your weights during this time (for example:  if you are training with 10 lbs. you may need to increase to 12 lbs.).  The reason why strength changes occur so quickly is related to the nervous system and it’s response to strength training.  Just remember to always train with good form and joint pain is never an option.  No Pain, No Gain is old news!


Starting an Exercise Program: Part 1.


Starting an Exercise Program: Part 2.


Starting an Exercise Program: Part 4.

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