I have done a lot of inductions for the gym - taking new members around the gym, showing them the cardio and resistance machines and answering any burning questions they might have.
Over the course of several hundred inductions, few common questions keep cropping up so I wanted to answer them here. This post also goes really well with an earlier post I wrote on program design - http://www.joncoulson.co.uk/blog/program-design-simplified
For each question, I try to give a simplified answer so you can just get going. I also give an "it depends" type answer which is a bit of a running joke in fitness. However, I've tried to give several points behind why it depends so you can understand on a slightly deeper level.
Question 1: “How often should I train?”
The simple version:
If you’re new to exercising then 2 times a week would be a pretty good way to start without taxing your body too much. Once you’re comfortable with 2 times a week and progress is starting to stall then switch to 3 times a week.
For most people, 3 times a week would be more than enough to achieve fitness / weight loss/ muscle building goals. Tip: It does pay to be active outside of the gym though, walk more or find activities you like to do.
The complicated version:
Weelllllllll.... it comes down to factors such as:
1) Time available to train – Some people can only spare 2 days whereas others can spare 4 – 5 times a week. Some can only spare 30 minutes to 1 hour, others can spare up to 2 – 3 hours.
2) Your specific goals – Some goals can be achieved with full body training three days a week. Some goals might be better suited to a body-part split training.
Even with splits or full body it can vary depending on commitment levels and how the program is set out for example (this isn’t a definitive, just thinking off the top of my head):
Full body can be spread such as Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. However, if you plan it carefully you could also do a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday spread.
Body-Part Splits could be Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday etc. But you could also play around with them in all sorts of ways.
3) Training age /Age – These impacts how much you can push hard in and recover from sessions. Younger people can generally recover quickly from workouts whereas older people can take a few extra days to recover from a hard training session.
The more training age you have, especially in strength training, the more demand you are able to place on your muscles and nervous system so training too frequently can fatigue you.
4) How you like to train – Kinda hits on number 2. Some people love training body part splits whereas some people love training full body. Some people love to train hard and heavy, some prefer medium weights and some like to go for higher reps and lighter weights.
This all impacts how many sessions you are able to do in a week.
To complicate it just that little bit more, people can and have gotten into shape using a variety of the above and more so to use my most common fitness answer:
And my second most common fitness answer: Experiment and find what works best for you.
Question 2: "What reps should I be doing?"
I’m often asked about what rep ranges someone should do to reach a particular goal. Below is a very simple explanation showing how the rough rep ranges impact the goals you’re looking for:
1 – 3 Reps – Maximal Strength / Power
4 – 5 Reps – Strength
6 – 8 Reps – Strength / Hypertrophy (muscle building)
8 – 12 Reps – Hypertrophy
13+ Reps – Endurance / Recovery work
I say rough rep ranges because there is usually a few reps difference depending on who you ask i.e. some people say 1 – 5 for strength or 15+ for endurance etc, but we’re all in the general ballpark.
There is also some carry over in the ranges so for example if you are doing 8 – 12 reps, you’ll still build some strength. However, if your goal is all out strength then basing your main lifts around 5 reps or less is more specific to that goal.
People who are beginners to the gym and exercising, my general guidelines are usually 10 – 15 reps to start with for 2 sets initially and then building to 3 sets. For me, this is so that people don’t try to go too heavy too soon because of not learning the technique properly at this stage and to allow the muscles and joints time to get used to exercising.
Question 3: "How much rest should I be taking?"
One area of workouts that is often overlooked or not understood is how much rest to take between sets when exercising.
Too much rest and you lose the effectiveness of what you’re training for. Too little rest and that next set is going to crush you about halfway through.
Here are some basic resting guidelines:
Strength / Maximal Strength training: 3 – 5 minutes
Muscle building (Hypertrophy): 1 – 2 minutes
Endurance / Metabolic work: 10 seconds to 1 minute
The rest periods are based on if your training requires complete or incomplete rest periods.
Complete Rest Period
This is the 3 – 5 minute rest times. It allows for complete recovery or near complete recovery of the energy systems. It also allows for the central nervous system (CNS) to recover as well.
Typically with this rest period, you would be doing more strength or power work so allowing the CNS to recover is better for this type of training
Incomplete Rest Period
This is the 10 seconds to 2 minute rest times. This doesn’t allow the energy systems to fully recover so there is more accumulated fatigue over the sets.
As the rest periods are shorter, this also means the CNS isn’t as recovered so the ability to lift as heavy is lower. On the plus side, the accumulated fatigue is generally better for metabolic conditioning type work and building muscle.
Question 4: "How fast should I be lifting?"
For beginners, I generally recommend an approximate lifting tempo of 2 seconds up and 2 seconds down. I recommend this for a few reasons:
1) Most people find this a generally comfortable tempo
2) I find that many beginners do not have the ability to control the weight properly at faster lifting tempos and often jam their joints into those end range of motions or into lock out. A more controlled tempo way means they’re controlling the weight better and less likely to hurt themselves
One thing to note, I’m not a massive fan of someone making sure each rep is 2 seconds up and 2 seconds down by counting it, generally because this detracts from them making sure they’re focusing on technique. So long as you get a feel for what this tempo feels like and then keeping roughly at that speed, that should be enough to go by.
Long (it depends) answer:
This isn’t exhaustive, but some of the factors to consider with lifting tempo:
1) Exercise selection – If you’re doing explosive lifts such as snatches, plyometrics, kettlebell swings or if you’re training high end strength then it wouldn’t make sense to worry about lifting tempo other than – perform as fast as you can with control. So keep the exercise in mind and apply common sense.
2) Your goals (part 1) – Strength / Power / Size / Metabolic training can benefit from different tempo styles. For example, metabolic (fat loss) training can be used with faster lifting speeds. Training to get bigger muscles can benefit from Time Under Tension (TUT) which means working the muscles for longer during sets. Power training benefits from an explosive tempo.
3) Your goals (part 2) - This is where is can also get a big more complicated. Playing around with the lifting tempo can spark a new stimulus to your training and help you along with your goals.
For example, if you’ve always used an approximate 2 seconds up, 2 seconds down tempo then your muscles adapt to this over time. Try lifting the weight as fast as you can (with control) and then lowering the weight a bit slower and repeating. It works the muscles in a different way.
Again though, see point 1 for when not to try this. A bit like if you’ve always done 3 sets of 10, trying 4 sets of 6 works the muscles a lot differently.
In short, beginners should stick to a nice controlled lifting tempo. More experience lifters, keep some common sense in mind with what exercises you’re doing but playing around with tempos can lead to new muscle stimulus, especially if you haven’t changed the lifting tempo for a while.
Whilst this is a fairly long post, use it as a reference for designing your own workouts and helping to find your way in the gym.
Any questions, feel free to drop me a message - JCFitnessCoaching@Gmail.com
This is my, mostly, Personal Trainer musings and information which I hope you'll find helpful!