Print This Page SparkPeople

Reference Guide to Strength Training

An In-Depth Look
  -- By Jen Mueller and Nicole Nichols, Fitness Experts
SparkPeople’s Exercise Reference Guides offer an in-depth look at the principles of fitness.

Every movement we make—from walking to driving—involves our muscles. Muscles are unique. They have the ability to relax, contract, and produce force. They are metabolically active, meaning that the more muscle you have, the more calories your body uses at rest and during exercise. Your muscles are highly responsive to strength training, which helps them to become larger and stronger.

But if you don’t know anything about strength training, where do you start? Right here! This guide will tell you everything you need to know to begin and even offer a few tips for experienced exercisers as well.

What is Strength Training?
Strength training is the process of exercising with progressively heavier resistance for the purpose of strengthening the musculoskeletal system. It is also referred to as weight lifting, weight training, body sculpting, toning, body building, and resistance training.

What are the Benefits of Strength Training?
Regular strength training increases the size and strength of the muscle fibers. It also strengthens the tendons, ligaments, and bones. All of these changes have a positive impact on your physical fitness, appearance, and metabolism, while reducing the risk of injury and decreasing joint and muscle pain.

Muscle is metabolically-active tissue. This means that the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism is while at rest. So, strength training is an important component of weight loss and weight maintenance.

Without consistent strength training, muscle size and strength decline with age. An inactive person loses half a pound of muscle every year after age 20. After age 60, this rate of loss doubles. But, muscle loss is not inevitable. With regular strength training, muscle mass can be preserved throughout the lifespan, and the muscle lost can also be rebuilt.<pagebreak>

4 Principles of Strength Training
The four principles of strength training are guidelines that will help you strength train safely and effectively to reach your goals.

1. The Tension Principle: The key to developing strength is creating tension within a muscle (or group of muscles). Tension is created by resistance. Resistance can come from weights (like dumbbells), specially-designed strength training machines, resistance bands, or the weight of your own body. There are three methods of resistance: 2. The Overload Principle: In order to build strength, your muscles must work harder than they are accustomed to. This “overload” will result in increased strength as the body adapts to the stress placed upon it. Everyone begins at a certain level of strength. To become stronger, you must regularly increase the tension (weight or resistance) that your muscles work against, causing them to adapt to a new level. As the muscles respond to an overload, they will grow in size and strength. There are two types of strength overloads: 3. The Specificity of Training Principle: This refers to the fact that only the muscle or muscle group you exercise will respond to the demands placed upon it. By regularly doing bicep curls, for example, the muscles involved (biceps) will become larger and stronger, but curls will have no effect on the muscles that are not being trained (such as your legs). Therefore, when strength training, it is important to strengthen all of the major muscle groups.

4. The Detraining Principle: After consistent strength training stops, you will eventually lose the strength that you built up. Without overload or maintenance, muscles will weaken in two weeks or less! This is the basis behind why individuals lose muscle mass as they age—because they are detraining by exercising less frequently.

How Much Strength Training Should You Do?
When considering the guidelines for aerobic exercise, keep the FITT principles in mind (Frequency, (Intensity, Time and Type). Get the Most Out of Your Strength Training Workouts
These tips will help you get started on the right foot!