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6 Essential Variables in Weight Training

Custom-Build Your Exercise Program
  -- By Lonnie Soloff, Cleveland Indians' Head Trainer

Weight training is a critical component to the success of an athlete.

By becoming stronger and increasing muscular endurance, an athlete is able to perform more efficiently and is better able to avoid injury. Furthermore, there are a number of other physiological adaptations to weight training. The strength of tendons and ligaments are increased. Bone density increases, making the bone stronger and more resistant to fractures. And maximal heart rate is improved, thus increasing metabolism.

Designing a weight training program is often an annoying process for the non-professional. Hopefully the following information provides some insight into the process and encourages some of you to implement resistance training in your weekly fitness sessions.

There are 6 essential program variables to consider when designing a weight training program. These include a needs analysis, exercise selection, training frequency, exercise order, training load and repetitions and rest periods.

1. Needs Analysis
Refers to a two-stage process that considers the activity or sport the athlete is training for and the training history of the athlete. The unique characteristics of the sport or goal of training must be considered in planning a training regimen to make the training as specific as possible. Specific muscular movement patterns, cardiovascular endurance needs and flexibility requirements are all important considerations. The current level of fitness, training experience and medical history of the athlete are also integral when planning a regimen. For example, if an athlete has a history of ankle sprains and at present has an unstable ankle joint, balance and intrinsic foot and ankle strength will be included in their program.

2. Exercise Selection
Deals with choosing exercises that reflect the needs of the athlete’s sport with consideration paid to their training history. Baechle and Earle refer to two different types of weight resisted exercises; core exercises and assistance exercises. Core exercises recruit larger muscles that are primary movers at one or more joints. These core exercises stabilize the proximal segments of the body, allowing for fine motor patterns at the extremities. Assistance exercises recruit smaller muscles, such as the biceps or calf, that are considered less important in athletic performance. In addition, exercise selection should be as sport specific as possible. Specificity training provides the best likelihood of transfer to performance. For example, forward and lateral lunges would be a sports specific exercise for a tennis player or a pitcher in baseball.

3. Training Frequency
Refers to the number of training sessions in a given period of time. Again, the goals of training and experience of the athlete must be taken into consideration when planning training frequency. Traditionally, three workouts per week are recommended for many athletes, as the intervening days allow for sufficient muscular recovery between sessions. Athletes with less experience with weight training should begin with fewer sessions per week.

4. Exercise Order
Involves the sequencing of exercises during a training session. Decisions should be based upon how the athlete responds to specific exercises and how the exercises performed first will affect exercises performed later. Typically, exercises that require the most refined technique and recruit the larger prime movers are performed first, followed by assistance exercises. For example, a single-leg balance squat should be performed before a one-leg calf extension. Another method that allows for adequate recovery involves alternating between upper and lower body exercises.

5. Training Load and Repetitions
Refers to the amount lifted and the number of times the weight is lifted. Typically, there is an inverse relationship between load and repetition. This means if the load lifted is high, the number of repetitions is low and vice versa. The load lifted is usually dependent on the goals of the training program. For example, a resistance program geared for gains in muscular strength require lifting heavier loads and fewer repetitions. Conversely, a program geared towards muscular endurance or "toning" requires lower loads and higher repetitions.

6. Rest Intervals
Refers to the amount of time between exercises. Generally, rest intervals are based on exercise experience and goals of training. Typically, an athlete with limited weight training experience will need more time for muscle recovery between sets. The other variable when considering rest interval is goal of training. When training for strength or power gains, the rest interval is between 2-5 minutes. Conversely, if hypertrophy or muscular endurance is the goal, rest intervals should be between 30-90 seconds.