Tag Archives: strength training

FIRST Guidelines to Improve Muscular STRENGTH

In my last post, I wrote about using the FIRST guidelines for improving muscular endurance.  Now we’ll focus on improving muscular strength.  Muscle strength is defined as “the ability to exert a maximal amount of force for a short period of time“.

We all need muscle strength for most activities of daily living.  Lifting the groceries, picking up your child, or housework.  If you’re interested in improving your muscle strength, you can easily create a program following these guidelines.

FIRST guidelines for Improving Muscular Strength

Frequency:  When you strength train at a high intensity, it causes considerable microtrauma to the tissue which usually takes about 72 hours for recovery.  If you perform total-body workouts, two sessions per week would be advised.  If you like to do split routines, be sure to take at least 72 hours between workouts for the same muscles.  An example of a split routine would be to work chest, shoulders, and triceps on Mon and Thurs; Tues and Fridays work the upper back and biceps; Wed and Saturdays would be legs and trunk.  *Please note that the 72 hour waiting period is recommended when you are strength training at a high intensity using close to your maximum resistance*

Intensity:  In the beginning stages of training for strength, you can be successful using a wide range of weightloads.  However, for the best strength improvement, it’s advised to use weightloads between 80-90% of your max resistance.  Performing one to three reps with more than 90% of your max is very effective for developing strength, but this isn’t recommended for the average person.

Repetitions:  Training for muscular strength requires fewer reps than when training for muscular endurance.  When using higher weightloads, you aren’t able to perform as many reps.  In most cases it is suggested to complete four to six repetitions to improve muscular strength.  When you can complete 7 reps, it’s time to increase the weight by about 5%.

Sets:  Improvements in muscular strength can be gained with both single-set or multiple-set training.  It’s a good idea to start with one hard set of each exercise and increase when you feel comfortable.  Muscular strength programs typically do not go beyond 3-4 sets of each exercise.  Keep in mind that longer rest periods are needed in between sets.  Two to five minutes of recovery are advised between sets of the same exercise which means workouts will take longer.  Luckily, single-set programs can be just as effective for improving strength.

Type:  As with training for muscular endurance there are several options for muscular strength training.  Although, free weights and standard machine exercises are favored when your goal is to develop more strength.

Increases in muscular strength coincide with increases in muscular endurance, but it’s more important to focus on training intensity when your goal is to improve strength.  Split routines or total body strength training routines are both effective.  It’s mostly a matter of preference and lifestyle.

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The progress one makes varies from person to person.  It’s not realistic to automatically increase your workload each week.  If your repetition range is 4-6 per set, once you can complete 6 reps with proper technique you can then increase the weight by about 5%.  Then start back at 4 reps and work up to 6 reps.

Using these guidelines is a very efficient way to improve muscular strength.  Both muscular endurance and muscular strength are important for overall physical fitness.  The FIRST guidelines are fairly easy to follow and can be very helpful when creating your program.

Do you prefer total body training or a split routine?


3 Tips on Losing Those Last Few Pounds!

Why is it a struggle to lose those last few pounds in order to reach your weight loss goals?  While on a weight loss journey, those final pounds are very stubborn regardless of changes in nutrition and sticking with a vigorous exercise program.

Our bodies are very smart and would rather not be on a “diet”.  Supposedly, we all have a set point at which our body likes to stay at and is comfortably maintained.  When we lose weight below our set point, our body tries to return to that steady state.  Therefore, losing those last few pounds is not easy!

With a persistent action plan that targets nutrition and physical activity, you can successfully reach a new steady state or set point.  Follow these 3 tips to help lose those last few stubborn pounds and help achieve your goals.

1.  Alter your endurance program.  The goal is to burn more calories overall.  There are basically two ways to change up your aerobic exercise.  Increase the intensity during your cardio session.  If your a runner, for example, run faster or add some bursts of speed throughout your run.  If you don’t want to increase intensity, you can increase the amount of time spent doing aerobic exercise.  Either add time to each session or add an extra day or two.

2.  Strength train a minimum of 2 times per week.  If you add more muscle, you increase your metabolic rate and therefore, more calories are burned.  When you have a large amount of muscle, you can burn more calories overall than if you have low muscle mass.  When you lose weight, some of it comes from muscle so it’s important to strength train to maintain muscle mass.  Every pound of lean muscle mass burns about 6 calories per day.  So if you’re struggling to lose those last few pounds, being committed to a strength training program is essential.

3.  Eat less.  To be successful at the weight loss game, it’s important to make dietary changes.  It’s helpful to keep a food journal for a few days and take an honest look at how much food you are consuming.  Of course there are several apps you can use if you prefer.  It really is eye opening when you see it in writing!  Little snacks here and there add up.  You also want to be sure that you are eating a healthy amount to avoid nutrient deficiencies and under fueling.

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Losing weight is not easy and requires much effort to be successful.  You need to be dedicated to making permanent changes to attain as well as maintain your weight loss goals.

Small decisions you make each day can either help or hinder your success in moving forward toward your desired result.

Do you think our bodies have a “set point”?

Do you have any tips to add?

7 Factors that Impact Muscle Strength and Size

Whether you’ve just started a strength program or have been at it for months, you may have wandered why your muscles aren’t growing as fast as you’d like or why your strength hasn’t made much improvement?  Or maybe it seems to take you longer than someone else to see results from your strength training program?

There are seven factors that impact the development of muscular strength and muscular size.  Most of these factors are influenced by genetics.

Hormone Levels:  Two hormones that are connected to tissue growth and development are growth hormone and testosterone.  Having higher levels of these hormones are beneficial for increasing the size and strength of muscles.  The level of growth hormones in the body are highest during youth and decreases as we age.  Testosterone also may decrease with age and women naturally have smaller amounts.  You can see why older adults have reduced muscle mass and strength, as these two hormones decrease with age.  People that naturally have higher levels of growth hormone and testosterone usually have greater ability for the development of muscle.

Male vs Female:  In terms of being able to produce strength, male and female muscle tissue is pretty much the same.  The difference is males have more muscle as a whole.  Men generally have greater muscle mass and overall muscular strength than women because of larger body size, higher lean weight percentage, and more testosterone.

Age:  As we get older, we tend to have less muscle mass and less strength partly due to lower levels of anabolic hormones.  There’s an “average strength loss of 10% per decade in adults between the ages 20-80″.  However, one study on adults between the ages of 20-80, concluded that after 10 weeks of strength training, all individuals added similar amounts of lean muscle.  So, people of all ages gain muscle at about the same rate during the initial training period.  It’s so important to continue to strength train or perform weight bearing exercises as we get older!

Muscle Fiber Type:  Muscles are made of two types of fibers; type I (slow-twitch) and type II (fast-twitch).  Type II are broken down even further into type IIa and type IIx fibers, but we won’t go into that.  Type I are smaller with more aerobic power and type II fibers are usually larger with more anaerobic capacity.  Both types of fibers are involved during resistance training with the slow-twitch fibers activated at lower force levels and the fast-twitch fibers activated at higher force levels.  However, type II (fast-twitch) fibers have greater size growth, therefore, these fibers play a larger role in muscle hypertrophy (size).  So people born with more type II muscle fibers may have a better chance for increasing their muscle size.

Muscle Length:  The most influential factor for getting larger muscles is muscle length in relation to bone length.  Muscles attach to bones by tendons.  Some people have short muscles with long tendon attachments and others may have long muscles with short tendon attachments.  Those with long muscles have a better chance for muscle development than those with short muscles.

Limb Length:  The length of your limbs does not have an impact on muscle size, but it does, in fact, affect strength performance.  Shorter limbs have leverage benefits over longer limbs.  Longer limbs require more muscle force to move a weight.  (you can look at it as a lever system) For example, if two people have the same bicep muscle strength, the person with the shorter forearm can curl a heavier dumbbell.

Tendon Insertion Point:  The place where the tendon inserts on the bone most definitely affects strength performance but does not influence muscle size.  As an example, you could perform a heavier bicep curl if your tendon insertion point is farther from the elbow joint versus closer to the elbow joint.

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As you can see, these factors are things we can’t change.  Genetics may play a role but in the end, your lifestyle will determine if you become fit and strong.

Resistance training has so many benefits, and can help make everyday activities easier to accomplish.  Anyone can improve their performance and strength by being consistent and sticking with a program regardless of these seven factors!