Today we're going to move a little more in-depth into the theory behind program design for strength training. We will start with going over good program design on one of the fundamental types of programs you need to know about if you are seriously thinking about strength training. (This builds off our last blog so make sure you read that first)

You'll need to know the following definitions to understand the rest of this entry:

Repetition (Rep): One complete movement of a single exercise.
Set: A group of consecutive repetitions.
Rest Interval: The time taken to recuperate between sets.

The multiple set system:
This system is what most people think of when they think of strength training. It involves doing multiple sets for each exercise with a rest interval in between to let the muscle group partially recover.

Here's what a multiple set workout could look like for your upper body:

Weight Training Sets & Reps

So that is all well and good but how can I design a program like that?

Choosing the number of sets, reps and weight:
You are given a range so that you have a way to progress the exercise. If you've never strength trained before, start with two sets. On your first set try to pick a weight you can do comfortably 12 times. On your second set pick a slightly heavier weight that you can comfortable get up 6-8 times, but then struggle to get the last 4-6 reps. Our goal is to not be able to push the weight with good form by the end of the final set.

Rest times:
The length of your rest times will vary depending on your goal and fitness level. If you've never worked out before, be sure to take longer rest times (up to 90 seconds) so that you can really focus on maintaining form through the exercises.

If your goal is weight loss, you may want to decrease your rest times (30 sec or less) slightly in order to raise your heart rate.

If your goal is to get stronger then you should lengthen the rest times (90 sec) to enable the muscles to fully recover so you can push more weight on the next set.

Choosing Exercises

Here's a few helpful points on how to choose exercises.

Number of exercises per body part:
This is dependent on your fitness level and time restrictions. It's important that you listen to your body. If you are so sore you cannot move for several days, then you OVERDID IT. If you have a little soreness or stiffness when you stretch the muscle group the next day or two then you hit it right on the sweet spot.

The Best Exercises?

There is really no such thing as a best program or exercise. Here's some logic to follow as you build your own programs.

Notice in the example above it is perfectly balanced. There are two multi-joint chest exercises (incline/decline press) paired with two multi-joint back exercises (bent over row/ lat pull). Overworking one set of muscles causes tightness that can lead to repetitive stress injuries.

Variety of Angles:
The first chest exercise (incline press) works the muscle at different angle than the second. The Lat pull hits the muscles of the back in a significantly different way from the rows. This allows the whole body to strengthen and allow the whole muscle group to develop.

Large to small:
Finally the program starts with the largest muscle groups (chest and back) and works to progressively smaller exercises (bicep and tricep). If you do it the other way, you won't be able to work the large muscle groups effectively as the smaller ones are secondary muscles used in the exercises to work the larger ones (your triceps are also pushing when you do a chest press). So, what will happen is the smaller muscle will get too much work and the large one not enough.

Good luck and next time we'll get into more advanced forms of strength training!