Ok so I let the Q&A go last summer when the weather turned nice. BUT it is back! Check here every Friday (or the weekend if I am um tardy) and you will find all of the answers to your burning fitness questions! Here is one left over from our pile last year for you to start with in 2009...
Q: I am trying to build strength and muscle tone, how often, and for what length of time should I weight train?
A: Thank you for your question Jennifer!
This is an excellent question and I like that you have specified your goals for your weight training program. Your personal goals will determine what your program looks like. There are different repetition ranges and intensity guidelines depending on the outcome goal for a weight training program. Not only is the outline very individual so is the actual exercise prescription. But we will leave that for another Q&A session!
Weight training includes all exercises that are performed with an external form of resistance above and beyond normal body weight. But, body-weight resistance training can also be effective when the body is overloaded with intensity (such as squat jumps). The key to reaching your goals is achieving muscle fatigue within the prescribed duration or repetitions.
To answer your question re: building strength and muscle tone:
How often. Every other day for this type of program. Give your muscles 48 hours between resistance training workouts done to fatigue or failure. You may choose a split routine and alternate upper and lower body workouts every other day. Or you may prefer to hit the weights 3 – 4 days per week and complete a full body program. Exercises that are performed at lower intensities such as core or postural stability exercises may be performed every day as they are not overloading the musculoskeletal system in the same way. It is always recommended to give your body (and mind) one complete day of rest from activity, however.
For what length of time. The length of your workout completely depends on your personal preferences and should reflect your needs. You can achieve a very effective weight training workout in 20 minutes and in 120 minutes! It all depends how much time you have to commit to your program. Complete between 1-3 sets of each exercise with active rest (movement or alternating exercise) between sets. Research indicates that completing 2 sets to fatigue is almost as effective as completing a 3rd set. So skip the 3rd set and push yourself harder on the first 2 if you are on a time budget.
Make sure you include a minimum of 5 – 10 minutes of general (and specific for higher intensity training) warm up before you hit the weights. Not only will you decrease your risk of injury but you will prepare your muscles, joints and nervous system in a way that will ensure you get a much more effective workout. Finish your workout with a relaxing stretch of all muscle groups worked.
All programs should include exercises for the major muscle groups. You can choose your exercises by body part (triceps, biceps, chest, back etc) or by function (push, pull, lift, lower etc). Just be sure to include your core, back and those areas you like to avoid:) Be sure to include additional exercises for weak or underused areas AND avoid overworking muscles that are already overused.
FITT Principle. Fitness professionals use the following acronym to prescribe exercise:
Frequency: how often (as above).
Intensity: how difficult. Select a weight or resistance level that forces you to reach fatigue or failure within the set repetition range:
The prescription for building strength and muscle tone is the following: 8-12 repetitions 1-3 sets.
For muscle bulk (hypertrophy) the ratio changes to: 6-8 repetitions 3+ sets.
For pure endurance the ratio is 12-20 repetitions 1-3 sets.
Time: The length of time spent (as above). AND the time under tension for each repetition: standard is 2 seconds on the lifting and 2 seconds on the lowering. There are other guidelines for building specific strength, speed and power, however.
Type: The specific exercise selection. As mentioned this is an entire series of articles! But refer to the general guidelines above.
I hope that helps you get started!