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Strength Training Guidelines

In response to my recent article on strengthening muscles, I received the following guidelines from Dr. Richard Winett, a respected professor at Virginia Tech who has done extensive research on resistance training, and I am sharing them with his permission.

1. People need to learn a correct range of motion for each exercise that is within their capability and practice that range of motion with lighter resistance.

2. There is not a lot of convincing data on repetition duration, but what there is including work we have done, suggests for each exercise taking about three seconds for the concentric, positive part of the rep, and three seconds for the eccentric, negative part. The reps are done smoothly as are the "turn arounds" from positive to negative and negative to positive.

3. Train to the point where the last repetition in good form is performed that will usually represent a high degree of effort which is the goal. This is often called "training to failure" but a better point is saying that this is "successful training."

4. The stimulus comes from the degree of effort and not a specific weight per se. There is no need to ever use heavy resistance. This isn't based on 1 RM [the heaviest weight you can lift for one repetition], an unnecessary concept from weight lifting. Simply after a number of sessions of learning good form, pick a resistance for each exercise that is challenging, anywhere from eight to 20 repetitions at the 3, 3 rep format. Train to the last good rep and stop. And, keep track of your workouts. Use any means (e.g., a written log, phone app) that suits you. Plan each workout based on your prior workout so you know exactly what to do. Try also to record your workout in ‘real time’, rather than trying to remember at some later point what you did in the workout.

5. When people pay attention and train in this way, performing one set per exercise provides about the same benefits as any number of multiple sets. A whole body protocol can include about 12 exercises and overall take about 30-40 minutes. Generally perform for major muscle groups one compound movement and one isolation movement. For example, for the quadriceps (thighs), perform the leg press and the leg extension. For small muscle groups perform one isolation movement. For example, for the biceps, perform a curl.  Besides a short general warm-up, warming up for the first exercise of the day is a good idea. Starting with lower-body also is a good idea, though any order can be effective. Take about a minute between sets. Pay attention to the exercise, your ROM [range of motion], and the effects of the exercise. No talking while doing a set. Resistance training, similar to yoga, should be a focused attention activity.

6. The process of adding strength and muscle hypertrophy is really not based on "repairing damage." It is learning to train in ways that do not create a lot of damage so the body can focus on muscle protein synthesis, a growth process, and not on damage repair. This means sticking to exercises and performing them in correct form and not constantly changing a routine. Extreme muscle soreness the day after training is not a sign of a ‘good workout’. It often means the resistance used on one or more exercise was too heavy; or the range of motion was too large; or you changed some exercises, or your sleep or nutrition was inadequate. Think about what likely caused the extreme soreness and make a correction including, perhaps, taking an extra rest day. See how this literally ‘works out’.

7. Progress is made by small increments in repetitions and resistance over many workouts, but there is only real progress if form does not change. Do not try to ‘rush’ your progress. ‘Slow and steady’ wins the race. At some point, although this may take a year or more, your strength gains and body composition improvements will plateau. If you keep training consistently, you can maintain your gains. This has to be considered a form of progress. As people get older, strength and muscle mass are lost. If you are maintaining, relative to your age peer group, you are progressing.

8. One does not train the same muscle group on consecutive days. So, if on a Wednesday, eight good repetitions were performed in the chest press with 100 pounds, on Thursday, you would NOT do the chest press for eight repetitions with 50 pounds. Rather you would take a walk or do some other kind of exercise. But resistance training is a powerful stimulus providing numerous cardiometabolic benefits, and in order to improve in resistance training while you can effectively also do endurance or interval training, you can't overdo the latter two kinds of training and expect to see gains in resistance training. This is called ‘concurrent training’. It was believed for many years that endurance training inevitably ‘interfered’ with and undermined gains from strength training. What has been found is that this effect was primarily caused by overtraining, i.e., too much exercise. Effective concurrent training is possible but it also can help to decide what type of exercise is your priority. That way you can still perform both types of exercise but put more time and effort into the type of exercise that is your priority. There also are disparate outcomes from studies assessing the effects of same day, or alternate day strength and endurance training. The benefit of same day training is that the next day can be a complete recovery day. The disadvantage of same day training is that the training session is very long. Experiment and find what works for you. The advent of very brief high intensity interval training and sprint interval training protocols tends to make same day training more feasible.

9. The commercial marketing of strength training protocols mostly depends upon the idea that specific protocols produce specific outcomes. For example, for larger, ‘shapelier’ muscles, perform protocol XYZ. But, how we respond to any reasonable strength training protocol is largely based on genetic factors. For example, some people have a good propensity to increase strength, and others have a good propensity to increase muscle mass in response to the same protocol. And, research shows that these two propensities are not highly related. Nor, is it possible to change the shape of different muscle groups. The best approach is to be consistent with your training, nutrition, and sleep and in that way you will make the most out of your individual characteristics.

10. Nutritional support for strength training is important, but, this does not mean relying on supplements. The best evidence points to having meals distributed throughout the day with about 25 to 30 grams of protein in each meal, and within a healthful nutrition pattern such as DASH or the Mediterranean pattern.

Thanks to Dr. Winett for allowing me to publish these guidelines. His CV is at https://www.psyc.vt.edu/users/rswinett and his website is www.ageless-athletes.com

Checked 2/2/18

July 17th, 2016
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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