Gym Strength Training Practice

Explore the variey to reach your goals...Screen shot 2011-06-03 at 6.26.20 PM

Gyms are not for everyone for a variety of reasons but they do offer a large range of activities allowing users to mix things up and keep their workouts fresh. Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain muscle or stay healthy, joining a gym could be an important step in reaching it. The strength training area may be the most confusing in the entire gym, full of odd looking contraptions with handles and straps and cables. But, the good thing is that most gyms organize their strength training equipment to help you navigate a little easier. For example, you might find machines categorized by muscle group; e.g., chest machines in one row, back machines in another.

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You can expect: variety in resources, increased strength

Level of Effort: Easy to Difficult - you make the choice

Time Involved: 20 minutes (or more)


Getting Started:

  1. Find out what your gym has available - Attend gym orientation or meet with fitness facility coordinator/trainer and take a tour
  2. Determine your goals
  3. Determine your workout parameters:
  4. Determine your program schedule
  5. Strength training routines
  6. Warm up and Cool down with each workout
  7. Write in your activity journal


What to Consider:



1. Find out what your gym has available

Attend gym orientation or meet with fitness facility coordinator/trainer and take a tour

Attend gym orientation or meet with fitness facility coordinator/trainer and take a tour to familiarize yourself with the club and all it has to offer. Find out where things are, how to adjust the machines and just get familiar with the gym. Also your coordinator will give you someone you can go to for help if you need it.


Training Machines

You'll probably notice that there are a variety of machines for each muscle group - a regular chest press machine, an incline chest press, a pec deck. All work the chest, but how would you pick which one to use? Or should you use all of them? Your best bet is to choose one exercise or machine per muscle group. When you go through your orientation, the trainer will most likely show you the machines you can start with for a basic workout. But, an example of a beginner workout on machines might be:

  • Chest Press (chest)
  • Lat Pulldown (back)
  • Shoulder Press (shoulders)
  • Bicep Curl (biceps)
  • Tricep Press (triceps)
  • Leg Press (quads, glutes and hamstrings)
  • Leg Extension (quads)
  • Leg Curl (hamstrings)
  • Calf Raise (calves)
  • Back Extension (lower back)
  • Ab Curl (abs)

If you're a beginner, starting out with machines can be a good choice because they provide support while you learn how to perform the exercises with good form. They also work on a fixed path and don't require as much coordination as free weights. Once you get stronger and more confident, you'll want to add more free weights to the mix to work on other areas of the body.


Free Weights

If the strength training machines look confusing, giant racks of dumbbells, barbells, plates and more may look even more daunting. The free weight section will usually be close to the machines and you may find a variety of interesting equipment here such as:

  • Dumbbells
  • Plate loaded barbells
  • Fixed-weight barbells
  • Flat and incline benches
  • Olympic-sized bars
  • Weight racks
  • Bench press stations

When starting out it is best to use cable or free-motion machines in the free weight section of the gym, simply because cables don't work on a fixed path, like the machines mentioned above, and are more like free weight exercises since you have to use your own body for balance and support.

If you're not familiar with dumbbell or free weight exercises, you may think this area is for bodybuilders only. But free weights are great for everyone and you'll probably find a variety of exercisers there -- men, women, young, old, bodybuilders or just regular exercisers. One reason beginners don't always start with free weights is because, unlike machines, there aren't always instructions available for how to use them. If you're not sure what to do, you might want to hire a trainer or look at the total body toning practice.


2. Define any specific goals you may have for toning

Define any specific goals you may have for toning, such as upper arms, abs, etc. That way you can add in more exercises that focus on those areas. Like your cardio, set up your strength workout to meet your goals and focus on that during the workout. For example, if you're working on fitness and weight loss, you may want to start with a total body routine 2-3 days a week with a couple of exercises per muscle group. If you're trying to build muscle, you may choose a split routine to give each muscle the attention it needs.


3. Determine your workout parameters

Sets - A set is a group of successive repetitions performed without resting. A repetition (rep) is the number of times you repeat the move in each set. Therefore, if your instructions were to do 3 sets of 12 (3 x 12) biceps curls, you would curl the weight 12 times in a row to complete the first set. Then you'd put the weight down, rest a moment and do 12 more in a row to complete the second set, and so on until you've finished the prescribed number of sets for that exercise.

Speed - A reasonable training pace is 1-2 seconds for the lifting (concentric) portion of the exercise and 3-4 seconds for the lowering (eccentric) portion of the move. Fast, jerky movements should be avoided. They place undue stress on the muscle and connective tissue at the beginning of the movement, substantially increasing the likelihood of an injury. Fast lifting also cheats you out of some of the strength benefits. When lifting at a fast pace, momentum (not the muscle) is doing a good deal of the work.

Repetitions - The number of repetitions chosen for each exercise depends on the amount of resistance (weight) you're using. A safe and productive training recommendation would be 8-12 repetitions using 70% to 80% of maximum resistance.

  • Maximum resistance is the most weight you can lift one time with proper form.
  • In general, most people can complete:
    • 6 repetitions with 85% of their maximum resistance (training beyond this increases injury)
    • 8 repetitions with 80% of maximum resistance
    • 10 repetitions with 75% of maximum resistance
    • 12 repetitions with 70% of maximum resistance
    • 14 repetitions with 65% of maximum resistance (training with less than this decreases strength gains)

How many reps and sets you do will depend on your goals:

  • For building muscle = it's usually 3 or more sets of 6-10 reps
  • For muscle toning and defining = 2 or more sets of 8-12 reps
  • For strength and endurance = 2 or more sets of 12-16 reps

Weight - the amount of weight a person considers light will vary. Essentially you will want to determine the scale for yourself but can use the following guidelines to assist you:

  • Light - usually between 5-8 pounds; amount that you can lift with relative ease and complete many sets of an exercise.
  • Medium - around 10 pounds
  • Heavy - 15+ pounds; amount that is difficult to lift and you can only complete about 8-10 repetitions with good form
  • If a weight is so heavy that you have to jerk, bounce or swing to get it to the top of the movement, it's too heavy.

As your muscles adapt to a given exercise, you will need to gradually increase the resistance or the repetitions to promote further gains. This is known as progressive resistance. You should start out with a weight that allows you to do at least 8 repetitions of a particular exercise. Once you can complete 12 repetitions with that weight (or the number required for your particular strength program), you increase the weight by about 5 percent. Now, you're doing 8 repetitions with the slightly heavier weight. Once you've worked up to 12 repetitions with the heavier weight, you increase it by another 5 percent (or no more than 10%) and go back to doing 8 repetitions. The idea is to keep alternately increasing repetitions and resistance, so that you continue to see results.


4. Determine your program schedule

Frequency and Duration - When it comes to strength training, the general rule is to work all your muscle groups at least twice a week for basic strength and health gains. But, beyond that, how you set up your program will depend on your goals and fitness level

  • Determine how many times per week you will perform your gym practice
  • Determine what areas of the body you will work: upper body, lower body, abdominals
  • Determine how long each training session will be

Strength training sessions should be scheduled no more frequently than every other day, because the muscle recovery process takes at least 48 hours. Increases in muscle size and strength don't occur while you're training, they occur during the rest period between workouts. This is when your muscles recover and rebuild, gradually becoming bigger and stronger.

Schedule it  - now that the elements are determined, schedule your workout. If you set aside the days and times you will perform your practice you are more likely to stick to it. Remember the idea is to make it a habit, so schedule at least 2 weeks of sessions and don't miss or change them and you are on your way.


5. Strength Training Routines


6. Warm up and Cool down with each workout


7. Write in your activity journal

Track your activity, duration, intensity and how you felt before and after the activity. Learn More...


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