Last time, we got some of the basics of resistance training out of the way. This time, we’re going to touch on the different types of training and start talking routines. Let’s get to it.
Everyone has his or her own reasons for training. Some people are in it for health, some for athletic performance, some for raw strength and power, some to gain weight, and some people just want to look good naked. Whatever your goals are, you will need to train for those. Personally, I go for health and GPP (general physical preparedness or conditioning) but everyone’s different.
All forms of training will have some carryover. If you train for looks, you will get somewhat stronger and probably in better shape. If you train for pure strength, you will look and feel better and get bigger in a hurry.
Training for maximum strength is the simplest concept to explain. It (usually) consists of many sets of very low repetitions. On max effort days, powerlifters following the Westside Barbell Club template will sometimes reach 8 sets of 3 reps and, on occasion, doing heavy singles or doubles at the very peak. Regardless of the template, strength training generally doesn’t progress beyond 5 reps per exercise.
Training for hypertrophy (muscle growth) like a bodybuilder can require several methods. The generally accepted rep range for hypertrophy is 6-8 reps per set with 3-5 sets per movement. There are many people that do more than this as they’ve learned their bodies respond well to higher volume. Some will include lower rep sets in with their higher rep sets. It all has to do with learning what your body is telling you.
Training for health and GPP is probably the widest area to try to cover because, honestly, it’s not really an area of specialization. It’s a balance of training for strength, hypertrophy, and muscular and cardiovascular endurance. This can be thought of as general athletic training. These are the people that are usually in better shape than they look since they’re concerned with fucntion over form. This is also
the most flexible type of training since it can usually be done with almost no equipment whatsoever.
Now that I’ve gone into all of that, I’ll repeat something I said during the diet articles…keep it as simple as possible until what you’re doing isn’t working. Beginners have a tendency to jump into something complicated, get lost, confused, or can’t make themselves stick to something and then burn out fast. This is the biggest reason people fail. Keep it simple until simple isn’t working.
I’m going to suggest a few different routines that have already been created by others and help you figure out what’s right for you.
The first one is probably the simplest routine possible. It’s named for the book from which it was taken, Starting Strength. Mark Rippetoe is a very accomplished strength and conditioning coach who has put together a program specifically for beginners but that more advanced lifters can get major benefits from as well. There is a wiki as well that contains most of the information from the book as well as video instruction on proper form for the lifts.
The program itself is ridiculously simple, consisting of two workouts that alternate on three non-consecutive days per week (MWF, for example). While this program is built for strength training, I recommend it for all beginners because of its simple nature, the strength progression built into it, and that it provides an excellent strength base and knowledge of the basic compound movements which can only help as your training progresses. It feels like a cliche but you can’t build a house without a solid foundation.
The next two routines work on the same general principle of dividing lifts into horizontal and vertical planes of movement. They are also both geared toward hypertrophy and are 4 day routines.
First is Baby Got Back, a routine created by (once again) MariAnne Anderson. Specifically, this program was originally conceived as a way for bodybuilders to build a big back, however, this routine is also excellent for maintaining mass during a cut since it hits every muscle group using varying rep ranges twice weekly. While in caloric deficit, the accessory movements (direct bicep, tricep, and calf work) don’t need to be done. They’ll just waste time and not give you much benefit. The actual routine is under the section at the bottom titled “Sample Workout”. The rest of the article is explanation of the principles behind it.
Second is what’s called WannaBeBig 1.1, a program by Maki Riddington, a professional strength and conditioning coach. This program is also a 4 day program built for hypertrophy but, like the previous routine, works for LBM maintenance bt hitting all muscle groups twice weekly. This routine is fine for beginners but looks a little intimidating at first glance.
Of these two, my primary recommendation is for Baby Got Back but truly believe that beginners will get the most benefit from Rippetoe’s Starting Strength.
Now that’s all over and done with, you say you don’t have access to a gym? That’s not a problem. The principles of training don’t change but your modality will (obviously) have to.
Bodyweight exercises can be made to be as easy or as difficult as you need them to be. The first three exercises that come to mind are pushups, pullups, and bodyweight squats. As I mentioned in the last article, tension is what is most important when working with resistance training.
Let’s discuss pushups. If you are unable to do pushups, elevate your hands so that you’re moving less weight. When you’re able to do those well, lower the hands. If they’re too easy, do them slower. Take three seconds to decline, pause for one second at the bottom, and then explode upward to the finished position.
Pullups are likewise easy to tweak to be easier or harder. To make them easier, have a partner assist your pullups just enough that you can complete your reps. To add to that, focus on the negative. Take 2-3 full seconds to return from the top to the bottom position. Negatives can be just as useful for generating and maintaining muscular tension.
After pullups, you can remain on the bar and do hanging leg raises for weighted ab work. These will be infinitely more useful for core strengthening than unweighted crunches. Start by doing them with bent knees. Do them centered and then alternate side to side. This will hit your rectus abdominus (6 pack) and your obliques, strengthening the core entirely.
To hit your lower back and posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors), try to find a way to do reverse situps. Hang your upper body off of a chair or table or something and raise up so that your torso is parallel to the floor. You can also fill milk jugs with water and hold them to your chest, cinder blocks, or whatever you have handy to do Good Mornings.
Squats can work the same way. Slow them down on the negative, pause at the bottom, keep a slow ascent. Think 3 seconds up and down, 1 second at the bottom. Alternatively, use the aforementioned makeshift weights and do Goblet Squats.
When you’re training without a gym, your method essentially becomes you finding a weight and pushing or pulling it in a direction that works the muscles you want to target. Changing the leverage will alter the difficulty of the movement just the same as changing the weight will.
Renowned strength and conditioning expert Pavel Tsatsouline has said “Strength is the ability of a muscle to generate tension.” This is why time under tension is so important. The more tension a muscle exerts, the more it will be capable of exerting the next time, provided it is always being pushed.
I’ll leave this section on bodyweight and “improv” training with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
You have several different choices when it comes to resistance training. It isn’t necessary to spend lots of money on gym memberships and fancy workout plans. If you can, that’s great. If you can’t, you just have to get creative.
This is all we’ve got space for this time but I’ll be back in a couple days and we’ll discuss integrating a cardio protocol into a resistance training regimen. Stay tuned…