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Strength Training Basics

Resistance training (also called strength training or weight training) is the use of resistance to muscular contraction to build the strength, anaerobic endurance and size of skeletal muscles. Based on the principle that muscles of the body will work to overcome a resistance force when they are required to do so. When you do resistance training repeatedly and consistently, your muscles become stronger.

A well-rounded fitness program includes strength training to improve joint function, bone density, muscle, tendon and ligament strength, as well as aerobic exercise to improve your heart and lung fitness, flexibility and balance exercises. Vary your progressive resistance training program every six to eight weeks to maintain improvement.

High Weight/Low Reps vs. Low Weight/High Reps

High reps at a low weight increases your heart rate and produces a cardio effect to help burn calories and fat. High reps build muscle endurance, which supports muscles while working under stress. This type of weight training can supplement endurance training.

Heavy weights at low reps break down muscle fibers, and the body builds muscle and increases muscle mass by repairing these fibers. Increased muscle mass elevates metabolism, which helps your body continue to burn calories long after your workout. Heavy lifting also strengthens bone density, which can reduce the risk of breaks and fractures as you age. If you lift heavy, you test your mental strength as well.

Momentum of Movement – Slow vs. Fast Contraction

During weight training, momentum can be disadvantageous, and potentially injurious. It can reduce the effectiveness of the work being done by recruiting other muscles to take over, and it can lead to unnecessary chronic wear and tear of the ligaments and joints.

The speed at which the joint is moved during the muscle contraction directly effects the stability and strength of connective tissues and their joint attachments. Slow and controlled contractions focus muscle movement, protect joint capsules and increase bone density. Faster movements use momentum in muscle movement, thus reducing the action of the muscle involved and reducing the benefits of the movement.

One sure-fire way to minimize excess use of momentum is to place a greater focus on time under tension during your reps and sets. This can be accomplished by choosing a weight that will make it necessary to slow down the speed of movement during exercise. This does not necessarily mean exercising with slow movements, it just means using enough of a load that you are not swinging the arms around like a bird during your set.

Time Under Tension (TUT)

Time under tension (TUT) is the amount of time a muscle spends under a given load. When used effectively, it can help to increase the metabolic response, and can ultimately lead to greater muscle growth. A common school of thought is a lifter needs between 60-90 seconds of TUT if the goal is hypertrophy (greater muscle size).

Mechanisms of Muscle Growth

  1. Muscle Tension: additional tension on the muscle helps to cause changes in the chemistry of the muscle, allowing for growth factors that include mTOR activation and satellite cell activation.
  2. Muscle Damage: local muscle damage causes a release of inflammatory molecules and immune system cells that activate satellite cells to jump into action.
  3. Metabolic Stress: causes cell swelling around the muscle, which helps to contribute to muscle growth without necessarily increasing the size of the muscle cells.
  4. Hormones: another component largely responsible for muscle growth and repair because of their role in regulating satellite cell activity. Insulin Growth Factor (IGF)-1, in particular Mecho-Growth Factor (MGF) and testosterone are the most vital mechanisms that promote muscle growth.

Why Muscles Need Rest to Grow

If you do not provide your body with adequate rest or nutrition, you can reverse the anabolic process and put your body into a catabolic or destructive state. The response of muscle protein metabolism to a resistance exercise bout lasts for 48-72 hours; thus, the interaction between protein metabolism and any meals consumed in this period will determine the impact of the diet on muscle hypertrophy. Keep in mind there is a certain limit on how much your muscles can grow dependent on gender, age, and genetics.

Nutrition for Muscle Growth

  1. Eat Breakfast: gives you an immediate burst of energy and helps you to stay full until your next meal or snack. It also sets the trend: you’ll tend to eat healthier if your day starts with a strong and healthy breakfast. Your best bets are omelets, smoothies and cottage cheese.
  2. Eat Protein: You need protein to build and maintain muscle. To achieve this, you should be looking to eat at least 1g per 454g (1lb) of body-weight. That’s 200g/day if you weigh 91kg (200lb). The easiest way to get this amount is to eat a whole protein source with each meal.
  3. Eat Fruits & Vegetables with Every Meal: Most of them are low calorie, you can eat your stomach full without gaining fat or weight. Fruit and vegetables are also full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber which helps digestion.
  4. Eat Healthy Fats: Healthy fats improve fat loss and health as they digest slowly. Make sure you balance your fat intake, eat healthy fats with every meal and avoid artificial trans-fats, hydrogenated oils and margarine. Healthy fats are found in grass fed butter, avocados and olive oil. Coconut oil is a highly saturated fat and should be consumed cautiously.
  5. Eat Carbs Post Workout: essential for restoring glycogen levels in muscle tissues and assisting in muscle growth during rest. This includes honey, rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, quinoa, oats, etc. Avoid white carbs (sugar, white bread) and eat whole grains.
  6. Drink Water: dehydration impairs muscle recovery. Ensure proper hydration through regular water consumption and pre and post workout hydration. Citrus fruits in water can provide natural electrolytes and assist in proper hydration.
  7. Eat a Variety of Foods: the best way to get proper nutrition is to eat a variety of whole foods that have been minimally processed.