Every fitness program should include weight training, or some other form of resistance training, as it will be imperative for improving the composition of the body.
Weight training aids in muscle growth, contributes to fat loss, increases the metabolism, builds athleticism and enhances strength. Regardless of your personal goals you can use weight training to achieve them.
That being said, you’ll want to structure your weight training plan in such a way that it specifically caters to your goals.
For instance, if you are an endurance athlete, like a boxer, you don’t want to spend the majority of your time training for strength.
On the other hand, if you’re training for a power lifting competition, it isn’t going to do you much good to train like an endurance athlete.
For some, the goal is simply physical. Maybe you want to build muscle as fast as possible. Or perhaps losing fat is your primary concern.
The way you structure your weight training plan can have a significant impact on your results and needs to be given the attention it deserves.
I’m going to tell you exactly how you should be weight training for achieving the most common fitness goals. First, though, I want to clarify a common misconception…
The Light Weights for Toning Myth
A popular idea that floats around the bodybuilding and fitness world is that the way to tone your muscles and build definition is by lifting lighter weights for a high number of reps.
As I will address a little later, training with lighter weights can aid in the process of toning, but the main factor that determines your level of muscle definition is body fat.
Extreme muscle definition comes from having low levels of body fat. Period.
If you want to be ripped and defined, you’ll certainly want to implement a weight training plan that’s consistent with that goal. However, your primary focus should be on maintaining a caloric deficit so you can continually shed body fat until you’ve achieved a level of muscle definition that you’re satisfied with.
I will cover lifting with lighter weights in just a moment, but toning is not one if the primary benefits of lifting lighter weights for a high number of reps.
Now that you know the truth about building muscle definition, let’s look at how your weight training should be structured for optimal fat loss.
Weight Training for Fat Loss and Endurance
Weight training for fat loss isn’t too complicated.
Since fat loss is ultimately achieved through maintaining an elevated heart rate, when training for fat loss you need to structure your weight training in such a way that your heart rate being elevated is factored into the equation.
This can be achieved utilizing several different methods:
- Circuit training
- High rep training
- Minimizing rest between sets
Let’s look at this list in greater detail.
Circuit training is nothing more than cycling through a list of exercises. A sample circuit training exercise list would be something like this:
- 20 Jump squats
- 25 Crunches
- 10 Lateral raises
- 40 Jumping jacks
- 15 Burpees
- 10 Tricep push downs
- 15 Lunges (on each leg)
Running through this list would complete one circuit and you’d simply complete as many circuits as you desire (or as you have time for).
Supersets entail performing two different lifts, that each target a different muscle group, with alternating sets until all sets of each lift is complete. Ideally you wouldn’t rest at all in between sets, but you may have to work up to this if you’re endurance isn’t ready for it yet.
An example of supersets would be alternating between bicep curls and barbell rows with little or no rest between each set until all sets of each lift has been completed.
Circuit training and supersets utilize the concept of resting for little or no time between sets, which is a great way to elevate your heart rate and keep it there.
This doesn’t have to be done with circuit training or supersets. Regardless of the specific weight training plan you’re following, if you’re resting for a minute or less between sets you will be able to maintain an elevated heart rate and burn fat while weight training.
Of course, when training for fat loss, performing some kind of conditioning exercise (cardio) is important as well. I’m not going to cover cardio workouts in this article, but for the best cardio fat burning results you should try to get in your cardio workouts first thing in the morning, before eating anything, or immediately following your weight lifting.
These are the times when your blood sugar levels are at their lowest and will lead to fat oxidation occurring at a faster rate than at any other time throughout the day.
Before I move on I also want to remind you that fat loss is only going to be possible through maintaining a caloric deficit.
It doesn’t matter how you structure your training plan, if you aren’t eating for fat loss by maintaining a caloric deficit, losing fat won’t be possible.
Weight Training for Maximal Muscle Gains
Understanding how to train for maximum muscle gains requires a basic knowledge of muscle growth – also known as hypertrophy.
There are two different types of muscle hypertrophy:
- Myofibrillar hypertrophy
- Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy
Myofibrillar hypertrophy describes the addition of muscle tissue to the body, while sarcoplasmic hypertrophy involves increasing the volume of sarcoplasmic fluid the muscle cells can hold.
Most bodybuilders tend to focus on one or the other type of hypertrophy – not both.
By doing this they are actually cheating themselves out of getting the maximum muscle building benefit from their weight training. If you’re concerned with packing on muscle mass and size as fast as possible you absolutely must train for both types of hypertrophy.
But how do you do that?
You can actually achieve maximal hypertrophy in a variety of ways, but the bottom line is that you need to be training with light weights for a high number of reps (8-11) and also training with heavier weights using sets consisting of a low number of reps (3-5).
This is because myofibrillar hypertrophy is best accomplished training with heavy weights and low reps and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is best accomplished with lighter weights and high reps.
As I said above, this hypertrophy combination can be achieved using a few different methods. Here are a couple of my favorites:
- Starting with a weight that leads to failure in 9-11 reps for the first set of a lift and adding weight for each subsequent set until I reach a weight that leads to failure in 3-5 reps for my final set
- Lifting heavy for sets of 3-5 reps for a full week and then lifting light for sets of 9-11 reps for a full week
The first option above is the best option because it effectively incorporates the full spectrum of rep ranges as you move from 9-11 reps down to 3-5. But it’s worth noting that it can be a pain to have to switch weights in between each set.
Most individuals wanting to build muscle also want to focus on quickly building strength as well.
If this describes you, a good plan of attack would be to lift heavy for 2 weeks for every 1 week of lifting lighter.
Train for the Results You Desire
Depending on whether you want to build muscle mass, lose body fat, gain strength, or increase endurance, you now have the information you need to get the results you desire.
For those who are serious about their training, just going to the gym and lifting weights simply isn’t going to cut it. You need to understand how to structure your training plan in order to induce the change on your body that you desire.
It doesn’t matter what results you’re after, there’s a weight training plan that will get you where you want to go and hopefully I’ve given you the guidance you need for constructing a weight training plan that’s perfect for you.