The Basics of a Weight Training Program

couple that weight trains

Before regularly performing a weight training program , you should first set aside some time to thoroughly define your personal health and fitness goals. By doing so, you will ensure that your weight training program will address the various items required to achieve your personal health and fitness goals.

Weight training programs can be tailored in a variety of ways to facilitate and promote achieving a wide range of fitness and performance goals and objectives.

For example, an individual that weight trains for the purposes of improving their running strength and endurance will have a completely different set of goals when compared to an individual that incorporates a strength training program to increase their performance as a boxer.

This being said, weight training programs have the flexibility to be tailored to facilitate obtaining virtually any set of goals, and improve anyone's level of performance within any given type of physical activity, from swimming to golf and everything in between.

Weight Training at Home or at a Fitness Center

In addition, you will need to determine whether you will perform your weight training routine at home or at a fitness center or gym. While several weight training exercises are easy to perform at home with reasonably priced equipment, others will require more expensive equipment and a larger floor area.

In other words, you will want to determine if it is more conducive to purchase the weight training equipment for your personal residence or become a member of a fitness center.

Some individuals choose to work out at a fitness center simply for the safety benefits. In the event that you injure yourself or unexpectedly require a spotter, other members and staff can provide assistance at a fitness center. This won't necessarily be the case if you opt to weight train at home.

Weight Training with a Partner

workout partner

If one of your personal fitness goals is to increase your lean muscle mass and improve your overall muscular strength, you may want to consider performing your weight training routine with a workout partner.

In order to increase your lean muscle mass and overall structural strength, you will need to perform specific exercises with a fair amount of weight.

In addition, there are several exercises where your body will be placed in a dangerous position if an injury occurs while performing the specific exercise.

For example, if your elbow gives out while performing a set of flat barbell bench presses, you may drop the weight on yourself. This being said, it is important to realize that if you are lifting a fairly heavy amount of weight, the level of injury can be severe.

In addition, if you are performing specific weight training exercises to failure (i.e. the point where you are no longer physically capable of lifting the weight), you may encounter a situation where you are unable to complete the last repetition. In this case, you may end up with a large amount of weight pinned against your body. In either case, it is always recommended that you have someone nearby that can assist you if an emergency arises.

Your Primary and Secondary Muscles

For nearly every weight training exercise that you perform, both primary and secondary muscles will be involved. The primary muscles are the muscles that the exercise is specifically designed to target. The secondary muscles are the muscles that are required to support the primary muscles during the exercise. For example, when performing a set of flat barbell bench presses, the chest (pectorals) is the primary muscle group. However, in order to actually perform the flat barbell bench press, the triceps, latissimus dorsi and deltoids are required and considered to be secondary muscle groups for this exercise.

In order to perform a well-balanced and complete weight training routine, you will need to work all major muscle groups as a primary muscle group. Exercising a major muscle group only from the perspective of a secondary muscle group will not be sufficient. Below is a list of the primary muscle groups that you will want to ensure that you are adequately exercising:

major muscle groups
  • Abdominals: The muscles that make up the front of your mid-section.

  • Biceps: The muscles located on the front of your arm between your shoulder and elbow.

  • Calves: The muscles that make up the lower portion of the back of your leg below your knee.

  • Deltoids: The muscles that make up a large portion of the curve of your shoulder.

  • Forearms: The muscles located on the lower arm between the elbow and wrist.

  • Gluteals: The muscles of your posterior.

  • Hamstrings: The muscles located on the back of your leg between your gluteals and knee.

  • Latissimus Dorsi: The muscles located on the sides of the upper back under the arm pit.

  • Pectorals: The muscles of your chest.

  • Obliques: The muscles on the sides of your mid-section.

  • Quadriceps: The muscles located on the front of your leg between your hip and knee.

  • Trapezius: The muscles located on the sides of your neck.

  • Triceps: The muscles located on the back of your arm between your shoulder and elbow.

Exercise Types & Associated Muscles

While the human body actually contains over 600 different muscles, most of them will be exercised when all primary and secondary muscles are exercised. Below is a list of several exercise types and the associated muscles that are utilized when performing the exercise:

  • Abdominal Crunches: Primary Muscle - Abdominals; Secondary Muscles - Obliques

  • Standing Barbell Curls: Primary Muscle - Biceps; Secondary Muscles - Anterior Deltoid, Forearm

  • Standing Calf Raises: Primary Muscle - Calves; Secondary Muscles - Not Significant

  • Front Seated Barbell Deltoid Military Presses: Primary Muscle - Deltoids; Secondary Muscles - Trapezius

  • Reverse Barbell Curls: Primary Muscle - Forearms; Secondary Muscles - Biceps

  • Walking Dumbbell Lunges: Primary Muscle - Gluteals; Secondary Muscles - Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Calves

  • Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlifts: Primary Muscle - Hamstrings; Secondary Muscles - Gluteals

  • Wide Grip Pulldowns: Primary Muscle - Latissimus Dorsi; Secondary Muscles - Biceps, Deltoids

  • Flat Barbell Bench Press: Primary Muscle - Pectorals; Secondary Muscles - Latissimus Dorsi, Deltoids, Triceps

  • Oblique Crunches: Primary Muscle - Obliques; Secondary Muscles - Abdominals

  • Barbell Squat: Primary Muscle - Quadriceps; Secondary Muscles - Hamstrings, Glutes

  • Barbell Shrugs: Primary Muscle - Trapezius; Secondary Muscles - Posterior Deltoid

  • Straight Bar Pushdowns: Primary Muscle - Triceps; Secondary Muscles - Deltoids, Forearms

Your Individual Weight Training Program

In order for your weight training exercise routine to be successful, it must reflect the personal fitness goals that you have set for yourself. For example, performing a weight training program that focuses primarily on your chest, triceps and biceps when you are training to improve your ability to play soccer does not make sense. In addition, it is important to modify your weight training routine to reflect any changes that occur in your personal fitness goals. Below are some examples of creating a weight training exercise routine that is tailored to meet a specific set of fitness goals:

  • Short-Term Goal - Be able to pitch a baseball 5 miles per hour faster within one month: The weight training exercise routine will focus largely on form and should include exercises that work the shoulders, biceps, triceps, forearms and wrists. However, since pitching a baseball involves virtually the entire body, adding exercises that develop core strength and the legs would be advisable as well. A typical weight training routine under this scenario would be to divide the muscle groups into two groups and perform your exercise routine for each group twice per week.

  • Short-Term Goal - Lose 10 pounds of excess body weight within one month: The timeframe is the same as in the previous example, however, the weight training exercise routine would be quite different. Weight training with circuit equipment would be an excellent idea for this goal since all muscle groups will be exercised equally, and since circuit training typically increases the heart rate to a higher level, hence burning more calories.

    In addition, in order to effectively lose 10 pounds in a single month, it is highly recommended that some form of cardiovascular exercise be added to promote an even higher caloric expenditure. A typical exercise routine to achieve this short-term goal could be to perform some form of cardiovascular training three times per week (i.e. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) and perform your weight training exercise routine twice per week (i.e. Tuesday and Thursday).

  • Short-Term Goal - Increase the total number of sets that you perform for your chest exercises from 10 to 15: Under this scenario, your short-term goal is to actually improve your muscular endurance, not your muscular strength. This can be achieved by decreasing the amount of weight used when performing each chest exercise. This approach will decrease the rate at which you fatigue your chest and secondary muscles. Another approach would be to add an additional day (per week) where you perform your weight training chest routine. This approach will force your chest to develop a greater rate of endurance over a shorter period of time.

  • As is evident, each of the weight training exercise routines is very unique and focuses on achieving an entirely different set of personal fitness goals.

    Elements of a Successful Weight Training Program

    elements of a successful weight training program

    There are several aspects to creating a weight training program that facilitates the achievement of your personal health and fitness goals. Below are several items to consider when embarking on a successful weight training program:

    1. Define your personal weight training goals: This is often one of the most important aspects of your weight training program. Typical goal setting should include short-term and long-term goals.

      It is common to define several short-term goals for every long-term goal. Each short-term goal should be tailored to support each long-term goal.

      For example:

      • Short-Term Goal - Prepare my weight training log for my first week of my weight training program and try every piece of weight training equipment at the fitness center.

      • Short-Term Goal - Increase the number of sets I perform per major muscle group from 8 sets to 12 sets within the first 30 days.

      • Short-Term Goal - Decrease my percentage of body fat by 3% within the first 30 days.

      • Long-Term Goal - Perform my regular 3-day cycle every week for a total of 3 consecutive months without missing a workout. (i.e. Monday - chest and back; Wednesday - legs and shoulders; Friday - arms, abdominals and cardiovascular).

    2. Define and adhere to your time commitment to exercise: Once you perform your weight training routine for a couple of weeks, you should have a clear idea of exactly what days and at what time you will work out each week. At the beginning of the week, your schedule should look something like this:

      • Monday: 5 - 6:30 p.m.
      • Tuesday: OFF
      • Wednesday: 7 - 8:30 p.m.
      • Thursday: OFF
      • Friday: 5 - 6:30 p.m.
      • Saturday: OFF
      • Sunday: OFF

      Notice how the Wednesday time needed to be adjusted when compared to the times for Monday and Friday. This may be due to several factors and is acceptable. Allow yourself the freedom to modify your weight training workout times, as the most important aspect is that you perform your workout with regularity each week. However, whenever possible, try to keep your workout times as close to uniform as possible. By doing so, you will always allow your muscles a consistent recovery time.

    3. Define your timeframe to achieve your specific fitness goals: Each of your short and long-term fitness goals should include a specific time/date for achievement or completion. In addition, ensure that each goal is clearly stated and defined with a high level of clarity. Below are a few examples of goals that are unclearly defined:

      • Lose 50 pounds

      • Become a better swimmer

      • Try some new equipment at the fitness center

      • Eat less

      • Impress my friends

      Below are the same goals defined with a greater level of clarity:

      • Lose 50 pounds by August 23rd, 2012.

      • Decrease my time when swimming the 400-meter freestyle from 8 minutes and 30 seconds to 7 minutes and 15 seconds within the next 90 days.

      • Learn how to correctly perform the barbell squat and the dumbbell lunge using the correct form by March 1st, 2012.

      • Consume only a vegetable salad with low-fat dressing for lunch every day for the next 30 days.

      • Perform a 5-set pyramid scheme to increase my maximum flat straight bar bench press weight from 185 pounds to 225 pounds within the next 2 months.

    4. Ensure that all major muscle groups are exercised: Your weight training exercise routine should include exercises that work every major muscle group. In addition, all major muscle groups should be exercised equally over your routine cycle (i.e. 2 day cycle, 3 day cycle, 4 day cycle). By doing so, you will prevent over-development of specific muscles and create a well-balanced structural frame that is less susceptible to injury.

    5. Leave room for development and variety: You should modify your weight training exercise routine on a 3 to 4-month cycle. In other words, try not to perform the exact same weight training exercise routine for more than 3 consecutive months. The reason for this is that it is important to continually challenge your muscles by keeping them off-balance and forcing them to work from different angles. This type of approach will prevent your muscles from becoming complacent. As such, you will force your muscles to continually develop in terms of lean muscle mass and strength.

    6. Modify the total number of sets you perform per muscle group as your condition improves: For the most part, you will want to perform at least 12 but no more than 20 sets per major muscle group. This equates to performing approximately 3 to 5 exercise types with 4 to 5 sets for each exercise type.

    7. Modify the number of repetitions per set to meet your personal fitness goals: In general, most sets consist of performing 8 to 12 repetitions. However, individuals performing circuit and endurance training will typically perform 12 to 18 repetitions per set while individuals performing a strength training routine will perform between 1 and 6 repetitions per set.

    8. Allow adequate rest between weight training workouts: Proper rest is one of the most important aspects when if comes to obtaining your personal fitness goals through weight training. Muscle tissue and lean muscle mass only develop during rest. For this reason, always allow each muscle group at least 24 to 48 hours of rest before exercising it again. If a muscle group is still sore after this time, do not exercise it until the soreness is no longer present.

    9. Always warm up and stretch before you begin your weight training exercise session: Prior to performing each weight training session, warm up for a minimum of 10 minutes using any cardiovascular method of preference, and stretch for at least 5 to 10 minutes. Properly warming up and stretching prior to your weight training session will increase blood flow throughout your body and help to prevent injuries. Perform your warm-up exercise prior to stretching, as your warm-up exercise will allow your stretching routine to be more effective.

    The Benefits of Weight Training

    There are countless physical and mental benefits associated with regularly performing a weight training exercise routine. For example, regularly performing a weight training exercise routine will increase your basal metabolic rate. By doing so, your body will burn a higher number of calories per day, increasing the rate at which you lose weight.

    Weight training also promotes strong bones while reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Strength training will improve overall endurance and strength. This, in turn, will allow you to more easily perform many of your common daily activities with less effort. Regularly performing a weight training routine will minimize the probability of injuring your lower back since the support muscles for the lower back will increase in strength.

    benefits of weight training

    Additional benefits derived from weight training include a reduction in resting heart rate, decreases in the probability of contracting diabetes, reductions in the likelihood of contracting several forms of cancer, increases in HDL cholesterol levels in your blood (the good type), strengthening of your entire immune system, improvements in mood and mental clarity and stability, and improvements in posture, balance and coordination.

    In summary, all fitness and exercise routines should include some form of strength training. Whether utilizing your body weight, resistance bands, an exercise or stability ball, free weights, circuit equipment or any other form of strength training, the results will be predictable - better overall health and fitness.