In one of my previous articles, I wrote about why you should find your way to the weight room. Weight lifting is indeed something I truly love. You want to join me in my quest to get stronger, but you don’t know where the hell to start? Going to the gym and doing random things with weights isn’t the way to go and won’t get you the results you want. I’ll try to explain some of the basics of lifting to you in an easy way!
Before we get anywhere near the practical side of starting to lift weights. It’s always nice to know what weight lifting does to your body exactly.
We’ve got about 642 skeletal muscles that work together to help our bodies move. Each muscle is made out of several muscle fibers. Those fibers are not all the same, there are two kinds of fibers that respond differently depending on what type of training you do.
Slow twitch (or Type I fibers) are very resistant to fatigue and don’t move very quickly. They are used for aerobic exercise such as running or cycling for a long period of time. (“cardio muscles”)
Fast twitch (or Type II fibers) get tired faster and they move very quickly. It gets a bit more complicated since you have two different types of these muscle fibers. TypeIIA have a little more endurance and are used for example for longer sprints. TypeIIX fibers are our very fast muscles, they are only used when a super-short burst is needed (like a 100m sprint or a heavy lift).
Every person has a different percentage of fast-twitch and slow twitch fibers, which is why some people tend to be naturally better at running distances than sprinting, or better at longer sets than short ones.
Now, what does lifting do to those muscles? It causes muscle hypertrophy. Now, what the hell is that? Some people believe that we can increase the number of muscle fibers we have by weight training. In reality, we’re born with a specific amount of muscle fibers, what strength training does is increase the size of these (so not the number), and thereby increase muscle mass. This is called hypertrophy. There are actually more types of hypertrophy. I won’t go into the scientific details, but let’s just say that there is one type of hypertrophy that causes your muscles to gain size and one type that makes them gain strength. It might surprise you that gaining strength and size is NOT the same thing!
Now when you strength train, you lift weights that are actually a little too heavy for your muscles to carry and you’re actually breaking down the muscle tissue, causing small tears. Now your body doesn’t like the fact that that movement was so difficult to do and resolves that by building back the muscle tissue stronger, so it’ll be better at lifting that weight the next time. This is also the reason why you need 48hours in between training the same muscle group because your body needs the time to heal those tears, and if you don’t give it that time, it’ll actually go the other way and become less and less strong. Nooooow enough with the biology lesson. Let’s start looking at the practical side of the story!
Depending on your goals, you’ll need to train differently. Let’s take a look at the figure underneath!
Now, this indeed might look like Chinese to you. So let’s break it down and make it easier. We’re not going to look at everything, the main things concerning us are a strength (or myofibrillar hypertrophy) and muscle size (this is more sarcoplasmic hypertrophy).
Soooo, if you look at the chart, you see that for STRENGTH you want to keep the number of reps LOW and the weight HEAVY. If you just want to gain SIZE, you want to keep your weight LOWER and your reps HIGHER. Now that’s surprising isn’t it?! (I have to admit, I didn’t really know this before writing this article, interesting!). You do have to realize that you can’t look at this in a black and white matter, it’s not like when you’re gaining the size you’re not gaining strength or the other way around, you’re always gaining strength AND size, just in different proportions. So I, for example, do 4 sets of 5 reps or 3 sets of 8 reps, depending a bit on the exercise and I like to change it up!
Now you know how to train, GREAT!
BUT, never everrrrr underestimate the importance of rest!
So how about rest and recovery?
Ever heard the saying that muscles aren’t built in the gym but in the kitchen? Yup, that’s right. Your muscles are actually broken down at the gym and they are getting built back up at home sitting behind your desk or lying in bed (or doing whatever the hell you are doing out of the gym :D)! And if you don’t give your body the nutrients it needs to build those muscles back up, it just can’t. Look at it as building a bridge, you can’t build a bridge without having bricks, right? So you need to give your body the protein it needs to build your muscles back up! (to know how much you need, read THIS article!). From above you already know that it takes time for your muscles to heal properly and that is why they always advise you to wait for 48hours between training the same muscle group. So this is a situation where more isn’t better, training the same muscle group heavily two days in a row will give you less result as waiting a day in between!
You know as good as me that walking upstairs the day after the first time you had a good leg training isn’t much fun right? This is caused by DOMS or delayed-onset-muscle soreness. This is the soreness that shows up between 24-48 hours after you work out. It’s a normal part of the process of repairing your muscles. This usually is heavy after doing an exercise for the first time or after you took a break from exercising for a while. After doing a movement more, your muscles start to adapt to the movement and get used to it and they will get less and less sore every time. So one way to make the soreness go away a little faster is to keep those muscles moving to increase blood flow to the muscles. Don’t get me wrong: you still need your muscles to heal, so don’t go lifting heavy again! when your legs are sore for example, a walk, some cycling, stretching, yoga,… every form of light activity will help blood flow and will help bring the soreness down.
Ok good. We almost got everything covered now. But uhmmm, what exercises do you do?
This is the part where I will always strongly advice to ASK for HELP from a trainer at the gym and let them make a basic beginner lifting routine for you. Normally every gym should offer that, also ask them to show you the movements so you can do them correctly. Don’t be shy 😉 If you don’t have the opportunity to ask someone, look up some youtube videos on how to do an exercise before you do it and always make sure that you get your form correct before you start adding weight!
What are some basic exercises? (these are just some examples!)
- leg press
- lying leg curl
- hip bridges
- deadlift (I suggest starting this only after already having built some strength!)
- standing calf raise
- seated cable row
- flat bench press
- dumbbell press
- dumbbell shrug
- bicep curls
- lateral pulldown
- plank plank plank, best core exercise!
- also side plank
- straight leg lifts
- heel touches
- flutter kicks
- dumbell side bend
- … and so on
Enough with the reading!