Beginner’s Guide to Weight Training Exercises
Don’t let inexperience hold you back from learning the best weight training routine—get on track with our fitness tips for fast fat loss and better core strength.
Q: How long should I rest between sets?
A: The amount of time you rest plays a critical factor in the results you achieve. Trouble is, most guys give it less thought than putting down the toilet seat in a Porta-Potty. Don't be that guy; use a stopwatch. And these strategies:
Muscle: Keep your rest periods around one or two minutes. That allows enough time for your muscles to recover significantly while forcing them to work harder each set. You can also rest only as long as needed to achieve the same results in less time. (See "Double-Barrel Blowout" on page 112.)
Strength: Take 3Â5 minutes. That allows your muscle-energy stores to be replenished, which will ensure maximum effort—the key to strength gains—each set.
Fat loss: Perform supersets—doing a pair of exercises as a single set—or circuits with little rest. So you might only rest 30 seconds between supersets, and one or two minutes between circuits, since you'll be performing several moves in succession before resting.
Q: How many repetitions should I do?
A: You can loosely base your number of reps on your goals. But ultimately, the more muscle fibers you recruit, the better, whether you're lifting for greater size and strength or less fat. You recruit the most fibers by using lower repetitions—say, 4Â8—and heavier weights.
So make that repetition range the foundation of your workout. Add in higher-rep and lighter-weight sets near the end of your workout when your muscles are fatigued. The most important factor: Change the number of repetitions that you do for each exercise every four weeks. It's the first workout parameter to which your body adapts, so it's the best way to ensure you keep gaining.
Q: How much weight should I use?
A: The idea is to challenge your muscles each workout. Most of the time that means using the heaviest weight that allows you to complete each repetition of each set—but no more than that. So the number of reps your workout calls for dictates the weight you use. But you also have to factor in the length of your rest periods. For instance, if you're planning to perform eight repetitions of an exercise using short rest periods—say, 60 seconds—you'll have to use a lighter weight than if you're doing the same number of reps with a longer rest period. (The speed at which you lift and lower the weight matters, too.)
In your first workout, you'll simply have to use trial and error. If you aren't able to finish all your planned repetitions, the weight you're using is too heavy. If you feel like you have a couple of more repetitions left in you on your last set, the load is too light. Keep a training log and indicate whether the weight was too light, too heavy, or just right, so you'll know what amount to use in your next workout.
Q: What can I do about muscle soreness?
A: Let's kill this myth right now: Soreness isn't caused by lactic acid. In fact, the acid that builds up in your muscles during intense exercise—causing that burning sensation—is cleared from your blood and muscles within minutes after you stop exercising. So it has no lingering effect on your muscles. But scientists still aren't in agreement on the cause of muscle soreness. Most think it's due to small tears at the level of your muscle and connective-tissue cells.
The bottom line: It's temporary. And the more consistent you are with your workout, the less extreme the soreness will be. The best remedy: a small serving of the hair of the dog that bit you. That is, lightly work the offending muscles the day after your workout. For instance, for sore legs, cycle on a stationary bike for 10Â15 minutes at about 40-50% of your full effort. For a sore chest, do two sets of 20 repetitions of the bench press with a weight that's about 20% of the amount you can lift one time. This will increase the flow of blood and nutrients to the damaged muscles, helping them repair faster. (The activity and weight are light, so they won't damage your muscles further or hinder their growth.)