Beginners guide to strength training – 1. Parameters

legs

Is making a training like algebra to you?

As a personal trainer I get to train with a lot of people who have no or very little experience with strength training. This learned me that one of the main difficulties when starting with strength training is the fact that different parameters are being used to describe exercises.
At AFN we believe that everyone deserves to feel like an athlete, in order to feel like an athlete you probably would like to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it 😉
Since strength training is my personal specialization, I will provide you with a beginners guide to strength training. With this first post I hope to help you to understand strength training workout routines that are posted online.
A strength training workout is made of a combination of the following 4 different parameters:
1. Sets
2. Reps
3. Tempo
4. Rest

Every exercise has its own set of parameters depending on the goal, below I outline the basics about playing with parameters. In a next post I will explain what parameters would match the goal you wish to achieve with your strength training.

1. Sets

Sets are the number of repetitions of one exercise. Usually the number of sets ranges from 2 to 5. In a workout routine sets are the first number that is mentioned after the name of the exercise.
For example, if the workout routine states:
“Peterson step up    3    20    2010    0” the number of sets is 3. This means that, in order to perform the exercise in accordance with the workout routine, you will have to 3 times 20 step ups with each leg.
Some general rules:

  • The more reps you do of an exercise the fewer sets you need to do
  • To prevent overtraining first lower the amount of sets you are doing instead of the amount of weight
  • The slower the tempo of the exercise the fewer reps you need to do to get the same result
  • More sets means more hormonal response so more GH (growth hormone)
  • The more different exercises you do, the fewer sets you do of each exercise

2. Reps

Reps are the number repetitions of the same action, that together form an exercise. Usually the number of reps ranges from 6 to 20. In a workout routine reps are the second number that is mentioned after the name of the exercise.
For example, if the workout routine states:
“Peterson step up    3    20    2010    0” the number of reps is 20. This means that, in order to perform the exercise one time, you will have to do 20 step ups with each leg.
Some general rules:

  • Few reps have in general more effect on the nervous system
  • More reps have in general more effect on the muscular system
  • Slow twitch muscle needs more reps and fast twitch needs fewer reps
  • Few reps with a high weight will cause more motor unit activation

3. Tempo

Tempo indicates in which tempo the exercise is being performed, written in eccentric-isometric position in the middle-concentric-isometric position at the top. Put simply there is usually a distinction in the tempo for the part of the action where you are pushing or pulling the weight on one hand, and the part of the action where the weight is pushing or puling you is indicated by the second two numbers.
For example, if the workout routine states:
“Peterson step up    3    20    2010    0” the tempo is indicated by the number 2010. This means that you will use 2 seconds to step down from the step, this is the part of the action where the weight is pushing (or actually gravity is pulling) you down, the eccentric movement. Subsequently you will use 1 second to step up the step, this is the part of the action where you are pushing the (body)weight up the step, the concentric movement. This means that, in order to perform this exercise one time, you will have to do 20 step ups with each leg in a tempo of 2 seconds down and one second up.
Some general rules:

  • For exercises with a big range of motion the eccentric tempo is usually longer
  • Very slow tempo (i.e. bench press 5050) only makes your muscle adapt, so slow tempos are good when recovering from injury
  • Usually an exercise becomes more effective when you speed up the concentric part and slow down the eccentric part of the action.

4. Rest

Rest is the pause after completing an entire set, the rest is used to restore the muscles and nervous system.
For example, if the workout routine states:
“Peterson step up    3    20    2010    0” that means that there is 0 seconds rest after this exercise.

Some general rules:

  • Few reps with a heavier weight require a longer pause
  • More complex exercises require a longer pause
  • More reps and light weight only require a short pause

Guidelines for a new workout

When you start with a new workout routine always start with an accumulation phase, before you enter the intensification phase. The accumulation phase will give your body a chance to get used to the new exercises, after which you can raise the intensity of the workout in the intensification phase.
So in the accumulation phase you up the volume of the workout (more reps or sets) and in the intensification phase you up the intensity, meaning you increase either weight or the concentric tempo.
Usually you can train according to one workout plan for 4 to 6 weeks. Use week 1 for the accumulation phase.
Please see below an example leg workout with the two phases:

Accumulation phase

GroupExerciseSetsRepsTempoRest
A1Peterson step up32020100
A2Lying leg curl320301060
BSquat320301090
C1Deadlift31530100
C2Split squat315301060
C1Calf raise23020100
C1Seated calf raise230201060

Intensification phase (add weight)

GroupExerciseSetsRepsTempoRest
A1Peterson step up32020100
A2Lying leg curl312301060
BSquat48301090
C1Deadlift3830100
C2Split squat312301090
C1Calf raise32020100
C1Seated calf raise320201060

Happy training everyone!! Please comment below if you have any questions or if you have a subject you wish me to address in one of my next posts.

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