Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fitness for Starters. Weights, Reps, and Sets.

So I've been doing lots of research to make sure I presented general but accurate information to you about basic fitness terminology, as well as picking a weight, and understanding sets. These are things I didn't know or understand as a beginner, which would have helped me a great deal.

 Especially for those of us who can’t afford a gym, and have to do and figure this out on our own.

Let us start by talking about picking your weight. There are so many benefits of using weights for men and women. A huge misconception is that they are only for men, or only for building muscle. This is not completely accurate. Doing weight training increases metabolism, which means burning more calories, which means shredding more fat. It’s all about knowing how to use them. The ranges are:

Building bigger muscles: 4-10 repetitions. Toning, losing fat: 8-15 repetitions.

Obviously, these are huge gaps, so this depends on you, your weight and your sets. A lot of premade online workouts will tell you how many to do.
The rules of thumb with weight is ‘Pick the heaviest weight that allows you to complete all the required repetitions.” So if you are doing 15 dumbbell presses, pick a weight that allows you to complete all sets of 15 repetitions, without sacrificing form. It should be challenging, but not impossible.

     So choosing how many sets you should do, depends on your repetitions. You should do enough sets to complete a total of 25-30 repetitions per muscle group. So if you are doing 15 repetitions of dumbbell presses, you would complete 2 sets. (Or more, if you are at that level.) A set is just a reference to the muscle group and how many times that muscle group was worked. So if you did 15 squats three separate times, you did three sets of squats.
Alternating sets are when you do a set than rest and do a set that works the opposite muscle group. Choosing rest between sets depends on your repetitions.  For 4-8 repetitions, rest 2-3 minutes, for 8-12 repetitions, rest 1-2 minutes, and for 12+ repetitions, rest 30 seconds to 1 minute.

A circuit is when you do three or more exercises in succession without resting between sets. Usually alternating between upper and lower body. As an example, you could do push-ups, squats, barbell press, and hip raises, so the upper body rest while the lower is being worked. Sometimes transitioning from one move to the next with little to not rest in-between, then taking a break at the end of the circuit before you did it again. Usually a circuit is done at least two times threw. Go back to when I talked about picking your number of sets. You do as many sets as it takes to get at least 25 repetitions per muscle group. So if you are doing 12-15 repetitions, you need to do at least two sets, so you would perform the whole circuit at least two times through. Circuit training is a popular way to train for those who want a high intensity interval workout.

                So the biggest suggestion when using weights is lowering the weight slowly and controlled, and then quickly raising it up. So for rows, presses, curls etc. You can apply this method to all your movements, such as push-ups, squats, lunges, hips raises (aka hip bridges), and so on. Slowly lowering helps you build strength faster, and the sudden quick raising movement activates more muscle fibers. The only exception to this rule is explosive movements like squat jumps, or alternative lunge jumps etc. where the whole movement is quick and explosive. On a side note, there are many different ways to hold your equipment, especially dumbbells. Do what feels natural, but I suggest you look it up, and see how variations in holding can effect and change how the muscle is being worked.

     It’s important to maintain balance in your body. So when you train, make sure you work the opposite muscle group. If you do chest, make sure you do upper back, pair bicep and triceps, quads with glutes and hamstrings, etc. If you don’t maintain balance, you will have a strong chest, but weak upper back, effecting things like your posture. So if you are writing your own circuits, or finding circuits on websites like Pinterest, make sure they have a balance, or adjust accordingly. A book I would suggest that shows muscle groups, moves, and variations, as well as equipment alternatives that I reference on a daily basis is “The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises” (they also have a mens health version.)

Last but not least, as a beginner, there are so many moves available per muscle group, and almost all of them have a body weight alternative available. You don’t need to go out and buy a whole gym, if you can’t afford equipment, there are still no excuses because of all the body weight versions out there. However, if at any point you are able to get equipment the two I would add in order of importance, (in my opinion) would be dumbbells, and then a barbell and weight plates. With those two items, there are easily hundreds of moves and variations available to you. I would also at some point add a Swiss ball, but not a high priority. There are standing, sitting and lying variations on so many moves that if you have a chair, floor, or your own two feet you will be okay.

Make sure you drink lots of water and listen to your body.

Yours truly,