I get this question a lot, “How much weight should I start out at for this exercise?” This is not a bad question. It is, in fact, a relatively good one. This shows you have the concern that if you do too much weight you could hurt yourself or if you lift too light you will just be lifting for the hell of it.
The thing is, I don’t have a mathematic equation that allows me to tell you an exact number. Such as: [(height + weight)/training age] x (male/female+ exercise) = suggested weight.
This would be nice, but I do not know of such an equation.
My usual suggestion is to go light and get the movement down and then go from there. This would be for a person that I have not been working with for long. For a client I have been working with, I can usually guess within 10 pounds of the right weight. So I do have some good weight guessing skills.
What I am getting at is, if an exercise is important to you and you want to know if you have increased your strength in that exercise, then you should keep track of it.
With your handy dandy notebook (damn you Blues Clues). A notebook is a great cheap way to keep track of all your lifting numbers. It also is a great place to write how you feel and your thoughts.
And, no I am not talking about you writing how the ocean waves lapping against your feet make you feel on a cool summer’s eve. (Unless you want to, and in that case it feels good)
How you feel as in, did you feel tired coming into the work out, how do you feel after the workout, what were some noticeable weaknesses? Also, were you having trouble finishing lifts or were you getting stuck at the bottom? Did you feel tight or notice a lack of mobility? These are the things you should be writing down. Along with this keep track of your numbers for the day.
I am a little weird in the sense that I keep record of every exercise I have done, and at what weight and reps I was able to lift it, in an excel spreadsheet. You don’t have to go that far, but you should keep track of the lifts that you care about improving on.
With a well kept notebook, you should have all the information you need. Such as: what weight you are lifting, areas you need to work on or weakness, and how you are feeling. This record will help you be able to make your next workout more tailored to your specific needs and weaknesses. It also serves as a good reference to look back on to see if you are actually seeing improvements.
The workout journal can be an important tool to helping you meet your goals. And if you want to, you can also doodle cool pictures of you slaying mythical creatures, just to make you look like more of a badass.
I am going to be honest I have not been in the fitness industry that long, but without a doubt the #1 goal for all females that are not athletes, or are athletes for that matter…. O.K. let me rephrases this; the #1 goal for any female that walks in through your doors is to tone up. The conversation goes something like this.
Me: What are some of your goals that you would like to accomplish?
Female: I would like to loose some weight and fat and maybe get a little stronger, but I don’t want to bulk up, I guess I would like to just tone up a little. Oh and I’d really like some abs.
Don’t get me wrong. I think this is a great list of extremely vague goals. The goal of wanting to be toned is a fine goal, if you know what it is.
For some reason the phrase “toning up” has come to be the all-encompassing phrase to sum up, “to get in better shape”.
The word tone means to be firm or to have the appearance of being firm. I used to think this was a combination of weight loss and muscle gain. As you loose fat and gain muscle mass the skin will appear to be firm or tone. This is what toning up meant to me. It’s pretty much the same thing as just getting into better shape, which is a part of the toning process.
While reading Mark Rippetoes’ book, “Practical Programming for Strength Training,” I was able to gain a better understanding of what it truly means to be tone. Here is a quote from his book, “The term muscle tone or tonus describes an electrophysiological phenomenon, a measure of ionic flow across muscle cell membranes. It can be thought of as the muscle’s readiness to do anaerobic work. The more fit the muscle, the more electrophysiological activity it exhibits at rest.”
So what does this all mean? What it means is the more your muscles are ready to lift weights the more tone you will be. So a sedentary person is going to be less tone then a person who frequently lifts weights, and a marathon runner is going to be less tone then a power lifter.
How To Get Tone
If you look at the spectrum of what will get you toned the fastest, going from least effective to most effective, it would look something like this.
Low Toning Medium Toning High Toning
Aerobic Exercise → Low Intensity → High Intensity
Weight Training Weight Training
Huh, that’s funny, if this spectrum is correct then most of the programs that are out there to get you tone buns and thighs are not the most effective means of programming. The typical commercialized toning program usually involves loads of long duration cardio or a cross between a bodybuilding program and an endurance program. This would fall somewhere between aerobic exercise and low intensity weight training, but where you really want to be is all the way over to the right.
Just to clarify, the word intensity is not describing how hard the workout is, it’s describing how heavy the weights are you are using. Doing circuit training and bootcamps can be taxing, and described as an intense workout, but this is not what is meant when talking in terms of weight training. High intensity means to be lifting heavy weights. If you want tone then you need to lift heavy.
If your goal is to have rock solid buns that resemble week old biscuits, not the best analogy moving on though, then take off the pink head band and put down the pink doubles and pick up some heavy weights. The more your muscles are ready to do work the more tone they will be. This is accomplished by strength training, not aerobic exercise or interval training but by good old strength training. Remember its 2013 and strength is the new sexy.
Don’t worry I am not going to tell you about how its important to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep to perform at your best. If you don’t know you should get 7 to 8 hours of sleep – now you know.
I see this all too often in the gym, people flying through a workout in 15 minutes that should take 45 minutes to an hour to complete. Why is this? Because they take 5 second breaks in between their sets. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for little to no rest in workouts, but not when it comes to training for power, strength, and hypertrophy.
The breaks between sets allows for your Creatine Phosphate and your ATP, the two main sources of energy during anaerobic exercise, to resynthesize.
Think of it this way, if I asked you to bench your 5 reps max and then asked you to do it again, with no rest, you could not do it. If you think it takes about 1 second in the eccentric phase (lowering) and 1 second in the concentric phase (pushing) that is 2 seconds it takes to complete 1 repetition on the bench, times 5 give you 10 seconds. Within the first 10 seconds 90% of your ATP is used up and within 5 to 30 seconds 50 to 70% of your creatine phosphate is used up. That does not leave you with much to work with.
It takes 3 to 5 minutes for your ATP stores to refill and 5 to 8 minutes for creatine phosphate. So, if I am going for strength I need as much ATP and creatine phosphate is I can get. That means my breaks are going to be between 2 to 8 minute breaks between sets.
Rest times breakdown as such for exercise goals.
- Strength: 2-5 min
- Power: 2-5 min
- Hypertrophy: 30 sec – 1:30 min
- Endurance: <30 sec
I know sitting around for 5 minutes sounds like more work then lifting mad weights. There are several things you can do to fill your time between exercises.
- Rest it out: get some water, sit around, talk around the water cooler, Anything but looking at yourself in mirror.
- Stretching/mobility work
- Super Set: two different exercises back to back
When Not to Rest
As mentioned above, there is a time and a place when we want little to no rest between sets. This may be for weight management, muscle endurance, or being more sports specific. By having little to no rest this will keep the heart rate up and also increase the lactic acid threshold, increasing weight loss and muscular endurance.
Proper rest will lead to grater fitness success
Feel free to post your comments and questions. I love talking anything fitness, so ask away. You can message me here, Facebook, and Twitter.