Thursday, July 31, 2008

Strength Training - How Much Weight Should I Use?

Proper weight selection is an often overlooked variable in most people's fitness routines. Some well intentioned exercise enthusiasts crank through exercise after exercise without sufficiently challenging their muscles. Others are too aggressive in their weight selection, or they use too much too soon.

There is a very good rule of thumb to follow when choosing the proper amount of weight - and it's this:

Set one of a resistance training exercise should be a warm up set, using a light to moderate weight level. This allows your joints, connective tissue, and muscle tissue additional blood flow in preparation for more work. Your second set should be a heavier weight level, allowing the muscles to tire just a bit. Then the sets that follow set two should be preformed to momentary muscle failure (MMF).

Momentary muscle failure simply means that we are asking the muscles to perform a certain number of repetitions, in strict form, to a point where the muscles cannot continue to create additional movement. Nearing the end of a predetermined given number of reps, you'll reach the point where the muscles start to become challenged and you really "feel it" in that muscle. That's the point of muscle fatigue - the target muscle or muscle group is getting tired. But you've got to keep going past fatigue to a point of "failure" as the whole idea is to ask the muscle to do more than it's capable of doing at a given stage.

So let's say that you've performed a fourth repetition and you're feeling that muscle fatigue. Then you move on to repetition number five. And now you're trying and trying and - you got it! You did repetition number five - in strict form, of course! Great! But, that's not a point of failure yet - simply because you achieved it. So now you're going to attempt to do repetition number six - in strict form. And on this rep you are trying and trying and trying and - Whew! You just can't do it. Some people may have a tendency at this point to cheat, to throw in other body parts, or to somehow use momentum to get the weight to the place you're trying to get to. DON'T! That's the worst thing you can do! Because when you reach that point of momentary muscle failure, that is the stimulus - you are asking the muscle to do something that it's not capable of doing. And when it reaches that point of failure, stop! Now you've reached strict muscle failure. That's when the muscle responds by getting a little more toned and a little stronger.

This concept is critical for adding lean muscle tissue (not bulky muscle) that allows the body to function at optimal capacity. And remember, the development of lean tissue enhances the body's ability to use stored body fat as energy.

Momentary muscle failure can occur at 6 reps, 10 reps, 20 reps, or for 30 seconds, for example. There's not a magical number or time period of repetitions. MMF at lower reps tends to stimulate the enhancement of fast twitch muscle fibers (explosive fibers); MMF at higher repetitions will stimulate the slower twitch muscle fibers (endurance fibers).

A qualified trainer will coach you through these concepts. If MMF sounds scary, it's not. You'll be able to follow it - it's definitely not as hard as it might sound, but it's a critical component to developing lean muscle tissue and improving your health, fitness & body.

Alright, armed with an understanding of MMF, let's get to it!

Have a great Thursday!

Your friend in fitness,

Brian Calkins - HealthStyle Fitness, Inc.

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