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Step 3: Become Even More Fit (Part 6)

Apr 3, 2007

Our patients often get to a plateau in their fitness activity and it seems that they never have enough time. This week Dr. Sheri Colberg helps maximize your patients workout time, Getting More Out of Resistance Training in Less Time will get them past the plateau, Click here to read this and all of Dr. Colberg’s features.

Step 3: Become Even More Fit (Part 6)

Getting More Out of Resistance Training in Less Time


By Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., FACSM

Sheri_ColbergNot surprisingly, doing multiple sets (two or more) on each exercise results in greater strength gains than doing just one. Nevertheless, as long as you do a minimum of one set, you will gain strength. Personally, I just can’t seem to find the time to spend the hours in a weight room that are required to do multiple sets on every exercise I need to do. As a result, nowadays my workouts are more focused on gaining the most I can from doing less, which means that I do only one set on each exercise, but I make sure to completely wear out my working muscles by the time I complete my targeted number of reps (usually 8 to 12) for that single set.

Whether you do one set or more, the real key to maximizing your strength gains is to use enough weight or resistance for the number of reps you do on each exercise to fully fatigue your muscles. For a range of 8 to 12 reps, this workload will likely be 70 to 90 percent of your 1-rep max. No matter how much you lift, though, your goal is to be completely fatigued within the range of reps you have chosen. For example, you should be able to complete at least 8 but no more than 12 reps for a chosen range of 8 to 12 reps. Even if you can only fit in one set on each exercise once a week, you will still experience some strength gains, particularly if you max yourself out on each and every set. Interestingly, more strength is gained both when you emphasize a full range of motion around each joint and when you do stretching along with the resistance exercises. To incorporate a full range of movement, you may have to use a lighter load to accomplish the same number of reps, but the overall results are better. As far as stretching exercised muscles, anytime you start to feel tight during your workout, stop and stretch out that muscle. In terms of strength gains, though, it doesn’t matter whether you stretch between exercises or all at once at the end of your workout.

Important Tips for Preventing Injuries

Muscle tears and pulls or joint injuries are mostly avoidable if you incorporate proper weight-lifting techniques and stretching, and if you lift more slowly, without excess speed or bouncing movements. Also, the range of motion you use should be limited to pain-free arcs. Equally important to injury prevention is giving your body adequate rest periods between sets in a workout (at least two to three minutes between each set), as well as adequate rest (a minimum of 48 hours) between resistance-training workouts using the same muscle groups.

Emphasize working larger groups of muscles first, before you isolate and work individual muscles within those groups (e.g., do leg-press exercises to train all of your lower-body musculature together before doing exercises to isolate the quadriceps on the front of your thigh). It also helps to vary the order of your exercises, so that you don’t work the same muscles consecutively without at least a small break in between to allow your first energy system (phosphagens) to fully replenish between sets (which it does in two to three minutes). Plan on doing abdominal exercises last—at the very end of your workout—so that you haven’t fatigued these muscles before you have to rely on them to maintain your posture during other exercises.

Finally, a word about the proper way to breathe during resistance exercises. In general, when you are lifting a weight or working muscles against a resistance or gravity, exhale through your mouth as you are performing the work. This portion of the exercise (the concentric portion) is usually done during a count of two (“one, two”). When you are returning to the starting position in the direction that gravity is pulling the weight (i.e., doing eccentric work that causes a greater overload on the muscle and enhanced strength gains), silently count to four (“one, two, three, four”) to emphasize the eccentric portion of the lift, and inhale throughout the motion. Never hold your breath while you are doing any resistance training work. Doing so may cause an excessive rise in your blood pressure and lead to a stroke, heart attack, or other cardiovascular event.

Training Equipment and Location

You can purchase inexpensive resistance training bands, such as Dyna-Bands or other rubber tubing, from almost any sporting-goods store, certain superstores, chain drugstores, and online; resistance bands sold for Pilates and other workouts can be used as well. Many varieties allow you to progress your training by using bands of varying resistance (usually color-coded so that you can tell which ones offer easy, medium, or hard resistance). Some bands are like wide strips of a flexible, rubbery substance that you can grip with your hands or tie. (If you tie the band during certain exercises, use a simple bow or a square knot.) Other bands look more like thin rubber tubing and may come with attached handles, and some are like big rubber bands or figure eights. You can make any of these bands work for you, so buy whichever ones you feel most comfortable with.

If you would prefer to use more traditional dumbbells during exercises, pick up an inexpensive set of small ones. If you’re just starting out, get a set that ranges in weight from 1 to 10 pounds, or possibly a smaller range, like 1-pound, 3-pound, and 5-pound weights to start with. If you’re strong enough that small weights are extremely easy to lift, you may want to either invest in a costlier set of heavier weights or consider joining the nearest gym or workout facility to have access to heavier loads and resistance machines. If you would rather not invest in any weights, you can get creative using household items of varying weights that you can easily grasp in your hands.

In two weeks, I will share more tips and ideas from my latest book, The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan: Living Well and Being Fit with Diabetes, No Matter Your Weight (2006).  Information about all of my books, my many articles, my research, and more is available on my web site: www.SheriColberg.com

Tip for the day:  Training by doing routine functional tasks actually improves your ability to do such work more effectively than doing less specific resistance training. So, it’s entirely possible for you to gain benefits and remain independent by doing your “unstructured” resistance tasks or resistance training at home.

Go to her other articles here