Getting serious about your weight training but not sure how to structure your programming? It’s all well and good to “train hard” but if you’re just following your favorite athlete/influencer’s training plan because it works for them, you could be completely missing key factors to help you maximize your resistance training.
The trouble is, there’s no one answer to what workout is “best” – but there are ways to make your training more effective, and better suited to you. The key factors to consider when building an effective workout are:
Exercise selection – choosing the right exercises (compound lifts, accessory exercises, finishers, and/or conditioning work) to suit your desired outcomeLoad – the weight you are lifting, or resistance level
Rep range – the number of repetitions performed for each exercise
Sets – how many times you’ll perform said exercise of x reps
Rest Periods – between sets, or between exercises when using supersets/circuits
Tempo – using different tempo’s which refers to the speed of each rep during the concentric/eccentric/pause phases, to manipulate the efficiency of the exercise or increase time under tension
Supersets/Tri-Sets/Circuits – to maximize the volume of work within a time period by grouping exercises together (performed back to back) as opposed to performing a single exercise on its own.
Rest time – The time needed between sets/exercises in order to recover
TODAY WE'LL FOCUS ON LOAD AND REP RANGE
NAMELY FINDING WHICH LOAD AND REP RANGE IS BEST SUITED TO YOUR GOAL
The load you select will be very different from person to person – basically, how heavy you are able to lift is based on how capable you are of performing that lift safely and effectively – the stronger you are, and the better your technique, the more load you can lift per exercise/workout. This can be increased over time, with correct training, and experience. But it’s not always about lifting as heavy as humanly possible!
IF YOUR GOAL IS STRENGTH OR INCREASING MUSCLE MASS
Of course, working towards lifting heavier over time (aka progressive overload) is key to improving your strength and increases in lean tissue. But training to failure for every exercise in every workout is difficult, exhausting, and not conducive to your ability to recover between sessions. So selecting your main lifts to focus on each session (usually between 1-4 exercises), working close to failure (generally with 1-2 reps left in the tank) with the aim to increase load over time will help build your strength and potentially grow lean muscle (when paired with a calorie surplus), then you can supplement the remainder of your workout with lighter lifts in varying rep ranges as accessory work, to fine-tune the muscle group you’re working on and provide a well-rounded approach.
IF YOUR GOAL IS FAT LOSS, OR MAINTENANCE
Resistance training is valuable, if not crucial and should be paired with a calorie deficit for changes to body fat levels to occur. Progressive overload will continue to challenge your body, burn calories, and retain muscle mass as well as giving you a non-scale related goal to work towards. However your chosen exercises, reps and sets will dictate how heavy you can perform each exercise, particularly if using supersets/circuits with consecutive exercises or minimal rest.
So we’ve determined that we want to increase our load over time for effective progressive overload, but how many reps should we be performing?
A rough guide to Rep Ranges for your chosen goal are loosely:
STRENGTH: High load, low reps = 1-5 reps
HYPERTROPHY: (muscle gain/bodybuilding): Moderate load, moderate reps = 6-15 reps, but traditionally somewhere around the 8-12 range
ENDURANCE: Low load, high reps = 15+ reps
If your goal is to get stronger, train for aesthetics, or fat loss, a mix of the above can apply! And you can certainly do a little of each within the one session.
A great way to structure your workout for those looking for a well-rounded approach, is to select your exercises, starting from your strength-based lifts (heavier weight, lower reps), then working through to your hypertrophy based (muscle building) lifts (moderate load, moderate reps), with an optional finisher of some endurance accessory work (low load, high reps) as a “finisher” or to hit smaller muscle groups.
If you’re mainly after Hypertrophy (gaining muscle), training within the strength range of 1-5 reps is still valuable for your key lifts, however you’d focus on the majority of your workout being within the 6-15 rep range. For Strength gains specifically, you can weight your workout more towards that strength range with less hypertrophy work. For fat loss, a little of all is fantastic depending on what you enjoy, and adding in higher rep finishers, drop-sets, circuits, or conditioning work can take your workout to the next level!
The rep range should be planned first, with your load chosen based on how many repetitions of that load you can perform – ie if you’re working within the hypertrophy rep range, aiming for say 8-10 reps, you don’t want to select a load so heavy that you can only safely perform 5 reps, or you don’t want it to be so light that you get to 10 reps and could do another 5-10. So gauging your load vs reps is often trial and error – that’s where tracking your workouts, listing weights used each week can be a valuable tool in aiding progress within your weight training.
The best way to improve your lifts is solid form, and persistence – aiming to increase either load, reps, or both over time to achieve progressive overload and maximize your resistance training. This can be applied to any goal, whether you’re aiming to get stronger, build muscle, or lose fat.
The more carefully you set yourself up for success by planning your workout, and tracking your weights used each week, the more you can maximize the efficiency of each session to help you work towards your desired training goal!
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