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Principles of strength training

No matter if you’re new to the gym, or you’ve been pumping iron for a while, you might not fully understand how to arrange your workouts, or what all of these buzzwords mean! I’ll try to shed some light on why some workout programmes tell you to lift 5 reps of this but 12 reps of that, and how to make your workouts more effective.

Type of Lift

This might seem obvious, but tailor your workout to address specific body areas. For example, if you want a bigger and stronger chest, you need to select exercises that stimulate these muscles. If you want bigger legs, then squat!


There are a number of ways to increase intensity in your workouts. For example, you could decrease rest time as this will give you less time to recover and result in your session becoming more difficult. You could also “super-set” two exercises, which involves performing a set of two exercises back to back with no rest. This is often done with antagonistic muscle pairs (opposites), such as the tricep and bicep or chest and back muscles.


Volume is the total amount of work that you perform, often dictated by the number of sets/reps that you perform over a week. For example, if you perform 6 sets x 5 reps of chest focussed exercises on Monday and 4 sets x 10 reps of chest exercises on Thursday, your total weekly volume for the chest muscle would be 70 reps. For large muscle groups such as the chest, back, and legs, a rough recommendation would be to aim for 60-120 total reps per week for each group. For smaller muscles such as your biceps, triceps, and shoulders, aim for 30-60 total reps per muscle group!


This is how often you train per week. If you workout once per week, your training frequency would be 1! Most individuals find that training 2-3 times per week is most beneficial, as it allows adequate rest time between workouts. Speaking of rest time...

Rest Time and Rep Ranges

Rest time is entirely dependent on the rep ranges that you’re working in. To increase muscle size it’s advisable to work within the 8-12 rep range at approximately 60-70% of your 1RM, whereas those looking to gain strength should work around rep ranges of 3-6 and lift a heavier load – this can vary, but usually 80-95% of your 1RM is used depending on how many reps are performed. The more reps you perform, the lighter the load and vice versa! Though there are different recommended rep ranges for muscle size and strength, there is a degree of overlap in both!

For those looking to train for muscle size in the higher rep ranges, 1-2 minutes of rest time between sets should be sufficient to allow your body to recover. For the lower rep ranges and higher loads, it isn’t uncommon for people to take up to 4 or 5 minutes of rest! These times are by no means set in stone. If you feel ready to go again after 45 seconds of rest then go for it – listen to your body!


How long should you exercise for? A single hour per session is all you need. Some people might take an hour and a half, whereas others might be out after 45 minutes. Try not to spend any longer than 2 hours lifting weights. If you do, you might find that you no longer have sufficient energy to carry on lifting at an appropriate intensity, and you’d also be a bit mad!

Happy lifting!

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