Reps, sets, duration, and intensity

When you lift, your lifts should be relatively intense.  Don’t just do 8 reps because it’s a nice number.  Do 8 reps because you can’t do 9.  If you are relatively intense, a warm-up set followed by 4-5 normal sets is usually about right.  Some guys think doing 10 sets is twice as good as 5, but more can be less when it comes to building muscle size and strength.  Too many sets can over-train your body and result in less muscle growth.

Your workouts in total should last no more than 45 minutes.  If they do, you may be over-training.  If you are serious and don’t waste time, you may find 30 minutes is even do-able.

Lastly, only wait 1-2 minutes between sets.  More than that may cause your muscles to relax some and get a lower quality workout on the next set.  Besides, it’s a waste of time.

How to do it

Muscles are organized throughout your body.  When I say muscles I mean skeletal muscles, or the muscles you have conscious control over.  By simply decreasing the angle between 2 bones connected by a joint, you work a muscle.  That may sound confusing, so perhaps some examples will clear it up.

For instance, you can work your biceps brachii muscle by standing or sitting with a weight in your hand and lifting the weight by decreasing the angle between your upper arm and forearm as illustrated below:

The same can be done for any muscle, but beware to concentrate on the muscle of interest as opposed to the making the exercise easier.  For example, rocking your body while doing curls will make it easier, but your biceps will not get as good of a workout. The following illustrate the movements necessary to work the major muscles of the body.

It is important to remember that muscles only pull, not push.  That means that curls do not adequately work your triceps unless you change your movement such that your triceps do the actual lifting (compare the two above).  These are the main lifts you should be doing.  Of course you want to change things up from time to time, but these are the main themes of how to work each muscle group.  I also left out your butt and hamstrings (back of the legs) because they will be worked quite well if you are doing squats at least some of the time.

Also, if you attend a gym, it would be worth your while to spend at least one session with a personal trainer.  They will be able to help you tailor a routine to your goals or at least show you the ropes and let you loose.

How to lift

Lifting weights does not have to result in huge muscles.  It is very difficult to do that, and takes a lot of know-how and a lot of discipline.  For health purposes it is not necessary to lift like the pros.  There is more to lifting than just building big muscles, so don’t feel like you have to lift the most productive way possible. You can still build plenty of  strength and flexibility without the veins on your forehead protruding.

The most effective weight lifting is heavy and intense.  That means your repetitions (reps), or the number of times you lift a weight in a row, should be about 3-12.  When I say do 3-12 reps, I mean that’s all you can do.  You should progressively decrease in reps and increase in weight between sets (set= 1 round of reps).  So, let’s say you are doing bench press.  You start with 135 lbs. and do 10 easy reps for a warm-up.  This is your 1st set.  Then you increase to 210 lbs. and are able to get 7 reps.  This is your 2nd set.  Next you increase to 225 lbs. and get 4 reps.  This is your 3rd set.  Next, you go up to 250 lbs. and get 3 reps.  This is your 4th set.  You use 250 lbs. again and manage to pull off 3 again.  This is your 5th set.

This is a great example of how your lifts should go.  It’s still acceptable to do lighter weight sometimes, or even heavier, but if you want the best results, this is about what your workout should look like most of the time.  Now this doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time if you don’t do it like this.  Remember this is the “most effective” way, meaning this is the way that will build the most muscle.  Your goal may be strength or just flexibility in which case lifting as illustrated, although the best for building muscle size and burning calories may not be necessary for your purposes.

The same workout for someone concerned less with muscle mass and more with the health benefits may be a little less intense such as the following:

Original workout (maximum ability)                              Less intense

135lbs. (warm-up)      10 reps                        135lbs. (warm-up)     10reps

210lbs.                       7reps                          165lbs.                       10reps

225lbs.                       4reps                          185lbs.                       8reps

250lbs.                       3reps                          205lbs.                       6reps

250lbs.                       3reps                          215lbs.                       5reps

Both of these workouts are effective.  Granted the original workout will be more prone to develop larger muscles, but bigger muscles are not necessary to produce the health benefits associated with weight lifting.  Part of how to be a healthy person must necessarily include weight training, but if going a little lighter is fine as long as you don’t sacrifice intensity.