Updated: Feb 21, 2019
In the last article, I gave my opinion on the different types of exercise that people an choose to build up their workout to best meet their personal objectives.
Today I would like to look at what people regularly ask me, as a Personal Trainer, in the spirit of helping you to understand the key issues which underpin a successful workout.
So what are the questions I hear most regularly from clients (and friends!)?
How many repetitions should I aim for when working out with weights?
Boy, is this a regularly heard question.
4 - 8 repetitions are best for building strength.
8 - 12 repetitions are best to add muscle mass.
15 - 25 repetitions are best for increasing muscle endurance.
In each case, for the set to be effective you really need to be aiming to reach failure when exercising - that is, the point at which you cannot complete another repetition without breaking good form).
Or, to put it another way, the point at which you feel you have to pause because you have nothing left in the tank.
How many sets should I be structuring my workout around?
Another popular (and pertinent) question.
2 - 3 sets is the norm for most exercises, as the more work muscles do the more they will grow.
For beginners, one set might be enough, however, (especially when settling into a new routine), though if this is you, you should aim to lift until your muscles have become accustomed to training.
Then you can start to increase the sets you undertake after a few weeks.
And then build, build, build!
How long should I rest between sets?
You would be surprised how often I get asked this question!
The fact is that the longer you take a break between sets, the more time you will give your muscle(s) to recover. It’s pretty obvious, really. Though saying that, you will also need to adapt the time that you rest to meet your goals, depending on what they are.
If you are training for strength, for example (and remember 4 - 8 repetitions to achieve this goal) and using heavy weights, you might want to rest for several minutes (4 - 5 minutes maximum).
If you are training for endurance or fat loss, however, then it might be wiser for you to not take a break at all between sets in order to keep your work rate high and to introduce a cardiovascular element into your workout.
Generally speaking, the less time you spend between sets is better for you, as this will force your muscles to work harder. Also, you will save some time on the gym floor, if this is important to you.
Also, and to put numbers on this advice, look to take 45 - 90 seconds as the standard break between sets for muscle building if you are aiming to complete sets of 10 - 12 repetitions.
How many exercises should I be doing?
Another question about volume and effort.
Here again, it depends of your goals, though there are essentially two models to choose from with this question.
If you are focusing on a particular body part, for instance, 4 - 5 exercises should be enough for you, as you can thus concentrate on the intensity in the exercises (not too many break between sets, though).
If you targeting a full body workout, then you will need to do more sets (8 or more to cover the whole body) in order to hit every muscle group.
How much time shall I spend in the gym?
Now here’s a cultural thing:
Some people love the gym, some tolerate it and some simply hate it.
For me, I fall into the former category (and I have come to love it more and more as the years have passed). But I am not you!
If we are looking only at the process of building fitness (and putting aside personal preferences), then the fact is that the longer you stay in the gym working out, the less beneficial it can actually be for your muscle development.
Recent studies have shown that after 45 minutes, for example, you can start breaking down muscle mass (because your body starts eating up available and potential fuel within the body).
So, in principle, an hour should be enough to work out (and that includes your warm up and stretching), though you will need to use your time effectively during that hour.
And how do you do this?
By training with intensity, of course!
Because ultimately, as with life, everything in the gym is about intensive effort to achieve lasting success.
So, in conclusion:
Please do not take all of the above as being a hard set of rules by which to achieve fitness success. Instead, try to incorporate the key points from my advice into your fitness programme in a way that best works for you and also learn how to adapt the key principles that work for you into your life and goals.
But (and here it comes again!) do train with intensity as you develop your workout programme.
If you do this you should feel good after your workout, and not completely wiped out.
So, find the right pace for you in order to be able to repeat it week after week and during the months ahead. This should then become a regular routine that can stay with you through a long and healthy life.
Which is what you will achieve if you use the right fitness programme that works for you.