Which Type of Strength Training Is Best For You?

Which Type of Strength Training Is Best For You?

by Jennifer Rendfrey, MS Exercise Science

When it comes to “lifting” weights there is a common concern and question we get all the time.  Depending on what an individual’s goals are, they are typically trying to tone up or gain size and mass.  When somebody wants to “tone up” they are looking to become leaner while somebody who wants to increase size and mass are looking to achieve hypertrophy (overall size increase of a muscle).  In this article, we are going to look into each definition first, then we can decide which option is best for you and your goals.

First, let’s look into the term “toning”.  When somebody is looking to tone up, they are basically looking to become leaner by reducing body fat percentages and adding a little muscular definition.  There is a thought process in the health and fitness world that doing high numbers of repetitions of light weights will result in a tight, toned body.  The problem with that line of thinking is that muscles will either grow in size (when challenged) or shrink in size (when not challenged or used).  Muscles themselves will not achieve the “toned” look that you’re looking for.  What needs to be done is strengthening of the muscles while reducing the layers of body fat which is resulting in the “soft/jiggly” feel and appearance.  When an individual does light weights at high repetitions they will be working on muscular endurance or strength endurance but really not working towards their goals of toning up.

Now let’s take a look at the term “hypertrophy”.  This term, by its definition, is the growth and increase of a muscles size.  When you do strength training and experience that “sore” feeling it’s microscopic tears in the muscle fibers.  Your body will heal/repair those small tears resulting in a larger, stronger muscle than before.

People always ask how much “cardio” they should do because they have a misconceived notion in their mind that cardiovascular work is needed to lose fat.  Strength training and cardio don’t necessarily need to be exclusive or separated from one another.  If done properly, you can cardiovascular and fat burning benefits from strength training at the same time.  Also, the more muscular tissue (lean muscle mass) you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate will be.  That’s because its harder for your body to maintain your muscle mass so your resting metabolism will be higher.

So far we’ve discussed the definition of the term “toning” and learned what the term “hypertrophy” means but what now?  From this point on we will discuss how to put these terms and thought processes into action to achieve the results you’re looking for.  If you want to achieve a leaner, stronger more defined body here are a couple of key concepts to incorporate into your current fitness regimen.

The first and most important concept is usually the one that people struggle with the most.  When trying to reduce body fat and increase muscle mass you need to get in control of your caloric intake or in other words YOUR DIET.  If your diet (caloric intake of nutrients) is not in line with your goals it won’t matter how dedicated you are in the gym, your goals will never be fully reached.  Now let’s take a look at what you can do in terms of your workouts to achieve that lean, toned, defined look you’re aiming for.

  • When doing strength training for these types of goals your rep range should be between 8-12 reps.
  • Target larger muscle groups and incorporate multi-joint exercises. The more muscle groups that are working, the higher your heart rate will be which is the concept of doing strength and cardio exercises at the same time.  Another key element to this will be to take shorter rest periods to keep your heart rate elevated.
  • If you’re looking to do smaller groups like bicep/tricep exercises, you can throw in cardiovascular intervals like sprints, burpees or squat jumps in between sets to keep the heart rate elevated.
  • Probably the best/easiest plan to incorporate is a circuit training style of programming. Choose a couple of exercises (4-6) and move through them with little to no rest in between.  At the completion of the circuit, you can put a challenging cardiovascular interval or core/ab exercise in before starting the circuit again.

Again, make sure to determine your exact goal that you’re looking to achieve before starting any fitness program.  Make sure you understand the correlation of your diet to your fitness goals you’re trying to achieve.  Don’t be afraid to utilize a fitness professional or personal trainer to help direct you in the right direction.  While the concept of doing anything is better than doing nothing may hold some truth, you will save so much time, energy and money by doing things the right way first.