When us ‘exercise geeks’ talk about resistance training, we typically break it down into three categories*: strength; hypertrophy; and endurance. They all involve training with some form of resistance (weights, body weight, resistance tubes etc) but they vary considerably in how we structure the program and the overall outcome. As to which one is best for you long term? That will depend on what your goals are. So here’s a breakdown of each so you can make an informed decision.
For people just getting started with resistance training, we ALWAYS start with endurance training; from there we can progress to hypertrophy and onwards to strength, if necessary. And beginners – as always, I do encourage you to see a trainer for at least one session. Everyone is different and this guide can only provide general information.
This is always the starting point for resistance training; it focusses on the ‘lighter weights, more reps’ notion. When doing this sort of training, aim to complete >12 repetitions (for most people 12-20 is sufficient), over 3 sets. Rests breaks can be quite short, with 30 to 60 seconds between each set. It’s important to keep in mind that even though the weight is ‘lighter’ (than what we’d use for hypertrophy or strength training) we don’t actually want it to be light and easy. So often I’ll see people in the gym doing endurance training with too light a weight – you still want to feel fatigued at the end! A great way to think about it: if you’re program requires you to perform 15 repetitions, the weight you select should require you to perform those 15 reps with good technique and leave you feeling like you could only complete another 2-4 reps if you really had to. If you finish your 15 reps and feel like you could keep going for another 5 or more, than you need to increase your weight. Keep in mind though, if you are just starting out with weights, it’s ok to go light until you’ve got the hang of things; after that point though, endurance training still needs to be challenging.
BodyPump classes are another example of endurance training. Did you know that you’ll complete about 800 repetitions in each 60 minute Pump class! If you’re doing Pump, same rules apply: you want a weight which lets you complete the track with good technique but leaves you feeling pretty fatigued by the end of it.
Whether you’re training in the gym, at home, in the park or doing BodyPump, a whole body program (legs, chest, back, arms, shoulders, abdominals) completed 3 times per week, on non-consecutive days, is a great option for endurance training.
Hyper-what? In layman’s terms, hypertrophy is an increase in lean muscle mass; it’s about building muscle. To the females – don’t freak out! You’re not going to end up looking like Arnie if you do hypertrophy training. Men will build more muscle than women due to considerably higher testosterone levels. Building muscle, however, is beneficial for both men and women. There are aesthetic appeals, of course, but increased lean muscle mass improves strength, helps manage insulin sensitivity in diabetics and non-diabetics, increases basal (resting) metabolic rate, can help reduce body fat and increases stamina and energy during athletic activities.
To promote hypertrophy, follow a program that requires 8-12 repetitions with 3-5 sets. Rest breaks should be between 1-2 minutes and the weight selected should leave you feeling fatigued at the end of the 12th rep. Most people will adopt a split program for hypertrophy training, focussing on only one or two muscle groups during each session. This has the great benefit of allowing one muscle group to have sufficient recovery, whilst still being able to train other muscle groups. An example of a split program would be:
Monday: Chest and Back
Tuesday: Legs and Abdominals
Wednesday: Triceps, Biceps, Shoulders
Thursday: Rest Day
Friday: Chest and Back
Saturday: Legs and Abdominals
Sunday: Rest Day.
Strength training results in just that, an increase in strength. When we’re training for strength our goal is to be able to lift a heavy weight for only a few reps (<6). In real life, we might apply this to needing to pick up a heavy box and put it down somewhere else; we need to exert a lot of muscle force but only for one repetition. Or it might be that we need to carry a lot of heavy shopping bags from the car into the kitchen. For people with pathologies (injuries, illness, disease) it can take a lot of strength and effort to even stand up from a chair. There are lots of instances in real life where we require strength.
Personally, I like to train for strength purely because I enjoy lifting heavy things in the gym (yes, I’m aware that probably makes me a little weird!). A typical strength program involves performing 4-6 repetitions, with 3-5 sets. The weight selection should be heavy enough to, as always, allow for good technique, but you should be exhausted by the final rep and ideally unable to perform any more than those 4-6 reps. I often have someone ‘spotting’ (assisting) me when I’m strength training, as sometimes fatigue hits during the final rep and some help is needed to get the weight back to the starting position. Because we’re only performing a few reps but with very heavy weights, we need to have a sufficient break of around 3 minutes between sets. Most people who do strength training will also do a split program as each muscle group will require 48-72 hours recovery.
|Training Type||Reps||Sets||Rest (between sets)|
Keep in mind, that each type of training can contradict the other. If you do a lot of strength training, you won’t have as much endurance; likewise, if you focus on endurance training, your strength won’t be as developed. Determine which type is most beneficial for you and your lifestyle, and focus on that. If you’re unsure, start with endurance training and progress to hypertrophy.
*Power can also be considered a fourth area of resistance training. However it’s highly specialised and not something for beginners. If you’re considering power training you definitely need to be working with a trainer to ensure proper technique and safety.