A Beginner’s Guide to Exercise Volume 1

Entering the health and fitness world can be an overwhelming process because of the incredible amounts of information that is presented to beginners. One minute you hear about crazy mass building protein shakes, and the next you are hearing about falsified nutrition plans that get insane results in two days. All this information makes it difficult to get a basic grasp of the essential information that is necessary to creating your own sustainable, healthy lifestyle. It is my goal as a personal trainer to change this trend, and empower and educate normal, everyday people to have the knowledge necessary to revolutionize their own lives.

Exercise Science Basics

Exercise has many guiding principles, but none more important than the Principle of Overload. This principle is extremely simple, but the very foundation that all training programs are based upon. The Principle of Overload states that in order to experience physiological adaptations, you are going to have to place a physical stress on your body that it is not accustomed to. This stress comes from performing workouts that include weight, tension, or an increase in muscle energy demands. In addition, it comes from other things such as frequency, duration, and intensity. These things will be discussed later on.

Another important principle is the Principle of Specificity (also known as the Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands principle). This is another important foundation that describes the body’s ability to adapt to whatever demands you place on it. In other words, a workout program should reflect the desired outcome. For example, if you want to get good at running, your workout program is going to have to include running, if you want to get a stronger chest, your workout program has to include chest exercises, so on and so forth.

The fitness industry is incredibly superficial and predicated over aesthetics. Because of this, it would only be fair to discuss the term Muscular Hypertrophy. Muscular Hypertrophy in very simple terms is the increase in the size of a muscle as a result of some kind of resistance training (weightlifting). The weightlifting needs to be specific and these specifics will be discussed shortly. In general, people who want to increase muscle mass and increase the appearance of size participate in this kind of training.

Muscular Hypertrophy has a brother and its name is Muscular Endurance. Muscular Endurance is a muscle’s ability to produce and maintain a force for an extended period of time. Much like Hypertrophy, training for endurance also creates muscular adaptations, but instead of an increase in muscle size, it generally leads to a toned muscular appearance. How to train for endurance will be discussed below.

Workout Basics

Now that we discussed general exercise theory at a basic level, we can dive into topics that are important for the creation of workouts. In addition to introducing these topics, I will also discuss how to manipulate them in order to gain muscle size (hypertrophy) or muscle tone (endurance).

A Repetition is probably the simplest term in the entire workout industry. It is the completion of an exercise one time (i.e doing one push-up).  In order to gain muscle tone and improve endurance, one must perform 12-20 repetitions of an exercise. In order to increase muscle size and train for hypertrophy, perform 6-12 repetitions of an exercise. Body weight exercises are an exception, and should always be conducted until failure.

A Set is another simple term, and it is just a group of repetitions. To increase muscle tone, perform 1-3 sets of an exercise. To increase muscle size perform 3-5 sets of an exercise.

Failure is the point in which you have done so many repetitions of an exercise that you physically cannot do anymore. This is the point you want to reach for each and every set, so one must ensure that they are using the appropriate weight in order to reach this point for the kind of training they wish to participate in. For example, if you want to train for hypertrophy, and you are doing 6 repetitions in your training, you need to use a weight that is heavy enough so that when you reach that sixth repetition, you cannot do a seventh.

A One Repetition Maximum is an important measure to let you choose the appropriate weight so that you can reach failure. It is exactly what it sounds like, the maximum amount of weight you can (with good form) perform one repetition of an exercise with. This goes hand and hand with Intensity, which is a measure of a level of effort that is generally represented as a percentage to your One-Repetition Maximum. Gaining Muscle size requires training in the 75%-85% of one rep max, and gaining muscle tone requires training in the 50%-70% range.

Rest Interval is a measure of the time you rest between each set. For tone, rest between 0 and 90 seconds. For size, take rests between 0 and 60 seconds.  

Training Volume is the amount of total sets of exercises you do in a single workout. For weight training, begin by shooting for 16 total sets of exercises, and then try to move up to 24 total sets of exercises.  For example, if you are working out your arms (shoulders, biceps, triceps) try to do 5 sets of each muscle group for 15 total (beginners), or 8 sets of each for 24 sets total (advanced).

An often overlooked but extremely crucial aspect of creating a workout is having an appropriate warm-up and cool-down. Performing both of these exposes your body to a vast array of physiological benefits, such as a decreased risk of injury, proper muscle activation to ensure maximum performance when it counts, and an increase in psychological preparation. A warm-up lasts generally 5-10 minutes and precedes any of the actual workout. A good split for warming up is to start with a quick 3-5 minute cardio warm-up (running, jump rope, etc.), and then stretch the muscles that your body will be tackling in the workout for the remainder of the time. The Cool-Down more than likely will mirror the Warm-Up, with a 3-5 minute cardio cool down, and stretch for the remainder of the time.

You now have the necessary knowledge to understand what causes your body to change, and how to manipulate the basic components of a workout to get your body to change in the way most people want it! Check out volume two, where we tie all this knowledge together, and address Program Design and Nutrition basics!


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