You know that strength training does great things for you. But you probably don’t know that you can tailor your strength workouts to meet very specific health and fitness goals—goals that are much more precise than just how strong you are. And the beauty is that it doesn’t take more days at the gym. All it takes are tweaks to the amount of weight you lift and how many times you lift it, a simple formula called total training volume.

In strength training terms, each exercise is done for a certain number of sets with a short rest break in between. A set, in turn, consists of a certain number of times you repeat an exercise—repetitions or reps. The number of sets and reps, along with the length of the rest periods between sets—the total training volume—are different for different goals .

A note on the amount of weight to lift…No matter what your goal, choose a weight that you can lift in good form for the minimum number of reps given —it should feel challenging toward the final reps of each set.

Jacque Crockford, an American Council of Exercise certified personal trainer, describes how
weight training programs differ for four popular fitness goals including some exercises to add to your current plan…

Goal: Avoid Muscle Loss When Dieting

Exercise GoalSetsRepsRest
Avoid muscle loss when dieting2 to 38 to 12At least 60 seconds
between sets

When you’re dieting, you want to drop fat, but lean muscle is often a casualty . Strength training with medium, moderately hard to lift weights using the above routine can keep your body from metabolizing muscle when you cut calories.

Sample training program: Romanian  deadlift, Squat to overhead press, Lateral lunge to high row, Kneeling hay baler, Renegade row and Push-up.

Goal: Burn More Calories At Rest

Exercise GoalSetsRepsRest
Burn more calories
at rest
5 to 6 done as
10 to 1560 to 90 seconds after each circuit

Muscle naturally uses more energy to maintain its natural function when compared to fat, which means the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. To maintain these calorie-burning muscles and burn more calories, even after the workout is over, try a high intensity workout with short rest periods. “Circuits” are an ideal approach. With a circuit, instead than doing all the sets of one exercise before moving to the next exercise—the normal way to train approach, you do one set of each exercise without any break between exercises. Then you rest for a minute and repeat the entire circuit. Circuits are time efficient. If, for instance, you do five different exercises with 10 reps each, it should take you about five minutes per circuit…so you’ll complete five circuits, with a minute or so of rest in between each circuit, in about 30 minutes.

Sample training program: Kettlebell swing, Forward lunge, Chin-up, Push-up, Rainbow medicine ball slams

Goal: Develop Overall Strength To Stay Independent

Exercise GoalSetsRepsRest
Develop overall strength to stay independent2 to 44 to 630 to 60 seconds

Having strong muscles from head to toe is key to supporting your joints and keeping you mobile throughout your life, not to mention all the daily activities we take for granted when we’re younger. Strength training in a balanced way, not missing any important muscles, helps preserve your independence, especially when you do exercises that mimic real life movements such as twisting, moving side to side and going backwards. A comprehensive program has 2 to 4 sets with 4 to 6 reps each using a weight that allows you to maintain correct form for 6 reps—when you can complete 6 with correct form, it’s time to slightly increase the weight.

Sample training program : Deadlift, Reverse walking lunges, Cable single-arm press, Sliding transverse lunge, Cable wood chop and TRX single-arm row

Goal: Develop A Specific Body Part

Exercise GoalSetsRepsRest
Develop a specific body part3 to 66 to 1230 to 90 seconds

When we lift weights, we stimulate production of certain hormones, including testosterone and growth hormone, that help trigger muscle growth and help muscles recover from exercise. The more we lift, the more of these hormones are produced, yes in women, not just in men, but definitely not to the same degree, so women shouldn’t fear becoming over-developed. High total volume is what’s needed to develop a specific body part. That means a higher number of sets—between 3 and 6—with a weight that’s challenging but manageable.

Sample training program for triceps: Chest press, Cable triceps extension, Dumbbell pullover press and Reverse grip pressdown.

Training Tips

Stretch before and after your workouts to keep your muscles flexible and prevent injury…

Dynamic stretches are done while moving and should be performed as part of your warm-up. An example would be walking lunges while reaching your arms overhead. This promotes lower body flexibility while also lengthening the muscles of your trunk.

Static stretches are done without movement (no bouncing!) and are typically held for about 30 to 60 seconds. Do these after your workout as part of a cool-down. An example would be a rear calf stretch for the back of you lower leg. See this and other “do anywhere” stretches here.

Self-myofascial release is a form of self-massage that promotes length and relaxation in the muscles and connective tissues in your body. It can improve muscle pain and soreness. Do this on days you’re not exercising or as part of a warm-up or cool-down.

Finally, give your muscles a break. Strength training causes small tears in muscle tissue, and that’s a good thing because as they repair themselves, your muscles get stronger. But give your muscles at least two days to recover between each strength-training session—meaning no more than 3 strength-training sessions per week.

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