gymweightsThe first thing you need to do when working out a resistance program is to establish a strength baseline to work from. This is how much weight you can lift for 10 reps in each exercise. For an example lets start with Bench Press, other exercises use the same principle.

The Beginner:

Starting off with 3 sets of 10reps, the 10th rep needs to be fairly easy, eg you could probably do 15 or more reps. I would do this for at least the first 1-2 weeks, example:


 Set 1 – 20kg for 10 reps

Set 2 – 20kg for 10 reps

Set 3 – 20kg for 10 reps

After that increase the weight and try to increase the reps. Don’t make it too hard at this stage, example:

Set 1 – 25kg for 12 reps

Set 2 – 25kg for 13 reps

Set 3 – 25kg for 15 reps

After those first few weeks, (depending on your age, Fitness etc) I would then start Pyramid Training, ie to increase weight each set and lower reps, example:

Warm up 2 sets

Set 1 - 20kg for 15 reps

Set 2 - 25kg for 12 reps

Set 3 - 30kg for 10 reps

Note: The weights are just examples. The reason this is called pyramid training is, as weight goes up, reps come down.

Remember this:

Don't start pyramid training until you can comfortably do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Let the weight dictate the reps. This means, hit your intended rep range by adjusting the weight up or down.
As you get stronger you will be able to do 15 reps on the 3rd set, where previously you only could do 10 reps. This is when you move up in weight, example:

Set 1 - 25kg for 15 reps

Set 2 - 30kg for 12 reps

Set 3 - 35kg for 10 reps

Note: From here it is a matter of trying to push up the weight you lift whilst keeping reps overall between 8-15. Usually this narrows down to around 10-12, but keep trying to extend to 8-15. Now this doesn’t mean that some sets you might keep the same weight or the same reps, because this is what your body is telling you. It is more important to listen to what your body is telling you than following exactly what I have written. This program is a guide to show you the principal behind the way you should think about what to do.

Intermediate to Advanced

Note: Nothing here is set in stone. These tips are proven to work, but over time you need to change things around to stimulate body adaptation to achieve the changes to your body that you want. But be aware, you can go backwards if the changes you make, doesn’t suit your body’s needs. Listen to what your body is telling you.

Important: To get training results, either building, toning or fitness, it’s all about stressing your body enough, so it adapts to those stresses in a positive way.

Primary, Secondary and auxiliary exercises

Usually the first exercise you do when training a body group will be the primary exercise. What does this mean? It means the first set is usually a major high stress (compound - using many muscles) exercise for that body part, designed to put maximum stress on the targeted muscle group.

Examples would be:

Shoulders - Overhead Press

Back - Lat Pulldowns or Bent Over Bar Rows

Chest - Bench Press

Legs – Squats

Note: The reason you do this (and this again is not set in stone, as you get more experience you will change this around), is the first set of a new exercise you are fresh and strong, so this is a good time to hit the nervous and muscular systems with high overload to get maximum adaptive responses.

The second exercise is also a major high stress compound movement, but hits the muscle group from other angles to work them more comprehensively. Usually the 3rd, 4th etc sets, changes the stress, from heavy weight (lower reps), to medium weight (higher reps), whilst maxing out to failure.

These latter sets are more about exhausting muscle fibers using a higher rep range, where the earlier sets are more about stimulating growth using heavy overload. Both methods fatigue fast twitch muscle fibers, but do so in different ways.

Note: The rest between workouts is where the repair and growth of tissue takes place. (provided you have adequate nutrition)

Note: The number of heavy sets you do before progressing to higher rep sets, will depend on whether your fast twitch muscle fibers have been exhausted. If you feel like your strength is starting to wane, or you get that slight sore feeling, there's no point continuing with heavy overload, either rest or change to lighter weight and do more reps.

Note: There are many training methods for the advanced trainer and they all use some form of progressive overload. This basically means that intensity increases as you progress. This could mean weight increase, rep increase, time between sets decreases, and you can also use the technique, “train to failure”. Training to failure means, each set you rep out so you can’t lift the weight anymore. (You really need a partner with this, and you can then go onto forced and negative sets) This method can be effective in recruiting more muscle fibers and can invoke anabolic (building) hormone responses.

Note: Some other training techniques are super sets, tri sets, giant sets and negative sets. I haven’t the time in this post to talk about them now, because they are an essay on their own, but I will write about them in a future post.

Important: Listen to what your body is telling you, not what you think your body needs.

Low Rep Training (LRT)

I’m talking here about reps under 8. If you are training for strength, either for competition or to bring your strength up, low rep training is worthwhile, but there are down sides.

LRT downsides:

1. LRT is good for strength but is not that good to gain size.

2. LRT can increase the risk of injury.

3. Continually doing low reps/heavy weight will not allow your body to recuperate, therefore limiting growth.

4. If your technique is not right (exercise foundation), increasing the weights you lift will increase injury risk and will not give you the desired results.

5. You need someone experienced to spot you.

6. You need a gym that has enough weight you can use.

LRT upsides:

1. LRT is good for strength

2. LRT is good to use sparingly with body building/toning but you need to cycle back to high reps, ie every 6 weeks or so, have a low rep day or a low rep week. It can knock your body out of a rut or plateau, and stimulate growth. But if you are after size, as soon as you feel your muscles have been hit hard and are fatigued go back to higher reps/lighter weight, otherwise you’ll burn out and go backwards. Experienced strength athletes know this, which is why they have plenty of rest between sets and don’t keep hitting heavy weights before they have recovered.

Note: This method is different to the heavy weight 8-15 reps, but the principal is the same. Using low reps (1-8) it is a more severe form, but you can’t continue with 1-8 rep training for as long as you can with the 8-15 reps method, because of the toll it takes on your body. Like I said you use it to get out of a severe rut but building size will be limited with extended use.

Note: You don’t use LRT like you would with normal heavy weight/high reps (8-15 reps) and medium weight/high reps cycling. With size building, cycling between heavy and light weight, with reps 8-15 (either day by day or week by week), is a great way to stimulate growth.

A typical LRT power/strength program could look like this

Week 1

· Warm up, light-medium

· 50kg – 8 reps

· 55kg – 6 reps

· 60kg – 4 reps

· 65kg – 2-3 reps

Week 2

· Warm up light-medium

· 55kg – 8 reps

· 60kg – 6 reps

· 65kg – 4 reps

· 70kg – 2-3 reps

Week 3

· Warm up light-medium

· 60kg – 8 reps

· 65kg – 6 reps

· 70kg – 4 reps

· 75kg – 2-3 reps

Note: You continue with this program until you reach the competition or reach the pre-determined maximum weight. You would start by working out the weight you wanted to end up at, and then work back from there.

Usually you would do this program for around 8-10 weeks, but it depends on what you’re trying to achieve, and the time you have got to do this. This is one of many LRT methods of building strength up over time, but is not designed to build muscle.

Note: You would of course have other auxiliary exercises you would do in the session, and these would consist of exercises to work on specific muscle weaknesses.

Important: The most important thing for you to remember is growth and strength develop whilst your resting, (not in the gym). You stimulate your body with resistance training and the body adapts, either by increasing muscle cell size (body building) or increasing the strength of ‘action potentials’ (electrical impulses that causes muscle fibers to contract) which increases the power of the contracting muscle fibers. If you don’t allow the body to recover, it won’t grow and adapt.


No I don’t understand them, but I do understand about how they respond physiologically to exercise and training. Putting it simply, women respond basically the same as men, the only differences is the way their hormones effects their responses.

Designing a program for a woman is similar to designing one for a man. A woman’s lower testosterone levels will effect her training responses. Obviously the female psychological and physiological differences also needs to be considered. Eg Monthly menstrual cycle and hormonal surges.

The days of “women can’t do this or that”, have long gone. Women today are competing in events that were once considered the domain of males and they are doing them exceptionally well. If the attitude of, “treat them like a separate species” had persisted, we wouldn’t see the results we see today, especially in sports that utilize strength.

So for females, the information above also applies to you, but as with the males you also need a customized program. When designing a customized resistance program for men or women, some of the things I look at are:

1. Age

2. Body fat level

3. Fitness level

4. Strength level

5. What you wish to achieve

6. Your time line (if you have one)

7. Your hormone levels (blood test)

8. Energy levels (thyroid)

9. Overall health

10.Sleep patterns

Note: How many times have I heard from females, “I’ll get too big if I lift weights”. Don’t be concerned about this because females haven’t got the testosterone levels a man has, so building muscle density and size is a lot harder for women. When a girl lifts medium weights and eventually heavy weights, muscle cells will increase in density and moderately in size, but fat will decrease in proportion to the muscle increase. Because muscle takes up less volume than fat, overall size of the limb or body part will decrease. (as seen by a measuring tape or other adipose/fat measuring devices)

Now there are exceptions and this usually happens with larger girls that can’t control their love of simple carbohydrates. If they increase muscle size and pick up their carb calories considerably, they will get bigger, because the decrease in size from increased muscle density, will be offset by the increase if their fat levels. Most people tend to eat less and eat healthier foods, so don’t get concerned about getting bigger training with weights.

Note: When you weight train, you increase the number of mitochondria (energy producing organelles in the muscle cells) which raises your metabolic rate. So minute by minute, hour by hour, you are burning more calories, even though you could be sleeping or relaxing in front of the TV. This of course is a good thing but the bigger benefit about weight training is it alters your hormonal balance, so you burn fat rather than storing it. This is why weight training is such an effective tool for men and women. Hormonal balance is more important for fat loss than increasing your metabolic rate, (BMR) but both are good.

This post is only a small amount of information about resistance training. I could have (and I will down the track) written more training programs, but the object of this post is to teach you the thinking and the philosophy behind lifting weights. (ie, those principals that I believe to be important in getting results). I know if you use the information contained here it will help many of you to achieve meaningful results.

Graeme Pearce