Ever wonder how your muscles actually get stronger? Once you understand the basic principles of strength training, you can use them to ensure you’re taking the necessary steps to see real results.
The Power of Progressive Overload
Progressive overload is the gradual increase in weight or resistance, repetitions, volume, frequency, and intensity of your workout. But first, what do these variables actually mean?
Weight: The amount or heaviness of the load used during an exercise. This can be in the form of free weights, machines, or resistance bands.
Repetition: The completion of one exercise movement. Performing one hamstring curl would be considered one repetition.
Set: The number of repetitions you perform between rest periods. Performing 10 hamstring curls in a row would be described as one set of 10 repetitions.
Volume: The total amount of work performed in a given exercise session. Volume is calculated by multiplying the number of reps x sets x load or weight.
Frequency: How often a specific muscle group is trained in a given amount of time.
Intensity: The amount of energy you use during a workout. This variable is a bit more difficult to measure, however, a good indicator is to monitor your heart rate if you can. You can also gauge intensity by how you feel (are you breathing heavier, sweating, able to carry on a conversation while exercising).
Why does progressive overload matter? Your muscles need to be challenged in order to continue to grow in strength and endurance capabilities. This is why it’s important for your exercise program to change and evolve as you progress. Aiming for about 8-12 reps per set is a good target. When this becomes too easy, it’s time to increase the weight. The best part? Progressive overload doesn’t have to be overly complicated at all. Performing the same or similar exercises but adding variation by upping the weight or repetitions for an increased challenge will do the trick – you need to always be optimally challenging your muscles for actual growth and physiological changes to occur.
Physiological Adaptations to Resistance Training
When sufficient resistance is applied to a muscle, tiny microtears form in response to the load. Don’t worry! This is expected and even desired. These microtears actually stimulate the repair and rebuilding of the muscle, which is what causes strength gains. Additionally, depending on the type of training, certain types of muscle fibers may also grow in number and in size promoting both muscle endurance and strength gains. The physiological responses to resistance training are multifaceted and complex, but the most important part to remember is your body will adapt to how you challenge it.
Who Should Participate in Resistance Training?
The short answer: everyone! In order to get stronger and keep your muscles healthy, you need to engage in strength training. If you don’t use your muscles, you lose them over time. There is sometimes a misconception that as we age we become too fragile to participate in resistance training. While everyone’s body is different, there are many ways to customize resistance training so that it is safe and effective. As physical therapists, we highly encourage our patients of all ages to follow a fitness routine that challenges them and keeps them active for the long term.
Protein Intake for Muscle Building
While it’s necessary to eat a well-balanced diet all the time, making sure you up your protein intake when strength training is extra important so your muscles have the macronutrients they need for growth. When participating in strength training, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends a protein intake of 1.2-1.7 g of protein per kg of body weight (0.5-0.8 g per pound of body weight). It’s also important to stay hydrated and eat a nutrient-dense diet that provides you with not only the vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients you need but also enough energy to complete your workouts!
Not sure where to start on your strength training journey? Consult with a physical therapist! Physical therapists are movement experts who are skilled at creating exercise programs that meet the unique needs of their patients – not just after an injury or surgery. Download the OneStep app today to be connected with one of our expert, licensed physical therapists who will gladly guide you through your fitness journey and help you form healthy habits for long-term results.
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McCall, P. How to Select the Right Volume and Frequency for Your Clients. ACE. Published July 11, 2014. Accessed May 23, 2022.
Exercise intensity: How to measure it. MayoClinic. Updated june 17, 2021. Accessed May 23, 2022.
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How much protein for muscle repair, growth, maintenance? Digital brochure. ACSM. Updated September 14, 2020. Accessed May 23, 2022.