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A guide to weight training: Designing programs and setting goals based on scientific literature


Abstract and Figures

Weight training is a type of (resistance) training to increase the strength and size of skeletal muscles primarily using bars, dumbbells and/or other equipment. Weight training has many benefits, since it can reduce the signs and symptoms of many diseases and chronic conditions. Despite all the information available today (websites, social media, magazines, books) finding the right information and combining it into an efficient and practical program can be a challenging task. In extreme cases, the information can even be misleading and/or unsafe. The objective of this book is to present a practical and efficient approach to weight training in a concise manner. The information is primarily based on scientific literature, such as books and peer-reviewed journal papers but also on practical experience with weight training. Key topics covered: > Proper weight training procedure > Long- and short-term targets regarding fat percentages, muscle-mass increase, strength increase, and body dimensions (for both men and women). > Basics of muscle physiology, bioenergetics, adaptations, and recovery (with special emphasis on sleep and stress). > Scientific research on program variables such as training frequency, intensity, and volume. > Principles of training such as individuality, progressive overload, and specificity. > Variation and periodization are also discussed. > Mental preparation for training (mental profiling and mental tools).
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Design ing programs and setting goals
ba sed on scient ific lit eratu re
By Barouch Giechaskiel
Author: Barouch Giechaskiel
Title: A guide to weight training: Designing programs and setting goals based on scientific
2017-10-03, v01_paperback
ISBN: 978-1-549-82367-1 (paperback)
Copyright © 2017, Barouch Giechaskiel
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any
form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented,
including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the author and/or publisher.
The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.
Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement or
recommendation by the author.
Care has been taken to confirm the accuracy of information presented in this book. The
author, editors and the publisher, however, cannot accept any responsibility for errors or
omissions in this book, and make no warranty, express or implied, with respect to its
The information in this book is intended only for healthy adult men and women. People
with health problems should not follow the suggestions without a physician’s approval.
Before beginning any exercise or dietary program, always consult with your doctor.
The author would like to thank Ilias Giechaskiel for his comments on an early draft of this
To my wife Judy Pearl,
who has been a constant source of support and encouragement.
Definitions 3
Behavioral change for high performance 6
Overview of the weight-training procedure 7
Chapter summary 9
Medical checkup 10
Body measurements 11
Strength measurements 13
Various characteristics 14
Somatotypes 15
Chapter summary 16
3. GOALS 17
Time management 17
Environment 18
Importance of goals 19
Characteristics of goals 20
Goal planning 20
Sex differences 22
Health Goals 22
Ideal weight or Ideal Body Mass (IBM) 23
Body Mass Index (BMI) 23
Waist-to-Hip ratio (WHR) 24
Waist to Height ratio (WHtR) 24
Long-term goals 24
Proportions 24
Minimum body-fat percentages 25
Proportionality 25
Maximum fat-free mass 25
Maximum muscular measurements 26
Strength 28
Muscle mass - Strength correlation 29
Short-term goals (rate of changes) 29
Body dimensions increase rates 29
Weight (fat) loss rates 30
Muscle mass increase rates 31
Strength gain rates 31
Age and training age 32
Drive for muscularity and muscle dysmorphia 33
Exercise addiction 33
Chapter summary 34
Muscles 35
Muscle fiber types 37
Motor unit 41
Muscles bioenergetics and (acute) responses during training 43
Fatigue 46
Chronic adaptations and muscle hypertrophy 46
Mechanical adaptations 47
Metabolic adaptations 49
Hormonal adaptations 50
Neurological adaptations 51
Muscle damage and DOMS 53
Recovery 54
Recovery indicators 55
Recovery measures 55
Hydrotherapy 56
Sauna 58
Massage 58
Sleep 58
Stress management 60
Chapter summary 63
Frequency (of training sessions or per muscle group) 66
Sets (per muscle group or per exercise) 68
Intensity of effort (momentary muscular failure) 69
Intensity of resistance and repetition range 71
Muscle action (concentric, eccentric, static) 73
Repetition duration and velocity 75
Rest intervals 76
Resistance type 77
Exercise variations (and single- vs. multi-joint) 79
Order of exercises 81
Advanced techniques 82
Range of Motion (of exercise) 84
Time of training and circadian rhythms 85
Training programs 86
Chapter summary 88
Progressive overload 90
Super-compensation or one-factor model 91
Fitness-fatigue or two-factor model 93
Overreaching, tapering, peaking 94
Overtraining and burnout 94
Detraining 96
Specificity 96
Variation and Periodization 97
Variation 97
Periodization 97
Periodization models 98
Periodization research 99
Individuality 100
Chapter summary 101
Mental skills or states or factors 102
Motivation 103
Self-efficacy and self-confidence 108
Arousal 109
Attention, focus, and concentration 109
Flow and clutch 111
Emotions and mood management 111
Mental toughness 113
Consistency, commitment, and persistence 113
Effort and hard work 113
Mental training techniques (tools) 115
Goal-setting 115
Relaxation breathing 115
Energization (arousal) breathing 116
Pre-performance routine 117
Positive self-talk 117
Imagery 118
Watching others (observation or modeling) 120
Music 120
Gratitude 121
Mental plans 121
Mental techniques during the day or before bedtime 122
Mental techniques before training 123
Mental techniques during training 123
After training 124
Mental skills profiling 124
Mental training suggestions 125
Chapter summary 126
Avoiding injuries 127
Warm-up 128
Workout 129
Before each set 130
During the set 130
Breathing during the set 130
Belt 131
Cool-down 132
Training log 133
Chapter summary 133
10. EXAMPLE 137
I. Long-term planning 137
Current situation (Chapter 2) 137
Goals (Chapter 3) 137
Design of the training plan and program(s) (Chapter 5 and 6) 138
II. Trainings sessions (workouts) 140
Mental techniques (Chapter 7) 140
Workouts (Chapter 8) 140
Evaluation 140
Health, physical activity, sedentary life 143
Current situation and goal-setting 146
Muscle growth 146
Training program 147
Intensity of resistance (weight) and repetitions 147
Other training variables 151
Training frequency 152
Importance of training variables 155
Training principles 156
Workout and safety 158
Mental training 158
Chapter summary 163
Weight training is a type of (resistance) training to increase the strength and size of
skeletal muscles primarily using bars, dumbbells and/or other equipment. Weight
training is necessary for sports like bodybuilding, weightlifting and powerlifting where
strength, power, and/or muscle mass are necessary. It is used in many other sports, such
as football, wrestling, and rowing, in order to increase the performance of athletes and
reduce the frequency and severity of injuries (Shaw et al. 2016).
Weight training has many benefits for non-athletes as well, since it can reduce the signs
and symptoms of many diseases and chronic conditions including (Fiuza-Luces et al. 2013
or see references in Phillips and Winett 2010, Ciccolo et al. 2011, Fisher et al. 2011,
Westcott 2012):
Arthritis (by reducing pain and stiffness, and increasing strength and flexibility).
Diabetes (by improving glycemic control).
Osteoporosis (by increasing the bone mineral density).
Heart disease (by improving the lipids profile).
Obesity (by increasing the metabolism).
Back pain (by strengthening back and abdominal muscles).
Increased strength also improves the capacity to perform everyday tasks more easily.
Weight training is further associated with reductions in anxiety symptoms,
improvements in sleep quality and improvements in self-esteem (O’Connor et al. 2010).
However, despite all the information available today (websites, social media, magazines,
books) finding the right information and combining it into an efficient and practical
program can be a challenging task. In extreme cases, the information can even be
misleading and/or unsafe.
The objective of this book is to present a practical and efficient approach to weight
training in a concise manner. The information is primarily based on scientific literature,
such as books and peer-reviewed journal papers but also on practical experience with
weight training. It is assumed that, apart from health, the main objective is to increase
the muscle size (muscle hypertrophy) and consequently the strength, since other goals
(increase of bone density, decrease of cholesterol, etc.) require medical tests. In these
cases, one should consult medical professionals and follow their advice.
The structure of the book is as follows:
Chapter 1 presents the proper weight training procedure: (i) evaluation of
current status, (ii) setting of long- and short-term goals, (iii) design of training
programs, (iv) training session, and (iv) re-evaluation of next training session.
Chapter 2 explains in more detail how to assess the current status of a person,
focusing on body and strength measurements.
Chapter 3 gives long- and short-term targets regarding fat percentages, muscle-
mass increase, strength increase, and body dimensions (for both men and
Chapter 4 discusses the basics of muscle physiology, bioenergetics, adaptations,
and recovery. Special emphasis is given to sleep and stress.
Chapter 5 summarizes the scientific research on program variables such as
training frequency, intensity, and volume.
Chapter 6 analyzes the principles necessary to properly design a weight training
program. These include individuality, progressive overload, and specificity.
Variation and periodization are also discussed.
Chapter 7 discusses mental preparation for training. Topics such as mental
profiling, mental skills, and mental techniques are explained. Self-talk, imagery,
and focus (concentration), among others, are analyzed and applied to training.
Chapter 8 presents in detail the parts of a proper training session including
warm-up, breathing, and cool-down.
Chapter 9 discusses how to assess a training session and how to set the targets
for the upcoming session.
Chapter 10 gives a detailed numerical example combing all chapters.
Chapter 11 concludes with some thoughts on how advanced trainees can apply
the information presented.
This chapter will present some basic definitions and a weight training procedure that can
maximize the desired results. In the following chapters, “he” or “his” are used with a
gender-neutral meaning unless specified otherwise (e.g., during discussion about men-
women differences, and specific goals for men and women).
A repetition is a single complete movement of an exercise. It normally consists of two
phases: the concentric muscle action, where muscles contract (usually during lifting the
weight), and the eccentric muscle action, where muscles are lengthened (usually during
lowering the weight). The weight that is used is called resistance (in the literature also
referred to as load). The ratio of the weight to the maximum weight that can be lifted for
one repetition is called intensity of resistance.
Note: In this book the term load refers to the workout stimulus and thus includes the
exercises and repetitions, but also the duration of the training, the rest periods, etc.
Thus, load will be used only during the discussion of training principles (overload
A set is a group of repetitions performed continuously without stopping or resting,
typically from 1 to 15 repetitions.
The term volume refers to a measure of the total amount of work (in joules) performed
in a period of time (usually training session or week). Repetition work is the resistance
(weight) multiplied by the vertical distance the weight is lifted. To calculate the workout
work, the number of repetitions per set and the total sets have to be considered. Simpler
definitions for volume have been used in the literature: For example, “sets”, sets ×
reps”, or “sets × repetitions × resistance”. In this book the term training volume refers to
the last case (sets × repetitions × resistance), unless otherwise specified.
A repetition maximum, or RM, is the maximal number of repetitions of a set that can be
performed in succession with proper lifting technique using a given weight (resistance)
(Fleck and Kraemer 2014). The heaviest resistance (weight) that can be used for one
complete repetition of an exercise is called 1RM. A resistance that allows completion of
10, but not 11, repetitions with proper exercise technique is called 10RM. Note that,
strictly speaking, this is a self-determined repetition maximum, as the trainee’s
prediction that he will not be able to complete one more repetition, is not necessarily
Momentary concentric muscular failure is reached when one reaches the point where
he cannot complete the concentric portion of the current repetition without deviation
from the prescribed form of the exercise, despite attempting to do so (Steele et al.
2017). Thus, for the above example, training to true momentary failure would mean
trying (and failing) the 11
repetition. Training to failure is sometimes assumed as
training with intensity of effort of 100% or having 0 repetitions in reserve or reaching
rating of perceived exertion of 10 (Zourdos et al. 2016) (Table 1.1).
Table 1.1: Training to momentary muscular failure, rating of perceived exertion (RPE),
repetitions in reserve (RIR), and intensity of effort. Training to repetition maximum (RM)
is equivalent to RIR of 0. Adapted from Zourdos et al. (2016).
The last rep
t be completed. Momentary muscular failure.
The last rep
could be completed
but another one is not possible
One more rep
d be completed
more rep
s could be completed
Three more rep
s could be completed
Light effort
E.g. warm
up sets.
No effort
Muscle (total) fatigue is a state of physiological inability to contract even though the
muscle may still be receiving stimuli. A fatigued muscle cannot produce maximal force;
thus, muscle fatigue is the inability of recruited motor units to generate their maximal
force output.
Fatigue and momentary failure are not the same. For example, to reach momentary
muscular failure exercising with 30% of 1RM one would have to achieve 70% muscle
fatigue. In contrast, to reach contractile failure with 70% of 1RM, an individual would
only achieve 30% muscle fatigue (Morton et al. 2015).
An approximation of percentages of the 1RM and repetitions to failure is given in
Table 1.2, which is based on Haff and Triplett (2016), MacDougall and Sale (2014), and
the summary equations in Reynolds et al. (2006). The fatigue level can be approximated
as the drop in strength (Vøllestad 1997). For example, with 6 repetitions (to failure) a
15% fatigue will be reached, while with 20 repetitions 45% fatigue will be achieved
instead. At a specific percentage, the number of repetitions depends on the body part
(more repetitions for the lower body), the exercise (more repetitions with machines or
exercises that involve many muscles), the repetition duration (more repetitions with
faster movement), the sex (women can do more repetitions), and possibly the training
status (Shimano et al. 2006, Moraes et al. 2014). For example, untrained men at 80% of
1RM did approximately 9±2 repetitions at the bench press but 11±2 repetitions at the lat
pull-down, while trained men did 10±1 and 15±2 respectively (Moraes et al. 2014).
Table 1.2: Percentage of the 1RM and (self-determined) repetitions to failure. Adapted
from Haff and Triplett (2016), MacDougall and Sale (2014) and equations in Reynolds et
al. (2016).
Figure 1.1: Percentage of 1RM and repetitions to momentary muscular failure.
“Bibliography” refers to Table 1.2. The individual points represent the author’s own data
in 2017 for the inclined bench press, back squat and one-arm row.
The uncertainty of the numbers increases at lower percentages of 1RM. For example,
with 30% of 1 RM the range of repetitions was from 24 until 79 (Jenkins et al. 2015).
Note also that when a concentric contraction is done immediately after an eccentric
contraction, the force of the concentric contraction is increased compared to an isolated
concentric contraction (stretch-shortening cycle potentiation). For example, a study
found 15% higher strength at the bench press when the exercise started from the
eccentric part (Wilson et al. 1991).
Figure 1.1 compares the literature curve with the author’s percentages for the incline
bench press, one-arm row, and back squat. The 1RM was estimated from linear
regression from the experimental data of 4-12RM: inclined bench press: 141 kg, squat:
175 kg, one-arm row: 99 kg. The repetition duration and the range of motion were not
controlled. The inclined bench press and the squat started with the eccentric part of the
Behavioral change for high performance
The first step in adapting (or changing or improving) a behavior is intention (or desire or
motivation) (e.g., by setting some ultimate goals) (Figure 1.2). However, intentions have
only a modest impact on performance (Rhodes and de Bruijn 2013). The second very
important step is translating the goals (or intentions) into actions (Fleig et al. 2013). The
facilitators and barriers (inhibitors) (e.g., stress, temptations, and lack of time) depend
on the person (e.g., confidence, skills, action and coping plan) and the environment (e.g.,
suitable gym, support) (Amireault et al. 2013, Jekauc et al. 2015). Then, to maintain the
new behavior, repetitions are necessary (Verplanken and Melkevik 2008); at this stage
motivation is important. If the new behavior (action) is repeated automatically, it is
considered a habit (Lally and Gardner 2013). Figure 1.2 shows a simplified schematic of
the procedure to change (or improve) a behavior. It is not following any specific behavior
change model from the literature (e.g., theory of reasoned action and planned behavior,
transtheoretical model of behavior change), but has similarities with the Health Action
Process Approach (Schwarzer 2008). A similar model can be applied to enhancing
performance: The athlete sets a target and then takes action (weight training).
Depending on his physical (genetics, injuries) and mental status (confidence, motivation),
and also external factors (life obligations), he can progress with an optimum rate, or stay
at the same level.
The book is based on a similar concept: Weight training should be a continuous activity
based on the goals (desire) one sets. At the same time, it should be done in a correct way
based on the current scientific knowledge and the actual situation one has (e.g., actual
fitness, available time). The book will present (realistic) goals, how one can put them into
action (e.g., by finding time and motivation) and how to repeat and optimize the
procedure (by evaluating one’s progress). It is based on techniques that have been
proven to change behaviors and improve results (or performance); for example, goal-
setting, planning, and self-monitoring (Greaves et al. 2011, Carraro and Gaudreau 2013,
Lally and Gardner 2013). The scientific background of each step will be given in the
respective chapters.
Figure 1.2: Simplified schematic overview of behavioral change or adaptation.
Overview of the weight-training procedure
As will be shown in later chapters, weight-training for health is not complicated and does
not require much time. However, considerable effort is necessary to maximize results.
The procedure that will be discussed in this book can be split into two parts: Long-term
planning and (daily) training sessions. More specifically, the procedure is the following:
I. Long-term planning:
Assessment of the current situation by taking body measurements, checking
strength levels, and evaluating physical characteristics (genetics).
Long-term (after a few years of training) and mid-term (e.g., after a few months)
goal-setting based on the current situation.
Design of the training plan and program(s): Division of a period into phases
(cycles) depending on the mid-term goals and then design of the training
programs for the different phases.
Example: One could divide the year into two phases: Phase I: Mass (hypertrophy) for 7
months and Phase II: Definition for 4 months, leaving the last 1 month for rest
(vacations). The training program for Phase I could divide the body into 3 parts with 3
workouts per week. The training program for Phase II could divide the body into 4 parts
with 4 workouts per week (see Table 1.3).
II. Trainings sessions (workouts).
For each Phase, the training sessions take place in an organized way:
Study of the previous training session.
Mental preparation.
Weight training session (keeping records on the training log).
Evaluation of the training and setting new goals.
Next workout and repetition of the procedure.
At the end of the Phase: Evaluation of the Phase and preparation for the next
Table 1.3: Example of annual plan in two phases (Mass and Definition). Details in
Chapters 5 and 6.
Workouts f
Muscle frequency
Rest [min]
Cardio per
Cardio d
uration [min]
The topics will be covered in detail in the following chapters. Regarding long term-
planning, Chapter 2 will discuss the assessment of the current situation and Chapter 3
the goal-setting procedure. Chapters 4-6 will show how to design a training program and
plan accordingly. Chapter 7 will discuss mental preparation. Regarding training sessions,
Chapter 8 will discuss the workout topics and Chapter 9 the evaluation procedures.
Chapter 10 will give an example of the procedure.
Chapter summary
In this chapter, the definitions of repetition, set, volume, momentary concentric
muscular failure, fatigue and 1RM were given. The procedure of the weight-training
procedure that will be analyzed in this book was also shortly presented: (i) current
situation, (ii) goals-setting, (iii) program design, (iv) training sessions, (v) re-evaluation.
The book is structured in a way that will help the reader set and reach his goals (see
Figure 1.3). Initially one has to evaluate his current situation (Chapter 2). Then he has to
set long-, medium-, and short-term goals based on his genetic potential, but also based
on his current health status (e.g., injuries) and preferences (Chapter 3). The next step is
to prepare an appropriate training program (Chapter 5) and plan (Chapter 6). One then
has to follow the program: Training (Chapter 8) and recovery (Chapter 4) cycles follow
for achievement of the short-term goals. During the evaluation of one’s progress,
adjustments might be necessary (Chapter 9). During the entire process, mental status
(Chapter 7) is critical for maximizing the performance. The explanation of the curve
shape and the details will be given in the respective chapters.
Figure 1.3: Overview of the book chapters. Details in the text and the respective chapters.
Initially the current situation has to be assessed. This ensures that resistance training is
beneficial rather than harmful, especially to those individuals with pre-existing injuries or
illnesses. This step additionally helps the design of an appropriate training (and
nutritional) program. It includes:
Medical (health) checkup.
Body measurements.
Strength measurements.
Physical characteristics and genetics.
Medical checkup
Usually exercise improves health (see Preface) but some medical conditions might not
allow specific types of exercise (e.g. high intensity of effort for persons with high blood
pressure or cardiovascular disease, running for overweight persons with low
cardiorespiratory fitness etc.).
Initially a self-guided screening for physical activity program is recommended. The
Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaires (PAR-Q or the more detailed PAR-Q+) are
simple self-screening tools that can and should be used by anyone who is planning to
start an exercise program (CSEP 2002, PAR-Q+ 2017). They are designed to identify major
symptoms of cardiovascular, pulmonary, or metabolic diseases or orthopedic conditions.
Online or printed forms can be found at PAR-Q+ (2017). If any of those conditions apply,
the trainee should seek advice from a doctor.
The medical checkup includes a visit to the doctor where the overall health will be
assessed. Points that need to be considered include: History and current medical issues
regarding heart (blood pressure, chest pains, fainting), lungs (asthma, allergies, difficulty
breathing), blood (diabetes, cholesterol, iron), bones or joints. Blood and urine exams
and blood pressure measurement are also recommended. At this point it should be clear
whether exercise is allowed and under what constraints, or whether exercise should be
medically supervised.
Body measurements
The body measurements are the starting point for the goal-setting procedure, and will
also provide information about the effectiveness of the programs.
Figure 2.1: Body measurements chart.
They can also identify issues with asymmetry or muscle atrophy. Table 2.1 describes how
to take the body measurements. Photos at this stage are very important as they can be
used to periodically check progress. The photos should be taken in a swimsuit and always
with the same camera at the same location, position, and distance and with the same
lighting. Figure 2.1 shows schematically where to take the measurements and also
provides a template to register the measurements.
It is recommended to take measurements of both left and right body parts periodically
to confirm that any muscle asymmetry is decreasing.
Table 2.1: Body measurements / circumferences (in cm), body mass and fat-free mass (in
kg) and body fat percentage (%).
Height [
Measured on the hand side of the styloid process. The
styloid process is the bony lump on the outside of the
Measured at the smallest part
Measured at its narrowest part width
wise, usually just
above the navel (without pulling the waist in).
Measured below Adam's apple at smallest point
Upper ar
Measured around fullest part. Flexed
Fist clenched, hand out straight, measured at largest part
Measured around
fullest part of
upper leg while
Hip (gluteus)
Measured around the widest part of the hipbones.
Gluteus (buttocks) is included.
Standing relaxed, measured at largest point
Chest (Bust)
Measured all the way around the bust and back on the
line of the nipples.
Lat spread
Measured all the way around the bust and back on the
line of the nipples, flexing and spreading the lats.
Body M
ass [
Wearing o
nly underwear
Mass [
Body Fat percentage [
See f
There are different ways to measure body fat including skin fold testing, bioelectrical
impedance, DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) scan and hydrostatic weighing. If
there is no access to any of those methods, internet calculators (Calculator.Net 2008) or
the formulas below (Hodgdon and Beckett 1984a&b) can be used. The key for progress is
consistency and continuity with the methods used (e.g., every 2-4 weeks using the same
formula). Definitions of fat-free mass and the body composition of the reference man
(Snyder et al. 1975) are given in Table 2.2.
The formula to estimate the percentage of Body Fat (BF%) based on waist, hip and neck
circumferences (in cm) and height (H, in cm) for men and women are given below
(Hodgdon and Beckett 1984a&b):
= 495 / {1.0324 - 0.19077 × [log(waist-neck)] + 0.15456 × [log(H)]} - 450
= 495 / {1.29579 - 0.35004 × [log(waist+hip-neck)] + 0.22100 × [log(H)]} - 450
Table 2.2: Body composition of the reference man (Snyder et al. 1975). The major
components of each functional part are also given. The last columns give lean-body mass
and fat-free mass definitions.
mass 21% 80% non-
essential fat
essential fat
mass Fat mass
essential fat
mass (LBM)
mass (FFM)
Bone 7%
Strength measurements
Table 2.3 contains the main exercise recommended to be tested with 6 repetitions; the
lowest number of repetitions recommended in this book. The reason to use 6 repetitions
and not one, is that: (i) the absolute strength (one repetition maximum 1RM) is not
important in evaluating progress, (ii) the determination of 1RM is time consuming and
might not be accurate for untrained persons, (iii) the 1RM testing has a higher risk and
can lead to injuries. For those interested in the 1RM, formulas predict that the 1RM
should be 10-20% higher than the 6RM depending on the person, its sex, and the
exercise (upper or lower body, single- or multi-joint) (Mayhew et al. 1992, Reynolds et al.
2006, Richens and Cleather 2014). See also Table 1.2. The strength increase (in
percentage) when exercising at the repetition range 2RM to 10RM translates to similar
increase of 1RM (Pereira and Gomes 2007, Carpinelli 2011), but this might not be true
for higher than 30RM (Mitchell et al. 2012a). For example, a 10% increase in 8RM with
training, will probably increase the trainee’s 1RM for that exercise approximately 10%
(Carpinelli 2011).
Table 2.3: Strength tests. 6RM: For each exercise, find the maximum weight (resistance)
until the 6
repetition cannot be conducted in good form. Start with a light weight and
increase it every time until you reach 6 repetitions. The “Resistance / Body weight” ratio
can be compared with future targets (Table 3.4).
Exercise W
Body Weight
Squat (barbell)
Bent over r
ow (barbell)
Bench p
ress (barbell)
Military p
ress (barbell)
url (barbell)
Dips (extra weight)
(extra weight)
w (one arm) (dumbbell)
Calf (one leg) (dumbbell)
Note: The advantage of using the specific exercises is that they require minimum
equipment and can be easily tested even if one changes gym. However, one should feel
free to replace them, especially considering that many of them are dangerous if the
technique is not correct.
Various characteristics
Various characteristics like musculoskeletal leverage, flexibility, hormonal and energy
levels, and injuries play an important role on the choices for training. For example, an
injury at the back might mean that exercises like row or squat cannot be done with free
weights. Reduced flexibility might mean restricted range of motion in some exercises.
When designing the training program, all characteristics have to be taken into account.
The differences among the people also show that the absolute numbers are of secondary
importance and individuals should focus on their physical characteristics.
In the ‘40s, American psychologist William Herbert Sheldon, categorized the human
physique according to the relative contribution of three fundamental elements,
somatotypes, named after the three germ layers of embryonic development: the
endoderm (develops into the digestive tract), the mesoderm (becomes muscle, heart
and blood vessels), and the ectoderm (forms the skin and nervous system). His target
was prediction of personality traits based on one's general appearance. It had nothing to
do with actual physical improvement. In his 1954 book, Atlas of Men, Sheldon
categorized all possible body types according to a scale ranging from 1 to 7 for each of
the three "somatotypes", where the pure "endomorph" was 7-1-1, the pure
"mesomorph" 1-7-1 and the pure "ectomorph" 1-1-7. The visual methodology was later
developed in equations, which are used in the sports world (Carter and Heath 1990).
Based on these equations:
Endomorphy reflects the amount of subcutaneous fat.
Ectomorphy relates to the height and weight of body.
Mesomorphy relates to the relative muscular and skeletal development.
The mesomorphy is given by the following equation (Height, H, in cm):
Mesomorphy = 0.858 × humerus width + 0.061 × femur width + 0.188 × upper arm +
0.161 × calf - 0.131 × H + 4.5
Humerus width is the width between the medial and lateral epicondyles of the humerus
when shoulder and elbow are at 90 degrees. Femur width is the greatest distance
between the lateral and medial epicondyles with the knee bent at a right angle of the
femur. The rest of the measurements should be taken as explained in Table 2.1. For
more details see Carter and Heath (1990).
Based on this equation a person can check the current mesomorphy index and can also
estimate the maximum (future) index based on the maximum achievable arm and calf
sizes (as will be given in Table 3.3).
According to a study on twins (Peeters et al. 2007), additive genetic sources of variance
in men explained 28.0%, 86.3% and 66.5% for endomorphy, mesomorphy and
ectomorphy, respectively. For women, the corresponding values were 32.3%, 82.0% and
70.1%. Thus, mesomorphy and ectomorphy have high heritability, whereas endomorphy,
which represents a relative measure of fat, does not. Thus, improvements of
mesomorphy with exercise are relatively small.
Bodybuilders were found to have high mesomorphy (Fry et al. 1991, Ackland et al. 2008,
Nikbakhsh et al. 2013) (>6). Endomorphy and ectomoprphy were very low (<1), thus the
fat mass was very low and the muscle mass very high compared to height.
Although the importance of somatotypes for sport performance is strongly supported,
there are no studies on the effect of various nutritional or training strategies for different
somatotypes. According to anecdotal evidence, nutritional and training
recommendations for different somatotypes are given in Table 2.4:
Table 2.4: Characteristics of different body types and training recommendations.
Body type
Muscle mass
Training frequency
Training volume
Cardio frequency
Chapter summary
This chapter explained how one can assess his current situation. After a physical activity
questionnaire and a medical checkup, the initial body measurements (Figure 2.1) should
be taken and then the strength in some basic exercises should be checked (Table 2.3).
More advanced trainees could check their somatotypes in order to optimize the design
of the training routines (Chapter 6). After the assessment of the current situation, the
next step involves goal-setting which is the topic of the next chapter.
Lack of time and lack of motivation is among the most frequently cited barriers to
exercise participation for men and women with less than 55 years of age (Biddle and
Mutrie 2008). This chapter will shortly discuss how to find time for training and how to
set realistic goals.
Time management
Every day we have 24 hours (or 1440 minutes); every lost hour (or minute) never comes
back. Although better technology allows things to be done more quickly, at the same
time, people have more options and opportunities and they can hardly be
accommodated all of them. Time management (or monitoring and controlling) is very
important in today’s hectic life. Elite athletes try to make intensive use of time: they try
to extract the maximum available time to improve sport and life obligations, and well-
being (Macquet and Skalej 2015). A review (Claessens et al. 2007) demonstrated that
time management behaviors relate positively to perceived control of time, job
satisfaction, and health, and negatively to stress. Based on a review on time
management articles (Hellsten 2012) and self-books on avoiding time shortage (Larsson
and Sanne 2005) the following steps are recommended:
Monitoring of the current (time-consuming) behaviors and activities. This could
be done for example by logging one’s activities every hour for a week.
Analyzing the current situation. One should reflect on whether he is satisfied
with his use of time, and whether he will be happy in several years with the way
he spends his time at present.
Determining what should be done by setting goals. This could be accomplished
by defining where one sees himself in five years’ time and how he plans to get
Deciding which events are the most important and realizing that other activities
will have to be scheduled around them (prioritizing). Health is (should be)
typically on the top of the list.
Making decisions about how much time to allow for certain tasks (time
estimation). For instance, one could limit the workday (e.g. to 8 h) or other
activities (e.g. the gym to 30 minutes, two times per week).
Streamlining tasks, i.e. improving the efficiency of a process (activity) by
simplifying or eliminating unnecessary steps, using modern techniques, or taking
other approaches.
Purchasing services (e.g. cleaning of the house, assigning a task elsewhere).
Organizing, optimizing, grouping activities. For example, keeping things
organized, clean and at their proper location. Batching tasks (like answering e-
mails, or paperwork or phone calls, or bank bills). Making a list and getting the
important stuff done early. Combining things (e.g. cardio with checking e-mails,
reading the news).
Setting limits. For example, refusing additional tasks or responsibilities unless
others have been removed. Avoiding long conversations at work or other places.
Changing or eliminating unnecessary activities, such as minimizing meetings at
work, disconnecting when possible, limiting instant messaging, twitter, forums,
etc. Avoiding watching too much TV.
Planning and scheduling. Keeping a calendar. Planning the weekly menu (e.g.
grocery, cooking). Preparing the night before for the day that will come.
Adjusting to the unexpected (problem solving).
Observing patterns and trends in behavior (monitoring) and reconsidering goals
and priorities on a regular basis (evaluation).
The interested reader could try the Time Management Behavior (TMB) and the Time
Management Questionnaire (TMQ) scales. These instruments appear to possess the
strongest evidence of validity and reliability in measuring general time management
skills and behaviors (see details in Hellsten 2012).
In this book, the trainee’s environment includes the people, physical things, places, and
events that he lives with. Regarding weight training the following physical and social
environments have direct or indirect influence on his goals and progress:
Family: Has a big effect, especially if they share the same house (e.g. parents,
wife, children).
Friends: They can affect the nutritional behavior and the free time (recovery).
Work or school: It can affect physically (e.g. exhausting job) or mentally (the
work itself or the colleagues).
Gym: Equipment and general atmosphere.
The environment has already contributed significantly and continues affecting the
behavior, growth and development. There is a positive association between physical
activity behavior and social support from family, friends, peers and program staff in
supervised settings (Trost et al. 2002). The influence of social support on physical activity
could be direct (such as exercising together or taking care of children for the spouse to
This chapter will address the influence that various training program parameters
(variables) have on the effectiveness on a training program. The program variables that
seem to have an effect on the training responses are (ACSM 2009, Fisher et al. 2013,
Schoenfeld 2016):
Frequency (of training sessions or per muscle group).
Sets (per muscle group or per exercise).
Intensity of effort (or momentary muscular failure).
Intensity of resistance and repetition range.
Muscle actions (concentric, eccentric, static).
Repetition duration and velocity.
Rest intervals.
Resistance type.
Exercise variations (and multi- and single-joint exercises).
Order of exercises.
Advanced techniques.
Range of motion.
Time of training and circadian rhythms.
The order of discussion in this chapter goes from general (e.g., how often one can or
wants to train) to more specific (which exercises to use). However, it is important to note
that the various parameters are not independent: for instance, many sets and heavy
weights per training session require less frequent training sessions. The focus of this
chapter is on hypertrophy, but strength is also discussed in a smaller degree.
Evidence-based recommendations follow (see also Fisher et al. 2011, 2013, Schoenfeld
2016), but the interplay among them will be discussed in Chapter 11. Evidence-based
medicine and exercise science has become the norm in recent years and it is generally
accepted that any treatment should be based on the best available evidence gained from
the scientific method (Arnold and Schilling 2017).
The evaluation was mainly based on review studies or meta-analyses (aggregations of
information from many studies leading to a higher statistical power and more robust
point estimates). It should be noted however that a common criticism of meta-analyses
is that they can be largely influenced by the methodological differences of the studies
included (Gentil et al. 2017b).
Frequency (of training sessions or per muscle group)
Definitions: The term frequency in the literature usually refers to the number of training
sessions (workouts) per week. Sometimes it can also refer to the times certain exercises
or muscle groups are trained per week. The two definitions are different and in this book
the terms muscle group training frequency and training sessions frequency will be used
to distinguish between them. Example of two training programs: in the first one, the
athlete trains the entire body twice a week, while in the second one he trains 6 times per
week dividing (splitting) the body in 3 parts. These two programs have the same “muscle
group training frequency” of 2, but in the first program the “training sessions frequency”
is 2, while in the second is 6.
Theory: A muscle should be trained when it has fully recovered and is slightly “stronger”.
In molecular levels, as discussed in Chapter 4, metabolic (e.g., glycogen), mechanical
(e.g. protein synthesis), neural and hormonal adaptations of non-damaged muscles take
place within 1-3 days.
Research (frequency per muscle group): Studies with trained persons show that recovery
after resistance training with typical training protocols takes place within 2-3 days for 70-
80% of the subjects (Bishop et al. 2008, Korak et al. 2015) with maximal recovery after 3-
4 days (McLester et al. 2003). For older persons (>50 years), it can take more than 4 days
for 70% of the person to recover (Bishop et al. 2008).
Strength: Studies with trained men showed that “muscle group training frequency” of 2
or 3 times per week yielded better strength results compared to once a week, with no
apparent further advantage of three versus two sessions (Peterson et al. 2004). A meta-
analysis focusing on strength improvements found that for untrained and trained
individuals, frequencies of 3 and 2 times per week respectively gave the best (strength)
results (Rhea et al. 2003, Tzur and Roberts 2017). However, in each of the above reviews,
the total weekly volumes (sets × repetitions × resistance) between the groups were not
Hypertrophy: A review of various studies found no statistically significant difference in
the daily rate of change of quadriceps size between “muscle group training frequencies”
of two and three for untrained men and women (Wernbom et al. 2007). A review of
frequency studies equating total weekly training volume (sets × repetitions × resistance)
indicated that frequencies of training twice per week promote superior hypertrophic
outcomes compared to training once a week for both trained and untrained individuals
(Schoenfeld et al. 2016a). It should be mentioned however, that other recent studies
(not included in the previous reviews) showed no differences between 1 or 1.5 and 3
The previous chapter discussed the variables that should be considered when designing a
training program. This chapter will discuss how to design a training plan by modifying
the training variables over time. Based on the muscle physiology and the adaptations
that take place after training, some principles have been derived in order to simplify the
procedure of designing a training plan. These principles (ACSM 2009, Kraemer and
Ratamess 2004, Johnston 2013) are:
Progressive overload: There must be a stimulus (workout) and this must be
gradually increasing over time to further improve performance.
Specificity: The training adaptations are specific to the stimulus applied.
Variation (Periodization): The training stimulus should change (within the
specificity limits) to remain challenging and effective.
Individuality: The magnitude of the adaptation to the training stimulus (i.e.,
performance improvement) is different for each person.
Other principles are:
Reversibility: The positive effects and health benefits of training are reversible.
When individuals discontinue their exercise programs (detraining) performance
Interference (concurrent training effect): When training several components at
once (e.g., strength and endurance) the stimuli may interfere with each other,
thereby slowing adaptation in one or all components.
Initial values and diminishing returns: Individuals with low initial performance
levels will show faster improvement and greater relative gains. As individuals
approach their genetic ceilings the rate of improvement slows down.
The last three principles are indirectly included in the progressive overload, specificity,
and individuality principles respectively and will be discussed there.
Progressive overload
Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stimulus (load or overload) placed on the
body during exercise training. The physiological basis of the overload principle is that, to
induce adaptation in a muscle’s motor units, the motor units should be maximally or
close to maximally activated (recruited with high firing rates) (MacDougall and Sale
2014). Its origins are very old: In ancient Greece, a 6
Century BC wrestler, Milo of
Many trainees spend countless hours training with weights but with minimum progress.
In most cases their progress is hindered by their mental attitude. This chapter will give
basic information on mental training, motivation, and sports psychology and, most
importantly, how this information can be applied to the workouts. The chapter will
present the major mental (or psychological) skills (or states or factors) that a person
needs to maximize his performance. Then, the mental training techniques (or tools)
which improve mental skills and increase strength performance will be discussed (see
Table 7.1). Finally, the techniques will be applied to the workout routine.
Table 7.1: Mental (or psychological) skills (or states or factors) that are important for
high performance. The most important mental training techniques (tools) to improve the
mental skills are also shown. Based on Burton and Raedeke (2008), Birrer and Morgan
/ Tools
Mental skills
/ states
Energization breathing
Mental skills or states or factors
The mind perceives, feels, thinks, reasons, and remembers. Having a positive attitude for
the training (and in general for life) is very important for great gains. An example of how
the beliefs can affect the performance is the placebo effect; a belief that a beneficial
treatment has been received. Strength improvements of 2-20% have been reported with
the placebo effect even for trained athletes (Beedie and Foad 2009). The nocebo effect is
the opposite; it is a negative outcome resulting from the administration of a nocebo (an
inert pharmacological or procedural treatment). Some studies found significant
decreases in weightlifting performance when the participants were disclosed the true
nature of the placebo during the experimental period (Maganaris et al. 2000,
Kalasountas et al. 2007).
Taking decisions can change the way the mind works. A very good example is the
following (La Cour 1999): When a person is walking or driving, he usually does not pay
attention to the characteristics of the other cars. The moment he decides to buy a car
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