Very Basic Strength Training Questions.

Recently I joined a gym for the first time in my life and I was quite surprised to discover that I actually enjoy lifting weights. I also tried the cardio stuff but found it rather boring and essentially useless (I have no need to burn calories / lose weight). I do have a few questions about strength training however:

  1. For building muscle, what is the optimal number of reps / sets?

  2. If I maintain the same amount of weight / same number of reps, will I still recruit all of my fast twitch / slow twitch / intermediate twitch muscles or should I vary the weight / reps? If I vary the weight, is it better to start with light weights / numerous reps and work toward heavy weights / few reps or vice versa?

  3. As far as workout routines go, is a routine designed to increase strength identical to one designed to increase muscle mass or are they different objectives?

  4. Is it advisable to train until Momentary Muscular Failure (MMF)? If I complete all of the sets/reps without failure, should I continue with more reps until I experience failure? How often should this occur? Would multiple MMFs during a workout be problematic?

  5. I’ve noticed that the amount of Delayed-Onsets Muscle Soreness (DOMS) I experience seems relatively minor. Is that a bad sign? Should strength training be avoided altogether during DOMS?

  6. How many days of rest should be allotted between working the same muscle group? How does one know if they are overtraining?

  7. Is there any advantage to training while fasted? Would doing so increase production growth hormone and therefore be anabolic?

  8. What steps should be taken to avoid injuries?

  9. I’ve noticed that several of the personal trainers appear to be recommending very light weights with high repetitions. Why do they do this? How can you expect to get stronger if you aren’t doing heavy lifts?


  1. I’ve also heard some people suggest that you minimize the amount of time between sets. Has this been shown to produce any benefit? How long should you wait between sets?


Building muscle: Generally 6-10 reps/set 3-5 sets. Plenty of protein in the diet but you shouldn’t need supplements. 1g protein per kg/bodyweight up to 1g per lb. of bodyweight.

Building pure strength is usually done by using very low rep sets 3 rep or near maximum single. generally done to avoid weight gain for bodyweight sensitive sports.
Building muscle mass will result in a gain in strength.

Fast or slow twitch have more to do with the endurance capacity of the muscle.

I’ve had good results without going to failure though bodybuilders, who are looking for every last bit of muscle fiber recruitment for more gain, will disagree.

Unless you make a drastic change or greatly overload a muscle, there’s usually little or no soreness. Depends on where your fitness is.

Warming up first will greatly reduce injuries. Following good form is also important.

High reps/low weights are for endurance training. Usually done by bodyweight sensitive athletes like distance runners. Often(though less so) bywomen who are afraid of getting big.

If you’re just starting out, you don’t need to worry about all the details. Get yourself a copy of Starting Strength and follow the program as written until your gains slow down. Then you can start worrying about the little things.

Marty is a friend of mine and wrote a great book, it should have EVERYTHING you need to know about strength and conditioning. Purposeful Primitive

  1. 6-10 reps, 3 sets has been my experience. Fewer reps generally mean greater muscle building.

  2. Don’t know

  3. I think they’re broadly similar, but don’t know for sure.

  4. I’ve been told to do the number of reps that day and the next day to move up in weight or reps depending on goal.

  5. I don’t think that’s a problem, but it could point to not pushing yourself enough.

  6. I’ve been told at least one day. I don’t know how you know if it’s a problem. Good question. I’d be interested in an answer as well. The easiest (and worst) answer is when you get injured.

  7. Don’t know

  8. Stretch, good form, use of trainer, rest.

  9. You can get stronger by lifting light weights, but it takes much longer than lifting heavy weights. I heard Herschel Walker (Football player for the Dallas Cowboys awhile back) didn’t lift weights, he just did a massive amount of body weight excercise. I’ve read he counted his daily push-ups and sit-ups in the thousands).

  10. Don’t know. My trainer recommends about 30 seconds to maximize the cardio workout.

Shit, you’re going to get as many theories as there are internets.

When I was lifting, I liked 5 reps of 5 sets at maybe 80%-90% of max. Course you probably can’t hold that for all sets, but I liked the simplicity of the formula and (despite that it was marginally dangerous without a spotter for free-weight bench press – I liked that trick of unscrewing one side of the barbell plate-holder) seemed to be something that worked for me.

Calisthenics like tricep dips and stuff were a key part too, but I liked the 5x5 routine.

This is a really good study that answers almost all those questions in detail. It looks thick at first but it’s actually quite readable. The “abstract” box at the start covers everything in brief. Scroll down until you see the bold heading “PROGRAM DESIGN RECOMMENDATIONS FOR INCREASING MUSCLE HYPERTROPHY”. That goes into detail, with scientific evidence, on how you should be structuring your workout in terms of sets, reps, rest periods, frequency of training, exercise selection and order and velocity (how quickly you do each rep).

  1. 3 to 6 sets. In terms of reps, ideally you should constantly be varying between 1 to 12 reps, but for muscle hypertrophy it’s best to focus on the 6-12 rep range. The weights you use should be as heavy as you can do for that number of reps, aiming to hit muscle failure at the end of each set. Rest periods between sets should be 1 to 2 minutes.

  2. Try to vary everything each session - weight, reps, sets, rest period, exercises as far as possible - but stay within those ranges.

  3. No, they’re different objectives. For strength you want to focus on the 1-6 rep range, with longer rest periods (3 to 5 minutes). For muscle hypertrophy you want to focus on the 6-12 rep range with shorter rest periods (1 to 2 minutes). That’s not to say using the wrong range won’t work, just that it won’t be quite as effective.

  4. You should be aiming to reach muscle failure (where you can’t physically do another rep) at the end of each set. If you could wrench out another rep or two in the early sets that’s not a problem, but if you feel like you could easily keep going at the end of the set then make the weight heavier.

  5. Ultimately you should ideally be looking to train about 5-6 days a day, trying to leave 48 hours between working any individual muscle group to give it time to recover. If the DOMS is minor then I wouldn’t worry about working the muscles; if it’s really sore still then maybe give it another day. I find that after you’ve done a few sessions the DOMS gets pretty negligible. If you’re getting the weight level, reps and sets right, then it’ll work, regardless of the DOMS it produces.

  6. Try and leave 48 hours between each muscle group, but “advanced” weight lifters on that study should be working out 5-6 days a week. (For beginners it’s 2-3 days a week). If you’re warming up and warming down properly, your form is good, and you feel OK, then overtraining shouldn’t ever be a problem.

  7. I’ve seen one study that argued it does, but I have no idea if it’s trustworthy and it doesn’t sound like a good idea.

  8. Good form. Warming up and warming down. Good form.

  9. It depends what you mean by “light weights with high repetitions”. 6-12 reps is the optimum range to increase muscle mass, with only 1-2 minute rest breaks, because you need to get the muscles doing a high level of “work” to build muscle mass, and that means relatively high reps and shorter rest breaks than you would do for strength training. 1-6 reps with heavy weights and longer rest periods will still build some muscle, but slower and not as effectively. On the other hand, 25 reps won’t do it; that’ll just tone the muscles instead. I find a lot of personal trainers in gyms don’t necessarily have much expertise in any given area - they might be guys who are great at endurance running, say, but don’t know much about weight lifting for muscle hypertrophy.

isiah’s link to the American College of Sports Medicine Guidelines is well made. Just skip to each “Evidence statement and recommendation.” and “for the novice”

Some emphasis:

This ^

It is a great program, even better for beginners.

Double post. Nothing to see here.



The theories that were popular amoung bodybuilders when I was reading about it were that lifting heavy weights with few reps was best for building strength, lifting less weights with a little more reps for more sets was good for building bulk, and lifting less weight for more reps was good for toning and building endurance.
Rest is very important because the lifting breaks down the muscles and they are rebuilt during the rest. If you do not rest the muscles they will not be rebuilt. General guidelines are at least 24 hours between sessions and preferably 48 hours.
The most important thing to not being injured is good form.