Weight Training Advice

So as not to further derail the weight loss thread, I’m starting a new one for my weight training question.

I’ve adjusted my eating and started a treadmill regimen. I’m losing weight and I’m feeling better. Now I want to add in some weights (well, BowFlex, to be precise). Back when I used to work out, I adjusted the weight so I could handle three sets of ten reps each. If I felt like I could keep going after the third set, I’d add a bit more weight next time. If I couldn’t finish, I’d remove a little bit.

I was recently told that I should instead be doing the most I could possibly handle, even if I can only do it once. Wait a few minutes, and do it again. Repeat until I can’t do it at all.

Which is the correct approach?

(Just to provide full information, I’m not looking for muscle bulk or trying to develop six-pack abs. I’m 51 years old, and I just want to be able to do stuff I used to be able to do before I gained this weight: Hoist a 90-pound bale of hay onto a 5-foot stack without straining; carry a 50-pound sack of grain around the house and down to the barn without having to stop and set it down halfway; lift something heavy into the bed of my truck without having to call for help.)

I generally prefer doing mixed–high reps/low weight-mid reps/weight-low reps/high weight.

That way you get some stimulus for both strength and endurance.

The last rep or two in each set should be quite difficult to complete.

Mix up your routine every few weeks-change the order, change your rep/set scheme, focus on just heavy or light weights only, etc.

I usually stick to just 2-4 exercises depending on the muscle group.

Exercise Prescription. (EXRx)

The first approach you described (three sets of ten) is the approach you want to be using to get back in shape.

The second approach (doing the most you can possibly handle) is a technique you would use if you were focusing very specifically on increasing strength as opposed to general health.

The technique I would recommend is this: Aim for a range, such as 8-10 reps or 10-12 reps. Work within this range on your first two sets. On your third set, try to do as many as you can. If the total amount of reps you can do falls within the range you’ve set for yourself, you’re good. If you can’t do as many as you’re aiming for, go down in weight. If you reach the upper edge of your range and can still put out another rep, increase your weight next time.

To add some specificity, the general rule of thumb is high weight, low reps will give you strength (ie, bulk) while low weight, high reps will get you endurance (ie, tone). IMO, I don’t think either taken to the extreme is a good idea. The workout that you were advised is great if you’re trying to increase your max and it’s more or less similar to what a power lifter would do, but since that isn’t your goal, I would advise against it.

Personally, what I prefer is to try to work in the benefits of both by doing some sets with both in mind and, with a bowflex, this should be pretty easy. So, perhaps, isntead of doing 3x10, an alternative would be something like 12, 10, 8 and increase the weight a little for each set.

Either way, a 3x10 or pyramid sets would get you closer to what it sounds like your goal. A power-lifter type routine would let you pick up that 90 lbs bale of hay, but chances are carrying around the 50 lbs of grain would leave you needing to set it down and the low-weight high rep routine may have the opposite effect.

This was the advice I was given once by a friend who was a successful amateur competitive bodybuilder, and it has worked well for me. The way your muscles work under different loads is different and variety is important.

I don’t know what’s going on biologically, but I can do 12-16 reps at a lower weight then add 10 pounds and feel almost refreshed. Maybe something to do with the number of muscle fibers that come into play depending on the load.

BTW I don’t think doing a maximum-weight single rep does much for you in terms of training. It might give you one measure of strength, but I’m skeptical of the value, and without extensive warming up it’s asking for injury. Eight reps is a typical minimum and 6 would be an absolute minimum.

Once again you find the myths of weightlifting. I doesn’t matter what you do, it’s the change that supports muscle growth.

Your body takes the line of least resistance. After a week or so of lifting a weight your body gets used to it and adapts.

When you lift a weight your body says “OK this isn’t normal.” If you do it constistantly your body says “OK this is stupid, if he’s gonna lift this weight, I’ll make the muscle a bit larger to make it easier.”

Once this adaptation happens, (It takes places in a week to a month’s time), the muscle will stop growing. THEN you need to change the amount you lift, the number of reps, the number of sets or how you are lifting the weight.

There is no right or wrong here. The answer is however you lift the weight, make sure that you change the way you do it after a week or so and definately after a month.

It’s change of routine that builds and increases the muscle, not the method. Any method will work, but it works only so long. That is where change comes in

The Bulgarian weightlifting team, the most successful weightlifting team in history, does the same 5 exercises every training day of their careers. They don’t seem to have any problem building muscle. I would say your emphasis on the need for change is way overstated.

Forgot to reply to the OP: 3x10 is a great protocol. It’ll do exactly what you want to do, it’s simple, and it’s effective. Going all out every set is good for the Bulgarian weightlifting team, but I think you’re probably better off with 3x10.

Thanks for all the feedback. That’s just what I wanted to know.

As a side question, I just read a suggestion in another thread that instead of doing a broad-based routine every day, I should do (for example) legs on Monday, arms on Tuesday…

Does it matter? I know everybody seems to say do every other day (alternating with aerobic workouts on the treadmill), but should I do my whole body every other day, or focus on specific muscles on specific days so I’m only doing any given muscle group once a week?

Do you have time to do a workout every day? I have had good success for developing fitness (not heavy-duty bodybuilding) with 3 times a week, whole body. When I worked out 5-6 times a week I would do split sets (legs and core one day, upper body the next, for example). I wouldn’t say that my results that way were stunningly better. Depends on how much time you want to devote to it.

I’ve success with alternating every 7 weeks. Right now I’m doing 2 sets of 20 reps with lighter weights. After 6 weeks I’ll take a week break and start with 3 sets of 6 reps with very heavy weight. Next cycle after that is in between, 3 X 10. I tend to do either one or two body a groups a day spread out through the week, just beacuse it is convienent.

I’ve read for hours and hours on the subject over many years. And honestly I think what really matters is pushing yourself enough but not too much, and sticking to it for the long run. Recently it was in vouge to do Max OT style (heavy loads/few reps), then it changed to high intensity, faster than fast light reps, before that it was pyramid sets, etc ad infinitum. I remember way back to Franco Columbo and crew who went with 3 sets of 10, and did just fine.

Diet will determine how much muscle you build and fat you lose. Just lift safely. Push yourself a little. Allow time to recover. Eat well. Stick to it for more than a few weeks. I’m not convinced any particular plan is better than others, especially for beginners.

Just to be clear, a few things you’ve said here aren’t exactly right: For example there’s no such thing as “tone.” What you call tone is really lower body fat, and it doesn’t depend on the number of reps you perform.

Also, the “fewer reps equals more mass” isn’t exactly right. Higher reps result in additional mass through the mechanism of non-functional hypertrophy, e.g.“the greater time under tension in a multiple repetition set increases both non functional hypertrophy and muscular fatigue. Non functional hypertrophy is an increase in the size of the muscle cell’s sarcoplasm rather than the actual contractile unit, the sarcomere.” Therefore, for any given level of strength obtained through weight-lifting, the athlete who developed that strength through the use of lower rep workouts will have less muscle mass (i.e., he will have experienced less non-functional hypertrophy) than the higher-rep athelete. Bodybuilders take (usually unwitting) advantage of this (this being the additional muscle mass through non-functional hypertrophy) by doing higher-rep workouts than weight-lifters (e.g., the aforementioned Bulgarian weight-lifting team only does single-rep workouts, whereas bodybuilders usually do multiple reps per exercise).

I waited too long to edit, so upon re-reading, the following:

Shoud read instead:

Yes, but they do the exact exercises they’ll be tested on. They do squats because you do squats in competition. They do clean & jerk because that’s what you do in competition. Of course individuals who focus entirely on what they’ll be tested on do better than those who do not, but for people who just want to be in shape, and be able to perform a robust set of moves without risk of injury, varying up the routine is key.

It demonstrates that you can become as strong as it’s humanly possible to be while only doing 5 basic exercises (and two of those exercises are only slight variants, so we’re really down to 3 exercises).

I’m not saying that’s the best way to exercise for the OP, I’m just saying that it’s wrong to say “you must vary your exercise selection every two weeks or you’ll never make any progress.”

As far as robustness goes, I started as a competitive lifter (I did 9 exercise variants because I wasn’t as hard-core as the Bulgarian guys), then took up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and got told repeatedly that “you’re the strongest guy I’ve ever rolled with.” (Not as big a complement as it sounds, it’s really more of a whining thing, like when they ask you how much you weigh, but they’re really saying “see how much smaller I am than you–that’s why I lost, not because you’re better”). Anyway, my point is that strength from just that limited set of exercises crossed over into something completely different, which sounds like a pretty good definition of robustness to me.

Also, you don’t do squats in competition; you’re thinking of something else :slight_smile:

Yes, but how long can you hang from a pullup bar? How many Volkswagens can you pull with your testicles? Can you chop a tree with only a few axe blows? Can you stack barrels in a pool, or lift a bus fifteen times? I believe these are the real tests of strength, and ESPN agrees.


Only a man called Rex Goliath could ask a question like that.

You should probably work your whole body every other day. You are probably not able to work hard enough to exhaust a given muscle group to the point where it requires more than 48 hours to recover.

Plus you mention that one of your goals is physical strength. If you want whole-body power, you need to work your whole body and develop the ability to exert coordinated power. Do multi-joint lifts like the military press and Romanian deadlift and other exercises that involve your whole body - squats rather than leg extensions, for instance.

Three sets of ten is good for the first six months. Then you can switch to five sets of five with heavier weights, and finally ten sets of three (for strength rather than bodybuilding).

Use perfect form on every rep of every set.

Women generally use too little weight; men usually use too much.

Stick to it.