I’ve been working out with weights for the last few weeks, and I’ve been improvising my own program, perhaps on principles that are flawed, but now that I’ve gotten into a routine, I’d like to find out more from people who actually know something before I continue with what I’ve been doing. So:

For the purposes of this inquiry, let’s assume that I’ve been working out exclusively on an ab crunching machine. (I haven’t but I’ve been following the same pattern I’m about to describe on several machines, largely to separate my ab-crunching sessions by the ten minutes or so that I work out on the other machines). I realize full well that there’s no such thing as spot-reduction but I’ve been concentrating my efforts on my abs because I do understand that I will use more calories in a given time working a big muscle (such as abs or thighs) than a small muscle (such as trapezius or forearms), so I’ve been devoting my main focus to working the abs. Does this make sense?

I assume it does, or at least that working the abs is as good a place as any to expend calories. I’ve got about an hour to work out, so I’ve been doing about four or five ab-crunch sessions in that hour, broken up by the sessions on a few other machines. At first I started off with fairly light weights, just to make sure I wasn’t trying to do too much and strain something and have to lay off for a week to recover, but I soon started working out at pretty much my maximum capacity, which has steadily increased.

The ab-cruncher, manufactured by HOIST, has sixteen gradations of weights (attached by pulleys to a bar across my chest that I push against). I’m not sure what each one weighs (anyone have an idea? I’m curious) but that hardly matters since I’m now able to include the heaviest weights in my workout. I work out about three times a week, a day or two apart (and run on most of my days off), warming up by doing a few (let’s say 15) reps at a very manageable weight. (Now, I’m starting at “11” 15 times to warm up, plus another 15 reps at “11” with my feet in a slightly different position, in a seated position, thighs and calves roughly 90 degrees-—in the first set I have my thighs and calves at about 120 degrees, which is more difficult). Anyway, I then increase the number of reps in a set as I increase the weight (I’ll do 25 reps of “12” in each position, then do 35 reps of “13”, etc.) just to ensure that I’m not doing anything too strenuous with any stiff muscles. Now that I’m warmed up (am I? Is this a good regimen for warming up the muscles I want to work out—a few sets at manageable weights?) I can do 45 reps at “14” in each position. The last few I’m sort of straining, using a little bit of thigh and back and arm to finish that set, which tells me not to be doing any more reps at “14.” Is this a good standard of a maximum weight—-that weight that I can’t do any more of without “cheating” a little?

In my final two sets at the weights marked “15” and “16,” I have to do fewer reps (I can do 35 reps at “15” and 25 reps at “16”) so I do extra sets. I’ll repeat my “15” set twice, and my “16” set three times. Does this make sense? If so, do I want my ultimate goal to be working out as much as possible at the highest weight, even if that means I do fewer reps at that weight? Or, once I’m sure I’m thoroughly warmed up, should I still include lower weights (the “14”s and the “15"s) at which I can do more reps? Does this matter much? That is, as long as I’m doing a bunch of weights at close to my capacity at each one, am I getting basically the same workout? I guess I’m asking what’s more important, the number of reps or the number of sets, or both or neither? Remember, I’m not doing this particularly to gain strength or any sort of muscle definition (though I’ll accept those as by-products of working out, of course)—my main purpose here is to expend calories and improve my general fitness.

Anyway, if anyone knows about this stuff, I’ll be grateful for your input. (I’m doing this in my university gym, staffed by students, whose input I’d be very dubious about heeding–there are no trainers in this gym to consult, and I’m hoping the SDMB has better advice than a random stranger.) If you need more info, or if I’ve misused any terms (like “set” or ‘rep” which I’m using in a common sense kind of way—I think I’m using them correctly, but maybe not) please feel free to set me straight before I get too far in this regimen. Thanks.