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Strength Training Principles


Basic Knowlegde

Attending a gym or performing any other kind of strength training may have different reasons and motives. It can be health related to recover from an injury or to seek balance from the job or everyday life. Many people do it to look and therefore feel better. Athletes do it to improve their performance. They all have one thing in common. More or less everyoneīs intention is to build muscles. Not to the same extend, but the basic goal it to improve the status quo. And the first action you should take is to seek advise. Why? Because the field of strength training is too diverse and the preconditions of each person are very unique. It takes time and experience to find the training that fits one persons needs. Therefore especially beginners should either choose a personal trainer or attend a gym or other training facilities where they can consult trainers and various experts to support you and to offer the knowledge you need.


To make progress you have to train on a level that the body is not used to. There are three ways to push the training to the next level.
  • Beginners should first increase the training frequency, like working out twice per week instead of once and later switch to three regular workouts.
  • Next step is to increase training time or training volume. Do a few more sets or include one more exercises per muscle.
  • After accomplishing that, increase the training intensity by choosing higher resistance.
Of course, training frequency, time and volume are limited. A good workout takes no longer than 60-90 minutes, better 60 than 90. The training frequency is limited by the available time. Basically working out 2-4 times per week is absolutely enough. Therefore intensity becomes the point to focus on. The keywords here are overload (or training to failure) and periodization (explained hereinafter). Muscles do only respond to that, then adapt and eventually be prepared to do better next time.
training progression


Periodization is the subdivision any long-term training, called Macrocycle, into medium-term Mesocycles and these again into Microcycles.
duration6-12 month of training4-8 weeks of training one week of training
contentoverall training strategybasic training schedule short-term schedule

Scientific studies and experience showed, that after a period of 4-8 week of training the process of compensation slows down or even stagnates. That is the point to "surprise" muscles with a different intensity level and/or training technique.
repetitions per set1-56-88-12 (15)15-20+
Number of Sets2-42-33-43-4
Resting Time4-5+ min3-4 min2-3 min0,5-1 min
Training Volumelowmoderatehighhigh
Training Intensity90-100%80-90%70-80%50-60%


  • repetitions = number of repetitions per set
  • sets = number of sets per exercise
  • resting time = resting time between sets
  • volume = overall training volume (e.g. number of exercises)
  • intensity = percentage of max. weight per exercise
  • power = increasing max. strength
  • strength = increasing strength
  • hypertrophy = muscle growth
  • conditioning = muscular endurance


Failure means to train until you are unable to do one more repetition, without resting or being supported by a training partner. To reach that point, several procedures need to take place within muscles. Thatīs:
  • the fatigue of all recruited muscle fibers
  • the shortness of either oxygen or ATP (the muscleīs fuel)
  • the overproduction of waste products, in that case lactic acid
Donīt confuse this process with over-training that may occur after many sets far beyond the point of fatigue.


A set is a complete number of continuous reps. The performed number of sets depend very much on the individual training experience, time, training goal and physical factors such as recovery time. Beginners usually train 1-2 sets per exercise, while experienced athletes usually do 3-5 sets.


Repetitions in principle define the whole workout. A complete cycle of motion during an exercise is such a repetition. Several repetitions make out a set. During one repetition the muscle contracts and extends one time. The number of repetitions per set determines the following basic training layouts:
Number of RepetitionsTraining Type
1-3max. strength training
3-6 (8)strength training
8-12 (15)hypertrophy
Of course, these figures depend on many factors, but they represent science and experience and may be accepted as a reliable overview.

Resting Time

A training session has to run continuously. The breaks between each set should be as short as necessary. The following numbers give a good clue:
Number of RepetitionsResting Time
1-34-5+ min
3-6 (8)3-4 min
8-12 (15)2-3 min
15-20+0,5-1 min
Choosing over-extended resting times will decrease the training effect. After about five minutes heart rate, body temperature and metabolism are down. On the other hand donīt have too short breaks, because the muscles need a little rest to refuel. Also the training technique could suffer from an inappropriate hurry.

Motion Speed

Perform each repetition with modest speed, rather slow. In principle you should be able to stop immediately at any point throughout the range of motion.

Range of Motion

The range of motion (ROM) is an interesting and controversial point. While some prefer to do the complete range of motion from total contraction to total extension, others diminish it slightly to avoid extreme joint position where the bodyīs passive structures have to deal with unusual high forces and muscles may lose their contractile power. Most exercise instructions on sports-db.com refer to the latter way, because it is safer and equally or even more effective, because of the permanently and evenly high muscular tension.


Keep breathing. Donīt hold the breath, because it can cause enormously high blood pressure, which makes it harder for the heart to deliver blood. Remember that the body needs a lot of oxygen while working out. After all it is simple. Inhale prior to movement and exhale when working against resisting force. Donīt breathe too deeply, just natural with a little more force.

Warm Up

Warming up is important for the upcoming training performance. The benefits are:
  • fresh, oxygenated blood, pumped directly into the muscles
  • the removal of waste products out of the muscle
  • an increased body temperature
  • an improved metabolism
  • an appropriate preparation for the demands of heavy training
  • a protection against over-stressing the body
  • an increased speed of the twitching fibers inside muscle
  • a softening of muscles, tenons and ligaments
  • a good mental preparation and motivation.
Warming up should contain the following steps:
  • first, an overall cardiovascular warm-up on machines like treadmill, Cross Trainer, Ergo-meter or Row-Ergo-meter.
  • secondly, a local warm-up, training particular muscles with light weights, about 20 repetitions and without failure
  • thirdly, stretch the muscles you are about to train.
Keep the level of intensity low so you donīt decimate the body's energy beforehand.

Cool Down

After each workout have a short cool down to:
  • regulate the metabolism
  • get rid of waste products inside the muscles
  • decrease the recovery time between training days.
Cooling down basically follows the same rules as warming up.


Stretching is an important part of every workout, although itīs benefits are controversially discussed. However, the fact that when you train your muscles or keeping certain postures for a longer time, they tend to shorten donīt need to be proved by science, it is obvious. Therefore have a short stretching before and a more intense stretching after training.