1. How much should I start lifting?
You want to start with lighter weights – or even bodyweight movements – and get a better understanding of how to move your body. This is especially true if you’ve never trained before or haven’t played sport.
Focus on learning to move better, then when you’re stable and you have no postural issues (no rounded back, proper alignment of joints, and other indicators of proper technique), you should begin loading slowly.
It’s popular to begin with an empty barbell or light dumbbells and add weight every session until it’s difficult to continue. Exercise machines are not a replacement for free weights but offer a simple way to load slowly.
2. How should I structure a training session?
An exercise session comes with a few parts, and should look something like this:
- Warm-up (dynamic stretching, light cardio, perhaps some foam rolling)
- Strength exercises
- Cardiovascular exercise
- Cool-down (dynamic stretching, static stretching, light cardio, more foam rolling)
This ensures you are least-tired during the most challenging and heavily-loaded aspect of your training. Fatigue is associated with injury risk, so get your weight training in first and finish off with your cardio and any “prehab” exercises.
3. High or low rep sets?
This depends on your goals, but you should always have a mixture of both. High-rep sets (8-12) are important to build muscular endurance and strength, while lower-rep sets (1-6) are important for building strength and power.
Both build muscle mass, so the best approach is often to have at least one day per week dedicated to high-rep training and then another that is dedicated to lower-rep, heavier weight training. This balances volume and intensity, as they’re called, and builds balanced results.
4. Does muscle damage cause gains?
No – muscle damage is not how muscle grows. Rather, muscle damage and muscle gains are produced by the same things: loading of the muscle fibres and metabolic changes that happen during exercise.
The goal is to reduce the amount of muscle damage and increase the amount of muscle growth. Muscle damage doesn’t have a defined benefit, but it definitely reduces performance and causes muscle soreness – both bad!
5. Long or short rest between sets?
We used to think shorter rest periods were great for building muscle, but this is actually false. Longer rest periods allow us to lift more weight for more reps, and it increases muscle growth when all other things are equal.
This can be challenging if you’re on a tight schedule, but if you can spend 2-3 minutes resting between sets you’ll see better strength and size gains.
If you’re training for endurance, this doesn’t quite count – as you’re training to be good at resting for a short period of time – but for strength and size, longer rests are the way to go.
6. Does the pump build muscle?
The pump is the feeling of tightness and fullness you experience after high-rep weight training. Do 4 sets of 12 on bicep curls and you’ll know the feeling!
While bodybuilders once considered this to be the feeling of muscles growing, we know now that it’s not directly related to muscle gains. However, performing pump work after your heavier lifts is one way you can boost your recovery and muscle growth – but it doesn’t work by itself.
Make sure to put your lower-rep strength work first and then finish off with any higher-repetition pump work to finish off, boost your recovery, and make the most gains.
7. Do I need DOMS to make gains?
DOMS often come from a new stimulus – something you’ve not done before, or not to the same extent – which can often bring positive results.
However, you don’t need to achieve muscle soreness to improve growth and the more often you train something, the less soreness you’ll experience. Soreness is more often associated with muscle damage than muscle growth, and it feels pretty uncomfortable.
If you’re experiencing major DOMS, you need to increase your protein intake, eat more calories altogether, or train that movement more often so your body can adapt to it.
8. HIIT or LISS?
These are two types of cardio: high-intensity interval training and low-intensity steady state.
There’s a lot of discussion on which is best (because humans like to argue over these things) but there isn’t really a clear answer. Rather, it depends on your situation and goals.
If you’re looking for strength and power performance, you want to go for HIIT as it’s more specific to your goals and will push the muscles towards fast-twitch performance, while LISS is better for those who are trying to build muscular endurance.
Overall, they burn similar amounts of fat but HIIT does it faster. Many people talk about how many calories you burn after HIIT (which is greater) but it balances out with LISS – if you’re trying to increase your post-exercise calorie use, weight training is actually the best choice.
9. How often should I train [body part]?
A minimum of 2 times a week, and the maximum doesn’t really exist depending on how much weight you use and how many reps you perform.
Performing less than 2 sessions a week for any given body part is going to mean sub-optimal results and a much-increased experience of muscle soreness when you do train again.
10. How do I prevent injuries?
Injuries tend to result from imbalanced demands on a joint. This is often the result of tightness in one muscle and weakness in the opposite muscle (such as the chest and upper back muscles).
The first step is improving mobility (see below), balancing your posture and strengthening weak muscles to ensure you’re protected.
Once you’ve done this, build more muscle around the joint: it acts as a shock absorber and stabilises the joint during movement, as well as strengthening tendons.
Our final key tip is to always focus on movement quality. The way you move during exercise is important – bad form will boost the risk of injury, while good technique (especially in the shoulders, core and hips) reduces the risk of injury in and out of training.
11. How do I improve flexibility/mobility for lifting?
Mobility is a complicated subject, but improving your mobility is rather simple. It starts and ends with using the full range of movement as often as possible – if you don’t use it, you will lose it.
Step one: move through the full range of motion more often, with a focus on control in the joints.
Step two: stretch, foam roll, and perform slow-eccentric exercises with the tight muscles.
Step three: strengthen the muscle and the one that does the opposite movement.
Step four: always perform full-range exercises with a focus on control and proper technique.
Step five: slowly load the position and continue to practice all of the above steps.
12. What is Overtraining? How do I know if I’m overtraining?
Overtraining is when you exercise more than you can recover from. This is a big, complicated question that involves everything from lifestyle stress to diet to your training program. You’ll know you’re overtraining when you start being unable to perform things you used to be able to do.
Other indicators include waking up often in the night, constant fatigue (even after restful sleep) and excessive muscle soreness. You can combat overtraining by improving your diet, reducing your training volume, or improving other recovery factors (like sleeping more, etc.).