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Weight Lifting Routine Basics

How many days a week?

There is not a straight forward simple answer to this question. It really all comes down to two things:

How many days can you realistically devote to lifting weights?

How much improvement are you really looking to get from your program?

Before we address these two questions let me first say that lifting weights once a week is probably not enough and four or five times a week might be a little too much (especially for a beginner). That leaves us with 2 or 3 times a week. As you can probably imagine, 2 times a week is good but 3 times a week is better. This is of course assuming that you are training every body part during each workout. Some people prefer to train 1 or 2 body parts a day. There are good and bad points to this. The good thing is that since you are only training 1 or 2 body parts (an example would be training your chest and triceps) you can really do a lot of exercises for each body part. The bad thing is that if you train 2 body parts per work out, and since there are 6 major body parts (chest, back, triceps, biceps, shoulders, and legs), even if you work out 3 times a week you will only be able to train each body part once.

That's why I recommend training every body part, every work out. This way you'll be training every body part at least twice or maybe even three times a week. The most bang for your buck. So, getting back to the issue of how many days a week. If you have the time and you are really looking to see some changes in your body, I definitely say go for 3 times a week. With that said, if you really aren't sure about the time issue and if you are a beginner, start out at 2 times a week. This will give you a chance to ease into it. Once you're comfortable, in a routine, and you find that you have time to add an extra day, then consider bumping it up to 3 times a week.

How many sets and repetitions?

Let's first start out by explaining what sets and repetitions are. When you do any particular exercise, let's say the arm curl, each time you curl the weight up and bring it back down would be considered a repetition. Now let's say you did 12 repetitions, took a break for 1 minute, then did another 12 repetitions. You would have done 2 sets of 12 repetitions. Simple, right? What sometimes seems confusing for some people is that they think they should do a certain number of sets and reps (reps is short for repetitions). The fact is that there is no certain number of sets and reps that you should be doing. It will probably vary from time to time, based on your goals. The one BIG mistake a lot of people make is doing too many repetitions.

Often times at the gym I'll see someone doing 20 or 30 reps. Now like I said, there is a place for that depending on your goals. Certain sports require extensive muscular endurance, in which case you should do a lot of reps. But your goal is to lose weight, get stronger, and change your body. So the best way to achieve that is to lift a weight that is heavy enough to fatigue your muscles between 8 and 12 reps. Remember, YOU WILL NOT GET BULKY! Okay, so what if you can lift a weight for 13, 14, or 15 reps and beyond? Very simple. Just increase the weight slightly and that will get you into the 8 to 12 rep range.

How many sets should I do?

Same thing applies here as it does to the number of reps; nothing is set in stone. I can give you a recommendation though. 1 set is definitely not enough and depending on how much time you have to exercise, 4 or 5 sets might be too time consuming. If you are first starting out, I would say do 2 sets for each exercise. Just like with the number of days you are lifting, it's a good way to ease into it. Also, starting out right away with 3 sets will probably leave you feeling very sore for the first week or so. And just like with the days of the week, a good goal to shoot for is to work your way up to 3 sets. This will make sure you are working your muscles to fatigue, and that's when you will really start to notice some changes. And again, you'll see as you get into it more and more, you might want to challenge yourself and add in a 4th or 5th set on some exercises. This ties in nicely to our 3rd question.

When do I change my routine?

Never! Just kidding. That's actually another big mistake that a lot of people make. They do the same thing over and over again, day in and day out. That will work for a beginner just starting out, and you will see some improvement, but after about 6 to 8 weeks you will start to plateau. Your muscles need to be challenged or "shocked" in order to stimulate them. On the other hand, you also want your muscles to adapt and improve to the increasing weight. By that I mean you want to give your muscles a chance to get stronger and you want to be able to increase the weights on the same exercise and see what the most weight is that you can actually lift on that same exercise. For that reason you don't want to change your routine every time either. "So what's the bottom line then? How often should I change my routine?"

A good rule of thumb to follow is to keep your routine relatively the same for about 6 to 8 weeks, then make some changes. "What exactly do you mean by change the routine?" The best way to change your routine is to do totally different exercises. Let's say for example that for your leg muscles you've been doing leg presses, lunges and leg extensions. For a complete change you can now do squats, leg curls, and abduction (for the outer thigh). Other changes include; changing from using a free weight to a machine for a particular exercise.
doing 4 or 5 sets instead of 3.
switching the order of your exercises. Instead of training your chest, back, biceps, shoulders, legs and triceps, you can do just the reverse. Triceps, legs, shoulders, etc.


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