Having a goal as vague as “lose weight” is a sure fire way to never reach that goal. Goals need to be specific. It also helps to have a vision of what you want to look like after your goal is met. “Lose weight” doesn’t say what you’re going to look like. Do you want a body of Halle Berry, or Rosie O’Donnell? For some people, Rosie’s body could be a step in the right direction, but I hope it isn’t anyone’s end goal.
The same applies to guys trying to gain weight. I’ll be honest – I’m no expert in losing weight. Frankly, I’ve never had to lose weight myself, so I’ve never put a lot of energy into studying it. I know enough to advise people, but not enough to go in depth. Gaining muscle, on the other hand, is something I know a lot more about. Just as “lose weight” is a vague goal, “gain weight” or “get stronger” is setting yourself up for failure.
For one thing, “gaining muscle” and “getting stronger” aren’t always the same thing. Decide what you specifically want to do, and focus on that. Sets & rep schemes, rest intervals, and % of 1RM, are all important factors in achieving your goal. Without going super in-depth, let’s go over some basics of designing a training program depending on your goal.
As I’ve already noted, if your goal is to gain strength you’re going to train differently than if your goal was muscle hypertrophy. If strength is your goal, first find out your 1 rep max (the heaviest weight you can lift for 1 full repetition). There are a number of formulas for doing this (just search Google), or you could spend a workout with trial and error. Work your way up to a weight that you can’t lift. Go down 10 lbs and, voila, you have your 1RM.
Once you have your 1RM for your 3 main lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press), take out your calculator and write down some basic lift numbers. You’re going to be sticking to low reps (1-5 reps), 5-8 sets, and 80%+ of your 1RM. Because the weight will be a high percentage of your 1RM, you won’t be doing 8-12 reps, but you can certainly bang out 5+ sets. For strength – keep the reps low, sets high, and percentage of 1RM high.
Muscle hypertrophy (gaining muscle) is slightly different. Again, you’ll need to find your 1RM for your three main lifts. Once you know your 1RM, grab that pen and paper, a calculator, and get down to business. Reps should be higher (8-12 reps), percentage of 1RM should be lower (60%), and sets should be about the lower (3-4 sets). Although the weight isn’t as high, you’ll be pushing out more reps and often times going almost to failure.
Now, weight training can also be used for endurance. In this case you’ll keep the reps very high (20+ reps), the percentage very low (40-50%), and the sets high (8+ sets). This would be important if you are in a sport that requires power on a steady basis – soccer for instance. Pure strength would be more applicable to football, where short bursts of a lot of power are the norm.
Your training should change depending on your goal. If you want to gain muscle, lose fat, gain strength, or build endurance, use a few basic guidelines and design a program that will help you reach your goal. Make your goal specific, and have a vision in mind. All of this will help lead you to your goal, and hopefully prevent you from having the exact same new year’s resolution in 2013.