Many have heard the myth that strength training may increase their blood pressure. It’s just not true. Every adult should have his or her doctor’s approval before starting a strength program, but properly performed strength exercise is similar to aerobic activity in terms of blood pressure response. That is, systolic pressure increases about 35 to 50 percent during the exercise and returns quickly to resting levels after the session.
More importantly, studies show that several weeks of strength training result in significant reductions in resting blood pressure. So sensible strength training–by itself or in combination with endurance exercise—actually has benefits.
Fear of increasing bodyweight is another reason many adults avoid strength exercise. They mistakenly believe that weight training is synonymous with weight gain. It is true that strength training adds muscle, but this is actually the best way to lose fat.
In fact, strength exercise has a threefold impact on fat reduction. It increases calorie use during training and for several hours following exercise. It also increases calorie use all day by adding new muscle tissue. Every pound of new muscle uses about 35 calories each day just for tissue maintenance.
There are even more health-related reasons to do strength exercise. Increased bone density, improved glucose metabolism, faster gastrointestinal transit, better blood lipid levels, reduced low back pain, and less arthritic discomfort.
Perhaps the most prevalent misunderstanding about strength training, particularly for those who would like to do it, is the time requirement. Many simply do not have time to do the multiple-set workouts they have been told are necessary. Fortunately, time-efficient single-set training can be just as productive as time-consuming multiple-set training when performed properly.
Two separate studies have found that one-set training and three-set training are equally effective for increasing upper-and lower-body strength. If training time is limited, it is good to know that single-set strength exercise is just as productive as multiple-set workouts.
The exercise resistance should be high enough to produce a high rate of strength development and low enough to pose a low risk of injury. Empirical evidence clearly indicates that using 75 percent of maximum resistance meets both of these training criteria.
Research indicates that most people can complete eight to 12 controlled repetitions with 75 percent of their maximum resistance. Generally speaking, if you cannot perform at least eight repetitions the resistance may be too heavy, and if you can complete more than 12 repetitions the resistance may be too light. Working within the eight to 12 repetition range is recommended for safe and effective muscle development.
Every strength-training program needs a protocol for progressing to heavier workloads. While it is important to increase the exercise resistance periodically, it is equally important to do so gradually.
A safe and productive progression is known as the “12 by 5” rule. That is, whenever you can complete 12 repetitions of an exercise in good form, you increase the resistance by 5 percent or less. The “12 by 5” procedure adds small but frequent weight load increments to progressively challenge the muscular system.
Unfortunately, there is little consensus on the best training speed for strength development. Some research indicates that slow movement may be preferred over quick, because a slow speed produces less momentum and more muscle tension. At six seconds each, eight to 12 repetitions require about 50 to 70 seconds of continuous muscle effort, which provides an excellent anaerobic stimulus for muscle building.
Full-range muscle strength is best developed through full-range exercise movements. In other words, the training effect is greatest within the exercised portion of the joint movement range.
Full-range strength reduces injury risk and increases performance potential. Try to perform each repetition through a full range of movement, but never to a position of discomfort.
Contributing blogger Troy Meyers is a certified personal trainer and sports conditioner with more than 10 years of experience. He owns Atlanta-based JockBoyLocker.com and contributes to the site’s Lockerroom Blog.