Facts and Fallacies: Resistance Training and Body Composition
Sunday, September 25, 2011
LifeTime WeightLoss in Exercise, Jason Stella, resistance training

Written by: Jason Stella, Program Manager, Life Time Academy, CPT

Have you ever heard the term “Gym Science” Gym science is the term used for so called proven philosophies about exercise that are derived more from folklore at the gym, than in actual science.  This series of articles is planned to help you understand where these commonly held beliefs come from and to inform you about the reality of what you need to do to get results from your workouts.  So let’s get right to it! 

Hands down, the most commonly used phrases in the gym are:

“If I lift heavy weights, I am going to get big,” and “I have to lift light weights and more repetitions so I don’t get big.”

Let’s set the story straight. These statements have some validity.  It’s the misinterpretation of them that pose the issue and are the biggest reasons why people do not get sustained results when using resistance training for body composition.

In order to understand where the misinterpretation occurs, I’ll start by explaining the most important principle behind any exercise routine: The “Principle of Specificity.  This is also referred to as the S.A.I.D. Principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands). What it means is that the body will adapt to whatever stress you impose on it. Yes, exercise is a stress!  Now let’s talk about how one manipulates the demand placed on the body.

Listed below are five key terms that fitness professionals use to design a program;

  1. Repetitions:  The number of times you perform an exercise
  2. Volume (Reps + Sets): The total number of repetitions completed throughout the workout session
  3. Time under tension: The total duration of time the muscles stays under tension during a set
  4. Load: The external force being applied to the muscles during an exercise
  5. Rest intervals: The amount of down time between sets

Now that we have described these vital components of a quality workout program, I want to break down were the “Gym Science” comes from. It starts with the question What dictates if a weight is heavy or not?”  It’s not the number listed on the piece of equipment (load) you are using.  That number is relative, based on each individual, but is always based on the same thing —the number of repetitions you can perform at that load to failure. 

That said, if you can lift 2000 pounds 10-15 times, then the weight is not heavy  Likewise, if you can only lift 1 pound, one time, then that weight is heavy!  So, rule number one.  Do not get caught up on the number listed on the piece of equipment, because it doesn’t dictate how heavy the resistance is.   

What dictates how heavy the load is, and ultimately the specific result you will achieve is the number of repetitions to failure.

Here is another example.  Someone starts their training program using 30 pounds for a particular exercise.  Six months later, they are still using the same pounds on that exercise. His or her perception is that 40 or 50 pounds is heavy and if they life that weight they will get burly.

Going back to the previously mentioned, Principle of Specificity.  It states your body will respond to the stress you place on it.  So the weight you choose for 15 repetitions when you started working out should not be the same weight you are using for 15 repetitions 6-8 weeks later.  You have to keep changing the stress you place on the body or you will not give it a reason to continually change.

For beginners (less than one year of training experience), the main reason someone will be able to increase the load fairly quickly is not because the muscles are getting bigger. It is because the nervous system is starting to function more efficiently to the muscles being stressed. This increase in neuromuscular efficiency is why you typically can see a large increase the load in a relatively short period of time (in beginners).    

In closing, please remember these two statements:

  1. The repetitions to failure is what dictates if a load is heavy, not the number on the weight.
  2. The number of repetitions to failure is going to be one of the main factors that will determine the response your body will have. (We will discuss the other factors in the next article.)

Be sure to follow facts around resistance training and get ready to see consistent results with your workouts!

Post questions and comments below.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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