You’re ready to strength train. Congratulations! You are going to reap all the great benefits strength training provides including stronger muscles, a faster metabolism, better body composition, and stronger bones. (Not to mention a more toned, sculpted appearance!)
But when it’s time to get started with strength training, you can often be left wondering where to begin. One of the most common questions people have when they first start strength training is what muscle groups to train together and how often to train each one? Let’s start by looking at the basic minimum guidelines given by The American College of Sports Medicine (“ACSM”):
- Do some kind of strength training a minimum of twice a week.
- Healthy adults perform at least one set of 8-12 repetitions
- 8-10 exercises should be performed to target the major muscle groups: Chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, abdomen, quadriceps and hamstrings
Also remember that you need 48 hours of rest for any muscle you are training. Beyond that, how you go about it can vary. So here are a few popular options of muscle groups to work together:
- Chest and back
- Quads and hamstrings
- Biceps/triceps and shoulders
Now check out some popular options to work these muscles and be on your way to building a stronger body!
Option 1: Training Opposing Muscle Groups
One of the most common ways to lift weights and certainly a favorite of weight lifters everywhere is to train opposing muscle groups. These opposing muscles are also called agonist and antagonists. Simply put, you are working both the front and the back part of one particular area of the body on the same day.
The goal is to train the opposing muscle groups in the same session. And because you need 48 hours of rest for the muscle you work, it is convenient to follow up the next day with a different part of the body.
Sample schedule: (for training 4 days a week)
Monday: Chest/Back Day
Tuesday: Quads/Hamstring, Abdominals
Thursday: Bicep/Tricep and Shoulders
The next week on Monday you would stay in the rotation and be back to Quads/Hamstrings, Abdominals. Etc.
Benefits to this method:
- Work it to the max: One of the first things weight lifters will tell you about this training style is that you are able to lift to your maximum capability for the particular muscle you are working in that session. You can’t do the same when you work related muscle groups in the same session or even if you are trying to fit the entire body into one workout. By taking one area and focusing your time there, you can really get results.
- Higher rate of return: A study done by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that you receive greater muscle activation in the agonist when you work or at least actively stretch the antagonist in the same session. In short, this means your chest press is going to be stronger after doing a mid-back pull.
- Balance: Not the kind you do in yoga. This is the kind of balance that keeps everything even. Training opposing muscle groups ensures you work both sides of the body evenly, keeping everything in balance
Of course a downside to this type of training is that unless you lift 5-6 days per week, you only get to use each muscle group once per week. Still, strength training is accomplished and that is what matters most!
Option 2: Supersetting
Supersetting is a technique by which you perform two exercises back to back with no rest in between. It can be a very challenging but rewarding way to strength train because it helps you reap so many benefits in a short amount of time. Given the challenge to continue moving from one thing to another without rest, supersetting is not usually recommended for beginners. Try this technique once you’ve had some experience with strength training. Supersetting can be done with any exercises but for the purposes of this article let’s take a look at the benefits of training the same muscle group with two exercises in a row.
Sample Schedule: (for training 3 days in a week)
- Bench Press/Chest Fly (rest 2 min, repeat 3 times)
- Barbell Squat/Clean and Press: (rest 2 min./repeat 3 times)
- Mid-Back Seated Row/Lat Pull Down (rest 2 min., repeat 3 time
- Deadlift/Hamstring Curl: (rest 2 min., repeat 2 times)
- Front Raise/Side Raise (rest 2 min., repeat 3 times
- Plank hold/Abdominal Bend & Extend (rest 2 min, repeat 3 times)
Benefits To This Method:
- Better muscle structure: For supersetting, using two exercises for the same muscle group gives you the unique benefit of getting different muscle fibers from different angles for more evenly worked muscles overall. For instance, you perform a bench press for the pectorals and then go immediately to a chest fly for the same muscles. The muscles in the bench press don’t have time to rest before starting another element and more muscle fibers to the equation. This works the entire chest in its entirety.
- Torch fat and calories: Supersets constantly stimulate your muscles which will help increase Lactic Acid production which helps boost your Growth Hormone (GH) levels in your body. You want this whether you are a man or a woman, because GH is a fat loss and muscle-building hormone. This kind of activity spikes your metabolism so that you are burning more calories throughout the day. In addition, this type of training keeps your heart rate elevated, helping you burn more calories overall. That is why, according to an article in Human Kinetics, supersetting is the method of choice for those looking to add a cardiorespiratory element into their weight training for increased calorie burning and better overall conditioning.
- Time saver: With this kind of training you’ll need less time to get to your goal in a workout. By doing your moves back to back you can get the work in using less precious time.
Option 3: Whole Body Training Split
Perhaps the most popular and commonly-used technique for the average person looking to gain strength and shape is the Whole Body Training Split. This method has you train the whole body each time you workout. This technique is more commonly used in group training sessions or in guided workout videos.
Here are a few great examples of whole body weight training:
Benefits To This Method:
- Fat-burning power: Similar to supersetting, this kind of activity helps stimulate muscle growth by keeping the muscle-growth genes constantly turned on. This means more fat burning overall.
- Multi-joint exercises: This type of training allows for multi-joint exercises that incorporate both lower and upper body. For example, rather than a lunge, you can do a lunge to overhead press. Multi-joint movements make your body work harder, increase your heart rate and spike your metabolism so that you are burning more calories throughout the day.
- Training opportunities: Finally, because this training style allows for getting the entire body in one session, you can get everything worked multiple times each week. You can virtually train this way every other day.
There you go. Three different training styles used by personal trainers everywhere. Keep in mind that these are popular, but may not necessarily be right for you. Other options might be to hire a trainer, go to a group fitness strength class, use online options such as our GetHealthyU Back To Basics Total Body Muscle Workout or try a GHU TV guided online workout such as the Total Body Firm Up. Do whatever works for your lifestyle. Here’s to a stronger you!