The Truth: All Strength Training Is Not Created Equal

strength training

Strength training, as you know, is an important part of a well-balanced fitness regime. But all strength training is not created equal. The types of equipment you choose to use, how you sequence the exercises together, the number of sets, repetitions, rest, and amount of weight you use will certainly affect the outcome of your training. That why it’s important to understand the different options and the outcomes associated, to make the best choice for you! (But don’t worry; if it’s hard to grasp all this or decide what’s right for your goals, you can always ask an Anytime Fitness trainer for advice.)

Your Equipment Choices

Selectorized Strength Equipment

strength machineSelectorized equipment has a weight stack with a pin to select the load (or weight) for the exercise. Most gyms have a variety of selectorized equipment to offer a full-body workout. The machines are designed to provide support and “guide” you through the exercise, so they’re a perfect place to begin if you’re new to weight training. The weight stack is easily adjustable and can be increased in small increments. The exercises are pretty straightforward, and if you position yourself properly on the machine (ask for help if you’re unsure!), the motion helps guide proper execution. It’s easy to get a time-efficient, full body workout using selectorized equipment. Here’s a great workout if you want to get started on these machines.

Free Weights

free weightsDumbbells, handweights, freeweights… they’re all the same thing! That rack of weights in the club may seem daunting because it doesn’t come with instructions, but it’s a great way to condition your muscles from head to toe. Depending on the set-up, free weights can range in weight from 1 pound to hundreds of pounds, and usually get bigger by 2.5 or 5-pound increments. Free weights are extremely versatile and have the added benefit of requiring more muscles to work together to achieve the exercise. Unlike selectorized machines, you are not guided to execute the exercise, nor supported. Therefore, your muscles must stabilize and work together, which gives you a bigger return on your investment. Give this dumbbell workout a try to see what I mean.

Functional Training Equipment

battle ropesLastly, there are all the other fun toys you might see around the club! Functional training equipment such as kettlebells, TRX or suspension trainers, sandbags, medicine balls, tubing, BOSU Balance Trainers, stability balls, and pulley systems are more readily available now than ever before. Functional equipment allows you to move in unique ways and requires the core to stabilize and/or produce power. Not all functional training equipment will overload the body in the same way, but you should aim to incorporate it when you can. Your biggest benefit? The exercises typically associated with functional equipment are more integrated, and instead of targeting a specific muscle group, they get the full body firing as a unit. Of course, a functional training workout can also include free weights, but the exercises might look a bit different.

Main Programming Options

Once you know what tools you can use for strength training, it’s also important to understand the various ways you can design your routine.

Body Parts

Many people approach strength training from a body-part perspective. Some prefer to train all muscle groups in a single session (one or multiple times each week), while others like to separate out body parts on different days. Both options can result in muscular strength and muscular endurance gains. However, muscle group “specific” routines typically take a bit more time, because more exercises are required to cover all muscle groups independently. The singular muscle group focus also means the exercises used tend to burn less calories, which may present a problem if you are short on time and interested in fat loss. If this is the case and you still want to divide up the body, you’ll want to decrease rest between sets and move quickly from exercise to exercise. You’ll also want to be sure you lift the most weight you can without compromising form, to increase the overall intensity. If you’re interested in training primarily for strength gains or muscle mass, and you have plenty of time, you’ll want to use multiple sets, lower repetitions, and higher weight, with adequate rest between sets and exercises.

Functional

functional training approach treats the body as a whole versus breaking it down into individual parts. Instead of choosing a body part, you focus on the primary movements of the body pushing (up and out), pulling (down or in), or knee-dominant movements and hip-dominant movements. These types of movements target the bigger muscle groups and more synergistic muscles are required to execute them, therefore elevating the heart rate. If exercises are linked together with little rest or you combine the upper and lower body movements together, you can check both metabolic conditioning and total body conditioning off your list in one workout. How great is that?! And don’t worry, your strength gains will still come (assuming proper overload), but your body will also learn to move better, which enhances your everyday living. Don’t forget: Since multiple muscles are targeted at once, your workouts won’t have to last as long, either.

The Cold, Hard Truth

Strength training is an important component of any weight loss program, but also necessary for longevity. As we age, our muscles begin to deteriorate if we don’t work them, so we must find a way to get strength training in whenever and however we can. Even though all strength training is not created equal, any approach is better than none. Five minutes a day or one hour three times a week, light weights with high reps or heavy weights with multiple sets, machines or functional equipment; the approach might give you different results in the end, but all will help keep you moving for years to come—which is most important!

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Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is a fitness business and programming consultant who has helped impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, Schwinn®, Power Systems, ACE, and BOSU® over the last 20 years. As an experienced educator and certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach, she helps fitness entrepreneurs navigate the industry and make more money. Fable, a member of the ACE Board of Directors, is the owner of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool, and Balletone®.