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08.01.2010


Optimal resistance training: choose weights according to your energy level

The most effective way to do resistance training is to use a schedule in which you train using different weights each day. On one day you train for example with weights at which you can manage no more than 6 reps, and in the next session you use weights with which you can manage 15 reps. In an article soon to be published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, sports scientists at St Francis College in New York describe a method that works even better.

The least effective way of training is to follow the same routine every session. Your muscles become so familiar with the training stimulus that they no longer react.

A better method is linear periodising. A simple way of doing this is to increase the number of reps you do with the same weight by one each training session, until you can do say 20 reps. Then you take a heavier weight and start the whole cycle over again.

Linear periodising works, but an even better method is non-linear training. This is also called undulating periodising. This method of training surprises the muscles, as each session involves a different rep-range. You do use a scheme though, so that you don't unintentionally end up forgetting to cover a particular rep-range. The training method that the New Yorkers refer to in their article is a variation on the non-linear training method.

The researchers carried out a study on 16 students. Half of them followed a non-linear schedule, and the other half did 'flexible non-linear periodisation', as the researchers call it. To do this, the students first decided what condition they were in before each training session. Had they slept well? Had they eaten well? Were they under stress? After answering a series of this kind of question, the students decided what weights they would use. If they were feeling energetic they chose an RM that required a lot of energy. If they were feeling less energetic they chose a different RM.

None of the test subjects had done strength training before. They trained twice a week for 12 weeks, and covered all large muscle groups each session. The non-linear group got to train equally frequently with weights at which they could manage no more than 10, 15 or 20 reps. The researchers made sure that the flexible group also did the same amount of 10RM, 15RM and 20RM sessions as the non-flexible linear group. If a subject used up 'all' his 10RM training sessions at the start, for example, he was only able to do 15RM and 20RM training sessions for the rest of the training period.

The table below shows the 1RM for both groups and the distance the subjects managed in the long jump after 12 weeks.


Optimal resistance training: choose weights according to your energy level


The flexible group was stronger than the non-flexible group. Before the experiment started both groups were equally strong, the researchers write. However, the only statistically significant result was the difference in the 1RM for the leg-press between the two groups. In the non-linear group the average increase was 16 kg. In the flexible non-linear group the increase was 62 kg.


Optimal resistance training: choose weights according to your energy level


For those who are interested in experimenting with the flexible training method the researchers have some useful advice: "It should be noted that this system of training is not used to avoid high stress workouts", they write. "Instead it is used strategically to time the more intense workouts appropriately so the body is able to efficiently exploit the principle of adaptation, resulting in a higher level of functioning and performance."

Source:
J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Oct 24. [Epub ahead of print].

More:
Optimal strength training: alternate heavy and light days 06.01.2010
Training with different weights each week works fastest 06.10.2009