The basics of strength training

Before you really get started, you should familiarize yourself with the basics of strength training. This is the only way to train effectively, without risk of injury and without frustration.


The basics of strength training – Effects of strength training on the organism

Strength training has numerous positive effects that go far beyond the actual purpose of gaining strength and building muscle.
For this reason alone, you should opt for it.

But what are these effects?

  • Depending on the type of training:
    • Increasing maximum strength enables you to move heavy loads, increases joint stability and improves results in many competitive sports, as there is a close relationship between maximum strength and explosive strength.
    • The training of strength endurance causes increased resistance of the muscles to fatigue during everyday loads.
    • Improvements in explosive strength: This has less effect in everyday life than in other sports, e.g. sprinting, throwing, hitting, etc.
  • Strength gain means (increasingly with higher age) longer independence, injury prevention and a gain in quality of life.
  • Regaining abilities or reducing limitations in medical rehabilitation.
  • Possible improvement of the condition in chronic pain.
  • The bone, triggered by the tensile and compressive stresses acting on it via the muscles and gravity during strength training, increases its mineral density and diameter. This results in increased bone strength and stability and therefore osteoporosis prevention.
  • Increasing the strength, diameter and thereby the stability of tendons
  • Relief of the intervertebral discs
  • Strengthening of the cardiovascular system
    • (Slight) increase in oxygen transport capacity
    • Lowering the resting pulse
    • Despite the temporarily high blood pressure values that can occur during a workout, strength training leads to a long-term reduction of the blood pressure.
    • Beneficial influence on cholesterol levels: total cholesterol and (the harmful) LDL cholesterol decrease. This leads to a reduction in the risk of atherosclerosis.
  • Sports and moderate strength training have a beneficial effect on brain performance.
  • Optimization of posture through correction of muscular imbalances
  • Possible increase in mobility.
  • Improvement of coordination and body control.
  • Maybe: Establishing and maintaining social contacts (training partners).
  • Last but not least: Strength training causes a growth in the thickness of the muscles, a reduction in the percentage of body fat and increases the energy consumption of the body. This benefits the good look and thereby the self-confidence and charisma.

The basics of strength training – The 5 basic motor skills

There are five basic motor skills, all of which have a more or less direct influence on performance and can be influenced by specific training:

  • strength,
  • endurance,
  • agility,
  • coordination and
  • speed

Only when all of these five basic motor skills are sufficiently developed peak physical performance can be achieved.

Strength is particularly needed when working with weights, endurance is required for sports such as cycling, jogging or swimming. Speed is required, for example, in sprinting or many athletics and ball sports. Good joint agility and the ability to stretch ligaments and tendons are important in gymnastics or even martial arts. Coordination is needed to perform movements in a targeted manner while maintaining balance. So it is useful in all sports.


The muscle & muscular tissue

Muscle tissue is divided into three types according to physiological characteristics and function.

One distinguishes:

  • Smooth muscle
    The so-called smooth muscle tissue consists of long, spindle-shaped, mostly unbranched cells, with elongated nuclei located in the center. This muscle tissue functions slowly and completely involuntarily, i.e., the human being does not need to activate or tense it voluntarily. It is found in the vascular walls and especially in the internal organs (except the heart).
  • Skeletal muscle
    Skeletal muscles are attached to bones and very well supplied with blood. They are responsible for skeletal movements and must always be activated at will.
  • Cardiac muscle
    The cardiac musculature is a special form of the sceletal muscles. The difference is that, like smooth muscle, it is under control of the autonomic nervous system.
The three types of muscular tissue
The three types of muscular tissue

A muscle consists of many muscle fiber bundles. These muscle fiber bundles are made up of muscle fibers (muscle cells). A muscle fiber consists of so-called myofibrils and these in turn of thousands of so-called sarcomeres connected in series. Sarcomeres consist of thick (myosin) and thin (actin) filaments (thin, filamentous cell structures). The sarcomeres are the smallest contractile (tensing) units.

The structure of a skeletal muscle in detail
The structure of a skeletal muscle in detail

Muscle Growth – Muscle hypertrophy

Muscle hypertrophy is the increase in muscle diameter caused by growth in the thickness of muscle fibers. However, the number of muscle cells does not change. Muscle hypertrophy only occurs when the muscles are stressed beyond their normal performance level, which triggers a so-called growth stimulus, which leads in turn to increased protein storage.


Phases of movement

Concentric phase

In the so-called concentric phase (alternative names: positive-dynamic phase, overcoming phase), the tension within the muscle changes and the muscle shortens – in the process, the origin and attachment of the muscle approach each other.

Eccentric phase

During the so-called eccentric phase (alternative names: negative-dynamic phase, yielding phase), changes in tension and lengthening or stretching of the muscles occur.

Isometric phase

In the so-called isometric phase (alternative designations: static phase, static-holding phase), a change in tension occurs within the muscle without a change in the length of the muscle, i.e. the muscle does not shorten at all or only minimally (hardly visible visually).


Strength, what is it?

When it comes to strength training, strength can be defined as follows: Muscle strength is the ability of the nerve-muscle system to overcome or counteract resistance.

A distinction is made according to three basic capabilities in terms of strength:

  • Maximum Strength
    Maximal strength is the maximum strength that a person’s neuromuscular system is capable of exerting at will against a resistance. It depends on muscle cross-section and intermuscular and intramuscular coordination.
  • Explosive Strength
    Explosive strength is the ability of the nerve-muscle system to move the entire body or body parts (e.g., an arm) as well as objects (e.g., a ball) at maximum speed. Explosiv strength training is primarily performed to improve performance within specific sports.
  • Reactive strength
    Reactive strength refers to the ability to develop a high, maximum force impact within the so-called stretch-shortening cycle of the muscles.
  • Strength endurance
    “Strength endurance is the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce as large a sum of impulses as possible in a defined period of time (no longer than 2 minutes at maximum workload) against higher loads (more than 30% of maximum force) while keeping the reduction of produced impulses as small as possible in the course of the load.”

    Or more simply: Strength endurance is the ability of your body to withstand a static or dynamic load for as long as possible.

    Strength endurance training represents the most important form of strength training when muscle maintenance and general prevention are the main focus.

The basics of strength training – Planning your training

The foundation of any effective workout is thorough planning. So before you start, you should be clear about the following points:

  • What do you want to achieve?
    Do you want to improve your maximum strength, explosive strength or muscular endurance, rehabilitate from an injury or just get fitter? And in which league do you want to play; amateur, competitive, high performance sports?
  • What are your starting conditions?
    This is an honest assessment of your current maximum strength, explosive strength, muscular endurance and overall physical fitness that will form the basis of your training plan. But also gender, age, resilience, recovery ability, personality, disposition/talent and physique play a role.
  • How much time do you want to or can you invest in your training?
    This applies to the individual workouts as well as to the long-term time horizon.
  • Where do you want to train? And what equipment do you have at your disposal?
    In a studio, at home, on the street?

If you are an experienced athlete yourself, you can assess and plan for these factors yourself.
If you are a beginner, you are best advised to seek the help of a professional in planning your training: your (sports) doctor, a (certified) trainer or at least an experienced colleague you can trust.


The basics of strength training – The principle of supercompensation & recovery

The principle of supercompensation (super = excessive, compensate = balance) states that after an intensive training session or a competition, a person is less able to perform than before. The reason for this is the emptied energy reservoirs and the heavily stressed muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments.

In the subsequent recovery phase, the body tries to restore the initial state of performance as quickly as possible, so that a future, renewed load can be better compensated. In order to be optimally prepared for the next training session, the body’s performance increases beyond the initial level. This state is called supercompensation and allows to be better and more efficient after a certain recovery time.

The best time to set a new training stimulus is exactly at the peak of the supercompensation curve.

If training is resumed too late, the supercompensated performance level gradually decreases day by day until the initial state is reached. If you start a new training session too soon after the last one, this can lead to so-called overtraining and a drop in performance. Therefore, sufficient recovery – recovery times of 48 hours are considered adequate for standard strength training – is essential in sports.


Variation

Variation is a very important principle in strength training, stating that training stimuli must be changed at regular intervals to allow further progress. Therefore, one should regularly change the exercise selection, the exercise sequence, the training intensity and the load range (number of series and repetitions).

In addition to the performance aspect, variation in training content also prevents boredom in training, which is essential for maintaining motivation.


Drinking

Athletes have increased water needs due to increased fluid loss via sweat and increased respiratory rate – A water loss of 2% of body weight (2 liters at 100 kg) leads to a restriction in the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and thus to a reduction in performance.

The electrolyte balance is closely related to the water balance. The body is deprived of the minerals sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium through sweat. Fluid loss therefore means electrolyte loss and thus a loss of performance.

The solution: drink enough to stay hydrated. Electrolyte-containing, isotonic beverages are best.


The basics of strength training – Warm-Up & Cool-Down

Warm-Up

Warming up before intense physical exertion is mandatory. It serves to increase performance and prevent injury.
In the warm-up process, the organism as a whole and each individual tissue that is to be trained afterwards are specially prepared for the stress.

The heart and circulation are stimulated so that the blood can effectively reach the muscles. For the muscles, the increased blood flow is important to improve nutrient and oxygen transport and to break down lactate.

The general warm-up consists of cyclic movements of large muscle groups for cardiovascular activation, typically cycling, rowing ergometer, cross-trainer or treadmill.
In strength training, a duration of about 10 (maximum 15) minutes is considered sufficient for this purpose . The special warm-up consists of gymnastic exercises to optimally prepare the active musculoskeletal system (muscles, tendons) and the passive musculoskeletal system (ligaments, joints, etc.) for the following activities. E.g. loose arm swings and dynamic stretches in the shoulder area) and the performance of 1-2 series of those dumbbell or machine exercises that will be trained in the subsequent training process.

With the many benefits mentioned, it is important to note that fatigue from excessive warming up must be avoided.

Cool-Down

The cool-down is all the measures that are carried out immediately after the training session in order to make the transition from the stress situation to the rest phase. The purpose of the cool-down is to slowly bring down the stressed organ systems to their initial level and to accelerate the initiation of regenerative processes. It should consist of light aerobic muscular activity.


Breathing

In strength training, breathing plays an important role not only in maintaining metabolic processes, but also in lifting capacity, blood pressure behavior (cardiovascular stress), and stabilizing the trunk when lifting heavy loads.

In strength training, the following applies (at least if you are not a professional weightlifter):

  • In the concentric phase of the movement, where the weight is lifted against gravity: exhale
  • in the excentric phase, where the weight is lowered: inhale.

Holding one’s breath while performing an exercise, or even press breathing (which is sometimes done purposefully by professionals), can place such tremendous stress on the cardiovascular system that it can cause serious complications such as a significant increase in blood pressure, altered cardiac activity, cardiac arrhythmias, vascular damage and heart attacks in the elderly, diabetics or those with heart disease.


The basics of strength training – Common mistakes

Because there are a lot of common mistakes in strength training, I have put together a separate page for you.


Continue Reading

  • Intensity techniques

References

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Greiwing, A. Einsatz-, Mehrsatz- und High-Intensity Training. Ein Vergleich dreier Trainingsmethoden auf Muskelwachstum, Maximalkraft und Kraftausdauer. (Dr. Müller, 2007).
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Cauza, E. The relative benefits of endurance and strength training on the metabolic factors and muscle function of people with Type 2 Diabetes mellitus. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 86.
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Pauls, J. Das große Buch vom Krafttraining. (Stiebner Verlag, 2013).
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Pauls, J. Krafttraining - Die 100 Prinzipien Handbuch für Trainer, Betreuer und Athleten. (Stiebner Verlag, 2011).