General principles for Resistance Training

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Below are some general principles for those starting to do strength / resistance training. These guidelines are taken from recommendations of scientific / professional organizations such as the: Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). 

1. Specificity

The muscle adapts to the stimulus applied to it: whether it be fast or slow movements, heavy loads or light loads, many reps or few repetitions, etc. So if you have a specific goal in mind, the muscles should be trained specifically to attain that goal. 

Example: If the goals is to run fast, lower body strength training should emphasize moving weights rapidly rather than moving heavy weights slowly.


2. Variation

To progress in training, the stimulus needs to change. This is because the human body adapts. Variation can be achieved by changing the types of exercises, switching up the number of repetitions, sets, and even the frequency of training. 

Example: Don’t just do bench presses, incorporate other chest exercises like push-ups. 


3. Muscle groups

Train all major muscle groups: Chest, upper back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, abdominals, lower back, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves. Do not over-emphasize one muscle group. Over-zealously training only certain muscle groups like the chest or the buttocks may actually result in muscle imbalances. Some may even find that such limited training may lead to disappointing aesthetic results.  


4. Repetitions

Power: 1 – 6 repetitions (lighter weights but explosive movement)

Strength: Advanced individuals:  1 – 6 repetitions (mostly 5 to 6),

Strength: novice and intermediate: 8 – 12 repetitions

Hypertrophy: 8 – 12 repetitions

Endurance 12 – 20 repetitions


Note: These are rough guidelines. Using a variety of repetitions and loads is preferable.


5. Sets 

2 – 4 sets per muscle group or exercise. 


6. Order

  • Perform multi-joint exercises before single-joint ones. 
  • Complex and more difficult exercises should be performed before simpler ones.
  • Power exercises (ones requiring a lot of speed) before slow and heavy exercises.
  • Larger muscle groups before smaller ones.


  • Bench press (multi-joint) is perfomed before Pec flyes (single-joint)
  • Weighted jumping exercises (power) before Deadlifts (heavy and slow)
  • Upper back (large muscle group) is trained before the biceps (smaller) in a workout session.


7. Progression

As a general rule of thumb, if you are able to perform more than 2 repetitions beyond your target repetition goal, then progressing to heavier weight may be indicated. Another method is to try to perform more repetitions beyond the current goal. Increasing repetitions before increasing weight is typically a safer approach.



8. Intensity

Last few repetitions should be challenging. The last repetition should take some effort (perhaps even a lot of effort) to complete. If the final repetitions are easy to perform, then the number of reps or the load should be increased. However, safety should not be compromised.


9. Speed

Attempt to move the weight as fast as possible. 



10. Range of motion

Perform all exercises in full-range of motion. 


11. Spotters

Refers to one or two individuals who are there to assist in safely lowering or neutralizing the weights during each set to ensure safety.


12. Programming

Split routines (one day upper body, the next day lower body), Whole body (Train all major muscle groups in one workout) Single muscle groups per workout (each day is a different muscle group)


13. Frequency

Give each muscle group approximately 48 hrs of rest


14. Equipment

  • Calisthenics (using own body weight), machines and free-weights are all beneficial.
  • Free weights are typically seen as resulting in greater strength gains vs machines, but this is not to say that training should be restricted to free-weights. Marchines are beneficial and an excellent way to  build strength. 
  • Machines and calisthenics are a safer way to start familiarizing ones-self with the different movements associated with weight lifting.
  • Machines generally assist in stabilizing the body whereas with free weights, the exerciser must recruit muscles to stabilize the body. Thus free weights tend to activate more muscles.



George Cho