The following article was adapted from Section 1 of our Beginner’s Guide to Strength Training: Making a Case for Physical Activity, Exercise, and Training.
As an aside, if you’re an avid trainee or exerciser you are already likely exceeding the following guidelines. You are not the intended audience, while we love watching really fit people do cool stuff, this article is intended to guide folks who are:
- considering becoming more physically active for the first time
- coming back after a long period of decreased physical activity
This person might be your mom, dad, uncle, younger brother, or that person at work that’s been talking about “getting back in shape”. We hope you’ll share this article with those folks.
Factors Associated with Physical Activity Participation
Physical inactivity is a major problem in our country and local communities. As statistics related to chronic disease rise, we can look to inactivity as a precursor. We also know there are more gyms now than ever … so something is amiss. Currently, it is thought the primary factors associated with successful exercise adherence are education, a previous history of exercising, perceived control or self-efficacy and social support. Conversely, perceived frailty seems to be the largest barrier to exercise participation. At our gym, we place considerable energy in the departments of coaching and education. We want you to understand the importance of getting stronger, having a healthy heart, and eating an adequate diet, additionally, we spend a fair amount of energy explaining how these dietary and exercise strategies work mechanistically. We want the athlete to buy into their program completely and we’ve found better success with an increased educational component to our coaching programs.
2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
Client education is ultimately part of our larger, macro plan at Brentwood Barbell. Chiefly, we aim move folks toward physical activity (PA) levels that are consistent with the guidelines set forth by the Department of Health and Human Services. These guidelines are listed below. Barring special considerations, we should be aiming for the following levels of activity on a weekly basis:
- Either 150 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity OR 75 to 150 minutes x of vigorous aerobic activity per week.
- Resistance training of moderate or greater intensity involving all major muscle groups 2 or more days per week.
Instinctively, we all know when we exercise and move more, we’re healthier. Our cholesterol improves, our blood pressure is better, our body fat levels are more appropriate, and we feel better (mentally and physically). Given our innate ability to understand exercise as important, we might expect to find significant rates of participation, right? Unfortunately, the percentage of Americans meeting the recommendations above is rather low. Currently, only about 50% of Americans meet one of the guidelines while <25% meet both guidelines. What gives? We think part of the issue might be the lack of specific implementation strategies (i.e. where are the actual programs?).
Problems Associated with Inactivity
While PA has been shown to be beneficial to people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities, there remains a general lack of engagement from a societal standpoint. Over the past 20 years obesity rates have continued to climb. Currently, about 1/3rd of all U.S. adults are obese while about 1/6th of U.S. children (12-19-year-olds) are considered obese. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) classifies individuals having a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30 as obese. An individual’s BMI examines the relationship between their height and weight and “can” be an indicator of body fatness, thus BMI serves as a potential screening tool but not necessarily as a stand-alone assessment for body fatness.
CDC’s Overweight-Obesity Categories
|18.5 to 24.99
|25 to 29.99
|30 to 34.99
|35 to 39.99
|obese III (severe)
Even more troubling than the percentage of Americans considered obese is the established relationship between obesity and many chronic disease states such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The data would suggest we seem to be headed in the wrong direction. Additionally, complications resulting from many chronic disease states often include (but are not limited to) reduced quality of life and substantial financial hardship. According to the CDC, obese folks, when compared to their normal or healthy weight counterparts, are at an increased risk for:
- All causes of mortality
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Higher levels of HDL cholesterol, lower levels of LDL cholesterol
- Higher levels of triglycerides (dyslipidemia)
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Coronary heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea
- Various cancers
- Lower quality of life
- Mental illness such as depression and/or anxiety
- Pain with physical function
It is not all doom and gloom however, as we will examine. While the mechanisms of obesity are multifactorial and complex, physical activity (PA) has been shown to have a tremendously positive impact on the prevention and treatment of obesity-related problems.
Exercise is Medicine
Like obesity, PA also has a relationship with many chronic disease states. Chiefly, PA helps prevent their development. PA has been shown useful in the prevention of the big three: heart disease, cancer, and stroke and the benefits don’t end there. In their Evidence Report, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend PA as a leading strategy in the treatment of obesity, second only to dietary therapies. Regular PA has also been shown to:
- Improve weight management efforts
- Increase force production (strength)
- Reduce body fat
- Promote bone, muscle, and joint development
- Improve heart and lung function / capacity
- Improve endurance
- Improve sleep quality
- Decrease depression risk
- Improve energy and self esteem
- Decrease stress
- Increase life expectancy
Let us now move into the benefits specifically related to resistance (or strength) training.
Benefits of Resistance Training
In order to understand the benefits of resistance training, some definitions are likely in order. We will define strength as the ability to exert force against an external resistance. Therefore, resistance training is physical activity that is designed to increase force production (i.e. strength).
Below is a list of Jim Cawley’s 10 physical traits that were expanded upon by CrossFit. While CF’s founder Greg Glassman notes “fitness” is correlated to one’s ability in each of the ten physical traits, we would make a case that strength has a unique “foundational” quality.
- Cardiorespiratory Endurance
When one increases his/her strength via resistance training, everything else gets a little better. In essence, when maximal capacity increases, everything sub-maximal also increases. This relationship is not seen, however, in reverse making strength a very desirable quality. For example, an athlete may get stronger and notice his mile time has dropped a bit (likely due to the increased force production capacity of the relevant musculature), however, the same athlete may be disappointed to find that while his mile time has dropped (via aerobic training), his 5 rep max deadlift has actually decreased in the absence of resistance training (likely due to insufficient mechanical stimulation of the relevant musculature).
While there is plenty of evidence to support the inclusion of aerobic training into one’s program, it becomes increasingly more difficult to justify significant time (and money) expenditure on other qualities such as balance, agility, accuracy, coordination, and flexibility. Our position is that it is in the best interest of the athlete (and coach) to focus on strength and aerobic development to most efficiently address all physical qualities of the athlete. Other qualities would only be addressed specifically if time and budget were not a concern.
Taking a more health-centered view, resistance training has also been shown very effective in the preservation of basic physical function (i.e. successfully navigating your environment), the prevention of osteoporosis (loss of bone mass), sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass), and low back pain due to the profound effects it has on the musculoskeletal system.
We hope this section effectively lays out our rationale for prioritizing resistance training in the programs of our athletes. To be clear, we are not suggesting that folks should prioritize resistance training at the exclusion of all other training interests … we simply see the promotion of resistance training in their programs as physically, professionally, and financially prudent.
Moving in the Right Direction
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) expands on the DHHS PA guidelines for resistance training. The ACSM guidelines specifically address modalities, number of exercises per session, set and rep ranges, weekly frequency, and how hard the reps should be. We find the recommendations pretty good actually; they even recommend adding weight over time, an element needed for long-term strength improvement. That being said, the effort to remain flexible on the part of the ACSM creates the obvious lack of specific examples to get people lifting. Filling in these specifics is precisely why gyms and coaches are needed. As previously noted, we feel that not having specific examples of “what to do” might keep some folks from participating that otherwise might.
Current ACSM Guidelines for Resistance Training
|Modalities used for Resistance Training
|Free Weights / Bands / Machines
|8-12 multi-joint exercises, stressing most major muscles of the body
|Sets x Reps
|2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions
|Tempo (speed of movement)
|Lower each rep under control, taking about 2 seconds
|The last rep should be “difficult” to perform
|Sessions per Week
|Slowly add weight over time
Where to Go From Here
Coaches and gyms need to be up to date on the guidelines we’ve discussed today. Our jobs is to provide efficient, effective roadmaps toward client goals (and ultimately appropriate PA levels). At Brentwood Barbell, we work with each client on an “individual” case-by-case basis. Our goal is to build on the general recommendations set forth by the ACSM. Earlier. To end our discussion today, we are going to look at a sample beginner program for an imaginary client, Bill.
Bill has a current membership at his local community center (along with his wife), he would like to increase his (1) strength, (2) muscle mass, (3) drop a little weight, and (4) be able to go on monthly hiking outings with his wife. We have obtained the following information from Bill’s coaching intake form:
- no major orthopedic / musculoskeletal restrictions
- currently on BP medication (prescribed by MD and cleared for exercise)
- availability 5 days x week for training ~ 1 hour x session
- access to commercial facility / treadmill
- desire to work with machines rather than free weights or bands
- basic understanding of RPE
- comfortable using machines at fitness center (has been a member for ~ 5 years)
Brentwood Barbell Machine-Based Beginner Sample Program
While the program above is a fine starting point, it’s important to remember that it’s based on a few assumptions noted above. If those assumptions don’t fit your current situation, be sure to talk with a qualified coach to get a better idea of how to get started. We regularly offer free consultations with folks that are looking to become more physically active. We’d love to help you as well!
If you’d like to learn more about coaching options, you can fill out our Coaching Application. If you’re simply enjoying the content be sure and give it a like / thumbs up / share, it really helps us reach more folks.
Good Luck with your Training!
James Harris, MPT
You Might Also Enjoy Reading
- Starting a Strength Program
- The Physical Activity Continuum
- Athlete Consultations: Finding the Right Gym
Beginner Template. Barbell Medicine: https://www.barbellmedicine.com/shop/training-templates/beginner-template/
Center for Disease Control. Overweight and Obesity: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/defining.html
Center for Disease Control. Overweight and Obesity. Causes and Consequences: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/causes.html
Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. The Evidence Report. National Institutes of Health: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/guidelines/ob_gdlns.pdf
2018 Physical Activity Guidelines: https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/be-active/importance-of-physical-activity/index.html
2018 Physical Activity Guidelines. Executive Summary: https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/PAG_ExecutiveSummary.pdf
The CrossFit Journal. What is Fitness: https://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ-trial.pdf
Potential Health-Related Benefits of Resistance Training. RA Winett, RN Carpinelli – Preventive medicine, 2001 – Elsevier: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743501909090
Rhodes, R.E., Martin, A.D., Taunton, J.E. et al. Factors Associated with Exercise Adherence Among Older Adults. Sports Med 28, 397–411 (1999). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-199928060-00003