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Getting Stronger 20th Anniversary Edition

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Getting Started
from Getting Stronger

This section of the book - General Conditioning - can be used for:

  • Getting started with a weight training program
  • Getting back into shape after a long layoff
  • A first step to getting in shape for either a bodybuilding program (see pp. 32-36) or a sports training program (see p. 82)
  • An ongoing general fitness program where you work out three times a week, 45 minutes a day, and don't want to put any more time than that into weight training.

The General Conditioning Program will enable you to:

  • Develop muscle tone
  • Improve circulation
  • Start building strength and endurance
  • Start reducing fat and building muscle
  • Develop the capacity to work out harder
  • Feel good

Before You Start

  1. Get a physical from your doctor, especially if you are overweight or have not exercised for a while. If you are over 35, you should have an exercise stress test. Weight training is vigorous and demanding and you must be in good health to get good results
  2. Stick to one program - this one - at least in the beginning. Don't be influenced by what you read, or by your friends in the gym; it can be confusing. In all the books and articles on bodybuilding and weightlifting, everyone has a different philosophy, training method, and surefire guarantee of success. I've found that often the most rigid opinions are held by those with the least knowledge. In spite of all the claims, there is no one method that works best for everyone. I've seen people make progress with all kinds of training programs. (Just about anything you do is better than nothing.) But in recent years, along with the surge of interest in fitness, there have been certain principles and guidelines that have come to light that seem to work for everyone in maximizing progress. Our approach is simple and it works.
  3. Keep a record. Plan your workouts at the beginning of each week and write them down for each day. After each workout write down sets, reps, and poundages of each exercise. This eliminates "guesswork," shows your progress, and can help eliminate weak spots. (On p. 405 is a card you can photocopy for this purpose.)

Setting Goals

Set goals that you can reach. If your goals are too high, you're likely to become discouraged, or worse, injured. On the other hand, if you set goals that are too low, you will not make enough progress. Set a long-term goal - perhaps a year in advance - and then several short-term goals to keep things moving along. Also, put a time limit on your goals. Don't just say, "Some day..." But promise yourself that on July 1st, or whatever day, the goal will be achieved.

When You Start

  1. Be sure to warm up and stretch (see pp. 74-79).
  2. Take it easy. Don't watch others in the gym and try to handle the same weights they do. This can be discouraging and cause injuries. Also, you don't have to copy the top competitive athletes. They push their bodies to the absolute limits and are often on the edge of injury. The average person does not have to train like this to be in good shape and feel good.
  3. Pay attention to previous injuries. If it's hurting, don't "work through the pain." Switch to an exercise that works the same area but isn't painful. A light, non-painful workout of an injured area gets the blood moving, helps clean out wastes, and speeds healing.
  4. Don't worry about your body weight when starting. You may gain weight at first, since muscle weighs more than fat.
  5. Don't worry about diet when you're just starting. It's not a good idea to change everything at once. I never tell people to change their eating or drinking or smoking habits when they're starting because I know from experience that if you try too big a change in lifestyle all at once, you're more likely to drop the program. Once you get encouraged by some results, the other things will fall into place.
  6. Watch for the development of muscle tone - a slight yet constant tension in the muscles. This will be one of the first positive and exciting effects of your new training program.

How Often Should You Lift?

Rule of Thumb: Three workouts a week, 45-75 minutes a session, with a rest day following each workout. It's the same as running or cycling; you get best results when you apply stress in a hard day/easy day routine. This allows for cellular changes to occur on the rest days, for the muscles to recover from stress and automatically rebuild stronger. Thus, workouts are Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday.

Don't skip the rest day. It's important. Gary Moran, an all-around athlete and veteran weight lifter, fractured his leg skiing and had to quit his usual running, swimming and racquetball games. "I put all my energy into lifting, as it was the only exercise I could do." He lifted five or six times a week and doubled the usual number of sets. In about six weeks he found he could only bench press 210 lbs., compared to his usual 250 and he lost ground (about 15%) in the other lifts as well. He also had soreness in the tendons and ligaments of his shoulders.

His mistake was in increasing his workload too drastically and not giving his body time enough to recover from the added weight training stress. He quit the new program, took a week off, returned to his normal program and within three weeks was back to pressing 250.

How Many Sets?

A set is a fixed number of repetitions (reps), or repeated movements of an exercise.

The best strength gains come from three to five sets per exercise, as shown in the following chart:

Chart of Relative Strength Increase per Set

Notice that you get more rapid strength increases with one, two and three sets and then the curve starts leveling off. Four to five sets give you gains, but you have to work harder for less results - the law of diminishing returns. After five sets the curve flattens out and you get less for your efforts.

In our beginning program you will do one to three sets per exercise.

How Many Reps?

In the beginning program stick to 10 reps (except for abdominals).

How Much Weight?

Rule of Thumb: Use as much weight as is comfortable for 10 reps. The last rep should be fairly hard to perform. Use the first few weightlifting sessions primarily as testing sessions so you can see how much weight you can handle.

When to Increase Weights?

Once you're able to do more than 10 reps, increase the weight.

Two Types of Lifting

There are two basic types of lifting; they produce different results.

Low reps/high weights = strength
High reps/low weights = endurance

These principles become much more important when you are training for a sport, but they are mentioned here so you can start thinking about them. When you want to develop strength, or the ability of the muscles to produce force, you train with relatively high weights and few repetitions.

When you want to develop muscular endurance, or the ability of your muscles to produce force repeatedly over a period of time, you train with lighter weights and high repetitions. The latter also produces "the pump," an increase in blood flow to the muscle. This is described in more detail in "Sports Training Principles," pp. 55-60.

The Seven Most Important Muscle Groups

In each session you'll work the seven most important muscle groups, the larger groups before the smaller. Why? If you fatigue the smaller muscle groups first, you can't work the larger ones adequately. For example, if you first do barbell curls, you fatigue your arms (small group). Then when you do a bench press to work the chest and back muscles (large groups), the limiting factor is not the chest muscles, but the fatigued arms.

A typical order of exercises:

  1. Abdominals. Start here for a partial warm-up.
  2. Thighs. Since the legs automatically bring the muscles of the lower back into play, be sure you are thoroughly warmed up before working thighs. This is the largest muscle group in the body.
  3. Chest.
  4. Back. Again, be thoroughly warmed up before working this large muscle group.
  5. Shoulders.
  6. Triceps.
  7. Biceps. Work triceps and biceps last, as they are small muscle groups.

Cardiovascular Training

Cardiovascular training is an important component of general conditioning. It refers to exercises that strengthen the heart, lungs and circulatory system. You can get your cardiovascular training in the gym, by moving rapidly from one exercise to another, but it is more efficient to run, swim, cycle (or exercycle), hike, or walk briskly. You should also do some type of cardiovascular activity for at least 30 minutes, three times a week. A good time is a day when you are not weight training. (For details, see "Cardiovascular Training," pp. 66-69.)

Warning!! Remember to rest. The benefits from your training program will be so clear and there will be such noticeable changes that you will be tempted to overtrain. If you do not rest enough, you will soon be plagued by injury. If you are injured, you can't work out. If you can't work out, you can't improve. Sounds obvious but many people make the mistake of pushing too hard too fast. Do not overtrain. Listen to your body. When you are tired - rest!

Benefits of Resistance Exercise

In the past, resistance training was not considered an integral part of health and fitness. It wasn't until the 1980's that it became accepted as part of a well-rounded fitness program after the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) published an article revising their position on resistance training as being an integral part of overall conditioning. Now resistance training is coming into its own and is being looked at for its role in health and disease prevention. From the Surgeon General's Guidelines on Physical Activity and Health, to the American Heart Association, and the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, resistance training is recommended as part of a preventative and rehabilitative program for physical activity in conjunction with aerobic training and flexibility exercises.

The General Conditioning Program

Skip forward to pp. 20-25 and look at the general conditioning programs. They are meant to be photocopied and taken into the gym. Before doing this, look up the instructions for each exercise on the pages indicated so you will know the proper form and procedure for each one.

What to Do if You Want to Graduate to Harder Training?

Turn either to the intermediate or advanced bodybuilding programs on pp. 37-41 or the "All-Around Athlete" program on pp. 84-85.