How to plan a weight training session

So you've got the message that weight training should be part of your routine but where to start? I understand that the weights area in a lot of gyms can be an intimidating place, as well as the fact there are 1000's of exercises you could do but what will work? Here we discuss how to get a good training programme together.

The first question - what do you want from your training?

To get stronger

Congratulations on a very healthy training goal! To get stronger you need to target reps around 6-8 and weights that are 80% of your maximum. It's best to pick muscle groups that will target what you are after such as; 'feel stronger picking up my kids' 'get better at squatting'. Once you have your goal in mind you can break down the areas that you need. Lets use the picking up kids example, you need to be able to squat, shoulder raise, use your core and have an element of power as well as endurance.

To tone up

You may or may not know that you can't just work on you abs or arms and tone one area at a time. 'Tone' means your muscle is in a more active state at rest and in reality means you have a low enough body fat percentage to show your muscles through. For toning the weight work you do will be a combination of circuits with low rest between sets to use weights for fat loss as well as strength sessions to get those muscles shinning through.

To get better at running, tennis *insert sport here*....

When you have a specific sport in mind your need to break it down into which muscle groups are involved. For example with running you need to have strong and springy legs, good core strength and endurance (unless it's sprinting). However, just doing planks for core work would not be as relevant for running as doing planks with limb movement, or lunges with one arm up which mimic the demands durning running. I would hook up with a trainer if you're not sure as it can be quite tricky to break down a sport in detail (contact me above!).

Planning your session

So now that we have a clear goal in mind there are some basic principles of planning a weights session that can get you on the right path. In general you want to be freshest for your hardest exercise so you should start with the heaviest demand work then move to the lighter, single muscle/joint exercises as per the continuums below the exercises on the left should come before those on the right:

This would typically look like this in order of which exercises will fatigue you most:

An example to apply this:

Warm up: specific to the work you're about to do/issues you have i.e. tight back = lumber rotations, cat stretch, down dog, upper back twists.

Power: box jumps, Olympic lifts, squat jumps

Bilateral leg work: squats, deadlifts, leg press, hip thrusts

Single leg work: Step ups, lunge, split squat

Upper body bilateral: rows, press ups, lat pull downs, chest press, dips

Isolation/trunk work: bicep curls, rotator cuff exercise, planks, med ball rotation, ankle stabilisation on BOSU.

Within this structure, thinking about the sets and reps of each exercise is also important. I have written a separate article outlining this here.

Although it may sound complicated, if you have some strength work in your routine that hits most major muscle groups you are doing a good job. These principles can just make the planning of your sessions more effective and targeted for what you are trying to achieve. One of my favourite quotes on instagram lately was you don't have to be extreme, just consistent. There are classic exercises that are classic for a reason - they work! Applied consistently with a gradual increase in load the gym classics (squats, press ups, deadlifts) are a great place to start.

If you are completely new to weights I would recommend one or two sessions with a trainer to make sure your form is good and you are happy with what you are doing. We know how amazing strength training is for your health. By applying it effectively in your routine you will be well on the way to achieving your training goals.

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