Strength training is essential for a balanced fitness program. Many people will simply choose to diet as a means of achieving weight loss. Unfortunately, when dieting is not paired with strength training, up to a quarter of weight lost during dieting can come from muscle! This means that dieting can make you weaker and slow your metabolism which can in time hinder further weight loss.

Muscle Basics

Muscle is a soft tissue found in animals which is made of cells containing protein filaments which can change the length and shape of the cells (contraction). Muscles are powered by the oxidation of fats and carbohydrates and their contraction in turn produces force and motion.

Weight lifting focuses on your skeletal muscle which is attached to the skeleton by tendons and is used to for locomotion (movement) and maintaining posture. These muscles generally react to conscious control of the individual, although posture is more of an unconscious reflex.

Skeletal muscle can be further classified as slow twitch or fast twitch muscle. Slow twitch muscle is dense and filled with capillaries. They can contract for long periods of activity but produce low force and are the muscles which can sustain aerobic activity using fats and carbohydrates for fuel. Fast twitch fibers contract quickly and with great force, but they fatigue rapidly. They are the primary factor in muscle strength and as such have the greatest potential for increasing in mass.

In other words, slow twitch fibers are the marathon muscle fibers and slow twitch fibers are the sprinting fibers.


Burning Energy

Even though the amounts may be inconsequential at times, your muscles burn energy constantly. Even while breathing or standing still they are converting your energy stores into motion.

Aerobic exercise, like walking and swimming, involves low-level exertion (below 50% of their maximum ability) over an extended time. Your slow twitch muscle fibers consume a combination of fat, protein, and carbohydrates along with large amounts of oxygen to power through aerobic activity. Conversely, it is your fast twitch muscle fibers which power anaerobic activities, like sprinting or weight lifting, at or near maximum contraction capacity. These activities burn glucose (processed carbohydrates) for fuel while consuming little oxygen, protein, or fat. Your muscles naturally store a small amount of glucose for immediate use when needed and can produce more quickly. However, this quick production creates lactic acid as a by-product which creates muscle fatigue. Thus, anaerobic activity can’t be maintained for long periods like aerobic activities.

The important point is that after gaining a pound of muscle you will burn more calories than you would without it. So, once again, more muscle is better. Better yet, weight lifting not only burns calories during the workout, but can still be burning calories three to four hours after your workout is over.


Building Muscle

Knowing that work and how they use and process energy, there are some key principles to proper weight lifting which are important to know before planning or beginning a lifting regimen.

Quality over Quantity

Good technique is more important for the beginner than heavy lifting. You should work with enough weight to provide resistance, but not so much as to cause strain or injury. When in doubt, start low – you can always add more weight to the bar on the next set, but once you’re injured trying to lift too much, healing will take time.

Getting FITT

The cornerstone of any fitness program is the FITT principle which stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type. It refers to the balance of the number of times you exercise, how many times you perform each exercise, the length of your workout and which exercises you perform. Common recommendations for weight lifting, especially for beginners, are that you should lift 3 times per week working on 10-12 exercises in a period not exceeding an hour and allowing 24-48 hours before working the same group of muscles again. If you wish to work out more often, try alternating 3 upper body days and 3 lower body days.

Gradual Progressive Overload

The concept of GPO states that, to gain any significant benefit, your body must receive Overload – a stimuli greater than that which it is used to. To provide your muscles with overload, you must increase at least one of the frequency (more often), intensity (more weight), or duration (more reps) of your lifting. But before you jump in, the Gradual Progression part of GPO guides you to increase the overload gradually – add only 5-10 pounds at a time, or increase by 2-3 reps each time.


If you implement FITT and GPO into your work out, your body will adapt to the increased demands with increased strength. You can expect to see an increase in muscle size and improved strength and endurance. Your bones will grow stronger too and you will burn more fat. Make sure you have a well-rounded lifting plan because only the parts of the body which receive overload will adapt.


If you are sufficiently overloading your muscles at a regular frequency, your body will need breaks to recover. If your goal is endurance, short breaks between are best but if your goal is strength, longer breaks will be necessary. You will also need sufficient breaks between lifting sessions, and the previously stated 24-48 hours should be good for most purposes.


Your Goals and Anticipated Outcomes

There’s an old saying used to promote strength training that goes something like “a pound of muscle weighs less than a pound of fat.” This statement is factually untrue since a pound of anything weighs exactly one pound. However, the sentiment of the original lies in that muscle is denser by volume than fat. Therefore, a pound of muscle takes up less space under your skin and will give you a leaner look – which is what many of us are looking for, especially if we are pursuing weight training as part of a weight loss plan.

Although weight training is essentially the same, regardless of your desired outcome, this is the time when you need to ask yourself what you are hoping to achieve with strength training. Are you training for general health? Do you want athletic training to improve your abilities in one or more specific sports? Are you more interested in body building to achieve the perfect physique or to look “cut?” Or maybe your interest in in power lifting to increase your functional strength. Regardless of your answer, many or the exercises will be the same, but may just require a different approach or dietary support.

Whether your goal is to become a professional strongman or just to become a healthier version of yourself, weight lifting should become an essential part of your fitness plan.


Check Out These Posts for More Details on Strength Training:

KILTED! Principle #3

Basic Weight Training Equipment