BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO WEIGHT TRAINING
Time to read 5 min
Time to read 5 min
Weight training at the gym is great for building muscle, burning fat and increasing overall health. But, how many times a week should you be training and is more always better?
Keen to know exactly what weight training is, what the benefits are, the science behind building muscle, how many days a week you should be training, and what other external factors can impact your results? Keep reading!
Weight training, or resistance training, is the process of using weights (i.e. resistance) to perform movements that place stress on your muscles. In turn, this builds up the size and strength of your muscles. Bigger, stronger muscles have many benefits, such as:
Increased overall strength – bigger muscles generally mean more strength, which allows an individual to perform more taxing physical tasks with less effort. Resistance training also strengthens connective tissue, tendons, muscles, and decreases the risk of injury.
Increased bone density – weight training has been proven to increase bone density. This is particularly important as we age. The older we get, the more our bone density degrades. Increasing our bone density means that we’ll be less likely to suffer from fractures later in life.
Better athletic performance – If you play sports, training in the gym will compliment your athletic performance. For example, stronger legs will allow you to be able to kick a ball further and have more power to launch quicker.
Fewer calories being stored as fat - For the body to maintain a larger muscle mass, it needs to fuel those muscles with calories. More muscle mass, therefore, results in more calories being burned, and fewer calories being stored as fat.
When you flex a muscle, thousands of muscle fibres are contracting. As you add resistance, microscopic tears within the muscle occur. The damage that occurs to your muscles will trigger a healing process where muscle fibres are fused to form new protein strands, resulting in thicker and bigger muscles. Weights serve as the ideal source of stress to target muscle groups to the point where they tear, grow and adapt. The theory behind resistance training is to progressively overload so that over time, your muscles will adapt, allowing you to progress either in weights, sets/reps, or reducing your rest time.
Muscles grow from placing stress on them and then giving them time to heal. If we don’t place enough stress on the muscles (i.e. train often enough), they won’t have the stimulus required to grow. On the other hand, if you train too much, your muscles won’t have enough time to recover (this is known as overtraining), which will eventually lead to fatigue and injury. So, the key is to strike the right balance between training and resting. And, you guessed it – it’s going to be different for everyone. As a general guide, if you’re new to training, 3 times per week is going to be more than enough to start seeing results. If you’re a seasoned lifter, you can train as many as 5-6 times per week. However, the key is to listen to your body and only train once you’ve recovered from a workout.
Many strategies can help you to get good results in the gym. We recommend an upper and lower body split, which will target your major muscles twice a week. This is great for those who are just starting as they can build a strong foundation, or for those with a packed-out schedule, as it allows you to train your muscles in an efficient and time-effective way. An upper/lower split is simple, easy to follow, and in the long run, will get you the best results.
Not sure what an upper/lower body split is? No stress, let’s take a quick look. Just as the name suggests, an upper/lower body split simply refers to dividing your training sessions into working the upper body or the lower body, separately (ie you do upper body exercises one day, and lower body exercises the next day).
Upper body muscle groups - Generally the upper body split includes exercises that target the chest, middle/upper back, shoulders, triceps and biceps.
Lower body muscle groups - The lower body split includes exercises that target the abdominals, lower back, quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
Note: This can vary slightly as some people may prefer to include lower back and abs on upper body days.
Recovery should be considered a top priority if you want to build muscle. People training twice a day, seven days a week may seem impressive, but when do your muscles grow? At rest. Here’s why:
Your downtime is when your body adapts to the stress of exercise, which allows the effects of training to truly take place.
Recovery helps your body to replenish energy stores and repair the muscle tissue damaged during your workout.
Recovery reduces the risk of muscle breakdown as it allows your energy stores to be replenished and your tissue to be repaired.
Not allowing your body time to recover may lead to ‘overtraining’. Some common symptoms associated with overtraining include:
Increased niggles and injuries
Fatigue is the most common sign of overtraining and it can be either physiological or psychological. Physiologically, you will be sluggish and require a longer recovery period to allow your body to replenish its glycogen stores through nutrition. Psychologically, your motivation will suffer, and you’ll start making all kinds of excuses to stay away from training.
Diet and nutrition also play a huge part in helping your muscles grow. Carbs provide you with energy for your workouts, fats will aid in nutrient absorption, and proteins are the building blocks of your muscles. Having a healthy, balanced diet will benefit your training and increase results exponentially. There are many recipes online that you can try out if you need ideas for your meal plans. Here are a few great places to start:
Another important factor that the majority of people tend to overlook is hydration. Water is used to transport nutrients to cells and help to flush out toxins. It also helps to form the base and structure of protein and glycogen – the key elements in building muscle tissue. It has been proven that even slight dehydration will cause you to be sluggish and impact your muscular endurance and power.
Time to grow!
So, the take-home message here is to understand that strength gains and muscle growth comes from micro-tears caused by weight training. The benefits of this can only be attained if your body has enough time to repair itself. Rest, nutrition, and hydration all play an important role in the recovery process. Neglecting one of these areas will compromise your results. How many days a week you train is dependent on your lifestyle, experience and if you are showing symptoms of overtraining. As a general rule, if you’re starting out, three times a week is sufficient. Factor all these in and it will contribute to you seeing some serious results in the gym!