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Weight Training

Better performances can be the product of many factors. This product is primarily the outcome of efficient technique, speed progression and the maturing competitive attitude on a sound basis of general endurance, all-round strength and mobility. Strength is best achieved through circuit training and then through weight training.

How do we get stronger?

A muscle will only strengthen when forced to operate beyond its customary intensity (overload). Overload can be progressed by increasing the:

  • resistance, e.g. adding 10kg to the barbell
  • number of repetitions with a particular weight
  • number of sets of the exercise

Muscle Fibre Hypertrophy

Resistance training will increase muscle size (hypertrophy). Muscle growth depends on the muscle fibre type activated and the pattern of recruitment pattern. Muscle growth is due to one or more of the following. adaptations:

  • Increased contractile proteins (actin & myosin)
  • Increased number of and size of myofibrils per muscle fibre
  • Increased amounts of connective, tendinous & ligamentous tissues
  • Increased enzymes and stored nutrients

Muscle Movement

Muscle contraction is initiated by an electrical charge from the central nervous system. The exercise that causes the highest electrical activity within the muscle group will potentially produce the most significant gains in mass and strength. Lorenzo Cornacchia (Bompa et al. 1998)[1] conducted a series of Electromyographic (EMG) tests to determine which exercises generated a high level of stimulation within each muscle group. The results were as follows:

Muscle Exercise
Pectoralis Major Decline dumbbell bench press
Pectoralis Minor Incline dumbbell bench press
Medial Deltoids Standing dumbbell side laterals
Posterior Deltoids Standing dumbbell bent laterals
Anterior deltoids Standing front dumbbell raises
Biceps Brachii Incline seated dumbbell curls (alternate)
Triceps Brachii Triceps press down (angled bar)
Latissimus Dorsi One-arm dumbbell rows (alternate)
Rectus Femoris Seated leg extensions
Biceps femoris Standing leg curls
Semitendinosus Seated leg curls
Gastrocnemius Standing one leg calf raises

Different strength types and how to train for them

Most sports require some or all of the following strength types to be developed to one degree, and the weight training program should reflect this.

Strength Endurance

The aim is to develop muscles that can produce repeated contractions under fatigue conditions. It requires high repetitions (15+) with light loading (30-50% of 1RM). Appropriate for field sports, rowing and martial arts.


The aim is to develop fast, powerful movements. It requires a medium number of repetitions (6-10) with medium to heavy loading (70-80% of 1RM). Appropriate for power-based events, e.g. sprinting, jumping (long jump), throwing (Javelin).

Maximum strength

The aim is to enable maximum loads to be lifted. It requires a low number of repetitions (1-5) with heavy loads (80-100% of 1RM). Appropriate for Power Lifting, Olympic Lifting, Shot Putt.

Size with strength

The aim is to increase muscle size. It requires a medium to a high number of repetitions (8-12) with medium to heavy loading (70-80%+ of 1RM). Appropriate for Bodybuilding or sports like USA football, where increased size is a valuable asset.

How Much?

The maximum number of repetitions performed before fatigue prohibits the completion of an additional repetition as a function of the weight used, referred to as repetition maximum (RM), and reflects the exercise's intensity. The weight to be used should be based on a percentage of the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted once, generally referred to as a one-repetition maximum (1RM). A weight load that produces fatigue on the third repetition is termed a three-repetition maximum (3RM) and corresponds to approximately 95% of the weight that could be lifted for 1RM.

For maximum results, athletes should train according to their genetic predisposition. Dr F. Hatfield's Muscle Fibre Test may help determine your predominant muscle type. An athlete with a higher proportion of slow-twitch muscles would adapt better to endurance training and a muscular endurance program using more lighter weight repetitions. An athlete with more significant fast-twitch muscles would benefit from sprint training and an athletic strength program using fewer repetitions of a heavier weight.

Load - Repetition Relationship

The strength training zone requires you to use loads from 60% to 100% of 1RM. The relationship of percentage loads to several repetitions (rounded up) to failure is as follows:

% Load Repetitions % Load Repetitions % Load Repetitions
60 17 75 10 90 5
65 14 80 8 95 3
70 12 85 6 100 1

How Many

The number of repetitions performed to fatigue is an important consideration in designing a strength training program. The greatest strength gains appear from working with 4-6RM. Increasing this to 12-20RM favours the increase in muscle endurance and mass.

The optimal number of sets of exercises to develop muscle strength remains controversial. In several studies comparing multiple set programs to produce more significant strength gains than a single set, the majority of studies indicate no significant difference. A specific strength training program is one set of 4-6RM performed three days a week.

Handling heavyweights in the pursuit of strength will require a recovery of 3-5 minutes between sets, but only minimum recovery should be taken if strength endurance is the aim. The majority of athletic events are fast and dynamic, and therefore this quality must be reflected in the athlete's strength work.

Muscular strength is primarily developed when 8RM or less is used in a set. How many loads you use depends upon what it is you wish to establish (Kraemer et al. 1996)[2]:

  • 1RM to 3RM - neuromuscular strength
  • 4RM to 6RM - maximum strength by stimulating muscle hypertrophy
  • 6RM to 12RM - muscle size (hypertrophy) with moderate gains in strength
  • 12RM to 20RM - muscle size and endurance

Rest Interval between sets

The recovery period between sets aims to replenish Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) stores and Creatine Phosphate (CP) in the muscles. An inadequate recovery means more reliance on the Lactic Acid (LA) energy pathway in the next set. Several factors influence the recovery period, including:

  • Type of strength you are developing
  • The load used in the exercise
  • Number of muscle groups used in the exercise
  • Your condition
  • Your weight

Recovery of three to five minutes or longer will allow almost the complete restoration of ATP/CP.

Rest Interval between sessions

During the training session, the energy source is probably the most important factor to consider. During the maximum strength phase, when you primarily use the ATP/CP energy pathway, daily training is possible because ATP/CP restoration is completed within 24 hours. If you are training for muscular endurance (muscle definition), then you require a 48-hour recovery, as this is how long it takes to fully restore your glycogen stores (Gollnick et al. 1974)[3].

Any athlete will find it extremely difficult to maintain the same lifting level at each session if strenuously. The total poundage lifted in each session would be better to be varied (e.g. a high, low and medium volume session) each week. As a 'rule of thumb', 48 hours should elapse between sessions.

Heavy or light weights for strength development?

Research conducted by Stuart Phillips (2016)[4], from McMasters University in Canada, suggests that the use of lighter weights in weight training programs, when compared to the use of heavy weights, is just as efficient in developing strength.

Two groups of experienced male lifters were recruited for the study and were required to carry out a 12-week whole bodyweight training program. One group used weights approx. 50% of the athlete's 1RM and the second group used weights approx. 90% of the athlete's 1RM. The key factor was that both groups worked to failure in each set.

Upon completion of the program, the analysis of each group indicated almost identical results for muscle mass and muscle fibre size.

Perhaps the message is: In developing strength, using heavy weights is not essential. Whatever weight you use, lift to the point of failure in each set.

Training Systems

Simple Sets, e.g. 3 x 8 with 70% - meaning three sets of eight repetitions with a weight of 70% maximum for one repetition. All novice lifters should work on it because the high number of repetitions enables the lifter to learn the correct technique, thereby reducing the risk of injury in this system.

Pyramid System Here the load is increased, and the repetitions are reduced (e.g. 100kg x 10, 120kg x 5, 130kg x 4, 140kg x 3, 150kg x 2, 160kg x 1). Pyramid lifting is only for experienced lifters who have an established good technique.

Super SettingThis consists of continuously performing two or three exercises, without rest in between sets, until all activities have been completed. The normal 'between sets' rest is taken before the following circuit of exercises is commenced.

Bilateral vs Unilateral Exercises

We can use unilateral exercises to correct asymmetry. Bilateral exercises involve lifting both arms or legs simultaneously (bench press with a barbell). Unilateral activities involve lifting with one arm or leg (single leg bicep curl with a dumbbell). Bilateral training will develop maximum muscle force when full force is not a priority.

Training Programs

Use the above notes to assist you in the preparation of a general strength training program, developing your general strength, and a specific strength training program to develop your specific strength to meet to the demands of your event/sport.

If weight training facilities are limited to your home and a set of dumbbells, it is still possible to construct a dumbbell weight training program.

To monitor progress in training, you should regularly conduct strength and muscle balance tests.

Which weight training exercises?

The exercise must be specific to the type of strength required and is therefore related to the event's particular demands (specificity). The coach should know the predominant types of muscular activity associated with the specific event, the movement pattern involved, and the strength required. Exercises should be identified that will produce the desired development. Although specificity is essential, every schedule must include activities of a general nature - e.g.

These general exercises provide a balanced development and a strong base upon which highly specific exercise can be built.

Olympic Lifts

The Olympic Lifts are recommended exercises for inclusion in power and speed training programs. These exercises' objective is to develop the body's large muscles in an explosive action that requires the use of many joints and muscle groups in a coordinated movement.

The Olympic Lifts comprise the Clean & Jerk and the Snatch. The Power Snatch and Power Clean are auxiliary lifts that aid in the Clean & Jerk and the Snatch training.

Workout Card

Matt Heil has produced an Excel spreadsheet Workout Card to determine the correct weight to use for each exercise based on the required session RM. A set of exercises and the target muscles has been included but these can be modified to the exercises you use.

You must conduct a maximum load test for each exercise and enter the weight and number of repetitions. Your maximum load (1RM) for a weight training exercise can be determined based on weight and the number of repetitions you can perform to exhaustion for that exercise. The Brzycki's equation provides a good estimate of the maximum load providing the number of repetitions does not exceed 12. The Workout Card uses the Brzycki's equation to determine your maximum load and automatically fill in the RM columns. I recommend you regularly conduct a max load test, e.g. every 3-4 weeks.

Matt was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. He enjoys exercising and competing in Rugby, Sanshou, and Taiji to keep himself healthy. He is a Network Administrator and spends about 50+ hours a week in front of a computer

What sort of weight lifting equipment?

Strength equipment comprises variable resistance machines and free weights. Variable resistance machines are practical tools for building strength and muscle tone and are designed to work the target muscle in isolation without the surrounding muscles' assistance. Free weights (barbells, dumbbells and machines that provide exact equal resistance to a muscle) allow you to target a particular muscle group and engage other muscles that assist in the work. The assisting muscles help stabilize the body, support limbs and maintain posture during a lift. Once they are conditioned, these assisting muscles help you increase the weight you use to train the target muscles to stimulate the most growth in muscle fibres. Lifting free weights improves your coordination by improving the neuromuscular pathways that connect your muscles to the central nervous system.

Safety in the Weight Room

Strength training is safe when properly supervised and controlled. Every weight room should have a set of rules and regulations about safety, and they should be on public display. Rules may vary from one weight room to another, but some fundamental rules apply to them all:

  • Train only when a qualified coach is present
  • Follow your training schedule
  • Work in pairs - one lifting the other spotting
  • No horseplay
  • Wear the correct clothing and shoes
  • No eating, drinking or smoking
  • No personal stereos with headphones
  • Help and respect other athletes
  • Only athletes who are working out should be in the weight room

Ensure you and your athletes are fully aware of the safety rules applying to the weight training room(s) you use.

Weight Lifting Standards

Weightlifting standards indicate the maximum load or one repetition max (1RM) that you should be able to lift for a particular weight lifting exercise based on your gender, body weight and weight lifting experience.

Calculation Parameters

The calculator below, which is appropriate for an adult male in the weight range of 120-320lbs and an adult female in the weight range of 100-200lbs, provides an estimate of the maximum load (1RM) standard for the following weight lifting exercises:

  • Military Press or Shoulder Press
  • Bench Press
  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Clean

Three estimates are provided:

  1. Novice - an adult with less than 1 year's experience of regular weight training
  2. Experienced - an adult with 1 to 2 year's experience of regular weight training
  3. Advanced - an adult with more than 2 year's experience of regular weight training

1RM standard

To view an estimate of the 1RM standard for a weightlifting exercise, please enter your weight, select your gender and the weightlifting exercise and then select the '1RM Standard' button.

Weight Gender Lift
Novice Experienced Advanced
lbs lbs lbs
kgs kgs kgs


Weight training requires supervision to ensure sound technique to pursue safety and efficiency.

Free Calculator


  1. BOMPA, T.O. et al. (1998) Serious Strength Training. Leeds, UK, Human Kinetics, p. 124
  2. KRAEMER, J. et al. (1996) Strength and Power Training: Physiological Mechanisms of Adaptation. Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews, 24 (1), p. 363-398
  3. GOLLNICK, P.D. et al. (1974) Selective glycogen depletion pattern in human muscle fibres after exercise of varying intensity and at varying pedalling rates. The Journal of Physiology, 241, p. 45-57
  4. PHILLIPS, S.M. et al.  (2016) Neither load nor systemic hormones determine resistance training-mediated hypertrophy or strength gains in resistance-trained young men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 121(1), pp.129-138.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2000) Weight Training [WWW] Available from: [Accessed