A Brief Insight Into How Ivy Training Gets People Stronger

Following on from our previous article about strength training, today we’ll be taking you step-by-step through designing a strength training program for one of our clients at Ivy Training that will not only improve health outcomes, but also get our client stronger.

First, let’s introduce our client. Nicole is a busy professional in her 40s with two young children. She’s never strength trained before, and her goals are to establish a consistent exercise routine and improve her health. She would also like to eventually do a push-up. With her hectic schedule the most she’s able to commit to training is two sessions per week in the studio.

Next, we need to consider all of the variables that will go into building Nicole’s program. These will be a combination of the universal characteristics essential to any strength training routine, Nicole’s goals, and her lifestyle. We’ll go through each of these elements step-by-step:

  1. Frequency: how many days per week?
  2. Exercise selection: which exercises will be performed?
  3. Volume: how many sets and reps will be prescribed per week?
  4. Intensity: how hard should each set be?
  5. Progression: how will we assess progress?
Equipment that will get you stronger


The first thing to determine is how many days per week Nicole will be training. The World Health Organisation Physical Activity Guidelines recommend at least 2 days of muscle-strengthening exercise per week1. For Nicole we don’t need to go any further, as her schedule currently only allows for 2 sessions per week.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Exercise Selection

Now that we know how many sessions Nicole can commit to weekly, the next thing to do is to choose some exercises. Since Nicole mainly wants to improve her health, we’re going to select movements that train all her major muscle groups2. A good way to achieve this is to categorise exercises by the major compound movement patterns. These include: knee extension, hip hinge, upper body push, and upper body pull. To meet our frequency requirements, we’ll cover each movement pattern twice per week.

We also need to consider Nicole’s goal of doing a push-up. Since strength development is specific to the movement performed, we’ll include an assisted version of a push-up as one of her upper body push exercises.

At this stage our weekly program looks like this:

Day 1Day 2
Dumbbell Squat (Knee Extension)Romanian Deadlift (Hip Hinge)
Seated Dumbbell Press (Vertical Push)Assisted Push Up (Horizontal Press)
Hip Thrust (Hip Hinge)Leg Press (Knee Extension)
Seated Cable Row (Horizontal Pull)Lat Pulldown (Vertical Pull)


Now we need to figure out how much work Nicole is going to do for each exercise. We’ll express this volume as the number of sets and reps done for each exercise each week. 

We know that doing more weekly sets generally leads to greater increases in strength3. With that in mind, and also being aware of Nicole’s limited availability, we’re going to start with 3 sets per exercise. This gives us 6 sets per movement pattern per week, more than enough to see improvements in strength4.

It’s possible to improve strength using a variety of rep ranges5, so we’re going to program each exercise for 5-8 reps per set. This range is good because it’s low enough to allow for the heavy weights needed to drive strength gains, but not so low that Nicole will struggle to learn and practise good exercise technique.

Lat Pulldown


One of the last things we need to do is figure out how hard Nicole should be training. To build strength, the weight used in any given exercise should be greater than 60% of her One Repetition Maximum (1RM) for that exercise6. The difficulty here is that Nicole is new to strength training, so we don’t know any of her 1RMs. As a beginner she is also primed to get stronger quickly, so any percentages would be changing week to week anyway.

What we can do is use the concepts of Reps In Reserve (RIR) and Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), which measures how many reps away from muscular failure (being unable to complete any more reps) someone is on a set. On its own RIR doesn’t dictate strength gains7, but we can use it in conjunction with our selected rep range of 5-8 to make sure Nicole is lifting heavy enough.

We’re going to assign all of Nicole’s sets at 3 RIR, which for 5-8 reps should be roughly 70-80% of her 1RM. These sets should be hard, but not so difficult that her technique and recovery will suffer. If Nicole is gauging her RIR correctly, we know that the weight is heavy enough to drive strength gains.

Training Program


The last thing to figure out is how to ensure that Nicole continues to be challenged as she gets stronger. Without this consideration, Nicole’s strength will eventually plateau as her training ceases to be hard enough to drive further adaptations. The solution is something we’ve already built into the program, RIR. Using Nicole’s feedback after each set, we can figure out if it’s time to add more weight, reps or sets.

For example, if Nicole does a set of 7 reps on Dumbbell Squats and then rates that set as a 4 RIR, we might aim for 8 reps next set, as it was easier than the 3 RIR we had prescribed. Once she does a set of 8 reps at 4 RIR or greater, we might look at increasing the weight and dropping the reps back down to 5 if needed.

Repeating this process allows us to make sure that Nicole is always training at a level of intensity high enough to drive further improvements, no matter how strong she becomes.

Dumbbells to get stronger

The Final Product

Here’s the final version of Nicole’s program:

Day 1Day 2
Dumbbell Squat (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)Romanian Deadlift (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)
Seated Dumbbell Press (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)Assisted Push Up (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)
Hip Thrust (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)Leg Press (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)
Seated Cable Row (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)Lat Pulldown (3 x 5-8 @ 3 RIR)

As you can see, a good strength training program looks fairly simple, but a lot goes into setting it up. Ensuring that all exercise and client variables are being appropriately considered to achieve optimal strength development is a skill that needs to be cultivated.

If you want to make sure you’re getting the best results from your strength training, get in touch with us.


  1. WHO Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour ↩︎
  2. WHO Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour ↩︎
  3. The Effect of Weekly Set Volume on Strength Gain: A Meta-Analysis ↩︎
  4. The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required for 1RM Strength in Powerlifters ↩︎
  5. Resistance training prescription for muscle strength and hypertrophy in healthy adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis ↩︎
  6. Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis ↩︎
  7. Exploring the Dose-Response Relationship Between Estimated Resistance Training Proximity to Failure, Strength Gain, and Muscle Hypertrophy ↩︎

How Can You Tell if You’re Actually Strength Training?

Strength training, also known as Progressive Resistance Training (PRT), is a form of exercise in which muscles progressively exert force against an increasing resistance as they become stronger [1]. The reasons to participate in strength training are many. Most importantly, “people of all ages and abilities who regularly participate in resistance exercise reduce risk of numerous diseases, improve quality of life and reduce mortality” [2]. Strength training is especially critical as we age for maintaining function important for everyday living and managing pain [1]. Finally, many individuals simply want to see changes to their body composition and get stronger. When we first meet with a new client, we ask the question, “Have you participated in strength training before?” Many clients enthusiastically answer “Yes!” but often proceed to describe programs that involve circuit training or other types of exercise. Today we have two goals. First, to help define strength training. Second, to answer the question “How can you tell if you’re actually strength training?”

What makes up strength training?

So, what are the characteristics that make up strength training? There are key exercise variables which we’ve actually covered in a previous article, here. Very briefly, they include: exercise selection, intensity, volume, rest periods and frequency. Getting stronger requires intentionally manipulating the interactions between these variables, formatted in a program for the purpose of progressively improving performance. Implied by that definition is an understanding of how these variables work and maximising the positive outcomes of these interactions. For getting stronger there’s a few things we need to consider:

  • Specific exercise selection that reflects your performance goals,
  • High enough load or intensity relative to your 1 repetition max,
  • Sufficient volume at that high enough intensity,
  • Enough rest per set so that your performance per set can remain consistent,
  • Enough practise or frequency throughout the week through careful exercise selection.

Anything less than the above is not bad, but by definition, isn’t really adhering to these critical principles. By this criterion, and by considering the application, you can actually ask yourself if what you’re doing is strength training.

Demonstration of a front squat in a strength session.

What strength training isn’t

Well, why does that matter anyway? It’s not uncommon for individuals to look to improve their quality of life, health, fitness, and body composition through participation in strength training. However, if someone is unaware, they might engage in programs marketed to get you stronger, but aren’t set up to realistically do so. This can lead to frustration when people’s expectations aren’t met, and they fail to achieve the desired results. Regrettably, the fitness industry often uses the term ‘strength’ casually. Classes like BodyPump or F45 are fantastic, but they better suit general fitness rather than strength. Despite using compound exercises and external resistance, this exercise format lacks the intentional manipulation of exercise variables for the purpose of getting stronger. Let’s see how these types of classes stack up against our selected criterion:

  • Exercise selection: Although a wide variety of compound exercises is generally a good thing, when aiming to get stronger, exercise selection cannot be varied and random.
  • Intensity: The class format does not facilitate the ability to load movements heavily enough to work in a range befitting strength development.
  • Volume: Following on from above, too much volume below the correct intensity threshold means individuals are getting fitter, but not stronger.
  • Rest: The class format dictates rest based on a universal timer, rather than catering to individual performance needs.
  • Frequency: Tying back to exercise selection, the week isn’t organised in a way that allows you to practice the lifts you’d like to improve on a consistent basis.
Demonstration of an DB RDL in a strength session.

Finish strong

Strength training plays a vital role in ageing healthily and enhancing overall fitness. It’s not a loose term; it involves specific principles and objectives. For optimal results, understanding how to spend your exercise time is crucial. While we encourage various forms of exercise, it’s essential to distinguish strength training from other fitness activities. If you’re pursuing strength gains, you must recognise the key criteria: exercise selection, intensity, volume, rest, and frequency. These elements form the foundation of strength training. We’re here to help if you’re uncertain about where to begin or need guidance. Your exercise journey represents an investment, so make sure it aligns with your fitness goals. Choose your path wisely, and if strength training is one of your goals, make sure you know what to look for. Contact us here if you’re ready to start your strength training journey with us.


  1. Progressive resistance strength training for improving physical function in older adults – PMC (nih.gov)
  2. Resistance Training for Health (acsm.org)