Training | POSTED October 25, 2023

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.

References

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