Getting Started in the Weight Room

Including a weight training workout to your sport training program will not only enhance your performance but it will also help prevent injury. When working in the weight room it is important to be safe and follow some simple principles of lifting. By lifting smart you can give yourself the extra edge to improve success.

The weight room can be a dangerous place if you are not careful. Be sure to pay attention to what is going on around you and never lift by yourself. Whether you are a beginner, experienced, or an advanced lifter always follow the following guidelines:

  • Train only when a qualified coach is present.
  • Follow your training schedule.
  • Work in pairs – one lifting, the other spotting.
  • Be sure to emphasize good technique.
  • No horseplay.
  • Wear the correct clothing and shoes (no jeans or sandals).
  • No eating, drinking or smoking.
  • Help and respect other athletes.
  • Only athletes who are working out should be in the weight room.

Basics principles when following a weight training program include: develop joint flexibility, make sure your ligaments and tendons are strong, always work on good core strength, develop the stabilizers, train movement instead of individual muscles, and focus on what is necessary (not the latest and greatest).

Having good joint flexibility helps prevent strain and pain around the knees, elbows, and other joints1. Pay special attention to ankle flexibility as it affects the entire chain of movement. Training a muscle that moves through the full range of motion is more effective than stressing a muscle that does not have the range. Include flexibility at the beginning and end of a workout, and away from the weight room.

Good strength of the ligaments and tendons also prevents stress injuries from developing. Condition your ligaments using a cycle of loading and unloading so they can adapt to the load (similar to training your muscles). Tendons store elastic energy and are important in ballistic movements like jumping. The stronger the tendon is the more it can store elastic energy1. Think strong training for your ligaments and tendons and the muscles will develop strong also.

Your core muscles are used as shock absorbers during jumping, rebounding or plyometric exercises. They act as the link between your legs and arms1. Include activities that challenge your core in every weight room session. Remember that your athletic movements are only as strong as your core strength.

Prime movers include your chest (pectoralis) muscle and your front thigh (quadriceps) muscle. For these muscles to move efficiently they require strong stabilizing muscles. A stabilizer holds the joint in place by contracting isometrically (does not shorten or lengthen). They immobilize a limb so another part of the body can move. A good example of this is when you perform a bench press; during the movement your pectoralis muscle is performing the movement while the rotator cuff muscles are stabilizing your shoulder joints. A weak stabilizer prevents the prime mover from contracting and can hamper the activity of major muscles.

Similar to plyometrics, agility, and speed training, strength training should be sport specific. Your exercises in the weight room should imitate your skills during your sport. “Athletic skills are multi-joint movements occurring in a certain order, called a kinetic chain (movement chain)1”. This takes some thinking about the actual movements you perform and applying them to movements in the weight room. For example a throwing athlete brings the arm above the shoulder so a pullover exercise would help simulate this motion.

Always keep in mind what is necessary to train. A good selection of exercises is important but be sure it targets prime movers or main muscle groups used to perform your athletic movement. When you hear about the latest equipment to improve power and strength first think about your sport, what you need to train for it, and whether it’s worth the extra money to buy it.

Athletes often get involved in sports they do well at. The sport you are inclined to do is often the type of sport you were meant to do. If you run long distances well, than you more than likely have a large supply of slow twitch fibers. Slow twitch fibers give you the endurance you need during aerobic (long duration) exercises. If explosive soccer drills are more your thing than your body is no doubt made up of fast twitch fibers. Fast twitch fibers give you the strength you need during anaerobic (short duration) exercises. When you train it has been shown that training for your body type is more effective than training against it. Do not be disappointed if you are determined to be a world class marathon runner. These fibers can be trained to an extent but generally they are decided by genetics.

Being a distance runner in the weight room is actually very important for developing muscular endurance. This gives you the strength for your final kick of the race. You would adapt better to endurance training with a muscular endurance program. This includes more repetitions of a lighter weight. As a soccer player your program will work on developing your power training with a sprinting and muscular strength program. This includes fewer repetitions of a heavier weight.

“How much load you use depends upon what it is you wish to develop2”:

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

Power and Maximum Strength
The goal of power lifting is to develop powerful movements. This requires low number of repetitions (1-5) with heavy loads (80-100% of 1RM). This is appropriate for Power Lifting, Olympic Lifting, Shot Put. The goal of maximum strength lifting is to develop strength movements. This requires medium number of repetitions (6-10) with medium to heavy loading (70-80% of 1RM). Rest time for both power and maximum strength is 2-5 minutes between sets to allow for optimal recovery. This is appropriate for power based events e.g. sprinting, jumping (long jump), throwing (javelin).

Hypertrophy with Strength
The goal is to increase muscle size with some gains in strength. This requires medium to high number of repetitions (8-12) with medium to heavy loading (70-80%+ of 1RM). Rest time is 30 seconds to 2 minutes between sets to allow for growth and fatigue. This is appropriate for Bodybuilding or sports like football where increased size is an advantage.

Strength Endurance
The goal is to develop muscles that are able to produce continuous movement while fatigued. This requires high repetitions (15+) with light loading (30-50% of 1RM). Rest time is no more than 30 seconds between sets to challenge your cardiovascular system. This is appropriate for field sports, rowing and martial arts.

Working with weights as part of your training program can enhance your strength and ability to perform. When you are in the weight room be safe and follow the principles of strength training. Focus on your sport specific training and your type of training. Remember all these aspects during your weight training routine and it will help you get a good start.

1. The Six Basic Rules of Strength Training for Sports – MuscleandStrength.com. . http://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/six-basic-rules-of-strength-training.html. Accessed 6/26/2008, 2008.
2. Resistance or Weight Training to Develop Strength. . http://www.brianmac.co.uk/weight.htm. Accessed 6/26/2008, 2008.

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