From building strong, resilient bones to staving off age-related loss of muscle mass, there are countless reasons to lift weights. One big one: strength training can extend your lifespan. According to researchers at the University of Sydney, strength training can lower your risk of death from any cause by 23 percent (and death from cancer by 31 percent).
Strength training can also help you reach short-term aesthetic- and performance-related goals, like raw strength and power, muscle size (also known as hypertrophy), muscular endurance, and even weight loss.
However, strength training is not one-size-fits-all; your approach should vary depending on your goal. Whether you want to lift as much weight as possible or score a bodybuilder physique, here’s how to strength train for your fitness goals.
How To Strength Train For Pure Strength
If you want to get strong, you have to lift heavy. “To increase pure strength, it’s all about maximizing the amount of weight lifted,” says exercise physiologist Tom Holland, M.S., C.S.C.S., author of The Micro Workout Plan and host of the Fitness Disrupted podcast.
To build strength, Holland recommends performing two to six sets of just one to five reps. Why so few reps? Because you’ll be aiming for a load that’s approximately 85 to 100 percent of your one-rep maximum (also known as 1RM, the most weight you can lift for a single rep with good form). Take three to five minutes of rest between sets.
Related: Why All Women Need To Strength Train
Don’t know your 1RM? This calculator from the American Council on Exercise predicts it based on how much you can lift for certain exercises.
Though you can build pure strength in all kinds of strength exercises, compound exercises (like squats, chest presses, and deadlifts) are a good place to start, Holland says.
Pro tip: Make sure you build a foundation of general strength (at least three to four months of lifting three or four days per week) and nail correct form for basic exercises before you try lifting heavy.
How To Strength Train For Power
“Training for power is about maximizing the ability to generate strength quickly, utilizing it in an explosive manner,” Holland says. Olympic lifting, which features powerful exercises like the snatch, clean, and clean-and-jerk, is all about power.
When training for power, Holland recommends sticking to three to five sets of one to three reps. Opt for a heavy load that’s roughly 80 to 85 percent of your 1RM. Because you’re exerting a ton of force during each rep, stick with three to five minutes of rest in between sets.
As with strength, you can use a variety of exercises to build power, though compound exercises (especially Olympic lifts) are your best bet.
Since you need adequate strength to train for power, don’t jump straight into power training in your first few months hitting the weights.
How To Strength Train For Muscle Growth Or Weight Loss
Training to build muscle is a little different than training to build strength: “The key for building muscle is training volume, which means doing multiple sets of more repetitions with challenging, but not maximal, weights,” Holland says.
When training for muscle growth, perform three to six sets of eight to 12 reps. Shoot for a load that’s roughly 75 to 85 percent of your 1RM and keep rest periods relatively short (30 to 90 seconds).
Focus primarily on compound exercises, and incorporate isolation exercises (like biceps curls, skull crushers and hamstring curls) to beef up specific muscle groups.
Since muscle tissue requires more calories to maintain than fat, increasing your muscle mass also helps increase your metabolism, meaning you automatically burn more calories each and every day. In the long run, that’s a major plus for sustainable fat loss.
How To Strength Train For Muscle Endurance
Muscular endurance refers to your ability to do something many times without fatiguing. It’s a must for marathoners and triathletes, “who would employ this type of training as part of their strength plan to maximize muscle fiber endurance,” Holland says.
When training for muscle endurance, you need to keep the reps and sets high: Holland suggests three to five sets of 20-plus reps. Since you’re working at a super-high volume, keep the load low—like less than 50 percent of your 1RM. Take 30 to 90 seconds of rest in between sets.
Here, shoot for a combination of compound and isolation exercises, Holland says. You want to promote full-body endurance, and also emphasize the particular muscle groups your sport utilizes most.
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