“The goal of a strength training programme is force production and the goal of aesthetic training is to increase muscle mass,” says Reeve. “The difference with strength is that you will need two to three days of recovery, unlike the single day you need for muscle mass training. This is because neurologically it’s quite fatiguing.”
As working closer to our maximum lift has an effect on the central nervous system, Reeve recommends lifting sets of less than six repetitions for strength sessions – meaning a weight so heavy you can lift it fewer than six times before you need to rest. By contrast, when training for those T-shirt-enhancing muscles, you will be lifting in the eight to 12 range. The heaviness of the weight is measured as a factor of your one-repetition maximum (the most weight you can lift just once). Reeve recommends starting with 85 per cent of your one-rep max for one to six reps, and three to six sets in each session.
As well as longer breaks between sessions, you will need longer rests between sets, with a sensible aim of two to five minutes. It’s very tempting to cut these resting periods down, partly because you feel odd being inactive for such a long time, but this needs to be taken seriously. You can do foam rolling and stretching during these breaks – but no lifting.
The other key to avoiding injury is to prepare properly for each exercise. If you’re planning a heavy squat, for instance, then warm up with bodyweight squats and don’t mess with the bar until you are happy your joints and muscles are fully prepped.
The joy of being a strength newbie is you can brace for an exciting first six weeks in which you will see great progress. This is really an improvement in your mind-body connection – you will be learning how to engage your muscles. Beyond that period, improvements will be harder to come by, but Reeve says we should be aiming for a five per cent increase per week: if we try to advance too quickly, we risk damage.
Which moves are best for strength training?
The core moves in strength training are squats, hip thrusts, Romanian deadlifts, bench presses, shoulder presses, dumbbell pulls and pull-ups. These are the essential compound lifts (they involve multiple joints) and Reeve says they will engage a range of muscle groups and build strength faster than very specific moves like the bicep curl.
Kengamu advises all beginners to master their technique before they give themselves any ambitious weight goals. “Do not set yourself numbers and big goals. Get to a gym and get the movement right first. If not you will injure yourself to the point where you will give up.”
Finally, don’t be afraid to join the strength club. What can look like the gym’s most intimidating corner is full of people keen to help encourage those with fewer plates on their bar. “I can meet a powerlifter in Papua New Guinea and connect with them instantly,” says Kengamu. “The support and affection in lifting is second to none.”
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