The weight training continuum explains how the body adapts physiologically to different weight-training methods. There are three basic physiological changes that happen while weight training within specific parameters: bulk/power, hypertrophy (increased muscle) or tone/endurance. All three of these methods are important to overall health and human performance; however, there are preconceptions for each method that may prevent one from using it for fear of achieving undesired results, e.g., a woman who doesn’t want muscle bulk may unnecessarily avoid heavy weight training. For example, bulk/power is often connected with an individual who is stocky, such as a power lifter. Hypertrophy is a term usually associated with body builders. Tone/endurance is often related to thinness or a lean physique. The following parameters provide the weight-training continuum for the three methods.
Goal Load Sets Reps Set-time Rest
Bulk/power Heavy 3-4 3-8 15-30s 90s-3m
Hypertrophy Moderate 3-5 8-13 30-60s 45s–90s
Tone/endurance Light 1-3 13-18 60-90s 30s–45s
* The time for each repetition should be between 3-6 seconds
These weight-training methods can be used alone or in combination. The right combination of power, hypertrophy and endurance can lead to optimal muscular fitness. The ideal combination is determined by individual goals, genetic capabilities and gender. The following is a progression of phases that those new to weight training will typically proceed through:
Phase 1: Adaptation
During this phase, which is 8-16 weeks long, those new to weight training will be recruiting muscle fibers not commonly used in order to exercise. Moreover, the neurological system will be working extremely hard to simplify these new challenging muscular movements, leading to what is known as neuromuscular adaptations. These muscular challenges can also cause injury if the intensity is excessive or if movements are not completed with proper form and control. This phase will require sets to be between 60 and 90 seconds. When sets are performed for this duration, a light to moderate load must be lifted, thus reducing the likelihood of injury. Beginning weight trainers will benefit from this lighter load by allowing their muscles, connective tissues (i.e. ligaments) and bones to adapt to this new stress. The lighter weight also allows for more frequent exercise without muscle soreness; only 48 hours of rest will be required. Thus, a beginner can weight train on a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday schedule. This frequent training will help you to learn the program more quickly and to complete a full body program each workout session. Although dramatic changes may not be apparent in your physical appearance during this phase, you can be certain that you have begun to build a strong physiological foundation, evidenced by better-coordinated muscular movements.
Phase 2: Changing Body Composition
After the adaptation phase, the muscles are ready to take on the challenge of more intense work. This increased intensity will lead to the systematic breaking down and rebuilding (hypertrophy) of muscle tissue. This muscle growth can also lead to increased strength gains. An increase in muscle tissue requires more energy expenditure (calories) and thus can be viewed as a strategy for weight management or weight loss. However, as you will learn later in this booklet hypertrophy alone may not be the best strategy for weight loss. During this stage it is common and sometimes necessary to use more than one training method from the training continuum. For example, one might start a program with a warm-up set of 60 to 90 seconds (12-15 reps), followed by a set of 45-60 seconds (8-12 reps), and finish with a heavy set of 30 seconds (4-8 reps). This integration of methods can lead to significant changes in power, hypertrophy and endurance. When weight training during this stage is combined with a sensible nutrition plan that follows the principal of negative energy balance (discussed in the following section), there is a higher potential for fat loss while maintaining muscle. In other words, the more muscle you build while consuming a sensible diet, the greater the fat loss.
Phase 3: Maintenance and Task Specific
Entering this phase means that you have significantly improved muscular strength, balance, coordination, and neuromuscular function. Moreover, you have increased muscle mass and decreased body fat to healthy levels. You should now be able to perform both free weight and machine exercises using excellent form without supervision. Additionally, you should be able to confidently and properly follow a program your trainer has developed for you. If you participate in sports, this is the time to tailor your workouts to your specific sports. If you do not participate in sports, your goal during this time is to maintain all of your physiological improvements by continually modifying your exercise programs to keep you challenged, motivated, and most importantly, exercising. Just as significantly, this will prevent “plateauing,” defined as reaching a point in an exercise program when you are no longer reaping benefits from an exercise program and your fitness level may actually decline.
“Every man is a builder of a temple called his body.” –Henry David Thoreau