Filed under: Muscle building
If you’re trying to increase your muscle mass, whether you’re just starting a program or recovering from an injury, lifting lighter weights (with more repetitions) can be a useful way to minimize the risks associated with heavy weightlifting while still building muscle.
Lifting heavy weights can be risky, especially if you’re using improper form, don’t have a spotter, or try to lift weights during recovery from an injury. However, research suggests that lifting about 30% of your 1RM (one-rep-max) to fatigue has effects on muscle growth similar to lifting 70–80% of your 1RM. When your muscles are tired, they still use the same amount of energy, despite the weight, causing them to replenish protein loss in similar ways, resulting in muscle growth. It isn’t that lifting heavy weights is necessarily bad, but lifting lighter weights may be good for maintaining muscle mass and growth in certain cases, such as when your risk of injury may be greater than usual.
Tribulus terrestris is used as an ingredient in some dietary supplement products marketed as testosterone “boosters” and/or to enhance muscle strength. What is it and does it work? Read this OPSS FAQ about Tribulus terrestris to find out. Also, be sure to check the OPSS section often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance-enhancing and bodybuilding supplements. OPSS can help you learn how to choose supplements safely.
If you have a question about a particular dietary supplement ingredient or product, and you can’t find the answer on our website, please use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.
Strength training is an important aspect of military fitness and resilience. Building muscle through strength and endurance training can increase bone density, improve balance and stability, and reduce your risk for injury. There are several training options for getting strong: free weights, machine weights, body-weight exercises, and/or circuit training are all effective strategies for building muscle. For more details, read HPRC’s Performance Strategies for Muscular Strength. If you have never done a resistance-training program, learn the proper form first by working out with a professional instructor, which will keep you injury-free and help you choose a program you can stick with. Training for the PFT/PRT? Read more about building muscular strength and endurance for optimal test results.
Part of a comprehensive fitness program involves improving your muscular strength and endurance. One way to figure out how much weight you should be lifting is to determine your one-repetition maximum (1RM). The American College of Sports Medicine recommends lifting 8–12 repetitions of 60-80% of a person’s 1RM to improve muscular strength and endurance. However, doing a 1RM test isn’t always feasible or safe if you don’t have someone to spot you. Instead, try using this this quick-and-easy calculator to estimate what your 1RM should be for a given exercise.
In training, in the field, and even when you’re not thinking about it—such as moving ammunition boxes into a transport—your muscular strength and endurance are essential components of your overall fitness. But training to improve muscular strength is not the same as training for muscular endurance. Muscular strength is the amount of force that a muscle can produce with a single maximum effort. Muscular endurance is the ability to sustain a muscle contraction over a period of time, or to repeatedly contract a muscle over a period of time.
When applying the FITT principle to your muscular fitness routine, here are some guidelines to follow:
Frequency. According to the most recent guidelines set forth by The American College of Sports Medicine and in agreement with other military fitness programs, resistance training for muscular fitness—both strength and endurance—by the “whole-body” training approach should be performed two to three days per week with at least 48-72 hours of rest between training sessions. The “split-body” approach involves focusing on one set of muscle groups one day and a different set on another day. This allows for consecutive days of resistance training in a cyclical routine. For example, you might exercise upper body muscles one day, followed by lower body muscles the next, and core/back muscles the third day of the rotation. Cycles in the split body approach will vary depending on how many muscle groups are exercised per day.
Intensity. With consistent training of two to four sets of reps per muscle group, most people see an increase in the size and strength of their muscles. However, even one set can result in improvements, especially in novice exercisers. When training for muscular strength, the weight you use should be about 60-80% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM). If you’re new to weightlifting or have not lifted weights for a while, start at 60%. (See our Healthy Tip on how to determine your 1RM.) For muscular strength, aim for eight to 12 reps per set, with a two- to three-minute rest between sets. If your objective is to improve your muscular endurance, the recommendation is 15-25 repetitions at no more than 50% of your 1RM, with a two- to three-minute rest between no more than two sets. A well-rounded muscular fitness program should include both strength and endurance training, but consider your specific goals when deciding on your approach.
Type. There’s a lot of different equipment you can use for resistance training, including machines with stacked weights, free weights, and resistance bands. Some exercises don’t require equipment, just your own body weight. For example, pushups and sit-ups, as assessed in the PRT, will help improve your muscular endurance. Individual exercises should focus on the major muscle groups such as the chest, shoulders, upper and lower back, abdomen, hips, thighs, and calves. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of different types of training equipment, and about workouts that utilize your own body weight or minimal equipment.
Time. The duration of a resistance-training workout can vary considerably and is less important than maintaining proper form and technique. As for the tempo of each exercise, The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends lifting the weight for a count of two seconds, and lowering for a count of three to four.
Progression. According to ACE, once you are able to perform the maximum number of repetitions correctly and with relative ease, increase the amount of resistance by five to 10%. This applies to repetitions performed for both strength and endurance.
Minimize the risk of injuries by using proper form, exercising with a partner, and paying attention to signs of excessive fatigue and pain. And if you’re new to resistance training, consult a certified personal trainer on proper lifting techniques.
The next Op-Ed in this series will discuss mobility training for the PRT.
Muscle strength is an essential component for successful Warfighter performance. Developing optimal muscle strength and endurance maximizes job performance and reduces risk of injury. The FITT principle can help you achieve this goal. FITT refers to “frequency, intensity, time (or duration), and type” of activity.
- Frequency is the number of sessions in a week that an individual trains. At least two days per week of strength training is recommended.
- Intensity, considered the most important aspect of strength and endurance conditioning, is defined by the amount of weight used per repetition. For muscle endurance, training should involve 20-60 repetitions of 30% to 50% of one repetition max (1RM; the maximum amount of weight one can lift for one repetition) per set. For muscle strength, training should involve 1-12 repetitions of 65% to 90% of 1RM per set.
- Time of sessions should range from 30 to 60 minutes.
- Type of exercise should vary in strength and conditioning routines to prevent boredom and improve gains. A combination of free weights and machines is recommended.
For more detailed information on strength training, read Chapter 6, Strength Training, of The Navy SEAL Physical Fitness Guide.
Protein powder supplements are a popular source for packing on muscle. The September 27, 2010 edition Health section of the L.A. Times contains an article that poses the question of how much supplements, if any, should one use in building muscle mass?