Essentially Strong


People have been training with resistance for eons, using various implements and schemes.  Whatever the methodology, all resistance training aims to maintain / increase strength, which is a huge part of remaining a highly functional human being.  Getting strong takes effort but being strong makes a great many things easier, and it gives a great sense of empowerment.

One of my favorite client stories is of a woman who trained with me years ago.  She consistently worked hard and I saw her progressively (and dramatically) improve her strength .  But I don’t think she realized it fully until one day when she had to help her husband lift the rear seat of their mini-van.  It was a task she dreaded because the seat was heavy and unwieldy and she had struggled with it in the past.   After months of strength training though, she picked it up with hardly any effort at all.  I don’t know what she had for breakfast that day, but I would bet it was the training and not Wheaties that made it so much easier.

Strength training (lifting weights) essentially builds the ability to exert or resist force.  As one gets stronger,  lifting heavier weights is required to keep seeing results.  Theoretically, this could be achieved by lifting bigger and bigger rocks a few days a week.

Nature's Barbells?

Nature’s Barbells?

In today’s gyms and health clubs, one might find all manner of equipment from basic iron barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells to functional training devices like the TRX or PurMotion to plate loaded machines.  Despite the myriad of choices, getting stronger really comes down to progressive loading; picking up and putting down heavier things.  Whatever way you go about it, progressively increase the demand to keep getting stronger.

Resistance training is often discussed in terms of repetition maximum (RM), meaning a weight that can be lifted successfully for a certain number of repetitions.  For example, let’s say Chuck Atlas has a 1 repetition maximum (RM) of 300 pounds on the bench press – he can successfully lift 300 lbs. once.  If he tried to do 2 or 3, his muscles would fail and he’d get stuck under the barbell and have to wiggle his way out.


Stuck Chuck

Although useful, 1 RM is not easy to determine.  Testing for a 1 RM means a trial of lifting as much weight as possible for a single repetition – something I wouldn’t recommend for recreational exercisers, lest you risk a situation like our friend Chuck finds himself in above.  Luckily, RM can be estimated.  Warm up with relatively light weights, then pick a weight you think you can lift 10 times (but not 11).  You might have to do a couple of attempts but, once you figure it out, your 10 RM should be about 75% of your 1 RM.  So, if you can lift 75 pounds 10 times, your 1RM is right around 100 pounds.  It takes a little math, but it should help optimize your strength training.  Research shows untrained beginners get the best results from 60% of 1 RM for 4 sets, 3 days per week.  For recreationally trained individuals, 80% of 1 RM for 4 sets, 2 days per week works better.

Now, the “optimal” and the “practical” are often two different things.  If you don’t want to go through the process of assessing your RM values, you can make an educated guess and likely get good results regardless.  If you’ve done strength training on your own or with a trainer, you probably know what feels light, moderate and heavy.  Maximal strength comes from lifting relatively heavy weight, but not necessarily to muscular failure.  Research suggests that not lifting to failure actually works best, so keep that in mind.  You don’t have to annihilate your muscles to get stronger!

As always, if you’re struggling with your resistance training and can’t get stronger, you can always ask one of our trainers to help you figure it out.


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Michael Bento is an Advanced Trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park. He holds a Masters degree in Human Movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.

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