Resistance Training Systems

Do What You're Not Doing to Burn Fat: Resistance Training

There are many training systems that can be utilized to structure a resistance training program for different results.

Single Set System

This is one of the oldest and simplest training methods and involves the execution of one set of each exercise. Each set usually consists of 8-12 reps at a controlled tempo. This is most often used for individuals who workout twice a week. Although multiple set training is perceived as being more beneficial for strength and size gains in more conditioned clients, the single set system has been shown to be as beneficial for a beginner or a less conditioned client.

The following training systems are best applied as single set systems, but can be applied as multiple set systems once the client has improved their conditioning and exercise technique.

The Circuit Training System

This is a system consisting of a series of exercises that an individual performs one after the other, with minimal rest. Circuit training is a great training system for those with limited time or those who need to achieve aerobic training adaptations along with strength adaptations. The aerobic adaptations are created due to the duration of the training with little to no rest, usually 20 – 30 minutes of continuous exercise. The strength adaptations are usually minimal as the resistance intensity is low due to high repetition ranges and minimal rest.

This training system is particularly effective when strength or hypertrophy gains are not a priority for the client, however, a certain level of muscular strength conditioning is required, E.g. aerobic/endurance athletes.

This training system is also most effective when introducing unconditioned clients to resistance training. It can also be used during a resistance training program as a variation, or as a cycle to lower intensity and allow recovery, but still maintain strength adaptions.

The Peripheral Heart Action System

This is a variation of circuit training that alternates upper body and lower body exercises throughout the circuit. This is similar to the upper body/lower body superset system, but is applied to an entire circuit routine, and not just to the superset. This system is beneficial for introducing functional, compound exercises into a resistance training routine, without losing the strength and strength endurance adaptations of previous training cycles.

Multiple Set System

This training system is the most commonly used and was mentioned in the previous lesson. The multiple set system consists of performing a multiple number of sets for each exercise. This system can easily be modified to suit the goals of the training program, and is one of the most popular systems due to its flexibility.

The following training systems are all generally multiple set training systems.

The Pyramid System

This system involves a progressive or regressive step approach that either increases or decreases weight with each set. In the light to heavy system, an individual performs 10-12 repetitions with a light load and increases the resistance for each following set, until the individual can only perform one to two repetitions, usually in four to six sets. This system can be used for workouts that involve only two to four sets or higher repetitions (up to 20). The heavy to light system works in the opposite direction. The individual starts with a heavy load and for one to two reps then decreases the amount of weight and increases the reps for four to six sets. This system is particularly effective when transitioning from one training goal to another, I.e. if a client is moving from a strength endurance phase to a pure strength phase, then a few sessions involving pyramid light to heavy training will assist the client’s ability to transition. Another application for this training system would be as a variation session to break up a particularly long or monotonous training cycle, or just to add a greater challenge for the client. It is advised that this system is not applied for long duration or over more than 4 – 6 sessions (<2 weeks) due to the increased intensity of the system.

The Superset System

This type of training utilizes 2 to 4 exercises performed in rapid succession of one another. Superset training is very flexible, and can involve varied approaches:

1. Agonist/Antagonist: This involves training the agonist and antagonist in quick succession with little to no rest interval, E.g., bicep/tricep superset. This system has the advantage of encouraging reciprocal inhibition in the antagonist, therefore creating improved nervous system adaptations.

2. Upper body/Lower body: This involves training an upper and lower body exercise in quick succession with little to no rest interval. This system creates good intra- and inter-muscular vascular adaptations. This is due to blood being shuttled quickly from a lower body muscle to an upper body muscle and vice versa. This results in the muscle and the vascular system improving its ability to transport nutrients and waste products to and from the working muscles respectively.

Typically, supersetting involves sets of 8-12 reps with no rest between sets or exercises, with low to moderate resistance intensity. However, high resistance intensity and exercise complexity can be incorporated in well-conditioned clients if set and repetition ranges are decreased.

The advantage of superset system training is that multiple training goals can be achieved simultaneously, I.e. pure strength gains with strength endurance as well as aerobic conditioning. This is ideal for individuals who have time restrictions, as training sessions are usually very short, 30 – 45 mins, and since full body training can be achieved at each session, the frequency of training can be as little as 3 times weekly.

The disadvantages include the complexity of programming, as in order to achieve a balance in addressing all muscular groups and training goals can prove difficult. The risk of under training or over training therefore becomes very high. This is more applicable to tri- and quad- superset training systems.

Basic superset training systems (bi-sets), can easily be included in a standard multiple set training program. This can be included to improve strength endurance of certain muscle groups where necessary, or simply to create a more challenging exercise into the program.

The Split Routine System

A split routine involves breaking up muscle groups to be trained on separate days. This would involve the application of a standard multiple set routine to a system which focuses on training a specific muscle group per day. This is a very popular training system amongst body builders and athletes, as it involves relatively simple program design principles, and does not require in depth knowledge of anatomy and physiology in comparison to more complex training systems.

The advantage of this system is that is results in large gains in muscle hypertrophy due to the focused nature of the routines. This hypertrophy is generally due to an increase in the size of the cytoplasm, and not necessarily and increase in the size of the sarcomere. The exercise sessions are usually quite long, often reaching 2 hours in duration, and incorporating 10 to 12 exercises for the specific muscle group.

The disadvantages of this system include:

  • long duration of exercise sessions
  • large amount of blood pooling during and after the session, requiring a minimum of 72 hours rest in between sessions
  • requiring high training frequency (5-6 days/ week) in order to train all muscle groups