Weight Lifting (cont.)

Medical Editor:

How important is the order in which I perform my exercises?

Studies demonstrate that the order in which exercises are performed can strongly affect the overall quality of the results. Research shows that the order of exercises can significantly affect strength development, and so it is standard practice to set up a resistance-training routine to work large muscle groups before smaller ones. The reason is that a small muscle group that fatigues first will be the weakest link in the chain and prevent large muscle groups from working to full capacity. For example, if you isolate and fatigue your biceps muscles with curls, and then try to do lat pull-downs (which use biceps, shoulders and back), you won't be able to do as much work for your shoulders and back because your biceps will already be fatigued. In the starter programs below, you will see examples of working large to small muscle groups.

What are weight-lifting splits?

A split refers to the practice of dividing workouts by muscle group. For example, you can work all upper body muscles on one day and lower body on another. Or you could work all the pushing muscles (triceps, pecs, anterior shoulder) on one day, and the pulling muscles (biceps, lats, rhomboids, posterior shoulder) on another. There are many possible combinations of splits, and I suggest that you experiment to find what works best for you. In the starter programs below, you will see examples of a split.

How much should I rest between sets and between days?

The amount of time you rest between sets can significantly affect your results. Rest up to three minutes between sets if pure strength development is your priority, and one to two minutes if muscular endurance and tone is your priority. Three minutes permits the muscles to recover from fatigue so that you can generate enough energy to perform another maximal lift on the next set. Benefits are not discreet. That is, there is carryover from one style to another, so that if you rest just one minute between sets, you will still increase endurance and tone, and if you rest three minutes between sets, you will still gain endurance and tone. The number of days that you rest between workouts can also affect your results. The standard advice is to rest two days between workouts. This makes sense if you push hard, since the muscles need time to recover and grow. In fact, it can take up to five days for muscles to fully recover from a tough workout, and if you push too hard, you might experience symptoms of overtraining (fatigue, loss of strength, inability to lift 100%, chronic soreness, and persistent injuries). Resting and lifting are not mutually exclusive with splits, however. It's okay to lift two days in a row. Experienced lifters do it all the time by splitting their workout so that they work one muscle group per day. For example, they might work their upper body on one day, and legs on another, or back muscles on one day, and chest muscles on the next. Experiment with different splits until you find what works best for you.

The golden rule is to remember that muscles recover and grow during downtime, not when you train, and so it's important to take time off. You know you need more rest if you have any symptoms of overtraining.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/17/2014