How To Get Into Effective Resistance Training

Chad Kirkham
is the Owner of The Warrior Path, MAP Fitness, and is Head of Strength & Conditioning at MAS Thaiboxing. Chad has devoted years to the study of maximizing performance and health for the purpose of making sure our nations military and emergency service personnel are as safe as possible executing their sworn duties.

           Effective resistance training or as it is commonly known "weight training" isn't as simple as throwing a few plates on a barbell and moving them until you get tired. There is a very complicated science behind developing, big, strong, and effective muscles. But the way to begin your fitness journey is probably the most important.

           When getting into resistance training there is a very specific way to go about it in order to maximize your long term results. During your early training age you shouldn't be looking to go for maximal lifts, these need to be done rarely until you hit your late or mid-late training age. Otherwise you are increasing your likelihood or developing imbalances, plateauing or injury. 

           You need to think of our bodies as if we were a lightbulb. During the early 1900's lightbulbs had the capability of producing light, it was very dull but it would still glow. But it was constantly limited by its filament, they were very brittle and when too much of a load was put on them they would break. As time went on and science advanced we could increase the strength of the filament and allow for more of a load to be put on it. Allowing it to glow brighter and break less often.

        In the human body our filament is the central nervous system (CNS), it is the neural pathways responsible for all neurological firings to go from the brain to the body. In the context of fitness the CNS is what determines the efficiency of a movement and how powerfully we can express that movement. During your early training age we only have so many efficient neural pathways to recruit our muscles. This lack of CNS development means that even during maximal CNS excitation we can not fully express our maximal strength potential. Essentially we have the muscular strength capability to lift more than our CNS will allow. 

         We see similar lack of CNS development exaggerated in babies. When they are first born they have very limited muscular control, basically only able to flail their limbs around in very crude movements. As they age and get more "reps in" their CNS begins to develop more, giving them more capability to do finer motor movements such as crawl, walk, run, grasp and hold. Over time this lets them express both powerful movements such as a walking, running, all the way to more fine and precise movements such as drawing..    

            For the beginner lifter this CNS lack of development is expressed in a few different ways. Poor motor control (not being able to perform a lift with good form), poor muscular strength expression (cant efficiently recruit muscles to perform the lift), and poor CNS excitation (burning out the CNS before effective muscle tearing occurs).  In essence when proper CNS development hasn't occurred you are hamstringing yourself over a multitude of areas and will hurt your long term maximal physical potential. 

             When we look at individuals who perform near 1 rep max sets for their lifts on a consistent basis, we see that they develop an over-stimulated nervous system which has adapted to a higher excitation state without proper motor control development. This results in these individuals to more rapidly hit stagnation or plateauing of their lifts, their maximal strength expression will be weaker over a longer period of time, and they will have a significant increased risk of injury.  

So how do we get around this? Well for one effective program design of proper with reps, sets, rest, movement design and time under tension all being precisely calculated for maximal results. Each of these can warrant a full post about effective implementation for a beginner lifter but rather than going deep into the science instead ill give you an actionable plan of what to do.  

First and foremost you need to be assessed by a qualified individual, if you cant recognize what poor CNS development looks like in the gym how can you determine when you are in or out of it. In the past I have had clients who had never lifted a weight before in their life but had amazing CNS development primarily from its development in sport. As well as clients with poor CNS activation with a relatively large amount of time in the gym. The old saying rings extra true here "Dont guess, Assess".

Once it has been determined you are in a state of low training age you should program exercises high in reps, low in sets, and high time under tension. Doing this is the best way to create improved synaptic firing while training relative to their current physical potential.  During activation this would look like 3 sets of 10-15 reps with roughly 60-90 seconds of total time under tension. With the movements being primarily high efficiency compound movements, such as squats, rows, presses, and deadlifts. 

          The focus should be on these movements because they cause a wide spread and effective muscular recruitment. For a similar dose response of a barbell squat it would require multiple isolation exercises just to recruit all the same muscles, but it also give us less of an ability to incorporate them all into a dynamic athletic movement. This is not efficient for time, energy output, muscular development, or for future movement growth. So especially in the beginning compound movements is where you need to put the primacy of your focus. 

           So how long do you need to have this type of lifting structure? Well everyone is different, i've had clients that need this structure for 1 year, i've had clients that needed it for 1 month. Everything is dependent on your baseline capabilities and in large part your activity levels when you were young. For the average person this lifting structure should be implemented for 4-6 months before you start seeing drastic changes in the structure of your lifts. Once your CNS is effectively firing you can get into more force generation, strength endurance, or hypertrophy work depending on what your goal is.

           Remember this isn't something to do forever, this is only for new lifters looking to find maximal physical potential over a long period of time. There are other ways to encourage large strength gains over a short period of time but these will normally result in less long term growth. Once this style of training is complete we normally transition to other styles of training and then evolve it as necessary for your progression.

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