Different Types of Strength Training Programs

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You’ve decided you want to start lifting weights but there are so many different types of strength training so where would someone even begin?  This article will give you the information needed to help ensure you’re working towards your individual weight training goals. I use “strength training” is also called “resistance training” or “weight training” and I use all three interchangeably in this article.

I’ve been a competitive athlete most of my life and regardless of what sport I was doing, whether it was rocketing myself across a tennis court to smack the ball or exploding off my foot stretchers in a rowing regatta, resistance, or weight training, was always a crucial component to improving my performance.  Now that I’m older and not currently competing, weight training is still an integral component of the work I do to help retain whatever bone density I managed to grow when I was younger.

As with any exercise program, it’s really important you work with your doctor to ensure you’re able to begin a strength training program and working with a trained professional to ensure proper programming and technique is always helpful.  Below is not a prescription for your exercise routine but a resource to help you determine how to approach your own training.

What Strength Training Program is Best for You?

When determining what strength training program is best you first need to ask yourself, “what are my goals?”  Do you want to get jacked so you can take sweet pics to post online, or maybe enter bodybuilding/fitness competitions?  Maybe you’re a hopeful Ironman triathlete? Maybe you literally just want to pick up heavy stuff and put it down (or drop it, as the case may be for certain sports)?  Maybe you just want to minimize bone density loss as you age (spoiler… any of these will work to accomplish this)? Your goals will greatly shift what type of focus you have with your resistance training program.  

If you watched Physical 100 on Netflix, the Korean competition show that had vibes of Squid Game in the beginning, you saw athletes of all kinds go through a number of highly varied physical tests.  The show’s intent was to determine the “best physique” for all around fitness.  The contestants were body builders, wrestlers, crossfitters, professional MMA fighters, rock climbers, rugby players and so many other athletes.  The body builders were absolutely some of the biggest competitors, minus a Strong Man, and they absolutely thought they’d crush everyone but in actuality, most of them were eliminated early in the game.  That’s because when you train just for big muscles it doesn’t necessarily translate to functional strength.  They may not win Physical 100 but they do win their body building competitions, something the winner of the show would not even stand a chance.  This is an example of why figuring out your own goals is so important.

4 Types of Strength Training

There are 4 main types of resistance training – hypertrophy, strength, power and endurance. Each of these types has a recommended approach for how heavy you lift, how fast you move the weight, how many times you lift and how long of a rest you have between repetitions and/or sets.  The recommendations below are taking into account someone who has weight training experience and is currently training aka: not totally out of shape.  I’ll cover some of the modifications below the type descriptions.

Hypertrophy 

  • Promotes gains in muscular size
  • Perfect for bodybuilders and larger athletes like linebackers
  • Weight – 67-85% of 1RM
  • Reps – 6-12
  • Sets – 3-6
  • Rest – 30-90 seconds

Strength (Slow Strength)

  • Moving a lot of resistance/weight at slower speeds
  • Perfect for powerlifters and strongmen 
  • Weight – more than 85% of 1RM
  • Reps – 6 or less
  • Sets – 2-6
  • Rest – 2-5 minutes
Olympic Lifting – Clean and Jerk, which focuses on fast strength or “power”

Power (Fast Strength)

  • Moving resistance/weight with greater speeds (sorta – I’ll talk more about the difference between power and strength below because it can be confusing)
  • Training for speed along w/ moving weight is great for explosive types of movements – think basketball player jumps, anyone sprinting, a rower blasting off at the catch, etc.
  • Weight –
    • Single Effort – 80-90% of 1RM
    • Multi Effort – 75-85% of 1RM
  • Reps –
    • Single Effort – 1-2
    • Multi Effort – 3-5
  • Sets – 3-5
  • Rest – 2-5 minutes

Endurance

  • Moving weight but for longer periods of time or more repetitions
  • Any endurance athlete, like long distance runners, swimmers, rowers, cyclists, benefits from this
  • Weight – Less than 67% of 1RM
  • Reps – 12 or more
  • Sets – 2-3
  • Rest – 30 seconds or less

Modifications to Resistance Programs

Non-Athletes

I’m classifying non-athletes, in this case, as anyone not currently participating in a sport that has seasons. I’m an athlete in my heart and soul, always, but I’m not currently rowing so I would classify myself as a non-athlete.  You’ll want to be honest with where you’re at and know what your current fitness level is right now (not what it used to be) and what your experience is with using weights. These are the recommendations from the NSCA

  • Out of shape –
    • Less than 2 months of resistance training
    • Sessions – 1-2 days a week
    • Load/weight – zero to minimal, a lot can be accomplished by using just body weight
  • Moderately in shape –
    • 2-6 months of resistance training
    • Sessions – 2-3 days a week
    • Load/weight – moderate
  • In good shape –
    • 6+ months of resistance training
    • Sessions: 3-4 days a week
    • Load/weight – you can work at the prescribed recommendations

In all these scenarios, listen to your body.  If it’s struggle bus, drop the number of sessions a week, drop the weight, reduce the number of exercises, etc.  Your ability to train is not just based on how long you’ve trained but how well you’ve fueled your body, how well you slept and if you’re feeling stressed, etc.

I would always err on the side of under doing it vs over doing it. If you’re sore for days afterwards, you over did it. Use that as useful information and dial things back. For example, this past Monday I used a weight for my goblet squats that I had used before but it was 3 more sets than I did a month prior and my poor left leg has been exceptionally sore since Tuesday and it’s now Friday. I overdid it. Why just my left leg? It’s still an inch smaller than my right thanks to a very intense knee surgery I had a few years ago. So with that, also gage the work based around your weakest side.

If you are an athlete but have taken time off for whatever reason, I can’t stress enough how important it is to try to be with where you are NOW.  Do NOT do what I have done (sadly, more than once) and try to work out like you used to.  That is a recipe for horrific DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) quickly over training and risking injury.

Athletes

If you are an active athlete the recommendations for you will vary based on your season.  Some athletes are fortunate and have coaches who set their entire training regime for the entire year so you don’t even need to think about it but not everyone does.  When it comes to incorporating weights, the closer you get to being in-season, the more specificity you’ll be focusing on.  Outside of the main season(s) is where you really work to put in gains of all kinds.

  • Off-Season – 4-6 sessions a week and a focus on hypertrophy and muscular endurance
  • Preseason – 3-4 sessions a week and getting more sport specific so if you’re a rower, you’ll focus on power and endurance, if you’re a rugby player, strength and power
  • In-Season – 1-3 sessions a week, just maintenance of your resistance training
  • Postseason – 0-3 – it’s a free for all! Just kidding, but also, not.  This is when you’ll be actively resting and potentially taking part in other activities that have nothing to do with your sport

Strength vs. Power

Sometimes these two words are used synonymously, sometimes strength is used to denote movements that move a lot of weight without taking speed into account and power as taking weight and speed into account.  The NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) advises we look at power as its scientific formula:

  • Power = Work/Time
Power Lifting – Dead Lift, which focuses on slow strength or “strength”

where

  • Work = Force x Displacement (distance traveled)

and

  • Force = Mass x Acceleration

All movement of weight has a speed at which it moves, whether it’s slow or fast, so it is all power. The important thing for you to figure out is what kind of strength do you want to build, is it slow and heavy strength or fast and lighter strength?  

Sidenote: The sport of Powerlifting is a bit of a misnomer because the movements involved with Powerlifting (Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press) have less mechanical power output than Olympic Lifting (Snatch, Clean and Jerk).

Conclusion

Strength training can be used to condition for every other activity. Now that you have a general idea of the different types of resistance training you will be able to more accurately move towards your individual goals.

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AUTHOR

As a highly disciplined competitive athlete for 35 years Jess is now working to find more balance, more fun and more ease in the way she moves her body. In building her home gym she's been able to integrate a lot of equipment that helps her find play and she hopes to inspire others to do the same. She is a former nationally competitive rower, Concept 2 CIRI and 500 RYT Yoga Teacher.