Resistance training and physical conditioning
Learn the guiding principles to improve your overall strength and conditioning.
Resistance training is a form of physical activity that improves muscular fitness by exercising a muscle, or a muscle group, against external resistance.
Any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance with the expectation of increases in strength, power, hypertrophy (muscle), and/or endurance can be considered resistance training. The external resistance can be dumbbells, exercise tubing, your own body weight, bricks, bottles of water, or any other object that causes the muscles to contract.
The basic method of strength training uses the principle of progressive overload in which the muscles are overloaded by attempting to lift at least as much weight as they are capable, also known as time under tension. Muscles respond by growing larger and stronger. This procedure is repeated with progressively heavier weights so you can gain strength and endurance.
Performing exercises at the absolute limit of one's strength (known as one rep max lifts) is considered too risky for all but the most experienced individuals. However lifting slightly lighter (sub-maximal) weights, with more repetitions, will still fatigue the muscle and all fibres within that muscle as required by the progressive overload principle. Commonly, each exercise is continued to the point of momentary muscular failure. Contrary to widespread belief, this is not the point at which the individual thinks they cannot complete any more repetitions, but rather the first repetition that fails due to inadequate muscular strength.
Hypertrophy training focuses on the goal of increasing muscle size. This means using higher repetitions to stimulate an increase in muscle endurance and muscle volume. Hypertrophy and strength training are complementary, combining both can help to accelerate gains in both muscle size and strength.
Hypertrophy training is training with the intent to increase muscle size, or to gain additional muscle mass. Likely a familiar term to long-time lifters or bodybuilders, hypertrophy is muscle growth spurred on by muscles overcoming external force. In exercise, that force typically takes the form of weights. Whether it’s dumbbells, barbells, medicine balls, exercising a muscle under tension will bring growth. Exercise selection is an important piece of the training puzzle, but there are also other factors that go into achieving increased muscle size such as, periodization, recovery, experience and nutrition.
Power training typically involves exercises which apply the maximum amount of force as fast as possible; on the basis that strength + speed = power. Jumping with weights or throwing weights are two examples of power training exercises. Regular weight training exercises such as the clean and jerk and power clean may also be considered as being power training exercises due to the explosive speed required to complete the lifts.
Power training may also involve contrasting exercises such as heavy lifts and plyometrics (that use speed and force of different movements), known as complex training, in an attempt to combine the maximal lifting exertions with dynamic movements. This combination of a high strength exercise with a high speed exercise may lead to an increased ability to apply power.
Power training frequently specifically utilises two physiological processes which increase in conjunction with one another during exercise. These are deep breathing, which results in increased intra-abdominal pressure; and post-activation potentiation, which is the enhanced activation of the nervous system and increased muscle fibre recruitment. Power training programmes may be shaped to increase an individual’s ability to apply power in general, to meet sports specific criteria, or both.
Strength endurance training means training with a high number of repetitions at low weights. Strength endurance training therefore does not train with maximum strength, but only with an intensity of about 50-60 percent of maximum performance (strength endurance training increases existing muscles).
The strength endurance approach focusses on lifting lighter weights for a high number of reps, non-stop and/or with very short rest periods. In technical terms, muscle endurance refers to the ability of a muscle to sustain repeated contractions against resistance for an extended period of time. This means the number of repetitions of a single exercise you can do without needing to stop and rest.
While there is some resistance when lifting light weights for volume, this is working on an entirely different system – the cardiovascular system or more commonly known as cardio – improving the ability of the heart to deliver a steady supply of oxygen to working muscle and increasing capillary size to help the heart pump blood more efficiently. However, this doesn't affect the number or thickness of muscle fibres which is needed for strength improvements.
This type of training usually involves reps of more than 15 with minimal rest or no rest. This increases your breathing and heart rate which is exactly what you need for weight loss, but if strength gain is what you are after, this is not what you want to do.
Benefits of strength training
Strength training should be accompanied with aerobic training as both complement training results with different benefits. General benefits include:
- Increased muscle strength and endurance, greater lean body mass, less body fat and higher metabolism
- Increased coordination and protection from injury
- Better performance of physically demanding job related tasks
- Improved recovery
Considerations when strength training
A 250kg Back Squat shows great lower limb strength, great if you are a power lifter, but does this make your job easier if you are deployed?
An increase in applied strength will enhance your performance on physical tasks required both in daily and operational tasks.
Functional strength training concepts
- Train your stabilising core postural muscles before upper and lower limbs
- Train bodyweight before external resistance
- Master technique first before extra weight is added.
Technique. It is important that the correct technique is used. Technique should never be sacrificed for heavier weight; this will cause injury and teach the body incorrect form.
Intensity. The intensity of training should be the focus only after technique is perfected. Correct lifting techniques over time and lifting the correct weight will create progressive overload where the body will gradually adapt to the training over time and decrease the risk of injury.
How often should I conduct resistance training?
This depends on your goals with your training. For general fitness requirements, training 2-3 times a week with rest in between sessions is recommended.
When training or following a programme, it is important specific principles of training are followed. Those specific to strength training are specificity, progressive overload and individual response.
Guidelines of rep ranges for training
|Lifting goal||Load (%1RM)||# Sets||# Reps||Rest|
|Strength||≥ 85%||2 - 6||≤ 6||2 - 5 minutes|
|80 - 90%
||3 - 5||1 - 2||2 - 5 minutes|
|75 - 85%||3 - 5||3 - 5||2 - 5 minutes|
|Hypertrophy||67 - 85%||3 - 6||6 - 12||30 - 90 seconds|
|Muscular endurance||≥||2 - 3||12 +||≤ 30 seconds|
Training for your goals
To get the most out of your training and perform at you best, training should be tailored specifically for you that takes into consideration your goals, as well as your current fitness level and lifestyle.
Below are some basic strength programmes. There are many generic training programmes on the internet that will provide some guidance and help improve performance, but the best way to improve your performance and reach your potential is by talking to a physical training instructor or specific coach for a sport to write a training programme that best suits your needs.
More information about physical training instructors (PTI) can be found here.
Individual training programs
Created by Human Performance Cell
Click here for Printable Format
Upper body strength (basic)
|1||Bench Press||8||3||Knee to 90○ & Straight back|
|2||DB Row||8||3||Knee on bench & back flat|
|3||DB Side Raise||8||3||15○ Bend at elbow, raise to shoulder height|
|4||DB or BB Shoulder Press (Overhead)||6||3||Back straight, eyes forward|
Body weight Weighted
|3||Choose to challenge accordingly
Chin to bar
Lower body strength (basic)
|Choose to challenge accordingly.
|3||Box/Step height according to ability.
|Use DB or machine
Use step or block to increase ankle range of motion (ROM)
|4||Reverse Glut Bridge||10-12
|2-3||Focus on gluts (buttocks) squeeze and control
Keep back & neck straight
Full body strength (basic)
|1||DB Press||8||Knee to 90○ & Straight back|
|2||Seated Row||8||3||Knee on bench & back flat|
Power Bag or Plate TRX
|3 3 3||Choose to challenge accordingly
Experience level Condition ability
|4||Arnold DB Shoulder Press||6-8||3||Back straight, eyes forward (move from lowered to overhead position)|
|5||Med Ball Slam||3-5||2-3||Wall or Ground|
|6||Abdominal Crunch||15-20||2-3||Abdominal squeeze
Slow and controlled
Control the neck