This post is written by my good friend and FFP coach, Nick Smoot. Make sure to check out his bio at the bottom of the page. Take it away, Nick....
**Photo Credit: Outlaw Fitness HQ and Arnold Schwarzenegger**
I get asked a lot of fitness-related questions.
So, I figured I’d document the most common ones, along with some short and simple answers.
Now, because this post is so long, I've decided to split it in to two parts.
Part one, which you're reading today, will cover training.
Part two, which I'll release next week, will cover nutrition.
->>20 Common Training Questions<<-
Question 1: How do you get stronger?
You get stronger by lifting progressively heavier weights over time.
You want to focus on training compound, multi-joint exercises (squats, deadlifts, presses, pulls, rows, lunges, carries, etc.) in the 3-8 rep range (75%-90% of your 1RM), with the goal of adding weight, reps, or sets every training session.
You also want to make sure you’re eating a lot of food (while striking a good balance between protein, carbs, and fats), getting plenty of sleep (7-9 hours per night), and managing your stress levels.
Do this consistently for months and YEARS, and you’ll be on your way to developing some seriously impressive levels of strength.
Question 2: How do you build muscle?
Similar to the way you build strength (see above).
The main difference between building muscle and building strength - although they both overlap to some degree - is that building muscle requires more volume and a larger variety of exercises.
Use slightly higher reps when you’re training for size (6-12 reps).
And implement more exercise variation.
Question 3: Should you train for strength and size, or just one or the other?
You should train for both strength and size.
Getting bigger increases your ability to get stronger (because a bigger muscle has the capacity to be a stronger muscle), and getting stronger increases your ability to get bigger (because getting stronger increases the weight you can use in the rep ranges geared towards muscle growth).
You should still emphasize the adaption you care about the most (for example, if your main goal is to get stronger, you should have more training cycles geared towards strength than you have geared toward size).
But, you shouldn’t train for one adaption exclusively.
Question 4: How do you make progress in the weight room?
-Adding weight to the bar
In order to make progress, you have to increase your volume – or total workload – over time.
Any one of those options is a great way to do just that.
Question 5: How often should you change your training plan?
In most cases, every 4-12 weeks.
That’s about the time it takes for most people to hit a training plateau.
When this happens, either change exercises, or change your set and rep schemes.
**Quick Note: If you’re still making progress – regardless of how long you’ve been following a particular training plan – don’t change anything. Variation is important, but there's no need to try to fix something that isn’t broken.
Question 6: What are the best exercises to include in a strength training routine?
Any exercise that mimics a fundamental movement pattern.
Variations of the…
Plank (and other core exercises).
…should form the foundation of your training plan.
Everything else (isolation exercises, cables, machines, etc.) should be sprinkled in around it.
Question 7: How often should you change exercises?
In most cases, every 4-12 weeks.
Doing so helps you bring up weak points (or re-emphasize strong points), prevent overuse injuries, and prevent boredom.
But, just like with your training plan as a whole, if you’re making progress on a specific exercise – regardless of how long you’ve been performing it – don’t change anything.
Never make an adjustment until you absolutely have to.
Question 8: Do You Have to Train the Squat, Bench, and Deadlift?
If you're a powerlifter, yes (because those are the lifts that you perform in competition).
If you're not a powerlifter, no you don't.
The squat, bench, and deadlift are fantastic exercises, and their ability to enhance size and strength are almost unparalleled.
But, there are a million exercises at your disposal to illicit a solid training response.
Don't get married to just three of them.
Question 9: How much strength can you expect to gain in a 12-week training cycle?
Honestly, that’s a tough question.
Some people put 50-60 pounds on each lift during a 12-week training cycle; other people only put on 10.
It depends on a lot of factors (your training program, how much effort you put in to your training program, your training history, your medical history, whether or not you're injured, how much you eat, how much you sleep, etc.), so there’s no way to know for sure.
Just train hard and intelligently on a consistent basis, and you’ll make a lot of progress.
Question 10: How much muscle can you expect to gain in a 12-week training cycle?
Again, it’s impossible to give a definitive answer since everyone's different.
But, not a lot.
Muscle growth is an extremely slow process.
I'd recommend aiming to gain .5-1lb per week (even less if you're a female or advanced lifter).
Any more than that and you’ll probably gain a disproportionate amount of body fat.
Question 11: Should women lift weights?
Women can receive just as many benefits from strength training as men can…if not more benefits.
Question 12: Should women train like men?
They should train fundamental movement patterns (with BARBELLS - not just dumbbells and machines), and they should lift some heavy-ass weight.
Women can tolerate more volume than men can though (because they’re tougher than us guys).
Their training should reflect that.
Question 13: Do you need to stretch and do mobility work?
Some people do.
If you can’t get in to the proper positions – or properly perform the movements – during your strength training sessions, mobility work would probably be beneficial.
If your movement capacity isn’t an issue, however, it probably won’t have much benefit (your time would be better spent doing something else).
Question 14: Should you foam roll or static stretch?
Both have their benefits.
Foam rolling decreases neural tension, and static stretching increases your stretch tolerance.
Experiment with both of them, and see if they give you good results.
Question 15: Should you train through pain?
Training through pain is stupid (not tough), and will only lead to problems (i.e. more injuries) in the long run.
If something causes pain, STOP DOING IT.
Focus on other movements and exercises until you've fixed the problem.
Question 16: Should you train when you’re sore?
If you’ve had at least 1-2 days in between training sessions – that train the same muscle group – you’re probably fine to train even if you’re still sore.
If you’re so sore that you can barely walk, however, it’s probably best to take a day off (or at least training a muscle group that isn’t that sore).
Question 17: Does being sore mean you had a good workout?
Increasing performance means you had a good workout.
You can be sore without increasing your performance, and you can increase your performance without being sore.
So, when judging how successful you were in a given workout, focus on performance.
Question 18: How often should you train?
For most people, 3-4x per week seems to be ideal.
It provides enough volume to stimulate adaptions, while providing enough rest days for those adaptions to actually take place (you grow outside of the gym, not in it).
However, the answer to this question really comes down to three factors:
- Your schedule
- Your goals
- Your preferences
It's the compromise of those three factors that determines your ideal training frequency.
Question 19: Will cardio make you weaker?
It can actually help you get stronger.
You just have to pay attention to recovery (since you're training for two completely different adaptions simultaneously).
I wrote on article on the topic that you can read HERE.
Question 20: What’s the biggest mistake people make when training?
It’s actually a tie between three things:
1. They spend more time reading – and confusing themselves – than they do actually training.
2. They lose sight of the forest from the trees (i.e. they focus on things that don’t matter).
3. They don’t train consistently.
Nick Smoot is a strength coach and nutrition consultant out of Newport News, VA. He got his start in the fitness industry back in 2012, and since then he’s spent countless hours helping clients become the best versions of themselves possible. In his free time, he enjoys lifting heavy things, eating, writing, traveling, nerding out on movies and video games, and eating.