Perhaps the most important training, exercise or movement recommendation I can make to anybody looking to shed fat is, if you aren’t already, start weight training!
You can call it strength training, you can call it resistance training, it all essentially implies the same thing.
You are developing the neuromuscular system’s ability to tolerate load, either through nervous system adaptation or muscular adaptation, or most likely a combination of both — hence – ‘neuro’-‘muscular’.
For simplicity sake I’ve divided my training programs into three separate segments worth focusing on:
- Neuromuscular System Development (NMSD)
- Energy System Development (ESD)
- Mobility Development (MD)
There are some grey areas in this simplistic representation for sure, but I also find it easier to segment it like this for most people.
Why is Strength Training Important?
Anecdotally the leanest people on the planet (bodybuilders and sprint-based athletes) are heavily involved in weight training.
Scientifically speaking, muscle is a far more metabolically active tissue (by comparison to fat, AKA: adipose tissue), which increases your basal metabolic rate, which in turn, increases your requirement for calories in a day.
The more metabolically active tissue you have — and in our case, we don’t mean bodybuilder huge… — the more calories you will burn at rest, effectively creating the negative energy balance necessary for weight loss, even if you don’t change your caloric intake — but I recommend that you do make nutritional changes in conjunction with training for optimal results.
When we look to research we find that neuromuscular training is a completely different stimulus on the body by comparison to energy system work, which is why you’ll find fitness coaches typically recommending at least a day off between bouts of resistance training as it pertains to the same body parts.
The rationale is that your muscles — and other cells, like an increase in the density of your bones, or changes to your nervous system which will be forming new connections or strengthening existing connections — undergo microtrauma, or damage at a cellular level, which requires a fairly extensive recovery or rebuilding process to occur.
This process requires additional calories/energy, and amino acids, which are the basic components of proteins and essentially the building blocks of the body.
Unlike low level energy system training (think aerobic energy expenditure like jogging) your body will continue to utilize high amounts of energy in order to help your body recover from your resistance training session.
So although often times you will not utilize as much energy in a resistance training session (depending on how you do it), as you might in the same amount of time doing a more aerobic activity like jogging, the body will continue to use fuel for significantly longer by comparison.
We can measure this process via Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), which is used to measure the length of this rebuilding process.
The EPOC of a well planned resistance training session, can last upwards of 36-40 hours post-workout, while something like jogging is minimal, maybe only a few additional hours post-workout.
More intense interval styled energy system work, falls somewhere in the middle.
This doesn’t even begin to describe the research supporting improvement in performance environments where we know that strength training improves nervous system efficiency and thus improves performance, even in endurance-oriented sports like running or cycling.
Nor does it get into the health benefits of strength training long-term.
i.e. Nervous System Explosive Power has been shown to be one of the first neuromuscular qualities we lose as we age (leading to hip fractures, falls, etc…) and also one of the biggest indicators of quality of life. Strength training combats the loss of muscle mass (which we lose as we age) and motor control.
Lastly, most aerobic and energy system training is a lot more physically demanding on the body than most people realize.
An activity like jumping can place strain of up to 9x your own body weight on the joints, while sprinting can be 6x your body weight, and light running (jogging) can be 2-3x your bodyweight.
Neuromuscular training is often far less strenuous on the actual joints, and there is not as much room for technical errors due to fatigue, which more adequately prepares the body for high repetition, low weight activities in particular.
By comparison, most energy system activities, do not translate as well to the development of a necessary strength base.
To improve performance and the ability to withstand the high amounts of force/pressure put on the body in any energy system dependent sports (running, rowing, basketball, etc…), strength training becomes the first line of defence for injury prevention and the ability to tolerate those loads in a safer training environment.
Strength Training For Beginners
If you’re just getting started out and like many are overwhelmed by the huge amount of advice. Don’t fret!
Strength training is much easier than many make it out to be.
I’m working on a great — and probably free resource, sign-up for our newsletter to get exclusive access — new resource for people new to the world of gyms and training.
One of my most viewed articles ever is actually this one: ‘Is It Better to Lift Heavy Weights or Light Ones?’
And you can read more about the specifics of this post in this follow-up post.
[ois skin=”Skinny Middle”]
4 Components of NMSD
In order of execution within a training session:
Any technique work trumps anything else, likewise for unloaded speed work.
If you want to get faster at something it needs to come ideally first in a training session when your nervous system is nice and fresh, or that kind of work really becomes Energy System Work.
i.e. if you are doing sprint work to get faster, or agility work to improve your multi-directional speed, this should come first in a training session either before your energy system work, or before any other nervous system work you have planned on that day.
2. Explosive Power (Explosive Strength)
Anything done with maximal explosiveness should typically fall here.
Plyometric or Nervous System Shock Training should be here behind technique work as this applies the components of speed with that of strength too.
Olympic Lifting would fall here too and medicine ball work done for explosive power not energy system development (low reps, high force vs high reps, extended endurance).
Explosive power is typically developed with less than 5-6 reps and is done at maximal velocity.
3. Muscular Strength
Can be a grey continuation of explosive power if you apply 4 different components to this.
One is Speed-Strength, which would include more plyometrics activity done with a light load typically less than 20% bodyweight but at high speed and force development.
Essentially this is where the speed of the movement still outweighs the strength (force development) required.
Another is Strength-Speed, which typically is synonymous with olympic lifting, but KB swings could also be in this category, as would lifts with a high weight (low reps typically) component which lowers the speed of execution in the ratio, so heavy medicine ball throws could be in this category too.
The last two are just two different ways of acknowledging strength, though they will typically
Absolute strength is the highest amount of weight lifted and then practicing or performing strength related tasks could be based off this number.
Relative strength is the highest amount of weight lifted and applied relative to the bodyweight of the participant.
For instance the athlete that weighs 150 lbs and moves 300 lbs, has a higher relative strength than an athlete that weighs 200 lbs and moves 350 lbs, even though athlete B has a greater amount of absolute strength.
Training for Strength typically takes people from 1-8 reps, but 8-12 reps is a big of grey area that will typically lead to a little muscular endurance and a little strength at the same time so I simply bundle it hear.
Lower rep exercises take precedent in order of execution, so you would typically want to do 10 reps before you do an exercise with 15 reps.
4. Muscular Endurance (Strength Endurance)
The maximum number of repetitions with a given weight, typically 40-70% of the maximum load someone could move.
Training for maximum endurance typically takes people over 12+ reps.
NMSD Bullet Points:
1. Train Smarter Not Harder
2. Train Movements Not Muscles
3. Paired Sets or Tri-Sets to Optimize
4. Train Full-Body Days, with 1-2 days rest between bouts.
5. Alter Intensity Each Day
6. Programs Should Cycle
7. Programs Should Progress
8. Learn How to Ramp
9. Train 4-10 exercises.
10. Order Exercises Hardest to Easiest
11. Do 2-3 days per week.
Again, for a more in-depth look at these elements, check out this follow-up post.
I’ll be following this up with a little more detail in an upcoming post, but leave a comment below if you have questions about what this means.
Don’t forget ESD either, which I will also be talking about shortly.