Updated: Apr 14, 2021
Throughout high school, I always enjoyed all the sports I played. From basketball, Waterpolo, rugby, swimming and cross country/middle distance, I enjoyed moving around and going toe-to-toe against other competitors. However, as a teenage boy, I really enjoyed going to the gym and working out. I performed multiple types of workouts, from Crossfit to strength, circuit, you name it.
At one stage during high school, I would leave specific days/sessions for specific parts of the body. For example, if I went to the gym three (3) times in one week, one session might primarily focus on my chest & arms, another might focus on leg exercises, and a final session I might have focused on my back.
Nowadays, I tend to undertake and implement full-body workouts due to my time constraints. But how can we optimally complete gym sessions? The answer to this question will depend on your goals and your needs, but hopefully, I can steer you in the right direction for YOU!
Getting into the nitty-gritty:
There are three groups I am going to cover in this blog:
Athletes (for obvious reasons, I will be diving into runners specifically)
Recreational people (i.e. looking to get fit & stay in shape)
People looking to get big or "toned"
In my experience, these three groups summarise the reasons why most people go to the gym: for sport, to stay in shape or to "get big muscles!"
Now whilst I do not entirely agree with the third reason (as I believe we should all be undertaking a regular exercise regiment to stay fit, healthy and induce all the benefits of exercise), as a coach it is one that I might have to consider in the future (as I primarily deal with options 1 &2) and be able to provide the right advice and training for.
Below is going to be a table outlining the FITTR (Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type and Rest [between sets]) principle for each of the three (3) groups outlined above, and then I am going to go into the "why" for each group:
Table 1: FITTR principle for runners, recreational people and people aiming for hypertrophy
* this is all dependant on the person's ability and experience in the gym
** intensity dependant
*** this is dependant on how much time you have, but the literature recommends no more than 15 sets per muscle group per week
**** dependant on time & equipment availability
Table 2: RM (Repetition Max) and %1RM converter to help you determine intensity. Note: the example provided in the scenario assumes you are completing X amount of reps to the highest weight possible based on your 1RM.
Group 1 - the runners
I have written about this before in my previous blog about cross-training, but I thought it might be a good idea to explain the reasons for these kinds of resistance training sessions.
F - Plyometric and strength training have been shown to improve maximal running speeds and (to an extent) running economy (Blagrove et. al, 2018; Denadai et. al, 2017). Now whilst there might be time constraints for some people and might not be able to complete 3 RT sessions a week, including plyometrics into your warm-ups or as a specific set (for example) is one way you can add these in your training program.
I - This has been based on the guidelines for improving strength. Plyometrics is difficult to provide an "intensity" measure, as most movements require maximal contraction from your muscles. I'll add a side note here that just because the intensity is "85%" for 6 reps (for example) doesn't always mean that you'll complete that exercise (or multiple) at 85% intensity for 6 reps. This will mean that each set you'll be completing to failure. Some coaches might get you to use an RPE scale and tell you to reach a certain score /10.
T - I always say no more than 60 minutes in a session (including your warm-up) as most runners will usually have another session within the next 12 hours following the session. I also say this to ensure that you are getting adequate RT without overexerting yourself, or impacting your session in the afternoon (if that is the case for you!).
T - Running is full body! So should your gym program. Deadlifts, Olympic lifts, all kinds of squats, shoulder press, bench press... you name it. Your RT program should be a mixture of exercises targeting multiple muscles. Yes, there can be some emphasis on training the legs, but full-body workout (targeting big muscle groups) is king! Also try to include explosive movements as well (e.g. plyometric jumps, Olympic lifts, etc.).
R - Generally the literature states 2-5' of rest between sets is optimal for improving strength (Schoenfeld et. al, 2016; Willardson, 2008), hence the recommendation. However, if that makes your resistance training sessions take too long (for your liking), you can always superset your exercises, that way you allow the same amount of rest and are able to get double the exercises completed. Just remember to superset an upper body exercise with a lower-body one!
Group 2 - recreational people
So by "recreational people" I mean those who aren't really runners or participate in sport. This group is people who exercise to stay healthy. If you are one of these people, this exercise regiment will benefit you!
F - I followed the ACSM guidelines for healthy populations and resistance training (link here). In my opinion, as you aren't looking to compete in anything major and are just looking to stay in shape, there's no need to go to the gym all the time. Unless you get your aerobic activity completed on the elliptical (which could be really boring), you really only need 2 gym sessions per week. Also, make sure they are on non-consecutive days (i.e. Monday and Thursday) so that you can give your muscles adequate recovery.
I - Although you probably will never perform a 1RM (it's not necessary), you can use a 5 or 10RM to determine appropriate intensities for yourself. For example, if you had a shoulder press 10 RM of 45kg, you can complete 3 sets of 10 reps (after a warm-up set) at 30-35kg. In saying this, however, BE CAUTIOUS! RM = Repetition Maximum! As this is a Maximum assessment, do this in the eyes of a health/fitness professional (that knows how to conduct one) to avoid major injury and ensures correct technique throughout the assessment.
T - Again, I recommend no more than 60 minutes because you should be able to get 5-6 good exercises into your workout within the hour. Also, you most likely have a life and do not need to be consumed by resistance training.
T - It doesn't really matter what kind of exercise you try to complete in the gym. However, I recommend that you don't just focus on one body part. Instead, try to aim for a more holistic approach. Just like everything in life - complete resistance training in moderation!
R - Again, as there a quite a few FITT ranges you can use for this kind of group, your rest will be intensity dependant. You might decide to undertake a "Green Sally" challenge (link here, however, for this challenge maybe try this with some weights if you dare!), or just perform 3 x 10 of step-ups. Muscular endurance training generally requires less rest than strength/maximal training, hence my reasoning for intensity dependant.
Group 3 - getting big
Although the scientific term for increasing muscle size is "hypertrophy" I believe that not everyone would be able to understand what that means.
F - Looking through the literature, the load has more impact on increasing muscle size than frequency (Schoenfeld et. al, 2019). In saying that, I don't expect people to be in the gym for 2+ hours at a time. Whilst this can be done for some people, for some who are on the 9-5 full-time grind (for example), this would be unrealistic... unless you get to your gym at 3 am.
I - I based this off Schoenfeld et. al (2019) and the recommendations from that literature review + meta-analysis. However, if you are a fan of even numbers (like those people that only have their speakers in the car set to even volume numbers), you can go to 10 or 12.
T - Again, due to time constraints I recommend this. However, if you have more time you can complete your session there. N.B: there is no point in spending more than 2 hours at the gym at any time. If that is the case, you are either overloading or are on your phone for 20 minutes between sets.
R - The evidence is somewhat conflicting. A systematic review by Grgic et. al (2017) found no significant findings between short and long rest intervals (although the authors did not take these finding with extreme caution. Therefore, my recommendations are based on intensity, as well as the kind of exercise you are doing. Completing weighted squats will require more rest than completing bicep curls, as more muscles are recruited in a squat (assuming they are completed at the same intensity) (Willardson, 2008). Ensure you allow proper rest between your sets to allow maximal hypertrophy.
That is a lot of information to take in, but hopefully, you learnt something about the group you might fall under that would change/influence how you would write up your gym program. If I didn't cover your group, or want more information about another group, don't be afraid to send me a message.
Keep up the running,
Blagrove, R. C., Howe, L., Cushion, E. J., Spence, A., Howatson, G., Pedlar, C., & Hayes, P. R. (2018). Effects of strength training on postpubertal adolescent distance runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 50(6), 1224-1232.
Colquhoun, R. J., Gai, C. M., Aguilar, D., Bove, D., Dolan, J., Vargas, A., ... & Campbell, B. I. (2018). Training volume, not frequency, indicative of maximal strength adaptations to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 32(5), 1207-1213.
Denadai, B. S., de Aguiar, R. A., de Lima, L. C. R., Greco, C. C., & Caputo, F. (2017). Explosive training and heavy weight training are effective for improving running economy in endurance athletes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 47(3), 545-554.
Grgic, J., Lazinica, B., Mikulic, P., Krieger, J. W., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2017). The effects of short versus long inter-set rest intervals in resistance training on measures of muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review. European journal of sport science, 17(8), 983-993.
Schoenfeld, B. J., Pope, Z. K., Benik, F. M., Hester, G. M., Sellers, J., Nooner, J. L., ... & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Longer interset rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 30(7), 1805-1812.
Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., & Krieger, J. (2019). How many times per week should a muscle be trained to maximize muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of resistance training frequency. Journal of sports sciences, 37(11), 1286-1295.
Willardson, J. M. (2008). A brief review: how much rest between sets?. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 30(3), 44-50.