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How To Get Strength and Power From Weights Training Without Bulking Up

Updated on January 7, 2013

Exercise is generally divided into ‘strength’ vs. ‘cardio’ training. Because of this division, a lot of women are afraid to do weights training because they fear that they are going to bulk up like some of the men they see walking around. However, if you are one of these women it is time for you to overcome this fear of the weights room, and realise that not all strength training will make you look like Arnie. Today I’m going to go through the four different types of weights training and how to ensure you have designed a program to get the results you want.

Weights training should be an essential part of every fitness regime. It helps to protect against muscle degeneration in later age, makes carrying a child or small dog around all day easier, and turns you into the perfect best friend who can help carry the piano while moving house. However, not all weights training are the same. So in order to be in the best possible shape, you need to understand the four types and how they differ.

Let’s start with the four types. These include: strength, power, hypertrophy and endurance.

Strength: This is the training that allows you to lift up a piano. It builds up your ability to lift heavy weights for short periods of time. Useful, no?

Power: You might be able to lift a piano, but it takes you a whole minute to do it. If someone can lift the same piano in five seconds, they have more power. It can also be referred to as dynamic strength. The best everyday examples are those people who can bounce up stairs two at a time. They have serious power in their legs. And you can too.

Hypertrophy: This is all about making muscles big. If you want to look like Arnie, this is the type of workout you need to be focusing on. Don’t want to look like Arnie? Well, try to avoid slipping from strength into hypertrophy then. Simple :D

Endurance: finally, there is endurance. Rather than being able to lift a heavy weight, it is about how many times you can lift a lighter weight. For example, instead of being able to lift a piano, it is more like lifting your little cousin up again, and again, and ‘again!’ That takes endurance, and is particularly useful for women (not just because of the baby thing, but because it is more useful in everyday life. How often do you really need to lift a piano? But carrying shopping bags all day? See what I mean.)

So, now you know the four types, how do you know which one you are doing? Well, it all comes down to the combination of about six variables; load (how much you lift each time), repetitions (how many lifts you do before resting), sets (how many groups of repetitions you do per workout), rest between sets (am hoping this one’s pretty self-explanatory), duration (how long each set of reps takes) and speed (how long it takes you to do each repetition). Generally I find that you don’t really need to figure out the duration if you already know the speed and number of reps, so you can just focus on the rest.

Below is a table reproduced on Wikipedia from Siff MC (2003). Supertraining. Supertraining Institute. It is a very clear representation of how to design your weights program so that you can focus in on a particular type of training. Each session should focus on just one type, but each week you should try at least two.

Training Goal

Load (% of 1 RM)
Reps per set
Sets per exercise
Rest between sets (mins)
Duration (seconds per set)
Speed per rep (% of max)

For example, based on this table, you might do two weights sessions a week, one focusing on building strength while the other focuses on endurance. In your first session, you would be working with much heavier weights, doing less reps but more sets, with longer rests in between sets. On the other day you will be working with much less weight, maybe only your body weight (exercises such as push-ups and crunches etc), but be doing a lot more of them with fewer sets. Circuits can be a great endurance workout.

In order to fully implement this design, you do need to work out you’re your 1RM is, that is your 1 rep maximum weight. For example, if you only have to do the exercise once, what is the maximum amount you can squat? You will need a friend to help spot you, as you should be working right at your limit. If you can’t find a friend, organise for a personal trainer to help you, but explain clearly what you want.

Once you know your 1RM, you work out 80-90% of that for strength training, or 40-60% of that for endurance, etc. Every few weeks/months (depending on how often you are working out) you will need to retest your 1 rep max because hopefully you will be getting stronger.
So, ladies, do not be afraid of becoming super bulked. It takes quite a lot of work and focus to look like those women. And don’t let it put you off doing heavy weights, as we all need our strength.

Take back the weights room, and feel confident that you know what you are doing!


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    • dwelburn profile image

      David 4 years ago from Chesterfield, UK

      Good explanation of the different types of weight training. What many people don't realise is that most people (even men) find it very difficult to build large muscles. And women certainly won't - unless they are taking steroids. But a little extra muscle is good and will only help give you a more shapely figure.

      Also if you don't want to test your one rep max, just test your 5 rep max instead and add 15% (upper body) or 10% (lower body), and this will give you a very close approximation of your one rep max.