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Ask the Expert


Q:  I want to participate in a strength training program but am worried about bulking up.  What are the appropriate weights, sets, and repetitions to benefit from a strength training program but simply gain strength and tone? 


A:  Jessica LynnJessica Lynn: Many women have concerns about bulking up when it comes to strength training.  Likewise, some men have the same concern, especially while they are focused on weight loss.  Women do not have the testosterone levels necessary to really put on a lot of bulk, regardless of their training regimen, but there is a preferred way to train in order to get the results you are looking for. 

Our muscles respond best to a program that adapts, creating a cycle of challenges for the body to overcome.  In the strength training world, this adaptive planning is called periodization.  A sample fitness regimen for someone (male or female) interested in gaining strength but not muscle mass might look like this:


Weeks 1-3:       2-3 sets, 12-15 reps, Weight: medium

Weeks 4-5:       2-3 sets, 8-10 reps, Weight: heavy

Weeks 6-8:       1-2 sets, 20-25 reps, Weight: light


For each cycle, the amount of weight lifted for each exercise is determined by your fatigue rate.  You should be fatigued by the last 3 repetitions, of your last set.  So for example, let’s say you typically use 10-lb dumbbells when completing bicep curls (2 sets of 12 repetitions) which is challenging.  For this particular exercise, 10-lb would be considered your “medium weight” – therefore 15-lb might be your “heavy” weight, with 8-lb your “light” set.  It is necessary to complete all 3 cycles so that your body adapts to both strength and endurance changes. 

Once you complete the full 8 weeks shown above, your routine would just start over.  Keep in mind, as you make strength gains, your light-medium-heavy weights will change!  So as you roll into week 9, be ready to adjust your weights so that they are still a challenge, guaranteeing continued improvement in your overall strength. 



Have a question?  The healthy lifestyle experts are here to help!  Email cmaddox@hhhealth.com with your question and check back every Thursday for our feature column.

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