Basis of strength

Moving from aerobic based exercises to anaerobic means not only changing the exercises themselves, but also how you approach and rest between exercises. The clue is in the etymology of the word: aerobic means ‘with air’. Anaerobic exercises i.e. strength building weight lifting, conversely means ‘without air’. You are asking the body to move things after you’ve expended all the oxygen your blood or lungs can store or provide.

When training to run, cycle, swim etc. novices quickly hit a wall where their lungs are frantically trying to keep the body supplied with enough oxygen. If you’re performing a power exercise, the muscles doing all the work may start to feel burning. That’s lactic acid building up. Regardless whether it’s breathlessness or burning pain that makes you stop, practitioners of aerobic exercise know that you improve your performance by doing more with less. You learn to regulate your breath and cope for longer sprints by training more while you’re out of breath and your heart rate is through the roof. If you take a break, it’s just a quick one before you’re back at it again, burning calories and conditioning your body to generate more movement.

Strength building is different. It’s about lifting as much as you can. Your goal is not therefore, to be a sweaty, breathless heap on the floor at the end of your workout (although through techniques like AMRAP, you may well be). Your goal is to prepare yourself to lift optimally.

Exercises are broken down into sets and repetitions, known as reps for short. You perform a certain lift for a given number of reps. Once you’re lifting at your limit, the number of reps are usually dictated by your body’s capability, but to start with you will lift a fixed number of reps. When the number has been reached, that is one completed set. Unlike the number of reps which might be dictated by your ability, the number of sets for a given exercise is a fixed number determined by the training routine.

When exercising for cardio, you want to keep the blood pumping and the heart rate up. When strength training, you need to relax between sets. Sit down; take deep breaths; replenish the oxygen in the bloodstream. This could be between 2-5 minutes depending on how demanding the previous set was. Once relaxed you’re ready to go again. Watch a lifter before they start a set and note it usually begins with taking some faster paced, big intakes of breath. You can also aid recovery during your training session with branch-chained amino acid (BCAA) powdered drinks or pills.

And it’s not just rest between sets. It’s about preparation for your day’s lifting. Getting no sleep the night before; having a hangover; not eating an appropriate amount of carbs and protein, or drinking enough water; running or walking long distances the same day as your lifting session, these are all ways in which you may fail to meet the predetermined rep counts.

Without paying dues to prepartion and rest you will complete a smaller number of reps per set than intended, and this will slow down your progression. The ultimate goal of strength training is to be strong enough to lift heavier and heavier weights. Not making the required number of reps in a set, means your training routine does not progress to the next weight up, which slows down progression. Good preparation and rest means faster progression.