Personal Training: Resistance training for beginners
When a personal trainer is developing a training programme for a client new to the gym environment, the focus should be on low-intensity training and working the larger muscles first. In today’s fitness blog we will discuss why.
Resistance training techniques
A beginner is likely to have poor posture and poor proprioception – awareness of body parts in relation to others. In the same way that a golf novice wouldn’t immediately have the perfect swing, someone new to resistance training might struggle with the correct techniques for lifting free weights.
Good posture is essential in resistance training and a personal trainer will usually start their client with low-intensity exercises while they learn the required technique and develop the strong core and neutral spine needed for resistance training.
Large muscle groups
When a fitness instructor sets exercises for a beginner, they should focus on working the larger muscles in the legs, chest and back before moving on to the smaller muscles. The bench press, lat pulldown and seated row are among the many exercises that will work these large muscle groups.
A compound exercise is when muscle groups are worked together across more than one joint. For example, the prime mover in a chest exercise would be the pectoralis major, but the triceps and the deltoid muscles would also act as synergists supporting the movement. In a squat, the glutes, quads, hamstrings and soleus muscles will all work together.
A personal trainer will often set a programme of compound exercises, as it is less time consuming than working muscles in isolation. Compound exercises are also more functional as they replicate the kind of movements we carry out in everyday life. This conditions the body, teaching movement, posture and proprioception, as well as allowing a client to burn more energy during their gym session. And because using large muscle groups causes the body to recruit muscle fibres from a wider surface area and doesn’t localise the delivery of blood to a specific muscle, it avoids increased blood pressure.
Basic training programmes for beginners
To hit a large proportion of muscles in a few basic exercises, a personal trainer might recommend the following starter programme:
Squats, chest press machine, lat pulldown machine
For each exercise: 3 sets of 15 reps, with one minute’s rest between each set.
After the compound exercises, a fitness instructor might set a few isolation exercises, such as bicep curls, tricep extensions or leg extensions, to target one specific muscle group.
Working the core muscles
The core muscles should be worked last, especially when a client is new to the gym, as these muscles provide a girdle to support our posture and stabilise the body during resistance training.
Core muscles comprise: the rectus abdominis or ‘six-pack’ muscles; the external abdominal obliques; the transversus abdominis (TVA) and the erector spinæ muscles. If a personal trainer worked their client’s core muscles at the start of a training programme, these muscles would be too fatigued to support the body through the compound exercises.
Low-intensity weight training
Anyone new to the gym will be advised to start with a low-intensity programme. A good personal trainer will encourage their clients to avoid any activity that causes them to hold their breath and strain to get results – known as the Valsalva manoeuvre – as this can cause dangerously high blood pressure.
No pain, no gain?
Personal trainer courses will often recommend that a beginner periodises their training to progress at a steady rate, rather than pushing themselves to the limit. The body can only improve at a certain speed and the mantra ‘no pain, no gain’ can be counterproductive if taken to extremes. At the end of a session you should feel energised rather than exhausted.
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