Good approach to non-serious weight lifting?
December 29, 2009 2:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm want to cut back on my weight training, but I'm not sure how best to do it. Is there a good once-a-week casual approach to weight lifting?

Right now, I try to lift twice a week according to a periodized training program. I know how much to lift each week based on assessments of my own strength, and based on logs that I use to track my progress. The thing is, I've got other fitness interests, and I don't have time to do it all.

I don't want to completely give up the health benefits associated with weight training. I'd just like to shift focus away from muscle building and toward maintaining strong bones and a balanced body. The problem: I'm not sure HOW to design a weight lifting routine if I'm not doing it with the aim of getting stronger.

How do I know how much to lift? Is it OK to do it just once a week for half an hour or so? Or will such a long gap between workouts increase the risk that I will hurt myself? Are there specific routines I should consider, given that bone strength is my top priority, and that I'd like to keep my muscles primed for running and yoga?
posted by croutonsupafreak to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Well, if you're looking to focus on your running, there are a few strength training plans out there that are specifically for runners. They tend to focus on core strength and follow a lower weight/higher rep approach. I would imagine that your yoga addresses the core training part pretty well. There are a few books available with strength training plans, in addition to multiple sources online for strength training (off the top of my head that's Hal Higdon and there are a few on and Personally I would stick with 2x strength per week, even if it's just for 30 minutes, but then again I'm kind of big on strength training. There's only so much time in a day, right? Keep in mind also that hill repeat training is a form of strength training for runners.

Just to give you a real life sample of one, last year I completed a full body strength training program 2x per week while training for a marathon. I also did formal yoga 1-2x per week. My run mileage averaged 37 miles per week over the 20 week training period, and I peaked at 47 miles. So it wasn't super high mileage for a marathoner, but I am not all that fast either, so it was time consuming. For my strength plan, I just followed the full body strength program from Sometimes I'd have to go a little lighter on the leg lifts, and I did deal with a little DOMS on my easy runs. But they were easy runs, so it wasn't really a bad thing as far as I was concerned.
posted by smalls at 3:15 PM on December 29, 2009

Oh - I forgot to add that Ryan Hall has a strength training and running plan up on the Nissan site. Sorry the link is a little bit obnoxious, but I remember being somewhat intrigued by the plan. I couldn't convince my training partner to do the funky lifts with me though.
posted by smalls at 3:17 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

What kind of program are you doing right now? Olympic? Powerlifting? "Bodybuilding"? Circuit? What exercises?
posted by P.o.B. at 3:45 PM on December 29, 2009

Haven't tried it, but body by science advocates for this. YMMV.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 3:48 PM on December 29, 2009

Response by poster: P.o.B.:
I'm not sure what you'd call the program I'm doing now; I devised it with the guidance of this book.The number of sets I do increases over the course of three four week cycles, and then I take an easy/rest week before starting again.

I do the first set at a weight that I can do at least 8 reps, and I attempt to do 12 reps with good form. Then, depending on how many reps I can do, I either do fewer reps at the same weight or lower the weight for subsequent sets. When I can successfully do 12 reps, I increase the weight by 5 pounds.

The exercises vary by where I am in the cycle. Generally, though I'm doing:
* leg press (machine)
* leg extension (machine)
* seated leg curl (machine)
* chest press
* one-arm dumbbell row
* dumbell side raise
* dumbbell biceps curl
* triceps push down (at pulley)
* back extension
* weighted ab crunch (machine)

I don't want to continue along this path. It's too time consuming.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:39 PM on December 29, 2009

To maintain an adaptation, i.e. strength, you need to continue applying the stimulus that produced that adaptation. Lyle McDonald claims in this article that for strength to be maintained, intensity must be maintained, but volume can be reduced by up to 2/3rds with no strength loss. This means you'll have to lift as heavy as you did before, but you can do less sets. However, if you're lifting less often you're already reducing volume, so you'll still have to get in enough volume in your the workouts you do in order to maintain your strength.

Exactly what you should do will depend on what you've been doing and how strong you are. A very simple routine you could use to maintain strength all over would be to squat 5x5 and alternately bench press and press 5x5. That would be a sufficient barebones workout, but if possible I'd add a few sets of chinups and a set of deadlifts, alternating between them. I'd recommend two workouts a week, alternating between presses/bench presses and chinups/deadlifts, but if you can only do one workout a week you'll be alternating weekly. Mark Rippetoe has recommended this kind of template for strength maintenance. If you've been doing cleans and snatches you should keep doing those to maintain technique. Choose a difficult but manageable weight and lift the same weight each week.

As for length of the workout, I doubt a half-hour would be sufficient to do the squat/press workout I've outlined above unless you're using very light weights, so I don't think 30 minutes/week will be sufficient to maintain strength unless you're still a novice, which I assume you aren't because you say you're using a periodized training program.

On preview: having looked at your program, I think you'll find the approached I've outlined above will take a lot less time. However, it's a very different appraoch, so you'll have to take some time learning to perform the exercises correctly. I'd also guess that you're still a strength novice, which means periodization wasn't necessary to begin with. I think you'd be better served by spending some time using the above template with a linear progression, i.e. increasing the weight each workout, before you start approaching your workouts with maintenance in mind. But either way you'll be getting more done with less movements.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:47 PM on December 29, 2009

By the way, the type of plan I recommended is similar to the Stronglifts 5x5 beginner program, which is mostly based on the book Starting Strength. You can read more about it there. I just removed the assistance exercises to save time.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:52 PM on December 29, 2009

What I was really trying to gather was what you were doing and what you wanted to move away from. The most important point is what goals you are trying to achieve. There are a couple of things I gather from what you've said, you specifically do not care to become stronger (as in X amount of pounds for Y amount of reps) but you would like to make your bones stronger. The thing about this is that bones, like muscles, react to load bearing exercises kind of the same way; (in simple terms) the heavier the load the stronger they get. But I'm gathering your main goals are running & yoga, weight training is an adjunct, and you don't want super duper strong bones. If your main goals are to funnel your time and energy into other fitness regimes, then I would tell you not to start a program, such as Starting Strength, that is centered around weight training and getting stronger. You definitely should drop a bunch of the single joint exercises and start using compound movements (multi joint like the Deadlift, or Lunge). A solid plan could probably get you in and out of in 30 minutes. You really should get into the gym at lest twice a week, I don't see how you could do it in any less workouts, and a few basic exercises for a full body workout per session would work well for you. The details on setting up a full program would take a bit of time to describe but I would be surprised if the book you had didn't give you some solid pointers. You could do something as simple as rotate through three exercises( like dumbell lunges, chin-ups, and dips) three or four times and just make sure your using heavy enough weights. If you're really at a loss just MeMail me and I could help you work something out.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:58 PM on December 29, 2009

You can look into the 5-3-1. The program is focused on strength, but you can get away with one compressed workout a week. The author recommends two workout a week, or a two week workout cycle, but I think you can get away with compressing everything into one session per week. I think you'd be better off skipping the machines and focusing on a few complex lifts - dead lifts, squats, bench and overhear press and body weight pull ups and dips. You'll get a lot more rewards for the time spent in the gym.
posted by ye#ara at 10:53 PM on December 29, 2009

Response by poster: P.o.B. - Thanks, that is very helpful. I hadn't though of combining muscle groups for efficiency, though it seems obvious now.

Your assumptions are right - weight training is adjunct. I know it reduces osteoporosis risk and bone loss associated with aging, and I want the benefits of that and of a generally fit, strong body. But I don't want an elaborate, complex or time-consuming commitment.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:16 PM on December 29, 2009

Have you thought of developing a routine based on functional excercises, rather then freeweights and machines? More like a Crossfit ro Gym Jones style workout.
posted by dzot at 7:11 AM on December 30, 2009

It's important to realize that if you're looking for bone density you're not going to get much from the type of program you were doing. To make your skeleton adapt you have to load it with heavy weights, e.g. by putting a bar on your back or holding it over your head, and you're not doing that with a bunch of isolation exercises. You can't beat the barbell squat for this.

dzot, lots of crossfit workouts include squats, presses, deadlifts, cleans, and snatches.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:34 AM on December 30, 2009

dzot, lots of crossfit workouts include squats, presses, deadlifts, cleans, and snatches

Yes, I know, but never at max. Crossfit seems to use olympic style lifiting at lower weights to acheive aerobic & anaerobic goals. This would both make the lifiting non-serious (as defined by croutonsupafreak) and mix well with his other training goals.
posted by dzot at 10:35 AM on December 30, 2009

Switch to circuit training, or peripheral heart action (I'm not sure of the differene... PHA might just be an antiquated term), integrating weights, rigorous stretching, and light cardio (jumping jacks, etc.). Stay at twice a week and you can get a hearty workout in 15 or 20 minutes.

Or structure you8r lifting in supersets. Do a set of leg presses and the go straight to the bench press and back, without or with minimal rest, for as many sets as you do. This is only a little like PHA.

And I know you dind't ask, but the isolation exercises, especially the machines, aren't doing much, if anything, for functional strength or bone density if that routine is all you do. Instead of the ab machine, try a roman chair. Do your leg work with free weights. I also love clean and press and bent- and straight-arm pullovers.
posted by cmoj at 10:43 AM on December 30, 2009

Best answer: Definitely including at least one compound movement per workout is going to get you the most bang for your buck. I like the Deadlift, the Squat is great, and as I said I think the vastly underused Lunge is awesome. You don't need to perform the same one weekly and they are interchangeable. There is a difference between wanting to increase bone density and preventing bone loss (Osteoporosis), and if you're more interested in the latter than any kind of weight bearing exercise will work. I'm not suggesting using them but even using machines has been shown to work just fine, and astronauts use machines in space to prevent bone loss.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:52 AM on December 30, 2009

Yes, I know, but never at max. Crossfit seems to use olympic style lifiting at lower weights to acheive aerobic & anaerobic goals. This would both make the lifiting non-serious (as defined by croutonsupafreak) and mix well with his other training goals.

There are Crossfit workouts involving maximal weights. People can certainly adapt CF programming in different ways -- different affiliates will often do their own thing, and people working out at the affiliates I've been to certainly varied in terms of goals and commitment, but Crossfit is really not designed to be "non-serious" or for strength maintenance.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:55 PM on December 30, 2009

Best answer: For what it's worth, I've cut back from 3 workouts a week with 3 sets of 5 exercises, down to two workouts a week with two sets of only 3 exercises, in order to accommodate more capoeira training. And I haven't noticed any significant loss in muscle mass, although my max lifts may have dropped a couple of percent.

Currently all I do, twice a week, is:

Deadlift 5 x 2 or squat 5 x 2
Military press 5 x 2 or dumbbell press 5 x 2 or weighted dips 5 x 2
Weighted chin ups 5 x 2

I think if you do a big leg thing, and a big press thing, and a big pull thing, and periodise as you do now, you'll be fine. You won't significantly, but you won't lose either.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:08 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

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