A sensible guide on weight training for longevity
6 AUG 2023 - 12 min read
I have taken the liberty to write an extensive guide on how I structure my own weight training.
What is this and who it is for in one sentence:
A flexible and efficient, science-based full-body weight training program for busy people who seek long-term health, based on my own training experience, medical background, and knowledge of scientific literature.
Even if you don’t intend on using this program, think about how you currently manage your physical fitness. Try to seek something that fits neatly with your lifestyle. Don’t go all in on some way-over-the-top program. Instead, pick something reasonable, easy to follow and effective.
It can be really hard to sift through all the bullshit in the world of weight training. In fact, there’s a whole market for people saying they have gotten rid of all the bullshit, just for you, and then they sell you their own bullshit. At a discount, if you’re lucky.
The thing is: much of the online fitness advice is given by full-time fitness influencers, and it’s geared towards full-time fitness influencers. Work-out 6 times a week every week, never eat anything unhealthy,
do roids. Try doing that while balancing important things: study, work, kids, friends and family. You won’t be able to stick to it, and frankly, you probably shouldn’t want to (unless you really, really do want to prioritize fitness).
I have devised my own mental framework for staying physically healthy over the years. It is based on 8 years of weight training experience, my medical knowledge on anatomy and injury prevention, online fitness advice I’ve consumed and internalized over the years and scientific studies I’ve read on things like periodization and recovery times.
I’ve decided to make it concrete, by writing it down. I have tried to be as transparent as I can be about the reasons for doing something.
Some general comments on this program:
- It is catered to my own lifestyle; and I’m studying and doing lots of stuff other than weight training;
- It is opinionated, and there’s stuff in here you could disagree with. Take the stuff you do like and use it in your own training.
- I’m a man, and my exercise choice has been influenced by it. Still, there’s no reason women can’t use it.
- It assumes you know how to perform the exercises with good technique and assumes you know how to search the internet for help if you don’t.
- It requires intrinsic motivation to push yourself enough. Be strict and honest about your schedule, the effort you’re putting in, and where your priorities lie.
These are the four principles this program tries to adhere to.
- Because each work-out works all major muscle groups, it doesn’t matter if you miss one.
- Several compound exercises per muscle group can be used, alternated, preferred. It doesn’t matter. Just pick what you like, or what feels good.
- No weight tracking. If you train several times a week, you’ll know what weight you can do. Push yourself a little harder if you feel like it, and don’t, if you don’t.
- Comprehensibly structured. Small selection of good exercises to choose from.
- Time-efficient work-outs that minimize passive resting with supersetting or doing accessories, which saves you time and maximizes cardiovascular fitness.
- Always take at least a day of recovery in between strength training work-outs. Active recovery through cardio is encouraged but not required.
- Loosely implements modern approach to periodization, see Daily undulating periodisation
- Full-body means more compound exercises and less training volume per body part per session, which will likely lead to less injuries.
- Efficient warming-up by slowly working you way up to the working weight doing the exercise itself. This helps greasing the groove.
- Dynamic stretching through exercise choice and using full ROM.
- Emphasis on injury-prone muscle groups such as the external rotators of the shoulder and the lower back musculature.
- Encourages stopping right before technical failure and discourages ever going to absolute failure.
Long-term efficiency: If you don’t get injured, you don’t lose progress. Consistency over the long-term is more important than hitting that rep, or doing that extra set. If it doesn’t feel right, or the technique is failing, stop. That rep is not important in the long-term. Slow and steady wins the race.
Intensity is often defined as
load (weight) multiplied by
volume. Volume in turn equals
sets multiplied by
reps. It is important to know this equation, because you should try to keep the intensity consistent from work-out to work-out. But at what level?
That’s why the word “right” in the title is so important. You can’t calculate the right intensity level for your body, but you can learn it over time. You learn how quickly your body recovers, and how much rest you need after a certain exercise combination. For example, if I have gone heavy on squats, I will often do a less taxing single-leg exercise for my next training.
There’s a certain sweet spot for everyone, where you’re maximizing progress without getting injured. It takes time figuring out where yours is.
There’s a large body of research roughly saying that Muscle Protein Synthesis peaks at 24 hours and declines after 48 hours. This is one of the biggest reasons advocating full-body training, instead of body part splits. Apparently, after 48-72 hours, not much is happening in your muscles in terms of progress. If you only train once a week, you’re losing out on a lot of progress.
That’s why I take between 36-48 hours of recovery time after each training, and I encourage you to do the same.
Isn’t hitting the same muscle group several times a week too much volume? No, because the volume per muscle group is much lower compared to a body part split, as we only do 1 compound exercise per muscle group. Besides, Daily undulating periodization means we use different rep ranges for each training, focussing on different types of muscle fiber and speeding up recovery.
I encourage active recovery by doing cardio like cycling, running, swimming or brisk walking. Be reasonable about this. If your legs are super sore from squats, don’t do cardio that’s super heavy on the legs the next day. The other way around, if cardio made your legs sore, don’t go heavy on squats the next day. Instead, do a lighter, less taxing leg exercise.
To explain what this is, I think a proper definition of periodization will be helpful:
“Periodization is a concept of systematic progression—that is, resistance training programs that follow predictable patterns of change in training variables.” - Lorenz, 2010 1.
Periodization answers the question of “what’s the best way of reaching my training goal over the next several weeks or months?“. It says stuff about the
volume you should use for a given training. That is important, because different rep ranges work different things. Training in the 1-8 rep range will prioritize strength, while the 8-12 rep range will prioritize hypertrophy. Higher rep ranges mostly train muscle endurance. Note that training in a lower rep range assumes you increase the weight accordingly to keep the intensity consistent.
Daily undulating periodization (DUP) is a relatively recent development in the world of exercise science. Its premise is that you should switch up your load and volume on a per-training basis. This is completely opposite to traditional linear periodization, which sticks to a certain amount of repetitions per set for weeks on end.
The field of exercise science is rough, and whereas early studies on DUP were really promising, more recent studies comparing linear periodization and DUP are less applauding. I nevertheless mention DUP as a good training modality, because I have had good experience with it, and because the theory behind it makes sense to me.
It makes sense because different rep ranges target different types of muscle fibers (fast twitch, slow twitch, etc.). If you for strength on monday, your muscle fibers optimized for hypertrophy will need less recovery on wednesday.
Perhaps even more logical is the reason why linear periodization doesn’t work well. If you train for hypertrophy for a month, and then for strength for another month, and then for endurance for another month, you’re likely to lose most of the hypertrophy and part of the strength during that final endurance month. With DUP, you train for strength, hypertrophy and endurance each week.
If you want to improve, you have to push yourself. Be 100% focused on the exercise your doing. Mind-muscle connection is real. Think about the muscle you need to contract for the exercise your doing. Have rituals. Put on the right song, walk out the squat bar in the same way each time, position yourself on the bench and your hands on the barbell when bench pressing in the same way. Then do the reps you set out to do. Be convinced you’re going to finish that set.
Imagine, you need 2 more reps to finish the last set for the bench press. Doing so would be a personal record, but your elbow starts flaring out, putting too much stress on your delts, instead of the pecs. Stop! You’ve reached technical failure. Those two reps will come next time.
- When benching, keep your feet on the ground.
- Don’t do underhand barbell rows for risk of bicep tendon tear.
- It’s going well? Don’t overreach.
- Don’t assume your form is correct after watching 1 YouTube video, videotape it or let someone watch you to get feedback from others with more experience.
So far, you’ve gotten an idea of what the program aspires to be through its core motivations, read about intensity, and internalized what daily undulating periodization is supposed to look like.
This is the part you can use to actually compose a training. What follows is a list of exercises, organized by muscle group in the case of compound exercises or as a list for the accessory exercises. Although this list is non-exhaustive, you are more than welcome to use another variation you enjoy doing.
- Pull up / chin up
- Weighted / regular
- Lat pulldown
- One arm / Double cable / Isometric
- Ring pull up
- Weighted / regular / one ring / isometric
- Barbell bench press
- Flat / incline
- Dumbbell press
- Flat / incline / shoulder
- Military press
- Standing / seated
- Weighted / unweighted
- Dip bar leg raises
- Straight leg / bent leg
- Hanging leg raises
- Straight leg / bent leg / side / toe to bar
- Barbell back squat
- Low bar / high bar
- Dumbbell lunges
- Bulgarian split squat
- Barbell / Smith machine
- Weighted box standups
- Romanian deadlift
- Barbell / dumbbell
- Conventional / sumo
- Standing single leg hamstring curl (in the leg extension apparatus)
- Machine calf extension
- Smith machine calf raises
- Face pulls
- Back extension
- Machine / weighted
- Rear delt rows
- Preacher / EZ-bar / dumbbell / cable / hammer
- Seated incline curls
- Cable tricep pushdown
- Cable tricep kickback
- Straight arm pulldown
For compound exercises, vary the rep ranges.
Try to vary rep range for compound exercises over the course of the week. For example: if you expect to bench three times this week, do sets of 12 on day 1, sets of 8 on day 2, then sets of 5 on day 3.
Frequency: ideally, and at most, every other day.
Pick one compound exercise per movement pattern
For major compounds, work your way up in weight using 1.25-2.5 kg increments.
- Long-term injury prevention
- Greasing the groove
Use resting periods, don’t sit around:
- Supersets with antagonizing muscle groups.
- Train abs and calves during resting periods whenever the intended apparatus is free.
- Working weight - a weight at which you will get stronger or better at a given exercise.
- RPE - Rate of Perceived Exertion. A scale from 1-10, where 1 equals “very light activity”, and 10 equals “max effort activity”. A set which is RPE 10, means you couldn’t have done a single other repetition. RPE 9 means you could maybe do 1 more rep, RPE 8 means you could’ve done 2 more, etcetera.
- ROM - Range of Motion. The degrees through which you’re moving a certain joint.
- Greasing the groove - A term coined by Pavel Tsatsouline. It means that you should not train to failure, instead practice a movement frequently to optimize the pathways connecting the brain with your muscles.
- Hypertrophy - muscle growth.
- Compound exercise - an exercise that uses multiple muscle groups at the same time.
- Isolation exercise - an exercise that trains 1 muscle group at a time.
- Accessorie - an exercise that is generally less important than a compound exercise. Use these to address weak points or prevent injuries.
- Rep range - a range of repetitions per set to use for a given exercise for a given training. Example: “do 5 sets in the 5-8 rep range for the bench press”.
- Technical failure - when you are unable to do another repetition with correct technique.
- Lorenz DS, Reiman MP, Walker JC. Periodization: current review and suggested implementation for athletic rehabilitation. Sports Health. 2010 Nov;2(6):509–18.↩