Preparing for high loads-Strength training

Hi everyone,

I thought I would bring up the topic of training beginners (both kids and adults who have never strength trained). May I ask what are people’s opinions with regards to how to train beginners?

A few points:

  1. I know Charles Poliquin has said those with a low training age (not necesserily a low chronological age) should train with higher reps since they are neurologically inefficient. They are not good at recruiting high threshold motor units. Sets of up to 20 reps can be used, which also provides the oppurtunity for technoque learning.

  2. Thomas Kurz has written about this subject. Here is a Q&A from him:

Question: Why do you advise doing long sets of exercises with low resistance as a preparation for low-repetition and high-resistance strength exercises and isometric stretches?

Answer: To increase the structural strength of the muscles so they are less likely to be excessively damaged by strenuous exercises. (Excessive muscle damage announces itself as delayed-onset muscle soreness, or a muscle strain, even a complete muscle rupture.) If the muscles are not structurally strong enough for the efforts asked of them, they become sore or even strained.

Structural strength of a muscle is determined by the strength and cross-sectional area of the slow-twitch muscle fibers and by the strength of the connective tissue within the muscle. Slow-twitch muscle fibers have relatively greater structural strength than fast-twitch fibers, especially the fast-twitch fibers with low oxidative capacities (Fridén and Lieber 1992; Lieber and Fridén 2000). It takes more force to stretch, and ultimately to rupture, the slow-twitch fibers than the fast-twitch fibers. This is because the slow-twitch fibers are smaller than the fast-twitch fibers and have a greater ratio of cellular scaffolding to the contractile elements (which are built of long, thin proteins that are easy to tear). Several studies have shown that muscles with higher ratios of fast-twitch fibers to slow-twitch fibers are easier to damage or tear than muscles with lower ratios (Gleim and McHugh 1997; Jonhagen et al. 1994; Smith 1994).

Endurance training, that is, doing many repetitions per set against low resistance, increases structural strength of slow-twitch muscle fibers (Gleim and McHugh 1997). Such training also increases the structural strength of the connective tissue within the muscle, probably through the anabolic action of hormones that are delivered to the muscle with the increased blood flow (Tipton et al. 1975). The connective tissue damage is considered another one of the causes of delayed-onset muscle soreness (McArdle, Katch, and Katch 1996).

  1. Also on Thomas Kurz’s website the following is in an article:
  1. Error: Beginning your strength training program with the greatest resistance you can overcome.
    Beginners should use the smallest resistance that still increases strength. With beginners (either young athletes or adults who never did serious strength training), the strength increase does not depend on the amount of resistance as long as that resistance is more than the minimum required for the training effect (Pawluk 1985). For beginners that minimum may start at more than 20% of their personal best (Zatsiorsky 1995). McArdle, Katch, and Katch (1991) recommend resistance that permits completing 12–15 repetitions. Overcoming greater resistance does not make the beginners much stronger.

  2. Error: Beginning your strength training program with high resistance/low repetitions.
    Beginners should initially refrain from lifting heavy weights because these weights will develop the strength of their muscles’ contraction faster than the structural strength of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. So, if you lift heavy loads without preparing the muscles and fibrous connective tissue for it first, you can become sore and injure your muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Begin your strength training program with low resistance/high reps to strengthen slow-twitch muscle fibers that stabilize joints and to improve blood supply of the muscles and their fibrous connective tissue, which speeds up muscles’ recovery and is needed for increasing structural strength of their fasciae and tendons. After eight to twelve weeks of such structural preparation, you may start to build up muscle mass together with maximal strength, or concentrate only on developing maximal strength.

So from these recommendations I guess that training the slow twitch fibres, optimising anabolic hormone output and strengthening the connective tissues are priorities before using heavy loads. It also seems that using lo intensities/high reps with beginners increases max strength more than low reps/high intensities, aswell as being safer.

However, in CFTS Charlie mentions not doing too much low intensity work due to the conversion of intermediate fibre to slow twitch; so is the very high reps sometimes recommended, not such a good idea even for beginners?

So may I ask what everyone’s opinions are on the information above and how you think training beginners should be accomplished? Any help would be appreciated.

Thank you. :smiley:

Read Beginning Weight Training by Lyle McDonald.

However, in CFTS Charlie mentions not doing too much low intensity work due to the conversion of intermediate fibre to slow twitch; so is the very high reps sometimes recommended, not such a good idea even for beginners?

Charlie was referring to excessive volume of prolonged slow jogging. I may be wrong, and I wish someone will correct me, Charlie mostly used higher reps per set (8+ reps) most of the time and occasional higher resistance/lower reps in MxS phases (3+1+3) due the fact that sprinting is priority and too much high intensity in the gym cause too much CNS strain, especially if done to failure.

Don’t become dogmatic by applying absolute terms to all conditions without considering context.


Thanks for the reply. Much appreciated. The link you posted was good thanks.

Yes, sorry, I am being quite dogmatic. My question mainly regarding preparing connective tissue for strength training, so I shouldn’t have tried to bring in ideas from sprint training.

So the higher reps is to preserve the CNS, I see. Was this mainly used in the accumulation phase before intensification of weights?


No. Anatomic Adaptation Phase (AAP) is used prior accumulation weights or can progress to them over couple of weeks.
Accumulation and Intensification are concepts referring to LOAD PROGRAMMING. Accumulation is overload by volume, while intensification is overload by intensity. AAP is a specific period aimed at reaching certain goals. You can also utilize Volume/Intensity overloads in AAPs, depending on the level of the athlete, although the loads during the AAP should be not that high in terms of intensivness.
For more info check this series of articles.

Think of it like a Wave… after serious pounding, emotional draining you need to go back to basics, provide a good ‘base’ for later gains and remove any mental/emotional blocks/strain acquired during heavy training. You can’t pound continuously.

Hi gymrob,

I run a summer camp for youth athletes, I advertise the age for the camp as being 11-18, but the bulk of the kids that enroll fall between the ages of 13 and 16. They train for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 4 weeks.

This past summer, completely by chance, one of my sessions consisted of 6 kids aged 11 and 12, and they were all slow-maturing kids. I structured my sessions very carefully, and we spent most of our time just playing various sports in order to keep them engaged.However, we still trained for about an hour every day.

In terms of weightlifting, my number one focus was always technique. For the first week we only used a pvc pipe, but the kids were still doing a variety of lifts (back squat, push press, deadlifts, etc…) for 4 sets of 6 or 5. We progressed from the pvc pipe to a 5lb barbell, then 10lb, and so on. I allowed the kids to push themselves in their progression, with my permission, on the premise that we couldn’t increase weight without knowing for sure we could do the heavier weight. I communicate that I don’t want anyone to miss reps.

My rationalization is that with 4 sets of 5 or 6 reps I can still gain an adaptation, without creating fatigue that will cause a decrement in technique. I also didn’t want the kids to be too tired, after all, they did have to be there 5 days a week.

By following this format, all of the kids were able to perform a loaded backsquat of 33 lbs or 45 lbs by the end of the 4 weeks. We also conducted some fitness testing at the end of the first week of camp, and the very last day of camp, and all of the kids improved in medicine ball throw, 20m sprint, veritcal jump, and standing long jump.

Hope this helps.