I like to think that the many ways of weight training are part of what makes it fun. And despite what you might hear, there is no one right way to weight train. Using basic variables, you can blend several approaches or use one method exclusively.
Which approach should you take? It depends on your goals.
You Want to Lose Weight or You Don’t Like Weights
Circuit routines might be perfect for you. With a typical circuit, you get your heart rate up by integrating cardio and weights into one short, intense routine. For example, one set in a circuit could include four to six different exercises that hit various muscle groups without resting. After a brief rest you would repeat for two more sets.
You’ll still need to do intense cardio separately and watch your diet if you want to lose weight, but you can get extra calories burned while toning – and that’s an enticing benefit of circuits.
If you’re not a fan of weights and you just want to get it done, circuits (or Cross Fit) can provide the cardio benefits and toning in a short time frame. Since you may be using a lot of different equipment (bodyweight, medicine balls, dumbbells, etc.), you’ll find less circuits less monotonous – maybe even exciting!
You can create circuits yourself, find a few on this web site, or find them online or in videos. Here’s one I did myself when I swapped routines with my friend Kris.
You Want to Build Serious Muscle
To build serious muscle you’ll want to look at more of a bodybuilder’s routine. Bodybuilders rely on a select few compound movements and heavy resistance to put on muscle with exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, dips, and Arnold presses.
Despite popular belief, this type of weight training works for women too. This approach builds muscle because these are “foundational” exercises – multi-joint moves that work many muscles at once and engage your core as well. You progress by simply adding weight, decreasing rest periods, changing reps, and adding in techniques such as drop sets now and then.
This approach also involves using very few isolation movements and machines, relying mostly on barbells and dumbbells.
You Want to Tone, Build, and Look Cut
This is a middle-of-the-road approach and the one I take. You want muscle but it doesn’t have to be epic or fitness-model quality. You want definition in your arms, shape to your rear, and even a few abs muscles (or more). And you might even like weight training!
If you like variety, you’ll love this approach. Notice that I said if you if. You can always confuse your muscles by simply change the reps, rest, and weight. But if you like changing things up (as I do), you can incorporate different exercises, techniques, and equipment to meet your goals and have fun.
This approach works with weight loss programs as well but you’ll still need to do intense cardio separately. Traditional weight training does burn calories but not on the level you may want.
You can supplement with isolation exercises but you’ll still rely heavily on foundation moves such as squats, lunges, bench presses, and overhead presses. You’ll still need to be diligent about increasing weight and you may want to track your workouts in a journal.
I’ve posted plenty of exercises and routines you can try, both full-body and for individual muscle groups. For full-body workouts, check out these posts:
Note: I train either two muscles groups per session or I do an upper/lower body split twice a week. However, I know many people recommend full-body workouts and many people prefer it. Choose what you’ll do and what you’ll enjoy!
For exercises and tips about individual muscle groups, click the muscle group in my tag cloud on the right (for example, triceps, glutes, etc.).
You Don’t Have A Lot of Time
See my post on 30-Minute Workouts for ideas. Saving time can mean circuits or using compound movements as I talked about above. It can also mean combining moves (such as lunges with overhead presses).