Beginners Guide To Strength And Conditioning

A sought after expert Nick Grantham has presented seminars and practical demonstrations on strength and conditioning for the Football Association, the National Sports Medicine Institute, the British Olympic Association and the UK Strength and Conditioning Association. Nick has articles published in leading sports publications including Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness
Mention resistance training and images of muscle bound hulks lifting massive weights spring to mind. If you’re not intimidated by the ‘muscle men’ you might be at a loss to understand the jargon-rich lingo of the gym with its talk of ‘Reps’ and ‘Sets’. But don’t let that put you off, this section explains the benefits.

Resistance training has increased its popularity so that over the past decade a wide variety of people from all walks of life now do some type of resistance training. In essence, when you’re resistance training you’re working your muscles against some form of resistance, whether it be lifting weights, moving with a medicine ball, working against resistance provided by rubber tubing or even working against your own body. Proper resistance training has the potential to increase a person’s athletic potential, but even if you’re not taking part in a particular sport, resistance training can provide several health benefits. It not only improves strength, power and co-ordination, but it can also protect against diseases like osteoporosis.

During the past 50 years, advances in technology have spawned numerous devices and pieces of equipment that are used to produce resistance. But it’s important to realise that gains in strength and power Simple methods like body weight exercises, working with elastic tubing and medicine balls can all be used as cost-effective and convenient methods of resistance training. These methods are ideal for absolute beginners.

  • Fixed weight machines are commonplace in fitness clubs and gyms. This type of equipment was developed to promote safety and is a favourite of beginners although they are generally more expensive than free weights.
  • Free weights are a simple, cost-effective method of resistance training – but their use requires greater balance and co-ordination than other types of equipment and are best used by experienced people, or under the guidance of a qualified coach. They big advantage they have over resistance machines is that they allowing multiple joint movements – more closely reflecting real-life situations than fixed weights in the gym.

The benefits of resistance training

Longevity and quality of life

Due to their health benefits, resistance training programmes are being implemented alongside aerobic exercise programmes throughout the world. The combination of both forms of exercise improves the longevity and quality of life and resistance training is a great way of getting in shape for the game of life.

Rehabilitation of injuries and body sculpting

Resistance programmes also play an important role in the rehabilitation of many injuries and if you want to look good on the beach, nothing short of cosmetic surgery can help build, shape and sculpt the human body like resistance training.

Resistance training is suitable for:

Absolute beginners

Beginners can start by using their body weight, medicine balls or rubber tubing as resistance. It’s best to get advice from a qualified coach before you start.

Older people

Researchers report that elderly men and women can improve strength, flexibility and cardiovascular measures through resistance training. The bottom line is – you’re never too old to start a resistance training programme, provided your doctor has agreed that this type of activity is suitable.

But, if you’re concerned about your current state of health, then seek medical advice before embarking on a resistance training programme – see Top tips for getting started. If you intend to join a fitness club or gym you’ll find that most reputable clubs will include a health questionnaire and basic medical screening as part of their induction process.

Jargon Buster

Repetitions (Reps)

A Rep is simply the number of times an exercise is performed without rest. For example, if you perform a push up 10 times in a row without stopping you have completed 10 Reps. The number of repetitions depends upon your training goals.


A Set is a group of consecutive repetitions performed with rests between sets. For example, if you complete 10 reps on bench press – this is your first set. If you then completed another 10 repetitions on bench press you have completed your second set and so on.

Rest Periods

The rest period is the amount of recovery between each set. Depending on your training goals the rest period can range from 30 seconds to more than three minutes. An appropriate rest period can have a massive impact on how well you progress.

Do I really need to rest between sets?

The short answer is YES. You will see from your programme that after each exercise there is a specified amount of rest that you should take before starting the next set. This figure will change from programme to programme and from exercise to exercise.

Ignore it at your peril. The amount of rest you get between sets can have a significant influence on the effectiveness of your training.

I appreciate that long rest periods can be boring so here are a couple of ideas to help you through the boredom.

  1. Walk around for the first 30-60 seconds. This will accelerate your recovery.
  2. Load the weight for your next set.
  3. Put a towel around your shoulders or sweatshirt on to maintain your body temperature.
  4. Sit with a reasonable posture, this will help prevent the feeling of fatigue.
  5. Do not get distracted from your set rest period by meaningless conversation.


There are three numbers (e.g. 3 1 2). All the numbers refer to seconds.

  • The first number relates to the eccentric phase of the technique.
  • The second number relates to the pause between the eccentric and concentric contraction.
  • The third number relates to the concentric phase of the technique.

These numbers act simply as a guide to the speed of the lift, it doesn’t have to be executed with perfection.

The fact that the first number always relates to the eccentric contraction can cause confusion because some techniques commence with a concentric contraction.

In general most pulling movements commence with a concentric contraction (the last of the three numbers) and most pushing movements commence with an eccentric contraction (the first of the three numbers).

If having looked at the examples overleaf you are still confused let me know and I will run through it with you. Once you have become familiar with the system it works really well.

Lets look at some examples using a 3 1 2 tempo.

  • Bench Press
    • Eccentric phase – The lowering of the bar to the chest will be completed in 3 seconds.
    • Pause – There will be a 1 second pause.
      • Concentric phase – The pressing of the bar away from the chest will be completed in 2 seconds.
  • Cable lat pulldown
    • Concentric phase – Pulling the bar down and toward the chest will be completed in 2 seconds.
    • Pause – There will be a 1 second pause.
    • Eccentric phase – Returning the bar to it’s original starting position in 3 seconds
  • Squat
    • Eccentric phase – The bending of the knees and lowering of the body will be completed in 3 seconds.
    • Pause – There will be a 1 second pause.
    • Concentric phase – The extension of the legs back up to their original starting position will be completed in 2 seconds.

Exercise Sequence

You will notice that some of the exercise names are prefixed (1A, 1B, etc). This indicates the order that you should complete the exercises. Using the example below you would complete the exercises as follows.

Exercise Sequence
2A Stability Ball Single Leg Squat 2 15 3 2 3 30s
2B Supine Hip Extension 2 10 2 1 2 30s
  • Complete first set of Stability Ball Single Leg Squat (1A).
  • Recover (30 seconds).
  • Move to Supine Hop Extension (2A) and complete the first set (recover 30 seconds).
  • Repeat until all sets have been completed for exercises 1A and 1B.

How Hard Should I Train: A Guide to the 5 levels of intensity?

Below is an outline of the five levels of intensity that you can work at during your resistance training sessions. Your programmes will include details of the intensity and this should act as a useful guide when completing your workouts.


NB: You will be relieved to know that level 5 will rarely be used as this level of training intensity is very difficult to recover from. The fact that you may see many people in your gyms using this method is more a reflection of the power that the bodybuilding magazines have on training methods than common sense.

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