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Resistance Training 4: Determining Training Loads
As with any good block of training you have arrived at the end of your primer on creating a resistance program. So far we’ve covered some important terminology to know, how to create a solid program, and the all important form considerations; so what’s left? To finish we are going to start at the beginning!

By Matt McNamara

Back to Basics
When starting any resistance training program it is common to push a little too far in the first workouts…and suffer the consequences for days afterwards. Since the body is not yet adapted to lifting it is predisposed to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOMS results from too much force being exerted by the muscle, resulting in micro-damage within the muscle fibres and resulting inflammation. To help avoid a severe case, and maybe getting it at all, be very conservative in your first days of lifting.

That said it is important to establish some realistic workloads for your lifting. Lifting, like riding or any form of training, is built on the Overload Theory, which simply means that we have to continually overreach by stress the body slightly beyond its limits to continue progressing our fitness. By establishing some realistic training loads you will get more out of your lifting with less risk of injury, a debilitating case of DOMS, or other training setbacks.

The “Rep”-O Man
Most resistance training programs are built on the concept of working at a percentage (%) of your one repetition maximum. One rep max (1RM) is an elusive and mysterious beast that wanders weight rooms and training facilities worldwide; ask someone how much they bench, squat, or curl and you’ll likely get a response based on 1RM. Given that 1RM by definition tests for the maximum weight that you can lift only once, directly testing for it is a recipe for injury!

So rather than throw you under a bunch of weight and see how much you can lift we’ll take a bit more laid back approach and estimate your 1RM based on your performance in three slightly more realistic sets and a handy little spreadsheet. Spend at least three or four sessions in the gym before attempting to follow this protocol. It will help you better estimate your percentages and allow your body to adapt to weight training before attempting maximal effort.

Let’s start with the spreadsheet, the full version of which can be downloaded at (use the password ssg5758). Here is the basic look:

There are both men’s and women’s versions. Each is designed to estimate your 1RM for the primary lifts including: squat, leg press, straight leg raise, pull down, bench press, bicep curl, and tricep extension. The first row is simply based on a fixed percentage of your body weight, and is locked. The second row allows you to adjust the first set to be more accurate and should be used to fine tune the values in the first row. For example if you’ve lifted previously and already know that 15 reps at 50% of your body weight is a bit ambitious, make the starting weight for row 2 lower. The third row is what you’ll do at the gym. Simply write in the values and then update the spreadsheet when you are done to get a solid estimate of your 1RM.

Now let’s put the spreadsheet into action with Vance Nonstrong and Joe Strong. Vance is new to lifting, while Joe has some years under his belt. Both complete the first two rows of their respective spreadsheets at home. Vance knows he can’t lift quite as much as row 1 would suggest so he modifies down, while Joe is sure he’s much stronger than his row 1 values and estimates up. They hit the gym using their modified values from row 2 as guides. Once they are at the gym they simply record the values for each lift and voila they now have a realistic estimation of 1RM for each exercise.

As always do a complete warm up before starting your lifts. This includes some initial range of motion sets at very light weight to activate the stabilizers and smaller muscles, and to reinforce good form. Be sure to get full recovery between each sets. Figure at least 2-3 minutes between sets 1 and 2, and 2-4 minutes between sets 2 and 3. It is important to try and make the third set as close to your estimated 8RM as you can get, so arrange for some help in the form of a spotter and be willing to push a little. If you cannot complete the 8 rep set at the weight you chose, but you’re close (like 6 reps) simply rest for 10 minutes, drop the weight 2-3% and try again. If you can’t get more than 5 reps, drop the weight by at least 8% and try again after the 10 minute rest.

Building Your Program
Now you’ve got some good building blocks for your training program. There is no ‘set’ formula to design a program, but there are some basic considerations. First, being a cyclist, most of us aren’t interested in getting too much bigger so we can effectively eliminate any large blocks of muscle hypertrophy (8-10 reps per set). Instead I would build my focus on both muscle endurance and pure strength. That is to say rep counts between 15 – 50 for endurance and 3-5 for strength. From there working with your percentages of 1RM is simply a question of creativity. A sample program might look like this:

• 2 Weeks of low weight / high rep work to prep the body for lifting.

• 4 – 6 Weeks of endurance lifting starting with 3 – 4 sets of 15-25 reps per exercise at 50-60% of 1RM and moving up by reps and/or weight each week. Try to do endurance lifting 3 days per week.

• 4 – 6 Weeks of strength training starting with 4 – 5 sets of 3 – 6 reps per exercise at 80 – 95% of 1RM. It is ok to do reach sets at or above 95-100% of 1RM with an appropriate spot, especially as we expect your 1RM to increase! Strength training should be done twice per week with at least two days rest between.

• 4-6 Weeks of plyometric training to final tune and prep your body for racing. Plyometrics combine the elements of strength and endurance to create explosive power that you can use real-world in your cycling. A good, challenging plyo-program can easily be less than 45 minutes total time and should include primarily two joint, explosive movements like jump lunges, frog jumps, or hand-clap push ups.

• Continued maintenance during the rest of the season. This can be as simple as endurance lifting once a week in the 3 sets of 15 range. A more ambitious program might have you lifting in the 5-8 reps range to maintain some strength, but be careful that it doesn’t greatly impact your riding and recovery since they are the focus. Plyometrics are great here too!

That’s it! Part of the fun of lifting is challenging your body and mind to come up with workouts that are both effective and fun. Don’t fall into the same boring program you’ve done the last few years…use your new knowledge to create an innovative program that will keep your motivation to go to the gym high and your body continually moving towards greatness.

All the best,


About Matt McNamara:
Matt McNamara is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach with over 20 years of racing, coaching and team management experience. He is the President of Sterling Sports Group and races road, track, and cyclocross in Northern California. Sterling Sports Group is a growing company focused on creating a seamless interface between athlete and coach, technology and personal attention. Visit us online to learn more at


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