Engine Company, Extrication Zone, Firefighting, Health & Safety

Intermediate Weight-Training Options

by Frank Fire Jr.

In this article, we will discuss some ways to vary your lifting routine to achieve different priorities, how to split workouts into different days to make more efficient use of time, and how to add some advanced techniques into your routine when you become stronger and more comfortable with the weights. We will also introduce and demonstrate some new exercises.

Split Workouts

You may come to a point where your workouts become so long that it is impractical to do all the exercises in the same workout. In this case, you should split your workouts in half, performing exercises for the entire body over two days. For example, you may choose to perform “pushing” movements in one workout and “pulling” movements in the next. Another option would be to do upper-body work one day and lower-body work the next day. Experiment and find the best splits that work for you, but be aware that most of the exercises that work the back also work the biceps and that many of the exercises that work the chest also work the triceps. It may be best, at least at first, to keep those body parts together on workout days to avoid working the same muscles on successive days.

Supersets

Performing supersets can be a great intensity booster and also a huge timesaver in the gym. The original definition of supersets was to perform an exercise, curls for example, and then immediately work the antagonistic muscles, in this case, the triceps. While one muscle group is working, the other has a chance to rest. In addition to saving time, working like this can be a fantastic metabolism booster.

Currently, however, most weight-trainers define supersets as two exercises for the same muscle group done in rapid fashion. This could entail performing triceps press-downs (an isolation exercise) first, then quickly doing a set of dips (which also work the triceps but also bring the chest into play), allowing more weight to be used for the already fatigued arm muscles. This is a fairly advanced technique and shouldn’t be used on any muscle group more than once a week. Supersets can also be employed on successive sets in the same exercise, but with less weight. For example, if you were able to use 100 pounds for a set of 10 in the tricep pressdown, you could immediately lower the weight to 70 pounds and perform another five or six reps, further fatiguing the muscle.

Hypertrophy (Size) vs. Strength

You can tailor your workouts for more emphasis on strength or muscle size by manipulating the number of sets and reps you perform as well as the amount of rest you take between sets.

The lower number of reps you do per set, from about five or six down to three or even two, will usually stimulate an increase in strength more than size. Conversely, if you concentrate on higher reps, say eight to 12, with less rest between sets, you will cause the muscles to grow in size more than strength.

The actual number of reps to perform for specific muscular adaptations is on a continuum, meaning the number is approximate, with carryover in each direction. For example, if you do sets of three in the bench press (usually done by power lifters with as much weight as possible), you will experience somewhat more of an increase in strength than size. Also, when performing sets of 12 in the bicep curl (usually done by bodybuilders), you can expect more of an increase in muscular size than strength, although you will certainly get stronger as well. We will spend much more time on advanced concepts such as these in subsequent articles.

List of Exercises

Below is a list of exercises explained in this article. They can be performed in addition to or instead of some of the movements presented in previous articles. It is not intended that you do all or even most of these exercises every workout. As a beginning/intermediate lifter, choose one or two exercises per body part, and perform two to three heavy sets per exercise.

Exercise
Primary Body Parts Exercised
Individual Muscles Worked
Leg Press
Legs, hips
Quadriceps, Glutes, Hamstrings
Lunge
Legs, hips
Quads, Glutes
Dumbbell Bench Press
Chest, shoulders (anterior), triceps
Pecs, shoulders, arms
Incline Bench Press
Chest, shoulders (anterior), triceps
Pecs, shoulders, arms
Seated Cable Row
Back
Lats, Erectors (low back)
Chin-Up/Pull-up
Back
Lats
Dumbbell Press
Shoulders
Anterior, Medial, and Posterior deltoids
Lateral Raise
Shoulders
Anterior, Medial, and Posterior deltoids
Barbell Curls
Arms
Biceps
Preacher Bench Curls
Arms
Biceps
Tricep Pressdowns
Arms
Triceps
Bench Dips
Arms
Triceps, Pecs
 
Leg Press

Muscles Trained: Quadriceps, gluteals, hamstrings

Equipment needed: Leg press machine

Performance:

The Leg Press is an acceptable substitute for squats. You can perform it if you don’t have anyone to spot you while squatting, or if you just need a break from squats. There are several types of leg press machines; vertical, seated, and angled are the most popular. Performance on most machines is similar.

Sit in the machine with your back flat against the pad, and place your feet hip width apart. Point your toes straight ahead or angle them slightly outward (whichever you choose, keep your knees flexing in the same direction as the toes. When fully lowered, your legs should be at a 90-degree angle. Fully press the weight back up until the knees are nearly straight. Concentrate on pushing more with the heels than the toes.

Remember to keep your back and hips in contact with the seat padding throughout the movement. If you find yourself raising your hips, you may need to adjust the seat position or back angle.

Lunge

Muscles Trained: Quadriceps

Equipment Needed: None (a barbell or dumbbells can be used for additional resistance)

Performance:

Lunges are a great leg exercise that can be performed anywhere. Start by standing with your feet hip width apart. Take an exaggerated step forward, then immediately lower the body until your trailing knee almost touches the floor or until your flexed knee is parallel with the floor. You can then return to the standing position or lunge forward with the other leg, performing as many reps as prescribed. Try to keep the upper body as vertical as possible throughout the exercise. The shorter the step you take, the more your thighs are worked; the longer the step, the more work the hamstrings and glutes do.

Dumbbell Bench Press

Muscles Trained: Pectorals, anterior deltoids, triceps

Equipment Needed: Bench, dumbbells

Performance:

You perform this press in exactly the same way as a conventional bench press, but you will be using dumbbells. When using heavier weights, it becomes a challenge to get the dumbbells to your chest to start the exercise; a spotter can help there. Just as in the barbell bench press, lower the weights to the level of your chest (or just slightly above your chest, to take some strain off your shoulders), and press up to full extension.

Incline Bench Press

Muscles Trained: Pectorals (with an emphasis on the upper pecs), anterior deltoids, triceps

Equipment Needed: Bar, incline bench

Performance:

Using a bench with approximately a 30-degree angle, have a spotter assist you with un-racking the bar (it will feel very unstable until you get comfortable with the motion) to full extension. From there, slowly lower the bar to a position in the middle of the chest (not to your nipple line, as in standard bench presses). Ideally, when fully lowered to your chest, your forearms should be very nearly vertical. This is another reason to use a spotter: to make sure you are using correct form.

Seated Cable Row

Muscles Trained: Lats, lower back

Equipment Needed: Cable rowing machine

Performance:

While seated, grasp the bar (preferably a narrow, parallel grip bar, where your palms can face each other), and pull smoothly until your back is upright and the bar is pulled into your abdomen. Keep your elbows in tight to your sides, and arch your back slightly as you finish the contraction. When returning the weight, get a good stretch in the lats and lower back.

Chin-Up/Pull-up

Muscles Trained: Lats, biceps

Equipment Needed: Chin-up bar

Performance:

Chin-ups (and pull-ups) are good, simple exercises that can be done anywhere you have an overhead bar that can safely support your body weight. Pull-ups are done with a pronated (palm-away) grip, and usually a slightly wider hand position than chin-ups, which are done with hands supinated (palms facing you) and a fairly narrow grip.

Pull-ups tend to work the back more than the arms, with chin-ups stressing the arms slightly more.

Get as full a range of motion as possible, stretching at the bottom, and pulling up as far as possible, touching the bar, or at least pulling your head above it.
Muscles Trained: Deltoids, triceps

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells

Performance:

This is a slightly more difficult option than using a regular barbell. The advantage to using dumbbells instead of barbells (is similar to that for using any free weights instead of most machines) is that more effort is needed to stabilize and control the weights, thus stimulating more muscle growth. You will have to use less than half the weight you may be used to when using a bar, e.g., if you normally use 200 pounds for 10 reps in the bench press, you may need to use 90-, 80-, or even 70-pound dumbbells for a set of 10.

Lateral Raise

Muscles Trained: Deltoids

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells

Performance:

Standing with the dumbbells at your sides with palms facing in and elbows slightly flexed, raise the weights at about a 45-degree angle from the body, about halfway between directly in front and directly to the side. As you raise the weights, keep your thumbs up. It is OK to sway the body a little as you raise the weights; this helps keep your balance as your center of gravity shifts.
Muscles Trained: Biceps

Equipment Needed: Bar (straight or EZ-curl)

Performance:

Standing with your back straight, grasp the bar with an underhand grip and hands slightly wider than shoulder width, flex the elbows, and raise the bar as far as you can. Slowly lower the bar to the starting position. Try to keep your upper arms as vertical and as stationary as possible, making the biceps do all the work.

You can use an EZ-curl bar if you prefer. The only advantage to using this type of bar is wrist comfort—sometimes a straight bar forces the wrists to supinate farther than is comfortable.
Muscles Trained: Biceps

Equipment Needed: Preacher Bench

Performance:

The advantage to using a preacher bench (an angled bench on which the upper arms rest, which forces the biceps to do all the work, eliminating any possibility of cheating) is isolation of the biceps. When doing barbell or dumbbell curls, it is easy to slightly sway the body or move the upper arms to help raise the weight. A preacher bench makes the movement harder and stricter, thus stressing the biceps even more.

Tricep Pressdowns

Muscles Trained: Triceps

Equipment Needed: Cable Pulley Machine

Performance:

Standing in front of a cable machine, start with the bar up, with the elbows fully flexed. Slowly press the weight down until the arms are nearly straight, keeping the upper arms as stationary as possible. This ensures that the triceps do all the work. Be careful to keep your wrists and hands in a straight line; don’t let your wrists flex or extend out of line with your forearms. You can use a straight bar, an angled bar (for wrist comfort, similar to using an EZ-curl bar), or even a rope attachment.

Bench Dips

Muscles Trained: Triceps, chest

Equipment Needed: Bench

Performance:

Put two flat benches three or so feet apart so that you can rest your feet on one and support your body with your hands on the edge of the other. Slowly bend at the elbows and lower your body as low as you comfortably can. Push up with a conscious effort to use the triceps as much as possible (your pecs also contribute to any dipping motion). When you get strong enough to do a dozen or so solid reps, you can have your partner place weight plates on your thighs for added resistance.

Download two sample workouts, one for size and one for strength, HERE. (PDF, 118 KB)

Frank Fire Jr. is a 19-year veteran of the Cuyahoga Falls (OH) Fire Department. He spent two years service with the Canton (OH) Fire Department. He is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a personal trainer and is his department’s certified fitness coordinator. He has been a competitive power lifter for more than 20 years and has competed in the Firefighter Combat Challenge nearly 50 times, with a best finish of seventh at the 2001 World Championships in the over-40 division. He has also created a set of Strength and Stamina videos produced by Fire Engineering.

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