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Total Body Strength Training Recommendations

In 2008, guidelines for regular daily and weekly physical activity and structured exercise were released through a joint venture, consisting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Heart Association (AHA), and the United States Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans define and describe the importance and need for regular weekly cardiovascular, neuromotor, resistance, and flexibility training.

Physical activity is any bodily movement produced by the contraction of skeletal muscle that increases an expenditure of energy above a basal (i.e. rest) level (Baechele & Earle, 2000; Donatelle, 2004; Howley & Franks, 2007; McArdle, Katch, & Katch, 2007). This includes, but is not limited to personal grooming, hygiene, feeding oneself, standing, walking from a parking lot to the entrance of a building, family care, household chores, occupational requirements, gardening, and so on. On the other hand, exercise is structured physical activity specifically designed to improve one’s cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength/endurance, flexibility, and or body composition (i.e. ratio of fat free mass to fat mass) (Baechele & Earle, 2000; Donatelle, 2004; Howley & Franks, 2007; McArdle et. al., 2007). Lastly, it is clear one should know that all exercise is physical activity, but not all-physical activity is exercise.

This blog will primarily focus on the weekly frequency, intensity, duration, and type of activity one should use during muscular endurance/strength training. Regarding the weekly frequency, duration, and intensity of total-body-strength training sessions, each encounter should occur one to three nonconsecutive days per week and individuals should allow at least 48 hours in between total-body-strength training sessions (American College of Sports Medicine, 2006; Baechele & Earle, 2000; Donatelle, 2004; Howley & Franks, 2007; McArdle et. al., 2007; UDHHS, 2008). Strength training session duration should range from 30-60 minutes; sessions lasting longer than 60 minutes are associated with a significantly higher participant drop out rate (American College of Sports Medicine, 2006; Baechele & Earle, 2000; Donatelle, 2004; Howley & Franks, 2007; McArdle et. al., 2007; UDHHS, 2008). The total number of exercises performed per strength training session should range from eight to 15. On a side note, participants should know that training the body as an entire unit (i.e. upper/lower torso and anterior/posterior) is more time effective, efficient, and physiologically appropriate than a split routine (i.e. upper torso and or lower torso on opposing days). The amount of sets per exercise should be composed of one to two sets per activity, with a repetition range consisting of 10 to 15 repetitions per set, or 60 to 90 seconds of total time under muscular tension per set. Finally, performing muscle strengthening activities in this manner greatly reduces the risk of muscular injury, damage to joint integrity, the amount of repeated movements performed by a joint, and the amount of weekly training time used by the participant (Baechele & Earle, 2000; Donatelle, 2004; Friedmann-Bette et al., 2010; Howley & Franks, 2007; Jones, 1970; Jones, 1971a; Jones, 1971b;  Jones, 1971c; Jones, 1971d; McArdle et. al., 2007).

Total Body (upper/lower torso & anterior/posterior) Strength Training Overview:

Frequency:     1-3 nonconsecutive days/week.
Duration:     30-60 minutes per session (i.e. 8-15 exercises per session).
Intensity:     1-3 sets per exercise, 10-15 repetitions per set (i.e. 60-90 seconds of time under tension per set).
Type:    Body weight, free weights (e.g. plates, dumbbells, bars), machines (e.g. selectorized, air pressure, or hydraulic), or resistance bands.

During the first 3 weeks, it is recommended to perform one set of each exercise (i.e. 8-15 total exercises) with a weight that can be lifted 10-15 repetitions.  On week four it is suggested to perform two sets of 10-15 repetitions (if can be tolerated). Additionally, if one so desires, beginning on week six she or he can add in an extra set equating to three total sets of 10-15 repetitions each set. However, two sets of 10-15 repetitions are sufficient to increase one’s muscular strength and endurance.


American College of Sports Medicine. (2006). ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. 7th ed. (pp. 154-158). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins.

Baechle, T. R. & Earle, R. W. (2000) Essentials of strength training and conditioning (2nd ed.) Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2011). Benefits, Research, and Background for Strength Training. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/growingstronger/why/index.html

Donatelle, R. J. (2004). Access to health. (D. McGill, S. Malloy, & C. Pierson, Eds.) San Franciso, CA: Pearson Education.

Friedmann-Bette, B., Bauer, T., Kinscherf, R., Vorwald, S., Klute, K., Bischoff., D., . . . Billeter, R. (2010). Effects of strength training with eccentric overload on muscle adaptation in males. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 108, 821-836.

Howley, E. T., & Franks, B. D. (2007). Health fitness instructor’s handbook (Vol. 5). (M. S. Bahrke, & A. S. Ewing, Eds.) Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Jones, A. (1970). Nautilus bulletin #1. Ch. 2 Basic physics of conventional exercise methods. Retrieved from http://www.arthurjonesexercise.com/Bulletin1/2.PDF

Jones, A. (1971a). Nautilus bulletin #2. Ch. 10 Time factors in exercise. Retrieved from http://www.arthurjonesexercise.com/Bulletin2/10.PDF

Jones, A. (1971b). Nautilus bulletin #2. Ch. 31 The seventh step. Retrieved from http://www.arthurjonesexercise.com/Bulletin2/31.PDF

Jones, A. (1971c). Nautilus bulletin #2. Ch. 33 Fuel-Air factors. Retrieved from http://www.arthurjonesexercise.com/Bulletin2/33.PDF

Jones, A. (1971d). Nautilus bulletin #2. Ch. 37 Proper form. Retrieved from http://www.arthurjonesexercise.com/Bulletin2/37.PDF

McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., & Katch, V. L. (2007). Exercise physiology (Vol. 6th). (E. Lupash, R. Keifer, R. Kerins, & J. Montalbano, Eds.) Baltimore, MA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008) Muscle strengthening for adults. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/Chapter5.aspx


ACSM-Exercise is Medicine Credential Level-2
Exercise Physiologist

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