Answer Fitness® > Exercise > Weight Training Basics: The Four Principles of Weight Training

Weight Training Basics: The Four Principles of Weight Training

Learn the basics of weight training and start burning more fat, increase your strength and get more fit than ever before.

The research is in: Including weight or resistance training into your weekly workout makes good health and fitness sense, regardless of your level of experience.

You know the benefits of weight training, so now its just a matter of doing it.

But before you hit the weights, you should take a few minutes to understand the key principles to effective weight and resistance training.  Having knowledge of these tried-and-true rules of weight training will ensure that you make progress in the gym, no matter what your individual health and fitness goals may be.


There is a lot of jargon thrown around by fitness trainers and gym-goers that you need to understand. Sometimes it can seem like a foreign language, but once its been explained in plain language (we like to call this gumping things at the office), it will make all of the sense in the world.

The Basics of Weight Training: What You Need to Know To Get Started

Okay, so youre convinced you need to start including weight training in your workout routine.


Great. Now where do you begin?

Lets start with the four basic principles of weight training:

  • Overload: This just means you expose your muscles to more weight, resistance or stimulus than they are used to performing during your normal every day activities.  To do this, you need to lift an amount of weight that only allows you to complete the intended amount of repetitions. Remember, your overload weight will increase as you continue training and your body recovers and adapts. Which takes us to the next concept, progression.
  • Progression: Progression means that you continually overload your muscle with more stimulus each time you weight train.  Since your muscles are constantly adapting, you will never get stronger without increasing the force they have to exert or the amount of work they do. Progression doesnt necessarily always mean adding additional weight. You can overload the muscle progressively in a number of different ways, including performing more reps with the same weight, increasing the volume (total number) of sets performed, changing the tempo or pace of your repetitions to keep the muscle under tension for longer periods of time, or simply lifting more weight than last time. The key here is to always push your muscles harder than the last workout in some fashion.
  • Specificity: Specificity is a fancy term for performing weight training with a specific and distinct goal in mind. So if your goal is to add additional muscle mass, your choice of exercises, repetitions, sets and weight used will be different than if you are training your muscles for endurance.  Know your goals before you start weight training, since it will impact how workout routine.
  • Rest and Recovery: There is a common saying that muscle is built outside of the gym, not in it. Weight training stresses your muscles and requires that you allow yourself adequate rest and recovery time. Typically that will mean giving your muscles 48 hours to recover before training that same muscle or group of muscles again. Understand that recovery time is highly individual. Some advanced trainees need less recovery time than beginners. And the intensity of your weight training will in large part determine the length of rest thats right for you.

Next up, well learn about choosing the appropriate weight,  repetitions (reps),  and sets to meet your goals.

As always, you should consult your physician before undertaking any resistance, weight or cardio training program.


Comments (6)

  1. Carol (5 comments) says:

    hey nice tips, the massive one there is rest and recovery. People always tend to miss this out, do to much work adn overload their body, and then never get any adaptations. You have to let your body rest and recover to actually get any adaptations to the training you have done. Cheers for a good post.

  2. Free Weights Workout Program (1 comments) says:

    I like the article.  My goals in the gym are always changing.  Usually I will lift heavy, with low reps, for about a month.  Then, the following month Ill switch to lighter weight, with more reps.  However, Im never really sore anymore even if I workout until I know my muscle is fatigued.

  3. Hardgainer (1 comments) says:

    Great article on the basics of weight training. I know a lot of people that actually work way too hard and end up making things worse than they were before. Like you said, its important to allow 48 hours and sometimes even 72 hours for rest and recovery before working out the same muscle group again. This especially goes for hardgainers.

    Another important aspect of training is eating correctly. Eating 6 meals a day is very important whether youre toning or trying to build mass.

    Thanks for the article! Great site. I will be back for more!

  4. Chere (1 comments) says:

    Hey there, I just found your site through Stumbling and I love it! You have so many great articles.  Could you possibly address weight training for weight loss, and weight training with high blood pressure?  I have HBP, and have cleared my weight training with my doctor, but Im not really sure what the rules are if you have HBP and want to lift weights.


  5. Matt (189 comments) says:

    Chere, thanks for stopping by. And thanks especially for your patience.

    First off, congrats on deciding to take up resistance training. Over time, resistance training has so many health benefits in addition to adding lean tissue (muscle) like increased insulin resistance, less bone loss and possibly even improvements in your blood pressure.

    In fact, there was a recent meta-analysis of multiple studies around weight training and blood pressure involving 320 male and female adults,  and it found that resistance-training programs produced significant decreases in resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The decreases were equivalent to reductions of approximately 2% systolic and 4% diastolic.

    The first thing I would always recommend to anyone who has a pre-existing medical condition is to first get your workout routine cleared with your doctor. Sounds like he gave you an “all-clear” to start weight training, so you have that one in the bag.

    Next, consider hiring a personal trainer for a few sessions just to help you learn the ropes. The other benefit to this approach is that youll have someone there spotting you, so that if any health issues come up during the exercise, youll have someone who can jump in.  Once you get comfortable, you can probably do without the trainer.

    If you are going to skip the trainer and go it alone, I would recommend starting off on machines versus free-weights. Machines sort of “self-spot” for you and are safer for beginners. It will also help you build a good strength base and help you learn the basic movements. You can then switch to free weights later once you have a little more experience.

    In terms of any special concerns around lifting weights with high blood pressure, this used to be more of a concern. In the past, it was recommended that people with HBP not lift weights, but this has changed. Weight training can cause temporary increases in BP, but a lot of this will depend on the exercise and your level of exertion. Start off light and dont go too heavy. This will allow you to guage how your body responds. Also give yourself plenty of recovery time in between sets. Take as much as you need to feel charged back up again.

    A few things to watch out for:

    1. Learn proper breathing. Breathing is really important. You dont want to hold your breath during the move, since this can cause dangerous blood pressure spikes. If you arent sure how to breath correctly, ask a trainer in the gym to check your breathing for you or show you what to do.

    2. Although I generally advise people going heavier than they are used to, in your case I would recommend going light and aiming for more repetitions. This will discourage over-exertion and help prevent BP spikes. Again, as you progress and see how your body responds to weight training, you can make adjustments.

    3. Listen to your body and how it reacts. If you feel light-headed, dizzy, out of breath, nauseous, or experience chest pain or pressure, stop immediately. Same goes for a head-ache.  If this persists, talk with your doctor and consider having a custom-workout and exercise routine developed by a trainer who specializes in training people with specific medical conditions like high blood pressure.

    Best of luck, stop back soon and keep us updated on your progress!