This is an excerpt from Delavier's Anatomy for Bigger, Stronger Arms by Frederic Delavier & Michael Gundill.
More than the number of repetitions or sets, it is the resistance (or weight) that you use in each exercise that determines the effectiveness of your training. It is important to use a weight that is appropriate for your physical abilities as well as your goals.
In the beginning, it may be difficult to figure out the appropriate weight. Some exercises are too easy while others might seem impossible. You may be uncertain, but this adjustment process is not a waste of your time. It helps you develop something called muscle memory. The difficulties in this selection process arise because it is not natural to have to choose the resistance imposed on your arms.
In nature, muscle work adapts to the weight, not the other way around. For example, when you run, your stride automatically adapts to the difficulty of the terrain. In strength training, the logic is reversed. It is as if you were adapting the terrain to the type of stride you wish to have. You have to get your brain and central nervous system accustomed to this paradox. To make the process even more complex, add to the equation the ever-present desire to handle weights that are too heavy in the hope of skipping steps. To find the right resistance in each exercise, start with light resistance and gradually increase it. The following is an explanation of the process. There are three broad weight zones:
– Zone 1 weights seem light and do not require much
effort to lift.
– Zone 2 weights allow you both to feel your muscles
work and to do the exercise with perfect form.
– Zone 3 weights require you to cheat to lift them, and
they do not allow you to feel your muscles working
The process for selecting resistance begins with a warm-up. A good warm-up will help you calibrate the level of resistance for your arms. You must always start with a light weight.
You should do your first warm-up set with a weight in the middle of zone 1. The second warm-up set should use a weight from the upper part of zone 1. After that, let your goals determine the amount of weight you use.
Goal: Increase the Size of Your Arms
Do three-quarters of your working sets with weights from zone 2, gradually increasing the weight with each set. This increase should take you from the lower part to the upper part of zone 2.
You can do one last set with a weight from the lower part of zone 3. Handling a weight that is a little too heavy prepares the central nervous system for your next workout. This technique, called future work, is for increasing intensity. Do not abuse it or you could injure yourself!
Goal: Increase the Strength of Your Arms for Strength Sports
After you warm up, do your working sets with a weight from the lower part of zone 3. By gradually increasing the weight in each set (pyramid strategy), you will gradually reach the upper limit of zone 3.
Goal: Do Cardio Work for Endurance Sports
Do your working sets with weights from the upper part of zone 1 and the lower part of zone 2. There is no grad-ual increase in weight since the goal here is to fight the growing fatigue that happens from doing set after set with little rest time in between.
Goal: Increase Explosiveness and Endurance
Use a weight that reflects the muscular demands necessary for your sport. Two training structures can be used:
1. One workout can be a mix of strength work (with zone 3 weights) followed by cardio work (with weights from upper zone 1 and lower zone 2).
2. Alternatively, one workout could focus solely on power work (in zone 3), and the next workout could be dedicated to cardio (between zones 1 and 2). And of course you will use different weights for each exercise. When you have found the right weight for an exercise, write it down in your workout notebook (see page 26) along with the number of repetitions. The next time you work out, try to do 1 or 2 additional repetitions at the same weight.
Learn more about Delavier's Anatomy for Bigger, Stronger Arms.