Basic Rules of Weightlifting for Optimum Health and Performance



Many people are turning to weight lifting as a means to enhance their health. One common question I get, is what are the best exercises to do and how should I do them?

The answer generally depends on what one’s specific needs and goals are, what their starting point is and what my assessment shows.

In general, there are a few Basic Rules of Weightlifting for achieving your goals,  optimum health and ultimate performance.
1. Integrate your routine


An Integrated routine should incorporate:


  • Flexibility- Optimum extensibility of soft tissues to enable full, pain free motion
  • Core Stabilization- Training the core provides the foundation for optimum movement and muscle activation.
  • Balance Exercises- Balance is a component of all movement, whether strength, speed, skill, or flexibility. Balance enables neuromuscular efficiency and the ability to maintain one’s center of gravity in all planes of motion.
  • Reactive (Power) training-  Power training trains the nervous system to recruit muscles quickly thus enhancing the rate in which they can generate force.
  • Cardiorespiratory (Aerobic)  training-  Training the cardiorespiratory system has been shown to: Improve performance in work, life, and sports; Improve cardiovascular risk factors (e.g., unhealthy body composition, unbalanced blood lipid profile, high blood pressure, etc.); Reduce mental anxiety; and help with weight management.
  • Resistance (strength)  training- Health related benefits of strength training, include: Improved Cardiovascular Efficiency, beneficial Endocrine and Serum Lipid Adaptations, increased Lean Body Mass, decreased Body Fat, increased Metabolic Efficiency, increased Tissue Tensile Strength,  increased Bone Density and decreased Physiological Stress.


2. Focus on Movements not Muscles

Most gyms are stocked with equipment designed to isolate muscles. Many of these machines also require you to sit, something that we already spend far too much time doing.

Isolating muscles by focusing on machines can lead to  imbalances and overuse injuries. By focusing on compound movements, you get the most out of your exercise as these movements facilitate optimum force-couple relationships (i.e. muscle groups moving together synergistically to produce movement around a joint).

Many exercise machines and programs are uniplanar (i.e. sagittally dominant). Since most injuries occur in the transverse (rotational) and frontal (side to side) planes, these motions should also be trained.

There are Seven Basic Movements you should include in your routine:

  • Squat
  • Lunge
  • Dead-lift
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Rotate
  • Side to side

3. Pay attention to your Acute Variables

The acute variables specify how each exercise is to be performed in order to create a stress on the body, which in turn will lead to an adaptation, e.g. stabilization, strength or power.

The acute variables include:

  • Repetitions– the time under tension that involves three muscle actions: Eccentric, isometric and concentric. The more intense the exercise, the fewer the number of repetitions that should be performed


Training Adaptation Repetition Range
Power 1-10
Strength 1-12
Stabilization 12-25


  • Sets- A group of consecutive repetitions.


Training Adaptation Set  Range (per exercise)
Power 3-6
Strength 2-6
Stabilization 1-3


  • Intensity- An individual’s level of effort.


Training Adaptation Intensity Range
Power 30-45% of 1RM or about 10% of body weight
Strength 70-100% of 1 RM
Stabilization 40-70% of 1 RM


1RM (Rep Max) is  the maximum amount of force that can be generated in one maximal contraction.


  • Tempo- The speed at which a repetition is performed


Training Adaptation Repetition Tempo (Eccentric/Isometric/Concentric)
Power Explosive    x/x/x
Strength Moderate   2/0/2
Stabilization Slow   4/2/1


Eccentric- Lengthening of a muscle (Deceleration/Force reduction)

Isometric- No change in muscle length

Concentric- Shortening of a muscle (Acceleration/Force production)


  • Rest interval- Time taken to recuperate between sets of exercises


Training Adaptation Rest Interval Energy Source
Power 3-5 min ATP-CP
Strength 45 s- 5 min ATP-CP and glycolysis (Carbohydrates)
Stabilization 0 s-1.5 min Oxidative and glycolysis

(Carbohydrates and fat)


  • Training volume- The amount of work performed within a specified time period. Volume is inversely related to intensity.


High Volume/Low Intensity Low Volume/High Intensity
Increased muscle cross-sectional area Increased neuromuscular efficiency
Improved blood lipid serum  profile Increased rate of force production
Improved lean body mass Increased motor unit motor unit recruitment
Decreased body fat Increased rate coding (neural firing)
Increased metabolic rate Increased motor unit synchronization


Training Adaptation Total Volume of Reps per Exercise

(Sets x Repetitions)

Power 6-30
Strength 8-36
Stabilization 36-75


  • Training frequency- Number of training sessions performed during a specified period. This depends on: goals, age, general health, work capacity, nutritional status, recoverability, lifestyle and other stressors.
  • Training duration- The time frame of a workout (including warm-up and warm-down) or the length of time spent in one phase of training. A typical workout session should last 30-90 minutes. A phase of training generally lasts 4-8 weeks (i.e. The amount of time it takes for the body to adapt to a given stimulus).
  • Exercise Selection- Choosing appropriate exercises for a specific program
Training Adaptation/Level Exercise Selection
Power Total body; multi joint (explosive)
Strength Total body; multi joint or single joint
Stabilization Total body; multi joint or single joint; Controlled unstable

If you are looking to use weight lifting to achieve your goals, optimum health and ultimate performance, then follow these basic rules:

  1. Integrate your routine
  2. Focus on movements not muscles
  3. Choose the appropriate acute variables based on your abilities, needs and assessment


Clark, M. A., Lucett, S., & Corn, R. J. (2008). NASM essentials of personal fitness training. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Schuler, L., & Cosgrove, A. (2006). The New Rules of Lifting: Six Basic Moves for Maximum Muscle. Penguin.

About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin