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The strength training programs I have seen typically have:

  1. Few exercises
  2. Many sets of each
  3. Do the same program for a few months then change - Usually for example on kind of pull-down replaced with a similar exercise.
  4. Quite fixed intervals between sessions, 2-3 times/week (If 1-split)

I am looking for the reasons it is made like this, physiologically and in assumptions about the object.

For example more variation in exercises could give a more "practical" fitness, and one set of each exercise could be more optimal for a beginner when time matters and the goal is fitness, not to prepare for more training.

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Which training programs have you seen? Could you speak in definite and not subjective amounts? "Many sets" and "Few exercises" are not really descriptive. Where did you get the idea from that doing more and different exercises would be better? Actually what is better? What are your goals? –  Baarn Dec 7 '12 at 20:53
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What I mean is, If you want to be train deadlifts, you should be doing deadlifts and not switch exercises. If you want to do crossfit (or something similar), you should indeed switch every now and then. –  Baarn Dec 7 '12 at 20:54
    
I want to be generally fit, not just good at one particular way of doing pull-downs. (variation should be better). –  Olav Dec 7 '12 at 21:01
    
Also i want short-term results, not to build towards being able to train like a bodybuilder. –  Olav Dec 7 '12 at 21:10
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I think that would make for a much better question. It is sometimes best to ask straight for the problem instead of trying to find solutions beforehand. This reminds me a bit about The XY Problem. –  Baarn Dec 10 '12 at 21:32

1 Answer 1

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I'll answer this question in the context of a popular strength program (Starting Strength) that I happen to be doing.

Why only a few exercises?

Because as a novice, you don't need complicated training to make general strength gains. A well chosen, small set of full-body barbell movements trains you in almost every way you need to be strong as a human being. (For example: deadlifts, squats, bench press, overhead press, power clean, in my program.)

Many sets of each?

I think this is a false impression that you have. In my program, you only do 3 sets of 5 reps at the weight you're using for that day. There are possibly several warm-up sets that you do before your heavy weight, but those are just to prepare for the heavy weight.

Do the same program for a few months then change

Because if a strength program is effective, it will be useful for many months. I know people who have been on my program for up to a year before needing to change. I think you should use the simplest program that works for you. Eventually, when you get stronger, you may need more complicated scheduling to continue making strength gains, but the exercise selection shouldn't change much. I've been on my program for almost 3 months, and every workout, I'm lift more than last time. Why would I change programs?

For example, it should be better to do more exercises and fewer sets, or vary more often. (This was in the original question)

This is false. It isn't better to do more exercises, if you've chosen the set of exercises you do carefully. Varying the program more often than necessary is wasteful of your effort and time.

Quite fixed intervals between sessions, 2-3 times/week (If 1-split)

This is because a good program will plan rest-days to allow your body to adapt to the work it did in the previous workout, so that you'll be stronger in the next workout. For example, since novices can recover with a single day of rest, doing a full-body workout 3 times per week is pretty standard.

For example more variation in exercises could give a more "practical" fitness

This is incorrect. Variation for variation's sake is not more "practical". If somebody is only doing overhead press, then yes, more variation is needed in that person's program. However, if you've chosen an appropriate, small set of exercises and you are alternating between them during your weekly training cycle, you don't need more variation.

one set of each exercise could be more optimal for a beginner when time matters and the goal is fitness, not to prepare for more training.

One set of each exercise is not optimal, because it would be very hard to progressively stimulate adaptation with a single set per workout. If your goal is fitness, but don't do enough work to stimulate an adaptation, that is not optimal.

i want short-term results, not to build towards being able to train like a bodybuilder

Strength training is about making long term structural changes to your body. In my case I'm motivated to become better at my sport, but it's not just for athletes, and it's not just for bodybuilders. It's part of being a healthy human being.

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So if I have just 2x15 min a week, it is not worth doing? –  Olav Dec 7 '12 at 21:32
    
It depends what you're doing with those 2 15 minute time slots. –  Kate Dec 7 '12 at 21:35
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A beginner may get sore, depending on how they're working out. It is usually just "Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness" and you don't feel that after a couple of workouts. Yes, you can get sore by starting a new exercise, but that just means your original program was missing something. The amount of soreness has nothing to do with efficiency of training. You also don't move out of the beginner phase after "several sets". What do you mean by "continue a while before you start over again"? You'd never want to start a program over again. –  Kate Dec 7 '12 at 23:28
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Soreness really doesn't mean anything - see this question: fitness.stackexchange.com/q/811/22 –  Greg Dec 10 '12 at 17:31
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@Olav "What if I only do once a week?": Your strength gains will be slower. "I used to think it is important for optimal training to hit the muscle just before it is recovered?": No. You hit the muscle after it has recovered, but during the supercompensation period, about 2 days later. "Bench once a week in a gym and pushups at home would be a bit the same": A bit. –  Kate Dec 11 '12 at 7:34

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