Just Who Can You Trust?

Just Who Can You Trust?

Well, not the ACSM it seems.

In the last few weeks I have been on a course re-qualifying as a BACR (British Association of Cardiac Rehab) Phase 4 instructor. I figure that everyone knows that I can train elite athletes; obviously I also know about training the medically complex; I just hope that people assume I know everything in-between.

Scattered throughout the BACR manual are ACSM (American College of Sports medicine) guidelines; this one in particular caught my eye –


The American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations for general exercise programming (ACSM, 2006)

Muscular Strength

Frequency: 2-3 times a week.

Intensity: Point of Volitional fatigue (19-20 RPE).

Time: 1 set each of 3-20 reps.

Type: 8-10 exercises involving the major muscles.


Let’s analyse each of these statements –

Frequency: 2-3 days a week: This is fine for the average person whose goal is good health.

19-20 RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion): 19-20 RPE is very high; Borg, the originator of this scale meant for this scale to be used for cardiovascular exercise, and 19-20 equates to a heart rate of 190-200, the scale is simply heart rate divided by 10, for a 20 year old.

In plain speak this means that this set is a head buster. OK, I realise that most people are very weak but these are guidelines for general exercise programming, not special populations.

It gets worse…

1 set of 3-20 reps. They are telling us to do 1 set all out! No lead in sets, simply load up the bar and go for it. I’m a very experienced lifter and I wouldn’t be able to do that; it takes me 5-6+ sets to get to a point where I could do a set at 19-20 RPE on some exercises, Squats for example.

At this point I might be told, “Well of course you can warm up” (my last warm up set in the Squat is 180kg x3, hardly a warm up; this is why I call them leading in sets). The final critique below, will take care of this.

8-10 exercises involving the major muscle groups. Now if I have to do an average of 5 warm up sets before my balls to the wall set at 19-20 RPE, then I’m looking at 48-60 sets per session. Does the ACSM also recommend a truck load of steroids to help this “general population” recover?


Here are the much more sensible GMNUCS (Get Mighty Now University of Common Sense) Guidelines for strength programming for general populations-

2-3 Sessions a week.

After performing a specific warm up, which means warm up on the exercise you’re doing; build up the weight to 75-85% of your predicted 1 rep max (RM).

An excellent 1RM calculator is weight x reps x 0.0333 + weight. If one can Bench Press 50kg for 6 reps then the predicted 1RM would be 50 (weight) x 6 (reps) x 0.0333 + 50 (weight) = 60kg; therefore this trainee would build to 45-50kg (75-85%) for their heaviest set.

3-6 sets (higher sets for Squats, less for the others) of 5-15 reps, ramping the weight up on each set.

5 exercises which between them will cover all the major muscles of the body. These 5 would be a Squat type exercise, an upper body push, an upper body pull, hip extension, and a good (not bloody crunches) Ab exercise, such as Hanging Leg / Knee Raises, Ab Pulldowns, Roll Outs, Planks, or Pallof Presses.

I admit that the above is far from perfect, things will change depending on the individual, but it’s considerably better than the ACSM guidelines. If you know any normal people who are exercising for health then help them out by showing them this blog and the great info we have at www.getmightynow.com.

Be Mighty,