One of the most misunderstood concepts in exercise is strength training. A properly designed program will not only strengthen your muscles but also the tendons and ligaments that support the muscles. While everyone will benefit from this type of program, females in particular really need strength training because it will help prevent and manage the effects of osteoporosis.

There are hundreds of benefits of strength training. One could easily argue it is more important than cardiovascular exercise, but we won’t go there today.

The research on strength training has not changed much over the years. When you are doing any exercise 12 to 15 times for one to three sets and working above 70 per cent of your maximum effort, the main benefit is muscular endurance. When you are in the eight to 12 repetition range and working at 80 per cent of your maximum, your main benefit is strength.

Muscular endurance is the ability of your muscles to lift a weight for a prolonged period of time. When you are training within this rep range (12-15) you are not exercising at your maximum intensity and you would not normally need to “train to failure,” which is what happens when you can’t physically complete the last repetition of an exercise. You should be able to complete your last repetition with proper form.

This is where most beginning exercisers start out. While muscular endurance is the main benefit of training in this range, you will also see improvements in your strength.

If pure strength is your ultimate goal, you need to be training in the eight to 12 repetition range for two to four sets. When training in this range you are normally working harder, which means lifting a weight that is heavier and closer to your 80 to 90 per cent maximum effort. The only way to get stronger is to lift a heavier weight.

Most people are ready to work at this intensity level after six to 12 weeks at a beginner’s level, which is normally done in the 12 to 15 rep range and at a lower intensity.

A common myth is that if you want to get toned or lean you should lift a lighter weight for more repetitions. This could not be further from the truth. The science does not support going past 15 repetitions on a regular basis if your goal is muscle toning or muscular development, and you need to lift a weight that is challenging, keeping the above guidelines in mind.

For most people who are lifting two-to-three-pound weights and doing this 20 to 30 times, I recommend they increase the weight and lower the repetitions. The only real benefit these people get by lifting such a light weight for such high reps is burning calories.

Here’s a general rule of thumb: If you can lift a weight 15 times and it is not challenging by the end, you should increase the weight. If you can complete 15 reps and do five more reps beyond that, increase the weight the next time.

Getting stronger is always a good thing. As long as proper form is followed and proper progressions are used, I can’t think of a situation where getting stronger would not be a good thing.

You should be lifting heavier weights to get stronger and to firm and tone your muscles. For all the females out there worried about getting big bulky muscles from lifting weights, I guarantee this will not happen if you are following the right program.