Strength Foundation 12-Week Workout Frequently Asked Questions

Workout Program Section Links
12 Weeks of Workouts
Workout Program Overview
Frequently Asked Questions

Read through these frequently asked questions before you begin the Strength Foundation 12-Week workout program.

Warm up with five to 10 minutes of light cardio, of whatever type you prefer—get on a bike and cycle for a few minutes, or jog on the treadmill for a few minutes. You want to get your heart rate up a little and get your muscles loose. Do not heavily exert yourself during this warm up.

You need to tailor the Strength Foundation 12-Week workout program to your body, your goals, and your abilities. While we can’t tell you how much weight you should lift, you can easily figure this out for yourself. For each strength training exercise, you should try to reach fatigue by the end of each set. So, for example, if the program says to do sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, you are expected to reach fatigue in 12 to 15 repetitions. The next month, you will be asked to reach fatigue in 10 to 12 repetitions. This will require more weight—but how much more will be specific to you. As a general rule, try increasing your weight by five to seven percent each time the number of repetitions drops, and see if that takes you to fatigue. The amount of weight that makes you reach fatigue at the end of a set consisting of a specific number of repetitions is your Rep Max.

Fatigue: Fatigue is not the point at which you cannot do another repetition. It is not the point at which your muscles give out. Rather, fatigue is the point at which you could not do another repetition cleanly using proper form. When you feel that you are working so hard that the next repetition will force you to sacrifice good form, you have reached fatigue. Your job is to find the amount of weight that brings you to that point in a given number of repetitions (this is your Rep Max; see below). The fewer the repetitions, the more weight you’ll need to take you to fatigue, and the higher your Rep Max.

Rep Max: Rep Max is the amount of weight that makes you reach fatigue in a specified number of repetitions. At your Rep Max, you should be able to maintain proper form for the last couple of repetitions of the set—but you should have to concentrate in order to do so. Note the emphasis on proper form. For example, if you are doing 12 reps of dumbbell biceps curls at Rep Max, you should use weights that allow you to just complete the twelfth rep with your biceps doing the lifting and your back straight. If you find yourself digging your elbows into your waist for leverage or arching your back to squeeze out those last couple of repetitions, you’re using too much weight. Maintaining proper form is always more important than lifting heavier weights.

RPE stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion. It is a method for gauging how hard you are working during cardiovascular exercise by tracking the signs of how exercise feels to you. As you become more fit, what once was a difficult level of intensity will become easier. Tracking your RPE allows you to achieve the same intensity in each workout. Ultimately, it ensures that you always hit your target intensity level, regardless of external factors.

To calculate your RPE, use the following chart. You’ll quickly have it memorized, and be able to keep track of your RPE as you work out.

Talk Test RPE Scale Heart Rate (% Max)
The weather, politics, books; you could talk about anything, with ease. 2 - 3 40 - 50%
Breathing slightly labored; you can still talk, but you have to focus. 4 - 5 50 - 60%
Breathing challenging, but doable. Talking is more effort, and you’d just as soon not. 6 - 7 60 - 75%
Breathing hard; conversation nearly impossible. 8 - 9 75 - 90%
Can’t talk without gasping for air. You can’t sustain this level of intensity for more than a few seconds—nor should you. 9 - 10 90+%
Threshold: The term “threshold” in this program refers to your anaerobic threshold—that is, the point at which your cardiovascular exercise pushes your body into anaerobic respiration. Typically, this occurs at around 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, or an RPE between 8 and 9. This is, from the point of view of burning many, many calories, a particularly good form of exercise—but it is difficult to sustain, because at this level your body produces a lot of lactic acid, which makes you fatigue quickly. Threshold training asks you both to learn to train in this intensity range and, over time, to gradually raise the point at which you reach your threshold. The higher your threshold, the longer you can go at high intensities—and the more fit you will be.

Sprint: A sprint is an all-out effort—90 percent of your maximum heart rate or higher, or an RPE of 9+. From an evolutionary standpoint, it is the short burst of speed that would let you outrun a lion. But precisely because it is an all-out effort, a sprint cannot be sustained for long—only 20 seconds at a time. In general, your ratio of sprint to recovery should be one to three. So if you sprint for 20 seconds, you need to recover for at least one minute at a heart rate around 60 percent of maximum, or an RPE of 5 to 6.

In some weeks, you will see an optional set. Whether you do this set depends on your fitness level and goals. In Month 1 (Base), you may only be able to get through two sets of each exercise if you are totally new to exercise. In that case, you should start out doing two sets of each, but make it your goal to get to three sets of each by Week 3, and be sure you are doing three sets by Week 4. If, on the other hand, you manage the first two sets comfortably, go right away to three sets in Week 1, and try adding more weight by the end of the month (typically, an additional weight increment is an increase of five to seven percent more than what you were previously lifting). In Month 4, you will see an optional fourth set. Again, it is up to you to define your goals. If you feel you can sustain it, are not too sore, have the time, and are trying to put on maximum bulk, go ahead and try for a fourth set of each exercise. If, on the other hand, you are struggling through the third set, it is better to focus on getting through all three sets cleanly than to try to squeeze out a fourth set.

“Recovery” is the time you spend between intervals of intense exertion allowing your body (muscles and lungs alike) to regroup. Recovery is not a return to the way you feel when lying on the sofa. Rather, it is a return to a level from which you can once again give a full push of exertion. It allows your muscles to flush out some of the lactic acid built up during exercise, and your breathing to re-oxygenate your muscles. The length of your recovery depends on the exertion—the greater the exertion, the longer the recovery. Between lifting sets, this will mean from one to four minutes of resting the working muscles (go get a drink of water, or set up for the next exercise); for your cardiovascular program, you will have working recoveries, where you will continue to work at a lower level of intensity while your breathing returns to a manageable level.

Ideally, you would stretch both before and after your workout. When stretching before a workout, do active isolated stretches—a sequence of brief, light stretches, held for only a few seconds, and with movement between stretches. Wicks advises against deep stretching at the beginning of a workout, where it produces strain more than flexibility. At the end of your workout, you can do a longer, deeper stretch, and hold your poses for more time.

If you are only going to stretch once, Wicks advises doing the deep stretches at the end, and taking the time to hold those stretches.

Wicks designed this to be a strength program more than a cardiovascular training program. The program assumes that you will do your lifting first and cardio second—so that you can go all-out on your lifting. You'll notice that the cardio aspect of the program has you doing your sprints and intervals on the same day as your lifting. The idea is to ask your leg muscles to go very hard on your lifting days, and to get a full recovery before pushing again 48 hours later. So on your lifting days, the cardio supplements your lifting by taking your legs to the limit.

Always consult your doctor before you embark on any new exercise regimen. Your doctor can help you determine if you are healthy enough to take on a program like the Strength Foundation 12-Week workout program.