What Beginners Need to Know About Strength Training

Do more than just go pick up a dumbell. Let’s learn about strength training basics, how to create a plan, and how to make changes to get sustainable results (and look like you know what you’re doing).

If you didn’t learn to lift in high school or it’s been a while, a weight room looks like a maze of weights, switches, knobs and bros.

Do more than just go pick up a dumbell. Let’s learn about strength training basics, how to create a plan, and how to make changes to get sustainable results (and look like you know what you’re doing).

We’ll start with the basics of how strength training affects your body, shape and ability to stay healthy in the long term.

What is Strength Training?

Strength training is a method of load bearing exercise. Resistance is used to progressively challenge your body. The resistance you work against can take many forms:

  • Your bodyweight (working against gravity)
  • Machines
  • Weights like Barbells, Dumbbells and Kettlebells
  • Bands

A smart training program will take your goals, needs and preferences into account.

As you build strength and confidence in the gym, that strength with carry over into the rest of your life.

What are some of the Benefits of Strength Training?

Strength training has many benefits including:

  • Increasing metabolism
  • Increasing low and high-speed strength
  • Building and maintaining muscle
  • Improving coordination
  • Strengthening connective tissues such as tendons, bone and cartilage
  • Reducing lower back pain
  • Lowering risk of injury
  • Slowing age related losses in muscle and bone
  • Increase insulin sensitivity
  • Decreases bad cholesterol
  • Improves aerobic capacity

Looking and feeling strong are two of the main needs that clients come to me for help with. Life is easier when you lift weights.

How to Create a Strength Training Plan

There is no perfect program but, there are principles that good programs are built around.

A not so secret formula for strength training is based around 4 laws of fitness success:

4 Fitness Laws of Success

Set the right goal

Picture where you want to be. Is it strength? Body composition? Sport performance? This affects how your program should be setup and carried out.

Select the right exercises

Organize exercises that challenge the muscles with movements that you want to improve.

Balance volume and intensity

Different people respond differently to different amounts of training at different loads. 3 sets of 12 reps is different than 6 sets of 6 reps. Both work.

Make the time

How much time will you prioritize to train? While you can train anywhere 2-7x a week, having a trainer means that time is spent efficiently.

It should be a challenge

Our bodies adapt to challenges — you want to smartly do more than you're capable of doing right now.

If the workouts aren’t challenging enough, you aren’t sending your body the signal that you need to change. That means you won't get results despite constantly working out.

How Often Should You Strength Train In a Week?

There isn’t a perfect answer to how long your routine should take.

How much time you have, where you are in your training journey and your goals shape your answer.

If you’re just getting started two or three sessions per week are more than enough for you to see results. Focus on practicing your exercises and stay consistent. You still have room to add more when needed.

If you have 30 minutes to work with, that is fine. I generally write programs that last anywhere from 45-60 minutes for clients at my studio.

Playing football at The University of Missouri we trained for ~90*.

*Not including warm-ups and uhm, “extra work”

What Should a Strength Training Workout Look like?

Workouts generally have 3 parts:

  1. A Dynamic Warm-Up
  2. Your Strength Training Workout
  3. Cooling down and Static Stretching

Step 1: Get Your Blood Flowing with a Dynamic Warm-Up

There are many ways to warm-up for a workout, the most common being;

  1. Walk on a treadmill for 5-7 minutes
  2. Dynamic exercises that take your body through a full range of motion
  3. Absolutely nothing

I’d advocate that you perform a dynamic warm up. Dynamic exercises get your body ready to move using similar patterns that you’re about to add weight to.

An example dynamic warm-up might include:

  • Lunges-to warm-up the hips and legs
  • Cat cow yoga pose -to warm-up the mid back
  • Push-ups-to warm-up the chest and shoulders

From you could progress to warm-up sets of the movements that you will be training.

Step 2: Perform the Strength Training Part of Your Workout

How sessions are laid out generally depend on your goals and how often you train.

The majority of exercise routines are going to cover these 4 movement patterns across a week:

  • Squatting-bending at the hips and knees
  • Hip Hinging-bending at the waist like in a Deadlift
  • Pushing-pushing something away from you vertically and horizontally-like a pushup or overhead press
  • Pulling- pulling something towards you vertically and horizontally-like in a row or pull-up.

Step 3: Cool Down and Stretch after Your Workout

After you lift, you’ll perform a cool down consisting of static stretching and deep breathing. Be sure to stretch all the muscle groups that you just worked. If that’s your legs then you’re stretching your hamstrings, glutes, quads and hips for example.

By focusing on your breathing, you will be able to relax and smoothly transition back into your day.

Challenge Yourself to Continue Making Progress

As you become better at exercising, you will need to change things up to keep making progress.

This can be done in a few different ways:

  • You can add weight over time
  • You can improve your range of motion
  • You can increase volume over time by doing more sets, reps or by adding more exercises to a session
  • You can increase the frequency you train at. Maybe add another day or hit a muscle group more often.
  • You can choose harder variations of the exercises you’re performing.

Here is an example of what your routine might look like if you train twice per week:

A Beginner Strength Training Routine

Dynamic Warm Up:

This should take you about 5-7 minutes

  • Ankle Wall Mobility Drill
  • Reverse Lunge
  • Lateral Squat
  • Cat-Camel Yoga Pose
  • Quadruped Thoracic Spine Rotations

You can also opt for exercises you prefer

Stretch all your major muscle groups:

  • Hamstrings
  • Lower Back
  • Calves
  • Quads
  • Hip flexors
  • Glutes
  • Chest
  • Etc. with stretches of your choice.

Workout A:

  • Goblet Squat 2-3x8-12
  • Single Arm Dumbbell Row 2-3x8-12
  • Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 2-3x8-12
  • Dumbbell Bench Press 2-3x8-12
  • Single Leg Glute Bridge 2x10-20
  • Dumbbell Reverse Fly 2 x 10-12
  • Front Plank 1-2 x 30-60 seconds

Workout B:

  • Shoulder Elevated Hip Thrust 2-3x8-12
  • Lat Pulldown 2-3x8-12
  • Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 2-3x8-12
  • Half-Kneeling One Arm Shoulder Press 2-3x8-12
  • Bodyweight Step Down 2x10-20
  • Dumbbell Reverse Fly 2 x 10-12
  • Side Plank 1-2 x 30-60 seconds

Want to Start a Training Program?

If you didn’t learn to lift in high school or it’s been a while, a weight room looks like a maze of weights, switches, knobs and bros.

Do more than just go pick up a dumbell; let’s create a plan to build strength, get sustainable results (and look like you know what you’re doing).

We’ll start with the basics of strength training and you’ll walk out with (a starter amount of) confidence.

Phone: 1-573-443-1495