Strength Training Basics

Why Should I Strength Train?

Lots of reasons, but here are a short few:

  • Get stronger
  • Gain muscle mass
  • Promote fat loss
  • Improve bone density
  • Improved daily & athletic function
  • Live longer, healthier

Strength training should be the functional core of most “weekend warrior” exercise programs, regardless of gender.  If you want to feel better and look better naked, exercise starts with weight training.

How Should I Weight Train?

There are many “right” ways to train.  For this post, I will assume you have no or limited experience in the gym (or that you’ve been doing programs out of a fitness magazine, which is equivalent).

That said, you should weight train three days per week (with at least 48 hours between sessions) and do workouts which cover your entire body each time.  In order to do this in a time-efficient manner, stick to a few exercises per session which cover several muscle groups and move multiple joints at one time (compound exercises).  With this method, you can fairly effectively cover the entire body with only three exercises per session: one upper body “push,” one upper body “pull,” and one lower body exercise.

  • Examples of  “push” exercises include: pushupsbench press variationsdips, and shoulder press variations.  These exercises involve your pectorals (chest), deltoids (shoulders), triceps (back side of upper arm, opposite the biceps), and many other accessory muscles.
  • Examples of “pull” exercises include: row variationspullupschinups, and pulldowns.  “Pull” exercises involve the many muscles of your back, as well as your deltoids, biceps, and many accessory muscles.
  • Examples of appropriate lower body exercises include: lungessplit squatsplate loaded front squats.  These lower body exercises work your quadriceps (top of thigh), hamstrings (back of thigh), gastrocnemius and soleus (calves), and many other accessory muscles.

Pick one of each and perform 3 sets (groups) of 10-12 repetitions each.  Rest 60 seconds in between each set.  If you feel like you could start again before the 60 seconds have elapsed, you aren’t using enough weight.  Getting to 12 repetitions should be hard.  No pink dumbbells.

Sample Program?

Monday: lungesdumbbell bent-over rowspushups
Wednesday: plate loaded front squatspulldownsdumbbell shoulder press
Friday: split squatsseated cable rowsdumbbell bench press

What about abs?  Curls????  Pressdowns???????

Stay away for now.  Your abs, biceps, and triceps are getting plenty of stimulation from the above setup.  It’s been shown in research that your biceps and triceps get more stimulation from compound exercises than they do from isolation exercises like curls and pressdowns, plus you’re saving time by working them along with other major muscle groups.  Ditto for abs, which are stimulated to stabilize the torso during many of the exercises I’ve listed.  Try doing a plate loaded front squat without using your abs.  (You are keeping that back straight right?)

Of Course,

I’ve only scratched the surface of strength training in this post, but it should be enough to get you started.  For more variations of the above exercises to choose from, check out EXRX’s Exercise Directory, which generally (although not always) gives good instruction.