Exercise is good for your health, we all know that. But a lot of people (not only women) neglect one important type of workout: strength training. According to a recent study, only 30.2% of adults in the United States engage in strength training activities for the recommended two or more sessions a week. That means that over 60% of people in the U.S. are neglecting strength training and missing out on huge benefits – this is a huge mistake! Aside from missing out on the benefits, neglecting building strength can lead to muscle loss and loss of bone density.
Although starting a strength training program can be intimidating, especially when you're a beginner and not really sure where to start, the benefits of strength training should show you why this type of training is so important for your overall health. Just to name a few... it increases your metabolism, burns fat and calories even after working out, can improve your heart health, and it improves your flexibility and mobility which can make daily life activities easier!
There are so many reasons to start strength training, and we're here to help you! Aside from providing our customers with essential weightlifting gear and accessories, we want to give you the tools you need to start your new strength training journey. We've outlined everything there is to know about strength training and how to get started, think of it as the ultimate beginner's guide! Below you'll find a breakdown of the main types of strength training, and the three workout levels that will help get you started!
What is strength training?
Strength training has many names, including resistance training, weight training, and more. But they all refer to one thing – movement against any resistance, including body weight, in an effort to build strength and muscle mass. So, there's more to it than just lifting heavy weights to bulk up! In fact, there are different types of strength training that focus on improving different areas. The main types include:
Hypertrophy training – This type of training places a greater focus on muscle building by using moderate-to-heavy weights, and a medium rep range to stimulate hypertrophy (muscle growth).
Muscular endurance training – Endurance refers to your muscle's ability to sustain an exercise for a period of time. So, basically training how long you can go. It involves training with a high rep range and using light to moderate weights.
Circuit training – This style of training helps with full-body conditioning by having you cycle through various strength training exercises with little rest in between. We even have an article to help you build your own circuit workout!
Explosive strength – This type of training is designed to improve your power output by combining power and speed techniques. It involves a lot of jumping, powerlifting, and any type of cardio movements that require a lot of energy for a short amount. It shares a lot of the similar movements used for HIIT workouts!
Maximum muscular strength: This is the main type of strength training that is designed to help you improve overall strength. It involves lifting heavy weights at a low rep range (between 2-6).
Maximum muscular strength training is for more experienced lifters since it requires a base level of muscle and strength and knowledge of good training techniques. Most begin with endurance or hypertrophy training to work their way up to building strength. So, if you're completely new to strength training start with hypertrophy training, this type of training will help you build muscle and strength at the same time. However, don't go in and hit the weights right away!
Three strength training workout levels
The first mistake people make when starting a training program is they go too hard, too fast. Strength training is a journey. Building muscle takes a lot of time and consistency. The worst thing you can do is progressing to heavier weights without practicing proper form. Good exercise form is extremely important when weight training because if your form is wrong then you're most likely not hitting the targeted muscle groups and increasing your risk of an injury.
To start training with proper technique you should follow these three levels of workouts: bodyweight, dumbbells, and barbell workouts.
Level 1 - Bodyweight workouts
If you're completely new to weights then the first level of strength training exercises you want to nail are bodyweight exercises. This just means that you use your own body weight as the weight you're lifting. The reason why beginners should start with this form of workout is because your muscles are most likely not adapted to certain movements yet. So if you put your muscles under too much stress all at once it can lead to injury. You want to build strength gradually and slowly teach your muscles how to communicate better together, and the best way to do is by performing bodyweight movements before adding more weight.
Bodybuilders and avid gym-goers all start by using their bodies for resistance training, it's common practice. It really is a great way to build strength, and the best part about it is that you can do it anywhere and requires no equipment - making them perfect for home workouts!
Here are a few examples of bodyweight exercises:
- Glute bridges
There are so many more to choose from to build your own workout routine! Start with these exercises first, but if you want to take it a step further before moving on to actual weights, training using resistance bands! Long and short resistance bands come in various resistance levels to provide extra light to extra heavy resistance for your muscle to work against. The best thing about them is that they mimic free weights! You can use them to perform a variety of upper and lower body exercises which will help you improve your form before moving on to dumbbells. We have a list of the Best Resistance Band Exercises for beginners (and even advanced lifters) to try at home or at the gym!
Level 2 - Dumbbell workouts
Once you can perform bodyweight workouts easily with proper technique, you can start lifting actual free weights! Dumbbells are the best piece of weightlifting equipment to start with because they are less intimidating than barbells, every gym (even apartment and hotel gyms) has them, and you can scale your weight up easily. They are also easy to incorporate in bodyweight or resistance band workouts that you've been practicing. For example, adding dumbbells to each hand when performing lunges. Once a weight starts feeling easy to lift you can increase it by five pounds and so on.
Here are a few examples of dumbbell exercises:
- Goblet squats
- Walking lunges with dumbbells on each hand
- Hip thrusts
- Dumbbell rows
- Upright rows
- Lateral raises
- Bicep curls
- Tricep extensions
- Chest press
- Chest flyes
- Overhead press
There are so many more dumbbell exercises you can perform and create a total body workout that targets every muscle group. Targeting every muscle group is important to avoid any muscle imbalances, so remember to train each muscle evenly throughout the week.
Level 3 - Barbell workouts
Bodyweight and dumbbell workouts are an excellent way to build muscle, but once you're comfortable and ready you can level up to barbell workouts. Barbell training will take your strength to the next level!
This type of training allows you to pick up heavy weights and do movements that use almost every muscle in your body. So you can build powerful, strong muscles in your core, lower body, and upper body.
Here is a list of the most important barbell exercises:
- Back squats
- Bent-over rows
- Bench press
- Overhead press
- Power clean
These types of exercises are known as compound lifts. They create tension through different muscles and movement patterns. Your body gains overall strength because these lifts simulate thousands of nerves all of which are a part of getting stronger.
Just remember, the barbell itself weighs 45 pounds (20kg) so don't add weight when beginning these types of workouts. To get to this level you must be able to perform dumbbell exercises that equal the weight of the bar. This means you should be able to do goblet squats with a 45-pound dumbbell or Romanian deadlifts with 20-pound dumbbells in order to start training with the barbell.
These are the three levels to help get you started slow and steady. There are various other tools you can use along the way, like the cable machine, and various other pieces of gym equipment. If you're not ready to move quite yet from dumbbells to barbells, try training with kettlebells or use the Smith Machine! Point is, don't have to settle for only dumbbells or barbells, but remember to take it slow and always focus on perfecting your form before increasing the weight or moving to a different piece of equipment.
Tips before getting started
Once you understand the three workout levels, set your fitness goals, and then start at the level that best fits your fitness level.
But before you get started, here are a few extra tips:
Create a workout plan. If you're new to lifting weights then start by doing 2-3 full-body workouts a week. By doing this you are working out your entire body and hit all the major muscle groups to help you build muscle effectively. Gradually work your way up to 2-5x a week. If you need help with planning workouts, check out the Fit With Iulia app! Iulia's fitness app is an excellent tool to have if you need help figuring out which type of exercise is best for your goals.
Warm-up your muscles before lifting! You should dedicate 5-10 minutes to stretching and warming up before doing any type of training. There are a few different ways to do this. The best way is foam rolling your muscles to loosen them up, then doing a dynamic warm-up. If you don't have a foam roller then just do a try dynamic warm-up. Dynamic warm-ups help prep your muscles for the work they're about to do and help increase your range of motion. A few examples of exercises are: high kicks, knee to chest, hip stretch with a twist, bodyweight squats. You can even incorporate long and short resistance bands to fully stretch your upper and lower body.
Stick to the same moves for the first few weeks. Experienced lifters already know how to plan their workouts, know what exercises they need to do, and can choose to do different exercises every day. Don't start with a program like this if you're a beginner. Stick to the same, essential exercises 2-3 times a week so you can start building a basic level of strength.
Track your progress! A big fitness principle in strength training is progressive overload. Neglecting to follow this principle will lead to poor results, and eventually none! Progressive overload involves tracking your progress and making necessary changes to keep giving your body challenges to adapt to. For example, increasing the reps or sets of each exercise or increasing the weight.
Refuel your body! Have a post-workout snack or protein shake ready to go. Choose a post-workout snack or that contains carbs to refuel your glycogen stores and 10-20 grams of protein to help repair and build your muscles.
Take a rest day! People sometimes forget how important rest days are. Training with weights causes small amounts of damage to the tissue that will be repaired, that is how strong, lean muscle is built. But if you're not taking rest days you're not giving your muscle fibers enough time to repair and build back stronger. So remember to listen to your body, if you're feeling burnt out then skip the gym. If you're too sore take a rest day or work on another body part that isn't sore.
Whatever your reasons for starting strength training, we're just happy you're getting started! We hope this information makes getting started easier and less intimidating so you can start reaping the sweet benefits of strength training.
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