Strength Training 101 | The Ultimate Guide to Get Started

Whether your aim is to get a fitter body or build muscle mass, strength training can surely assist you in getting there. Strength training, builds lean, stronger muscles which boost your athletic performance and decrease your chances of injuries.

Even if you don't have any strength training experience, it is never too late to try something new. Strength training is suitable for both men and women and can be undertaken at any age or level of fitness.

You don't have to be a fitness freak in order to get started with strength training. In reality, you don't even have to be part of a gym. This article will guide you on how to get started with strength training and the dos and don'ts of training for both beginners and pros.

What Is Strength Training?

Simply put, strength training includes utilising your own body weight or equipment, such as resistance bands or dumbbells, to develop muscle strength, mass, and resilience.

If you're fresh to the weight room, starting up may feel a little daunting, but adding strength training to your exercise routine does not really mean you've to say goodbye to your favourite workouts. You can begin by practising resistance training a few days per week. As you adjust, you can boost your training pace.

What Makes It Unique?

The words strength training, resistance training, and weightlifting are often used synonymously, but there are a few main aspects that make strength training special. 

Strength training:

Gives preference to sets of lower repetitions (4-6) over sets of higher repetitions (6-15+).

The reason being that lower reps allow you to shift the most weight, which is the easiest and most efficient way to build strength.

Revolves around a handful of compound exercises. 

Because compound movements are better suited to shifting heavy weights for low repetitions.

Prioritises weight over sets and repetitions.

If you want to get bigger, the most important thing is to increase your weight with time. Eventually, you will have to do more intensity (sets, reps, exercises) to keep the momentum going, but the emphasis should still be on pushing, lifting, and squatting more weight with time.

Gives rest periods, long enough to heal, before each set of exercise.

Longer rest periods enable you to raise your weight for more repetitions and sets, which is the smartest method to get stronger and bigger. They also help you maintain a better shape during your exercises, which decreases your chances of injury and enhances your results when you use heavyweights.

Bottom line is, strength training is more about ensuring that you can lift more weight in the future than you can in the present.

Benefits of Strength Training

  • Cardiovascular Health benefits; Strength training helps regulate blood pressure. It’s recommended that muscle-strengthening exercises should be done twice a week along with 150 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly exercise, at least, to help minimise hypertension and lower the chances of heart disease.
  • Reduced Risk of Cancer; Visceral fat not only raises the chances of heart disease and diabetes, but it can also encourage the growth of cancer. According to research, muscle mass is a good indicator of cancer treatment results. Muscle wasting is a serious complication of treatment for cancer and is linked to an increased risk of chemotherapy toxicity, accelerated tumour growth, and poor survival rates.
  • It May Actually Help You Live Longer; Strength training makes it much easier to remain flexible and independent because it is increasingly associated with longevity. According to a review in Frontiers in Physiology, strength training can be effective at decreasing the risk of all kinds of general, age-related chronic illnesses than cardio.

For more detailed benefits, read: Top 12 Benefits of Strength Training That Boost the Health.

Types of Strength Training

Circuit Training

Circuit training includes going through a set of drills before you complete the last one, relaxing, and then doing all the exercises again (and possibly again, and again). You can customise this kind of exercise to fit your personal objectives. You can adjust the work-to-rest proportion in circuits based on what sort of effect you want.

Explosive Power Training

Explosive power training is not intended for strength training for beginners. Beginners would not be effective in the explosive power domain unless they have had the time to build optimum strength. This is because it requires practising at high intensity for limited periods of time. Examples of explosive exercises include Olympic lifts and push-presses, etc.

Muscle Endurance Training

It is advised that beginners begin by increasing their volume of what they lift, which means more repetitions and sets of lighter weights. This helps the tissues to develop a tolerance for more rigorous training courses. You cannot hope to make changes when you have to pause all the time because you are absolutely out of oxygen.

Max Strength Training

It is recommended that it would be easier to switch to this type of training program once you've developed your muscle endurance and perfected the basic form. This type of training includes getting the number of reps down to around 3-6 and raising the amount of weight you lift.

Hypertrophy Training

Strength training builds muscle, which can be utilised to boost the size of your muscles, also, but only until you do a form of strength training labelled hypertrophy. So, anybody who's afraid that they are going to end up looking like a wrestler only because they have got a weight, don’t be afraid.

A rise in muscle growth does not amount to bulking unless you're trying to eat to gain weight. You will need to lift medium to high repetitions of moderate to heavy weights regularly to see noticeable improvements in the thickness of your muscles. In other words, strength training a few days per week is not going to help the situation.

How to Start Strength Training?

You must know what is a rep in strength training and what is a set before you get started. Rep, also known as repetition, is a single performance of an exercise, for example, a dumbbell bicep curl. A set can be defined as the number of repetitions done in a sequence. Make use of these pointers and build yourself a framework for your training.

TIP: Before you get started with training, make sure that you have the right apparel, including shorts and trousers, and weightlifting belts and wrist wraps etc. 

Start with a very short, basic program. 

Your goal is to perform a workout that targets all muscle fibre groups on two different days per week. This will help you develop a solid base and allow you to step forward from week to week.

Choose the appropriate amount of weight you wish to carry. 

The trick is to use weights that are neither too light nor too heavy. You will know if it is too light if you can easily complete a set with relatively little effort. It will be too heavy if your form is compromised, or it's too challenging. The right amount is a challenging effort that you can lift with correct posture and control and without overstressing your muscles.

Warm-up, before you do anything.

Next, warm up. Warmed up muscles are less vulnerable to injury, so do five to ten minutes of cardio or any warm-up training in your workout with a light weight that is easy to lift.

Focus on your form.

A good form ensures that you can enjoy all the advantages of your exercise and prevent injury at the same time. In order to maintain proper shape, pay attention to your balance (stand upright with your chest high, and your abs held firmly), move very slowly (this assures that you are relying on your muscles, instead of momentum, to lift the weight) and do not forget to breathe. Many people hold their breath when exercising, but exhaling during the toughest part of the workout helps to fuel the exercise.

Give yourself and your body at least a day of rest in order to heal. 

Rest days are important for building lean muscle tissue and avoiding injury, so remember it is extremely important to not work the same muscle groups for two consecutive days. Some people prefer to break up their strength training workout by focusing on their upper body one day and their lower body the next day, and that's a good technique.

The aim is to challenge yourself, not overstress yourself. 

In the first few weeks of your training, concentrate on learning how to do every exercise instead of focusing on how much weight you lift or how many workouts you do. You will have a lot of time to develop muscle, later.

Switch things up.

After six weeks, or more, of regular strength training exercises, which is about the period of time you need to start seeing progress in your body, you can modify your schedule to make it more challenging. Lifting the same weights for about the same workouts every week will hold the body in the same position. You can switch weights or reps, select different exercises, or change their order. All you have to do is make one adjustment at a time to make a difference, even though more is always better.

Choosing Sets, Reps, and Weights

Choosing the sets and the number of reps can be the most frustrating aspect of strength training. How many sets and reps you perform will depend on your priorities and target:

Strength Training for Weight Loss and Building Muscle

Use enough weights to perform 8-12 reps and 1-3 sets—1 for beginners, 2-3 sets for intermediate and experienced trainers. Relax for about 30 seconds to 1 minute in between sets and at least one day between every exercise session.

For Gaining Muscle

Use enough weight to accomplish just 4-8 reps and 3 or more sets, and relax for 1-2 minutes in between sets and 2-3 days in between workouts. For starters, allow yourself a few weeks of conditioning once you start weight training with this level of difficulty. You would need a spotter for a lot of exercises.

For Muscle Endurance and Boosting Health

Use just as much weight that you can handle to accomplish 12-16 reps, 1-3 sets, pause 20-30 seconds in between sets and at minimum one day between exercise sessions.

Use the trial and error method to assess the amount of weight you can use. Start with a smaller size and make 1 set. Slowly add weight until you feel burdened, however, you can do the optimal amount of repetitions with a good form. The last rep is expected to be tough, but not impossible. When you're working with a resistance band, bear in mind that one band may not be able to cut it for your whole body.

In short, if you're able to finish 8 repetitions by using a resistance band, you'll want to pick another one that offers a higher amount of resistance.

We have designed fast-acting strength training programs for both men and women, respectively, that give you a toned and chiseled look along with increased strength.

Looking for strength training program, read our detailed guide about Strength training program for men and women

The Best Strength Training Exercises You Need to Know 

Strength training exercises can vary according to gender, age group, and the main target. There are different exercises for weight loss, muscle gain, muscle endurance, and the list goes on. With so many strength training exercises with high levels of difficulty and even more difficult names to pronounce, it can be extremely frustrating to decide a few exercises to perform regularly. And in those frustrating moments, one finds oneself wishing for a guide enlisting the best exercises all ready for you to follow.

When you first step into the realm of strength training, the exercises can feel unbearable and impossible, to say the least, which may have you pulling your hair out on how to get stronger if you can’t even exercise smoothly. After all, if every exercise is a struggle, it can be pretty hard to motivate yourself to work out. 

That is why we have compiled a list of all the best and the most effective strength training exercises that are perfect for the pros and easy for the beginners, at the same time.

For a detailed look, read: How to Get Tougher With 9 Effective Strength Training Exercises.

Dos and Don’ts of Strength Training 

Do: Begin with a weight that feels comfortable. 

Use your intuition (or visit a fitness instructor) to find what works for you. If you're having difficulties with repetition 2/10, then the weight is too much. Conversely, if you find repetitions 8–10 of the same set overwhelming with the weight you've selected, it's probably the correct option. As you begin building muscle, progressively increase your load every week. Try to replicate or slightly raise the weights you chose the week before.

Don't: Exercise till exhausted.

Studies indicate that putting an end to your set, just when you completely drain your reservoir is more efficient. This is particularly true for starters, as this is not sufficient to enhance muscle strength.

According to research by the US National Institute of Health, “Exercising till exhaustion does not help with muscle-building, especially in the case of beginners”.

Do: Get the most out of your warm-up time. 

Taking time to warm up properly contributes to better outcomes. You can optimise your pre-workout period by performing dynamic stretches. Often try to do a mild workout for 5-10 minutes to stimulate your joints and raise your pulse rate.

Don’t: Overdo it.

Try sticking to 3-4 lifts every workout. Keeping your exercises brief will reap the benefits of hormonal spikes. All you really need is one major lift in every exercise, 1-2 assistance lifts, then core or specialised work out just at the end for abs. Doing anything more decreases your efficiency and results.

Do: Add weights slowly.

The key reason individuals plateau and don’t get stronger is that they go too heavy for far too long. Perform major lifts by using 10% less than the most load you can lift for the given repetition range. Raise the weight with each session—but not greater than 10 pounds—and continue with the same lifts. You'll rarely plateau again.

Don’t: Focus on just weight.

Focus on your form instead of weight. Line up your body properly and go smoothly through every workout. Bad shape can lead to injury and slow gains. Many experts recommend beginning with no weight or very light weight when pursuing a strength training regimen. Focus solely on slow, smooth lifts, and equivalently controlled descent while isolating specific muscles.

Do: Post Work Stretch.

Stretching, when your muscles are still warm, will help increase your endurance, and help you feel phenomenal after you work yourself harder. 

Execute a 5-10 minute cooldown after your training session, which should incorporate dynamic stretches. This helps to increase the supply of blood to the muscles, which helps in healing.

Don’t: Exercise non-stop.

Give your muscles some time off. Training produces minor tears in the muscle tissue. These tears are not damaging, but they are essential: muscles gain strength as tears get knitted up. Always give the muscles at least 48 hrs to heal before the next training session.

Strength Training vs Cardio

Although it's clear that cardio and strength training are separate workouts, what actually goes on in your body is what makes the difference.

Strength training is anaerobic practice. It involves the lifting of free weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, or the use of weight machines.

Anaerobic workouts disintegrate glucose for energy, without depending on oxygen like cardio. More resources of energy get consumed in a limited period of time.

Cardio (also known as cardiovascular conditioning) is an aerobic exercise, which means that it requires oxygen to increase the heartbeat and breathing. Running is perhaps the most charged of the cardio package, but any movement that helps you breathe faster, and harder and raises your heart rate, counts.

The amount of calories you lose during a workout depends on the size of your body and how vigorously you exercise. Usually, a fitness exercise like cardio burns more calories as compared to weight training of the same length. For example, If your weight is 73 kg, and you jog at a moderate pace, you will lose about 250 calories per 30 mins. As per a study conducted by NIH.

If you are a runner, who is confused between cardio and strength training and wants to step into the latter, read our guide on strength training designed specifically for runners. You can find out detailed information about it here; Strength Training for Runners | Complete Guide, Benefits, and Mistakes

Strength Training vs Power Training

While strength workouts target the ability to conquer resistance, where you concentrate on lifting as much weight as possible over a certain amount of repetitions and the focus of strength exercises is to shift the weight from one point to another, power training is a little different. 

Power training focuses on combating resistance but also focuses on the potential to do so in the least amount of time. A confluence of unloaded and loaded exercises can be used to achieve maximum power development and improve program variety. This enables people to operate across the whole power continuum to achieve maximum power output. 

Usually, the resistance is lesser, and the speed of movement is greater in power training, and it can possibly cause a shift in the spectrum of muscle fibre to a greater percentage of fast-twitch fibres. Muscular strength exercises, on the contrary, lead to higher muscle fibre recruitment and stronger muscle fibre synchronisation.

Strength Training vs Weight Training

Weight training is a type of training to boost overall health and wellness quality, but not usually with a long-term strategy or clear-cut framework in mind. "Strength training", on the other hand, is a particular method of training that allows you to develop muscle mass and then become stronger. It is normally coached by a specialist and follows a particular long-term strategy towards a goal.

Bodyweight training includes any free weight movement, such as barbells and dumbbells. You can perform weight training exercises that use your body-weight, such as planks or push-ups, or you can use equipment like resistance bands or stretch tubes if you want to weight train at home.

Weight training is intended for those with clear objectives to promote their health, reduce weight, and build their overall fitness. In addition, benefits of weight training also include feeling and looking better. It is also perfect for you if you do not have a long-term target in mind and want to work out on a short-term level.

In other words, strength training is a step up from weight training in a number of ways as it includes many forms of workout, including weight training, intended for conditioning and strength. Nevertheless, both deliver amazing results if you keep up with them. 

Common Misconceptions About Strength Training 

A lot of people have different preconceived misconceptions about strength training that keep them from taking part in it. Learning the facts and clearing out the misconceptions can help you get started and achieve your goals.

You don’t necessarily have to visit the gym.

There are a lot of advantages of doing strength training at home, such as it is convenient, free, and you get to have complete control over your privacy. A wide array of DVDs and online resources, for instance, YouTube videos, can help you navigate your workout sessions the way you want.

You do not have to know everything about all the gym equipment and how it works.

Benefit from the free orientation you have and figure out how to make good use of all that is offered and establish a basic strength training program. Most weight machines require very less coordination and even provide more stability as compared to free weights while doing all the essential strength exercises.

You do not need to use special machines and weights.

Anything that offers resistance can get the job done, you do not need any specialised equipment to get to your goal. This includes anything similar to a resistance band, or even your own bodyweight will work.

Bodyweight is enough for beginners to get them started. However, it can be difficult to keep challenging your body without any kind of extra resistance, so you will need some sort of equipment to make real progress. Try using different weights: light weights, medium weights, and heavy weights.

Wrapping It Up

It generally requires a couple of weeks to start getting results, but strength training is a reliable way of building rock-solid abs, stock up on your hip gains, or properly sculpt the parts of the body you've been striving to tone up. It also keeps the body losing calories long after you have finished the gym, a bonus that renders strength training worthwhile to those with weight loss ambitions.

Don't forget to read our detailed strength training series posts;

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