Strength Training for Beginners

By: Alex Michaels

There are a multitude of benefits to strength training. It’s for more than just building muscle.  To name a few, strength training builds strength, increases metabolism, increases bone density, improves posture, reduces risk of low back pain, improves aesthetics, increases confidence, and improves overall quality of life.

What is Strength Training?

Strength training is physical activity that forces your muscles to work against any kind of external resistance.  The result is an increase in the skeletal muscle size, strength, and endurance.

What are Repetitions and How Do They Affect Training Goals?

Repetitions refer to the number of times an exercise can be performed.  If your training goal is to build muscular strength, your repetition range will be low (1-6).  If your training goal is to build some muscular strength and increase the size of the muscles, your repetition range will be moderate (6-12).  Lastly, if your goal is to increase muscular endurance, your repetition range will be high (≥12).

Compound Exercises vs. Isolation Exercises

Compound exercises recruit multiple muscle groups and they move at more than one joint. Examples are exercises like squats and lunges, which move at the hip, knees, and ankles.  They use the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes as their primary muscle groups. By using several larger muscle groups at once the body is able to burn a lot more calories in one exercise. This allows you to perform more work in a shorter amount of time.  Another benefit is your muscles learning to work together more efficiently, which translates to your activities of daily living.  Performing squats in the gym can help you move better and avoid injury when you pick up a boxes or groceries.

Isolation exercises only focus on one muscle group and move at one joint.  An example is the bicep curl, which primarily focuses on the biceps.  A benefit of isolation exercises is that they allow you to focus on small muscles that do not get as much recruitment during the compound exercises.  If you want bigger and stronger bicep muscles, it will benefit you to focus on specific isolation exercises to target the bicep heads such as regular curls, concentration curls, and preacher curls.

Neither one is better than the other, it just depends on your training goals and what you enjoy doing.

Types of Equipment for Strength Training

There are multiple types of exercise equipment that will help you reach your strength training goals.  The most important thing is figuring out what you enjoy and what feels best for your body.  

  • Dumbbells are incredibly convenient because they come in a wide range of pounds, they allow you to use an array of hand positions and grips, and you can complete an entire full body workout with just two to three pairs of dumbbells.  
  • Selectorized machines are designed to target specific muscle groups.  They are great for beginners who are learning about the muscle groups and they help people recognize what the muscle feels like when the fibers are recruited.
  • Cable pulley machines allow for a wide variety of exercise selection, offer several different attachments for multiple hand grips, muscle segmentation, and body positions.  One of the best advantages of using a cable pulley machine is that it provides constant tension throughout each phase of the exercise.
  • Medicine balls, resistance bands, bosu trainers, and TRX suspension training are other effective tools for strength training.


Free Weights vs. Machines

There are multiple advantages to both free weights and machines.  For starters, machines can be more comfortable for beginners because they help control a person’s form throughout the range of motion of the exercise.  They also help to specifically target muscles that can be difficult for beginners to feel with free weights. Next, weight machines are sometimes thought to be safer because they require less form technique than free weights and can be used without specific guidance.  Lastly, it is more time efficient to change weight on a machine than it is to switch out weight plates or dumbbells.

One of the greatest advantages of free weights is that they engage the entire body.  This reaps many benefits.  Instead of being performed sitting on a machine, they are often done standing.  Therefore, more emphasis is automatically placed on the core, more muscle groups are recruited, muscle coordination improves, and a greater caloric burn is achieved.  Free weights also allow for a multitude of exercises, grips, and body positions.  Regardless of a person’s fitness level, everyone can learn to use free weights with proper instruction and guidance.  Another benefit of free weights is their inexpensive cost and small size.  It’s easy to keep a few pairs at home and often times you can do a complete full body workout with a lighter and heavier set.  

Methods of Arranging Exercises: Supersets & Compound Sets

There are a numerous ways of arranging exercises.  In general, it is better to do compound exercises earlier in the training session followed by isolation exercises.  Supersets and compound sets can be incorporated to save time and increase the intensity of training.  A superset involves performing two exercises sequentially that work opposing muscle groups without rest in between.  For example, a bicep exercise followed by a tricep exercise.  A compound set involves performing two exercises sequentially that work the same muscle group without rest.  For example, a barbell romanian deadlift followed by a barbell good morning.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness is often referred to as DOMS.  This may begin to occur 12-24 hours post training session and can last up to 72 hours.  It is caused by tiny tears in the muscle fibers during the lengthening phase of exercises.  An example would be the stretching of the bicep muscle while lowering a dumbbell during a bicep curl.  Or, the lengthening of the quadricep muscle during the lowering phase of a squat.  As a result, you may feel stiff and sore and the muscle itself may be tender to the touch.  If you are introducing a new exercise or type of training program, it is best to ease into it in order to reduce the intensity of DOMS.

Three Main Hand Grips

Depending on the exercise, certain hand grips will make the exercise more challenging due to different muscle recruitment. Three main hand grips are pronated, supinated, and neutral.  Pronated means an overhand grip with palms facing down.  Supinated means palms are facing up.  Neutral means palms are facing each other.  

Breathing Considerations

In general, during the most strenuous phase of an exercise is when you should exhale.  During the less strenuous phase is when you should inhale.  For example, during a push up, the easier phase is when you are lowering towards the floor.  This is when you should inhale. Then, on the upward phase you should exhale.  

The benefits of strength training are infinite; here are the top 8 benefits.