Whether you're looking to lose weight, build muscle tone, or embark on a healthier lifestyle, diet and exercise are key. Still, many people struggle with choosing the right diet and exercise plan to suit their needs. Fortunately, strength training is more-or-less a universal form of exercise that can be used by people of all ages and walks of life to improve overall health and wellness.
Not sure where to begin with incorporating strength training into your everyday workouts? We've got you covered. Learn more about what strength training is and how it can benefit your health and wellness below. Then, explore some tips and tricks to get started with strength training and make the most of your workouts.
What is Strength Training, Anyway?
In simplest terms, strength training (also commonly referred to as resistance training) refers to any exercise that involves the use of equipment or your bodyweight to build strength, muscle mass, and overall endurance.
The equipment used in a strength training workout can include anything from resistance bands and dumbbells to barbells, kettlebells, and anything in between. Some strength-training exercises don't even require special equipment—but instead, use your body weight to achieve results. Some common examples of these bodyweight exercises include:
Benefits of Strength Training
If you're looking for a straightforward, no-nonsense workout to incorporate into your regular exercise routine, you really can't go wrong with strength training. With so many health and wellness benefits to offer, we've hand-picked just a few of the most notable below.
Improve Heart Health
While it's true that cardiovascular exercise is often touted for its heart-healthy benefits, studies have found that strength training can also lead to a healthier heart. Specifically, a 2013 Journal of Applied Physiology study found that regular strength training can improve blood pressure and triglyceride levels as effectively as cardiovascular exercise.
Balance Blood Sugar Levels
If you have concerns about your blood sugar levels, it may be time to get started with a strength training regimen. That's because strength training exercises have been found to improve the muscle's ability to absorb and utilize blood sugar. Specifically, this activity can make it easier for the muscles to process glucose and thus maintain healthier blood sugar levels.
Boost Your Flexibility
Are your muscles and joints feeling a little stiff? The right strength training routine can help with that. Studies have shown that regular strength training can increase muscle flexibility more effectively than stretching alone. This isn't to say that you should ditch your daily stretching routine altogether—but you might be surprised at how much more limber you begin to feel after strength training becomes a part of your routine.
And of course, there are more indirect benefits that come along with that increased flexibility and mobility—such as a lower risk of common injuries (like strains and sprains).
Blast Abdominal Fat
Feeling frustrated by that "spare tire" that doesn't seem to want to budge, no matter how much cardio you do? It may be time to step off the treadmill and begin focusing more of your efforts on strength training instead.
That's because strength training not only burns lots of calories—but it increases muscle mass as well. When you have higher lean muscle mass, your metabolism enjoys a nice boost that makes it easier for your body to burn off excess abdominal fat and other fat throughout the body.
Strengthen Your Mental Health
Aside from the many physical benefits of strength training, this form of exercise can also improve your mental health by causing your body to release those "feel-good" endorphins each time you exercise. Those endorphins can boost your mood and even help to combat feelings of anxiety or depression.
Getting Started With Strength Training
Now that you have a better idea of what strength training is and how it can benefit you both physically and mentally, you might be wondering where to begin. With so many different strength-training exercises out there, it can be challenging to build the right workout routine for your specific goals and needs. Fortunately, we've got you covered with some practical tips for getting started.
What You'll Need
One of the best things about strength training is that you don't technically need any special equipment to get going. There are plenty of practical exercises that use nothing more than your body weight for resistance.
Still, even if you plan on starting with bodyweight exercises, it's a good idea to have some basic gear like a quality pair of gym shoes, some comfortable and breathable workout clothes, and possibly even an exercise mat (depending on the flooring surface where you'll be working out).
From there, you might choose to incorporate some other strength-training equipment as time wears on. Resistance bands are a great way to make your workouts more challenging without the bulk of a dumbbell (and because they're lightweight, they're great for bringing to the gym or elsewhere on your travels).
Some other strength-training equipment you might consider (but don't need to get started) includes:
- a medicine ball
If you are doing any serious lifting, you might also want to invest in a pair of weight-lifting gloves, which can improve your grip while protecting your hands from blisters when you lift.
Creating a Strength-Training Schedule
Taking the time to write down a strength-training routine that you can stick to is perhaps the most challenging part of getting started.
It can help you begin by assessing your current fitness levels and your short- and long-term goals. Ideally, these goals should be easy to measure and quantify. For example, you might set a plan to lift a certain amount of weight or even lose a certain percentage of body fat. If you need help developing your goals and expectations, this can be an excellent time to meet with a personal trainer or other professional.
Once you know which goals you'd like to achieve, it's time to begin selecting specific strength-training exercises that will help you reach those goals. Depending on how much time you have to dedicate to each workout (and how many days you can realistically exercise each week), you should choose anywhere from 6-10 exercises for each training day. Be sure to work in some time for a quick warm-up and cool-down routine, too!
Once you've chosen your exercises and written them down, you have your strength-training plan! Beginners should generally stick to the same plan for at least four weeks (if not more like eight weeks); at that point, you can re-assess your progress and make changes as needed to continue working towards your goals.
Sticking to the Right Diet
Another thing to keep in mind when embarking on a strength-training regimen is that you won't see results unless your diet and nutrition are also on-point. Fueling your body with the right nutrients is the best way to get the most out of your strength-training program. The good news? You don't need to overhaul your entire diet or make any drastic changes to maximize your results.
One of the most important things you'll need to do is to make sure you're getting enough protein in your diet; that's because your body needs protein to build and maintain muscle. It would generally help if you aimed to eat around 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein for every pound of bodyweight. This means if you weigh 200 pounds, you should consume about 100 to 160 grams of protein per day. However, other factors are involved, such as age, strength training routine intensity, rest quality/duration, etc. Some great sources of protein in every day foods include:
- eggs (pasture raised is the healthiest choice)
- chicken (pasture raised is the healthiest choice)
- beef (grass-fed is the healthiest choice)
- fish (wild caught is the healthiest choice)
- nuts and seeds (organic is the healthiest choice)
You'll also want to focus a little more on when you eat your meals, as your body will rely on nutrients for muscle recovery. Ideally, you should aim to eat within 30 minutes of completing a strength training session for best results. This would be especially important if you didn't have time to eat in the hours leading up to your workout and thus exercised on an empty stomach.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Are you feeling a little more confident (and maybe even a bit excited) to start your strength training program? We're excited for you! Before you dive in, though, there are a few mistakes beginners tend to make when it comes to strength training. By being aware of these mistakes and how to avoid them, you can be sure to get the most out of your efforts!
Not Talking to Your Doctor First
Before you get started with any exercise program (strength training included), you need to talk to your doctor. After all, not all exercise programs are safe for everybody—and making drastic changes to your activity levels can be problematic.
Speaking with your doctor will give you the opportunity to review your proposed program and your fitness goals to ensure that you won't be putting your health at risk. This may also be a good time to talk to your doctor about any changes you may be planning to make in your diet/nutrition.
The best-case scenario? Your doctor gives you the green light to begin your new exercise program. However, in some cases, your doctor may have recommendations to modify your plan to suit your current health or work around any restrictions you may have. It is also possible that your doctor may want to perform some additional testing to make sure you're healthy enough to embark on a strength-training program before you begin.
Skipping Your "Rest" Days
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they embark on a strength-training program is simply not knowing when to take a break. When you first get started, you'll probably feel very motivated and energized by the endorphins that strength training can produce. You might even feel tempted to skip your "rest" days in the hopes of seeing results sooner.
Unfortunately, skipping out on rest days can have the opposite effect of preventing your body from building strength and muscle. That's because when you strength train, you're tearing the muscles; these muscles then rebuild themselves even stronger, which is excellent. However, they need time to rebuild—and if you're not giving them the time they need, you could be hindering your results big time.
In general, your muscles need anywhere from 24-48 hours to recover after a workout session. The best thing you can do is listen to your body and avoid pushing any harder than you feel comfortable with. As a beginner, you should be incorporating at least 2-3 rest days into your weekly exercise routine. Remember, this doesn't mean you can't work out at all on these days. It merely means you need to give your sore muscles a chance to rest.
For this reason, many strength trainers will alternate which days they work on different muscle groups. For example, one day may be focused on upper-body exercises, whereas the next day may give the upper-body muscles a rest and focus on the leg muscles instead. When appropriately executed, dedicating different days to different muscle groups can be a great way to get the most of your workouts. The main thing to remember is not overdoing it and giving your body rest when it needs it.
Neglecting Your Form
Another thing to be careful about is following proper form when you're doing your strength-training exercises. While strength training is excellent in the sense that you don't need a gym membership or a personal trainer to achieve results, you could also be hindering your progress if you're not performing your exercises correctly. In some cases, the use of improper form could even increase your risk of injury.
With this in mind, it's always a good idea to practice individual strength-training exercises in front of a mirror until you're comfortable and confident that you're performing them correctly. The good news is that there are plenty of free online resources (including online workout videos) that allow you to see what proper form for any given exercise should look like.
Consider the example of a "basic" push-up. Seems simple enough, right? Unfortunately, there are plenty of wrong ways to do a push-up. If you have questions about your form for a particular exercise or have trouble getting your form down, it may be time to consult with a personal trainer or other professional for more guidance.
Choosing the Wrong Weight
If you're incorporating weights into your strength-training program, you'll also want to make sure you're choosing your weights carefully. Selecting the right amount of weight for each exercise will involve a lot of trial and error, but remember that it's always better to choose too little weight than it is to choose too much.
Ideally, your muscles should feel challenged by the end of a set. However, you should never feel extreme pain or discomfort. If you do, then it's probably time to lower your weight a bit. On the other hand, if you're beginning to breeze through each set, then you can take this as a sign that you need to up your weight (and pat yourself on the back because your strength training is working!).
Skipping Your Warm-Up (Or Cool-Down)
Last but certainly not least, be sure to incorporate both a warm-up and cool-down session with every single workout! As tempting as it may be to skip these (especially if you're in a time crunch), the reality is that warm-ups and cool-downs are just as important as the actual workout itself.
Specifically, the right warm-up will help to stretch out the muscles, increase your heart right slightly, and get your body ready for the workout ahead. Even a quick five-minute warm-up can make a huge difference in decreasing your risk of injury, such as a pulled muscle, during your actual strength-training session.
Meanwhile, taking some time to let your body gradually cool down after a workout is just as important. A cool-down will help your muscles kick-start that ever-important recovery process. Light jogging or walking, followed by a few minutes of stretching out the muscles you just targeted, can make all the difference here.
Popular Strength Training Exercises
Are you looking for some examples of strength training exercises to build your routine? We've got some ideas for you!
For bodyweight training (no equipment), consider:
For dumbbell exercises, consider:
- bench presses
- bicep curls
- shoulder presses
- bent-over rows
- tricep kickbacks
- weighted sit-ups
The Bottom Line on Starting a Strength-Training Program
For many, a strength-training program is a great way to burn fat, build muscle, and improve overall health and wellness. And while getting started with strength training can be a little overwhelming, it's nothing you can't handle.
Gtech Fitness is here to support your health and fitness journey with all the equipment and accessories you need for success. From quality dumbbells and free weights to gym mats, exercise bands, and everything in between—we've got you covered! Contact us today to find out more about how we can support your fitness journey.