Strength Training 101

woman in gray sports bra holding black dumbbell
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Strength training is an important aspect of any well-rounded exercise program. It can be overwhelming to even begin, especially when you walk into a weight room at a gym. It’s easy to get intimidated. The best way that I’ve found to move past the intimidation is to have a plan when you arrive and in order to make a plan, you need to have a basic understanding of strength training.

Let’s start by understanding the basic types of strength training.

Muscular hypertrophy – this is a very common and what I see most often. It’s using moderate to heavy weights to stimulate muscle growth. Typically, you will focus on a muscle group with an exercise, complete 8-12 reps and rest in between each set.

Muscular endurance – this modality uses light weight with a high number of repetitions. Sometimes rather than counting the reps, it will be done for a set period of time. Think 30 to 60 seconds of the same movement. Body weight can also be used to build muscular endurance. Lower body workouts very commonly use body weight to complete the exercise. A good example is squats, lunges, mountain climbers or jump squats.

Circuit training – this is one of my favorite modalities. A circuit is set up using weights and you move between the exercises focusing on different muscle groups with minimal rest between the sets. The number of repetitions will typically be in the range of 8-12. I like to set up circuits that train opposing muscle groups. This would be chest and back or biceps and triceps. On arm days, I also like to add shoulders into the mix. Another option is to build a circuit that uses the same muscle group as the primary and secondary. Back and biceps or chest and triceps are great combinations.

Functional training – This type of strength training is training that readies your body for daily activities like bending, twisting, lifting, squatting and hauling. Most exercises that fall into this category use multi-joint movements that involve the hips, knees, spine, wrists and shoulders. Examples of exercises that fall into this category are a squat with a shoulder press, lunges with a shoulder press or bicep curl.     

There are other forms of strength training such as maximum muscular strength training and explosive strength training, which are most used by body builders and experienced athletes. I would recommend that you join a class or work with a trainer if this is the type of strength training program you want to start.

Another intimidation factor at a gym is all the different types of equipment. Most gyms will offer a complimentary hour session to help you become acquainted with the equipment. I’ve also found that many times if you aren’t sure about something, you can always ask for assistance. Here is a basic list of the different types of strength training equipment.

Body weight – this is simply doing the exercise using your body weight for resistance. Push-ups, pull ups, squats and lunges are all great exercises to perform using your body weight.

Free weights – this is any type of weight that is not bound to the floor. This is dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, medicine balls or items around the house.

Resistance bands – these are bands that have different resistance based on their coloring. They resemble large rubber bands that create resistance when stretched.

Suspension equipment – this is a device that is anchored, and a person uses body weight and gravity to perform the exercise. A great example is the TRX straps that can easily be attached to a door or a permanent anchor.

Weight machines – These are machines dedicated to a specific exercise that use plated weights or hydraulics for resistance.

Now that you have an idea of the basic types of strength training and equipment, it’s important to create a plan for your week. I prefer to plan my exercise days and designate certain days as an arm day or leg day. This will ensure that each of the important muscle groups is trained evenly each week. If you don’t work out as frequently, you can designate upper body or lower body days as well. Sometimes I like to mix up lower body and upper body into the same workout. This helps keep things new and trains my muscles in new ways. I also like to ensure that my strength training plan includes what type of equipment I want to use. This helps me to be organized and get the most exercise in the time I’ve allotted. Create a great playlist and have fun with your strength training workout.

If you still feel a bit intimidated, a great way to learn about strength training is to hire a personal trainer. I did this many years ago and still use the formats and exercises that she taught me. Now I use a digital app or follow YouTube videos. I’ve also downloaded many workouts on Pinterest to give me new ideas or to follow along with someone. Whichever method you choose, think of it as an investment in yourself and your health. Read the post on the Benefits of Strength Training to get motivated to pick up those weights.

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”

– Jim Rohn, entrepreneur

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