10 Full-Body Strength Exercises Every Beginner Needs to Know


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  30 comments   :  105,518 Views

You know that strength training is an important part of any well-rounded fitness program, but somehow it hasn't made it into your routine just yet. You've been having that reoccurring nightmare where you finally decide to try the weight room at the gym, only to be met with a room filled with experienced and toned lifters whose heads all turn and stare, judging you as you walk through the door. Although this nightmare is more fantasy than reality, the weight room can still be an intimidating place.

For many, the fear of the unknown is what keeps them from lifting weights. How heavy should weights be to start? What kind of moves should I be performing? How do I know if my form is correct? Is that guy with the massive biceps judging me? The good news is that you can get an effective strength workout, right in the comfort of your own home, with an audience of just yourself. Creating a balanced routine that targets all of your major muscle groups is easier than you might think.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends two to three sessions of strength training on non-consecutive days each week. Each exercise should be performed for one to three sets, with eight to 12 repetitions per set. The last rep in the set should be the last one you're able to perform with proper form. If you can easily keep going past 12 repetitions, the weight is too light. If you can't get anywhere close to eight before sacrificing good form, the weight is too heavy, so you always want to be somewhere in between. Be sure to do a three to five minute warm-up before starting any strength routine.

The exercises below are designed to give you a total body workout, targeting each of the major muscle groups. They are all simple to perform, requiring just a set of dumbbells and your own bodyweight. You can go through the list in order, or rotate by doing one lower-body exercise followed by one upper-body exercise, for example. You can also swap these exercises for different ones in SparkPeople's Exercise Library if they are too difficult or you're ready for some variety.  

Lower Body

Dumbbell Squats: The great thing about squats is that they target multiple muscle groups at once, including your quadriceps. Strengthening your quads will improve your performance in a variety of cardio activities, including walking, running, biking and more. Be sure to lean from the waist like you're about to sit in a chair and don't let your knees come out past your toes. 
Seated Dumbbell Squats

Lying Leg Curls: Strong hamstrings provide stability to the knee joint, reducing your risk of injury. Your body relies on your hamstrings for many daily activities, such as getting into and out of a chair or walking around the grocery store. Lead with the heels and keep your feet flexed during each curl.
Lying Leg Curls Exercise

Bridges: The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body. Your glutes keep you standing in an upright position and provide power and stability during a wide variety of activities. Weak glutes can cause your body to fall out of proper alignment, increasing your risk of injury. For this exercise, try not to let your backside touch the ground in between repetitions.
Bridges Exercise

Calf Raises: You can do this exercise with a chair (as shown) or on the edge of a step. When you climb stairs or even walk around your house, your calf muscles are engaged and help perform the movement. Keep the heels off of the ground in between repetitions. Do one leg at a time for an added challenge.   
Calf Raises with Chair Exercise

Upper Body

Chest Press: When you push a lawnmower, pull grocery bags out of the car or push yourself up off the floor, your chest muscles are the ones providing the power. Keep your back flat with the spine in a neutral position throughout the entire set. 

Dumbbell Chest Press Exercise

One-Arm Dumbbell Rows: A strong back helps provide good posture, which makes you look and feel your best. The back connects the upper- and lower-body muscles, and is essential for most daily movement. Remember to squeeze at the top of the contraction, keeping the spine in a neutral position.
One-Arm Dumbbell Rows Exercise

Dumbbell Lateral Raises: Strong shoulders provide the power for overhead movements, such as putting a box on the top shelf of the garage or hitting a ball over the net. The shoulder is potentially the most unstable joint in the body, so strength training is especially important to prevent injury. Stand tall and keep the movement controlled—no swinging or letting momentum take over.     
Dumbbell Lateral Raises Exercise

Dumbbell Hammer Curls: When you lift something off of the floor, your biceps assist in the movement. Strong and defined biceps also add to the look of your upper arm, so you can "make a muscle" with pride while looking awesome in those tank tops. Keep elbows in close at your sides, palms facing inward while standing tall.
Dumbbell Hammer Curls Exercise


Planks: The great thing about planks is that they work your abdominal muscles in the same way they are used in everyday life—as stabilizers in every movement. For this reason, planks are the perfect core exercise. It is essential that you pull your abs in and keep your back flat with your head, back and lower body all in line.
Modified Plank Exercise

Swimming: A balanced core includes not only exercises for your abs, but your lower back as well. Low-back exercises can help reduce back pain, reduce the risk of injury and help stabilize and support your spine. Don't let your arms or legs touch the floor until the set is complete. 
Swimming Exercise

A well-rounded strength training routine includes exercises that target not only the muscles you see when you look in the mirror, but also those muscles you can't see. It's important for opposing muscle groups to have balance to prevent injury and improper body alignment. For instance, if you regularly do exercises for your quadriceps but ignore your hamstrings, you could be compromising your posture and gait, while greatly increasing your risk of a hamstring injury. The best strength training focuses on your entire body, not just specific parts, so be careful to treat every muscle group with the same TLC.

When you're ready to banish those nightmares for good, start with this routine and after a few weeks, you'll feel like a stronger, more confident version of yourself.

Are you ready to get started? Try this routine and let us know how it goes!  

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
NEXT ENTRY >   10 Plus-Size Leggings for Women Who Love Their Curves


  • 30
    Super - 3/24/2017   1:00:50 AM
  • 29
    I used to prefer using a barbell and doing full military presses and deadlifts as well as bent over rows with a barbell along with shoulder presses and forward and reverse curls. I used to finish off with as many chinups as I could do. This was when I was 16 and much fitter. Sad to think I used to be so fit. - 2/26/2015   8:13:15 PM
  • MILLER31313
    Thank you so much, I know this is an old blog, but I have been looking everywhere for something like this. I really need to start strength training but really had no clue what to do or how many reps/sets. Now I at least know where to start (now I just have to figure out how much weight to use). - 1/9/2014   7:15:04 PM
    Nancy you're so right that people regardless of age or gender should be doing resistance exercises - the benefits are so worth it yet so many people (women and older people in particular) tend to neglect them.If going to the gym is not an option they'd be doing quite well to follow your advice and exercises to get them started.

    I see that you're hitting all the major muscle groups in the exercises listed and i realise it's for people working out at home with limited equipment but most of the exercises listed are isolation exercise wheras if 'strength training' is your goal you should be basing your workouts around the big compund exercises - Barbell Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Pull Ups etc. You won't get very strong without doing exercises were it's possible to gradually progress to lifting very heavy weights. I realise that's not for everyone , for various reasons but i thought i'd mention it given your title.

    However for beginners and the like you have provided a very good list that will get them working all the different muscle groups. People often tend to neglect the back, legs and core when they exercise so it's good to see you've got exercises to cover those areas.

    P.S. I recently saw an eighty something year old man do a 400lb deadlift so it's really never too late to start strength training. If i locate the clip i'll post it up here for inspirational purposes.

    - 8/27/2011   2:32:32 PM
  • 26
    I enjoy working multiple muscles at one time although I normally just do one group at a time unless I'm using a DVD. I love those listed above and some new ones. I also found out I was working a muscle I thought I had left out. Makes me feel great. Thanks for this information! - 10/25/2010   6:20:19 PM
    I will try this. - 10/21/2010   6:08:20 AM
  • 24
    Holy Cow! Just did this for the first time! Trying a new regime of full body 2x a week... because I am lousy at doing ST. WHEW!!! This will be a workout for me, for a while! Will you do an "intermediate" later? - 9/2/2010   5:11:46 PM
  • 23
    could you do all of these in one day and do that every other day? - 9/2/2010   9:36:19 AM
  • 22
    I'd love to see this on one of the Spark training uploads. This is VERY helpful. - 9/2/2010   9:17:05 AM
  • 21
    Great information. Thanks! - 9/1/2010   8:06:48 PM
  • 20
    I do not enjoy strength training. That said, if I don't DO it, I can't move my shoulder. Only when I've been doing dumb-bell presses (or band equivalents) can I keep my joint fluid and strong enough to work for me. (too many years playing violin with improper posture...urgh).

    These are good exercises, (as long as the body parts all work). Thanks, Nancy. - 9/1/2010   1:42:13 PM
  • 19
  • 18
    I prefer to do an "all-over body" work-out. Yet during my work-outs oftentimes I tend to focus on either upper- or lower-body areas exclusively. I am currently focusing on my core attempting to build the ab area to strengthen my lower back. - 8/28/2010   12:06:02 PM
  • 17

  • 16
    HOORAY I can finally leave a comment. I do most of those exercises but since I am a beginner with the strength part I still need demos . I really wish-perhaps I have overlooked them -there were some videos that we can go along with that would make strength training as easy as the cardio moves. I realise it is a tall order but doing it by Upper lower and core and Beginner Advanced it would be so much easier. We all grew up with cardio but not STRENGTH and that I feel does more for weight loss than cardio.

    SO glad I can post my message now. Pat in Maine. - 8/27/2010   1:54:53 PM
    I very much enjoy strength training. It makes me feel strong, and healthy. Because my mother had osteoporosis it's also very important for me to engage in some type of strength training. - 8/27/2010   4:38:47 AM
  • 14
    I am steadily filling in my exercise card. The whole body work out is in the making. Thanks a bunch! - 8/26/2010   7:49:48 PM
  • 13
    This is great -- I already do most of these during my strength routines :-D - 8/26/2010   3:56:23 PM
  • 12
    I already do most of these. :) - 8/26/2010   11:25:24 AM
  • 11
    Nice blog, I'm always looking for the most benefit in a simple, easy to understand and execute "plan", this 10 exercise full body workout fits the bill!

    @ALLERGICONE, if you log in you should be able to save this blog (to your favorites) for future reference. I do find it unusual that the links to these exercises were to sources outside of SparkPeople. The only one I couldn't find a close match in SP fitness examples was the quadruped hip extensions. Love the SparkPeople examples because there is always a "demo" so I can make sure I'm doing the exercise the right way! THANKS AGAIN SPARKPEOPLE! - 8/26/2010   6:17:12 AM
  • 10
    @ALLERGICONE - "Wish we could save this blog for reference..."

    Does the "Save to SparkFavorites" button (below "share" and "like") work for you? :-) - 8/26/2010   3:41:32 AM
  • 9
    Wish we could save this blog for reference... and wish there were demos on SparkPeople for all these exercises! I've done most of them at one point or another with a trainer, but knowing what the call them is always tricky for me! - 8/26/2010   12:09:30 AM
  • 8
    I love KettleBells which are fun to do and I have 13 exercises that I go through. My children do the P90X work out with Tony Horton & that is awesome since he covers the total body in 50 minutes. - 8/25/2010   11:55:10 PM
  • 7
    This is great. I have done all of them. - 8/25/2010   11:40:20 PM
  • 6
    This is great. I'm clueless when it comes to strength training. I know I've been doing it wrong. - 8/25/2010   10:48:14 PM
  • 5
    Thank you for this!! I am getting back into fitness after a long long time out. This was a great resource to start with. I'm hoping to stick with Cardio 3-5 times/week to start and strengthening 3 times a week, with some type of exercise every day, except sunday. My hope is to tone up while I loose weight. I'm trying to do it slowly so I don't get too overwhelmed or in pain. - 8/25/2010   9:57:20 PM
    I prefer to do a whole body workout. I find with my busy schedule I don't have time for strength training. I have softball twice a week, yoga once a week, and most weekends we are camping or hiking. The two days a week I am not as committed to excercise. I need to have time for laundry! I am looking forward to winter because I don't do as much outdoor activities and have more time in the gym to do weights. - 8/25/2010   7:56:22 PM
  • RONIE11
    I am looking at adding strength training back into my routine. I have the cardio to where I feel great but know I can do more.. I think these will work just fine for quite awhile.. I have lost most of the weight now its time to tone up... probably should of been toning up all along.. - 8/25/2010   6:21:52 PM
  • 2
    For me, to get used with strength training, I prefer whole body workout per day, twice a week. Then, when I know the correct techniques, I'll "migrate" to different specific muscle on different days. So far, I'm still trying to get the correct position, posture for push-up and abs workout and I think I got it with lunges and squats (favourite workout for lower body) - no more bending too far! - 8/25/2010   5:16:13 PM

Please Log In To Leave A Comment:    Log in now ›


x Lose 10 Pounds by May 5! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.