Fitness Articles

Reference Guide to Strength Training

An In-Depth Look

  • Type: Activities that count as strength training Perform exercises to target every major muscle group when strength training: your arms (biceps and triceps), shoulders, chest, back, core (abs, obliques and lower back), and legs (quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves). Make sure you work opposing muscles, not just the ones you see when you look in the mirror (biceps, chest, abs, quads). The opposing muscles are the ones that work in opposition to those (in this case, the triceps, back, lower back, and hamstrings). Also be sure to work the sides of your body: obliques, hips, abductors and adductors (outer and inner thigh). The idea is to achieve balance. The same goes for the upper and lower body. Don’t neglect one or the other just because one is more important to you. This can create imbalance and set you up for injury and pain.

    Strength training can be done with a variety of equipment such as resistance bands, stability ball, hand weights, machines, or body weight. The Fitness Resource Center has numerous examples of exercises and workouts for you to choose from.
  • Get the Most Out of Your Strength Training Workouts
    These tips will help you get started on the right foot!
    • Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Get more about exercise safety tips for beginners.
    • Always warm up for at least 5-10 minutes before strength training.
    • Proper form is essential for safety and effectiveness. Start with light weights as you perfect your form and get accustomed to strength training. Gradually increase the amount of weight you lift over time, by no more than 10% each week.
    • Always cool down at least 5-10 minutes at the end of your workout.
    • Vary your exercise program to avoid boredom and plateaus. Changing your routine every 6-8 weeks is crucial to keeping your body/muscles surprised and constantly adapting. They'll have to work harder, you'll be challenged, and you'll burn more calories and build more lean muscle in the process. Learn how to change your exercise routine to avoid plateaus.
    • Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to stay hydrated.
    • Machines are best for beginners. They usually have detailed instructions and a picture on them, plus they show which muscles you are working. They are set up to put your body in proper form and isolate the right muscles. They are usually grouped together (upper body, chest, arms, legs, etc) in a weight room, so that you can easily move through them and target every major muscle group.
    • Free weights are more advanced. After you’ve had a good foundation with machines (or body weight exercises) you can move into free weights. When using free weights, form becomes even more important because there is nothing to support you or make you do it properly. Lift in front of a mirror and use the proper benches for support. Always watch the alignment of the joints and their relationships: shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should be aligned. Your back should remain flat and your abs should be contracted to help support the lower back. Have a trainer assist you and have someone there to spot you if you are lifting heavy weights. Use tools such as the Exercise Demos to help you achieve proper form.
    • Don’t hold your breath, which can be dangerous (it increases blood pressure and can cause lightheadedness, for example). Exhale fully and forcefully on the exertion phase—usually the phase where you are lifting the weight. Inhale deeply on the easier phase—usually when returning to the starting position. Try to keep this rhythm throughout every set. In the beginning, it will take some concentration, but after a while, it will become habit.
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    About The Author

    Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
    Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

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