Fitness Articles

Reference Guide to Strength Training

An In-Depth Look

Page 4 of 4
  • 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.

    Member Comments

    • Very helpful. - 2/27/2016 7:38:24 PM
    • i needed to read this!! - 6/15/2014 10:11:00 PM
    • Lots of information here. Thanks. - 5/3/2014 6:23:46 AM
    • I also have to take issue with this concept of HAVING to take a rest day. Do you think MINERS or FARMERS or anyone else that has a physical component to their WORK has the luxury of taking a DAY OFF you are kidding yourself. - 1/26/2014 5:55:07 PM
    • This article is exactly what I have needed! Thank you - 1/25/2014 10:37:41 AM
    • I learned a lot by reading this. I do want to get stronger so it gave me fuel to use to do this. so with workout at home and weight lifting class I can get stronger and see more muscles......I like that. - 1/20/2014 8:00:34 PM
    • I totally disagree with the statement that fewer reps builds stronger muscles. All that matters is that you work the muscle to failure NOT how many time you do a particular exercise,.If that were the case bodyweight exercisers would be hooped. - 12/28/2013 9:47:23 PM
    • I disagree with the statement that strength training strengthens tendons and ligaments. I'd like to see where this has been proven. I have Ehlers Danlos so my tendons and ligaments (and other connective tissue) are too loose, causing my joints to dislocate frequently. Exercising, even gentle and no impact, causes more problems with my joints, not less. I have to pay close attention to everything I do because even one uncontrolled movement causes pain and dislocations. When I was in sports as a kid my joints actually became much worse, not better. Now my hips can dislocate just from walking. Thus my tendons and ligaments became weaker - not stronger - through exercise. If the Ehlers Danlos was diagnosed as a kid I would have been told to exercise less, not be in sports, and I would have had access to doctors who could provide proper braces for my joints well before my joints got to be this bad.

      There are also many cases of people who have torn tendons and ligaments through exercise (ever seen an achilles tendon snap while someone's running?). They're not being strengthened, but being tested and pulled. - 7/15/2012 4:31:51 AM
    • I think this article makes a lot of really good points, and I'm really glad that the "Specificity of Training" principle was included - I just wish the SparkPeople Training Plan Generator would get the message. Since it's well documented that doing a leg day back to back with an arm day is totally fine since you're targetting complete different muscles, it's so *frustrating* that the workout generator *won't let you* enter back to back workouts on different mucles groups, reminding you that you shouldn't train back to back without a rest day (perfectly true, if you're using the same muscles). I realize that this is the wrong place to vent about this, and I've already raised it in the "tech" forum, but it seems I can't help myself - BAH!

      In any case, I was happy to see this idea, and others that are equally important, explained here clearly and accurately. Bravo. - 12/13/2011 11:08:35 AM
    • Don't forget that water exercise, especially vertical exercise like water aerobics, has a strength component. Water resistance is 12x the resistance of air, so every move in every direction is evenly resisted. To add challenge similar to adding weight to dumbells, you can use various devices to increase buoyancy or drag resistance. You can employ speed, acceleration, and direction change to further up the ante. AND there's no danger of dropping a chunk of iron on your toe! - 12/13/2010 1:11:15 PM
    • I have been strength training since 1987. I had a trainer for a couple years. After becoming comfortable at one weight, I increase it just like you're supposed to do. I mostly do machine exercises, but also bicep curls--free weights. However, a few years ago, I was getting strange sensations in my right thigh, sort of like when your arm or hand "go to sleep" and you experience tingling in it. I had that sensation in my right thigh. I went to physical therapy, and now I have specialized stretches to do every day. My thigh has much improved. However, I was told not to do the abductor or adductor machine exercises since they are not at all helpful, and as I remember they are not highly recommended in the Fitness section of SP. I was also doing the back stretch machine, which to me was like rocking and it was even fun. I had worked my way up to putting all the weight blocks on, including even extra weight--over 300 pounds--and I was quite proud of myself, to be able to lift more weight than many of the men. But the physical therapist was very critical of this, saying I would definitely be popping a disk if I continued doing that. She said that someone my age, 63 then, could not do exercises like they could at a younger age. She also nixed the leg pushes I was doing and said I should not be going over 150 lbs. (I was lifting about 100 lbs. more.) So I pass this information on if it can be of use to anyone. And if Jen wants to comment on this or give me some advice, I'd appreciate it, since I want to be sure that what I'm doing is all right. - 12/13/2010 1:00:15 PM
    • I've just started strength training in my pulmonary rehab program and I really excited. I used three different machines yesterday for 10 reps each. Can't wait to get more familiar with the system! - 10/9/2010 1:54:26 PM
    • very good info for the novice! thanks a lot - 10/9/2010 1:47:28 PM
    • It says I read the article in March, but i don't remember reading it before. I enjoyed it and feel that I am still a beginner. At my age, I may never progress any farther.!
      Very informative. - 10/9/2010 11:23:15 AM
    • Great article! I'm reading a lot about strength training and working out with a small weight-lifting class. Up til now, that part of the gym was a black box to me. I ignored it.

      Weight-lifting is fantastic. It makes my gym workouts far more interesting because I mix it up every day. I appreciate and learn from other gym members--many of those exercises are a LOT harder than they look, I had no idea. My body is sculpting as I'm losing weight. At 5'6" and 214 lbs, I'm obese. But I'm a lot stronger than the skinny girls taking the weight training with me. Yay! - 3/3/2010 10:54:57 AM

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