Expert Tips To Get Started

If you want to kick your fitness routine up a notch, consider giving the cardio machines a break and showing strength training some love. But what is strength training, exactly?

Simply put, strength training, also known as resistance training, involves using your own body weight or tools like dumbbells or resistance bands to build muscle mass, strength, and endurance.

When you’re new to the weight room, getting started can seem a little intimidating, but implementing strength training for beginners into your routine is less complicated than you may think. You can start by integrating resistance training in bite-sized sessions, just a few times a week, says Sarah Revenig, CSCS, trainer at Soho Strength Lab. “As you adapt, you can increase your frequency of training.”

Meet the experts: Sarah Revenig, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning coach and trainer at Soho Strength Lab. Maricris Lapaix, CPT, is a certified personal trainer, founder of Move With Maricris, and a trainer at Centr.

What Happens To Your Body When You Begin Strength Training

Strength training is one of the most effective forms of exercise to reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass, leading to a more toned and defined physique (more on the benefits below). Beginners can expect initial soreness when beginning their strength training program, according to Maricris Lapaix, CPT, is a certified personal trainer, founder of Move With Maricris, and a trainer at Centr.Your body is adjusting to new work, loads, and positions,” she says. “It’s important to make sure to keep form top of mind for all movements to build good habits.”

It takes about two to four weeks of consistent training (three to five times per week) to start noticing the affects of strength training, explains Lapaix. “With regular training, you’ll begin to feel more energized, stronger, and notice an increase in muscular endurance. “

    How To Get Started

    • Set clear goals. Determine what you want to achieve with your strength training. Whether it’s building muscle, losing weight, or improving overall fitness, having clear goals will guide your workouts.
    • Choose the right exercises. Select exercises that align with your goals. For beginners, basic movements like squats, lunges, push-ups, and rows are excellent choices to target major muscle groups.

    Here’s a list of major muscle groups with a brief list of beginner-friendly exercises for each:

    • Lower body: squat, lunge, calf raise, glute bridge, deadlift
    • Back: row, back extension, lat pulldown, Superman
    • Core: plank, crunch, Russian twist, leg raise
    • Chest: pushup (modified on knees if needed), chest press, bench press
    • Shoulders: shoulder press, front and lateral raise
    • Biceps and triceps: biceps curl, triceps dip, triceps kickback

    Select your equipment. You don’t need fancy machines or heavy weights to strength train. Dumbbells, resistance bands, and even your body weight are enough to get started. Start with lighter weights and gradually increase as you get stronger.

    Track your progress. Keep a workout journal or use a fitness app to track your exercises, weights, and progress over time. This will help you stay motivated, see how far you’ve come, and adjust your goals over time.

    Make time for recovery. “With new challenging movements to the body, you may likely experience more soreness at the start of your strength training journey,” says Lapaix. It’s important to remember that this isn’t a sign that you’re falling behind; it’s actually a normal part of your fitness journey. Incorporating recovery helps your body bounce back faster and handle the new stress, allowing you to quickly return to your routine and keep making progress.

    Strength Training For Beginners: Expert Tips

    If the weight room feels intimidating, don’t worry. You can ease into strength training gradually with the help of these pro tips.

    Start with a load that feels manageable.

    Begin with weights that feel manageable and gradually increase as you get stronger. Revenig recommends beginners start by lifting a higher volume, meaning more reps and sets, of lighter weights. “This allows your tissues to build up tolerance for more intense training programs,” she explains. “You can’t expect to make progress when you constantly have to stop because you’re completely out of breath.”

    “If you’re struggling on rep two out of 10, the weight is too heavy,” says Revenig. “Alternatively, if you find reps eight to 10 of that same set to be challenging with the weight you picked, it’s likely an appropriate selection.” As you start to build strength, you can gradually increase your weight load from week to week. “Try to match or slightly increase the weights you used the week prior,” Revenig suggests.

    Make the most of your warm-up time.

    Taking time to properly warm up is the fitness equivalent of allowing oil to heat up in a pan before you start cooking—it leads to better results (and can help prevent injury). You can maximize your pre-workout time before strength training by doing dynamic stretches. Revenig recommends inchworms, deadbugs, hip bridges, and birddogs. Also try to get in five to 10 minutes of light cardio prior to resistance work to get your joints moving and elevate your heart rate.

    Avoid exercising to exhaustion.

    Revenig says research suggests ending your set just before you completely drain your tank is more effective. This is especially true for beginners, as doing so wasn’t found to be necessary in order to increase muscle strength, according to a 2016 study.

    Here’s a five-minute dynamic warm-up video you can do before any strength training workout:

    preview for Warm Ups | Betina Gozo | Dynamic Warmup

    How To Deal With Common Strength Training Roadblocks Along

    It’s important to acknowledge any obstacles that may be holding you back from starting (or continuing) your strength training journey to determine how you can overcome them. Lack of access to a gym or equipment, limited knowledge, or time constraints can feel like big barriers sometimes—we totally get that. We’re here to help.

    • Getting started: Starting is the hardest part—no doubt about it. Starting small and celebrating the little wins along the way is key to keep your momentum going. “It’s important when you’re first beginning to focus on measurements of success such as more energy, confidence, and feeling stronger,” advises Lapaix. Finding a workout buddy or joining online communities for support and accountability can also make a big difference when it comes to showing up. Consistency is key, so find what motivates you to stick to your routine, even on the days you’re not feeling it.
    • Limited access to a gym or equipment: Not having access to a gym or traditional fitness equipment doesn’t mean you can’t strength train. You can perform effective bodyweight exercises at home, requiring little to no equipment. Exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups, and planks can be done just about anywhere, and can be modified to suit various fitness levels. Household items such as chairs, water bottles, canned goods, or resistance bands can be utilized to add resistance and variety to your workouts, too!
    • Lack of knowledge on equipment usage: Navigating gym equipment can be intimidating for beginners, but there are plenty of resources available to help you learn. Many fitness websites, YouTube channels, and mobile apps offer tutorials and instructional videos on proper equipment usage and form. Start simple, and your routine can grow with you as you learn more.
    • Time constraints: Finding time for lengthy gym sessions can be tough, but strength training doesn’t require a huge chunk of time each day. Incorporating short, focused workouts into your routine can be just as effective. Aim for 20-30 minute sessions, focusing on compound movements that target multiple muscle groups simultaneously. These bite-sized workouts can easily fit into busy schedules and still deliver significant benefits over time! The goal is progress, not perfection.

    How much time should I put into strength training?

    You should actively strength train at least two times per week, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP). It’s important to remember to engage all the major muscle groups. That includes the legs, hips, core, chest, shoulders, and arms.

    In terms of how long, there’s no specific time that you should be training for, but the exercises should be performed until you feel it’s difficult for you to get another repetition in. Your muscle strength and endurance will progressively increase over time, but gradually adding to the amount of weight and the days you workout will result in even stronger muscles, says ODPHP’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

    Benefits Of Strength Training

    • Stronger bones. Revenig underscores the significance of strength training in promoting bone density and increasing the overall integrity of connective tissues over time. She emphasizes the importance of these factors, particularly for women, noting their critical role in injury prevention as we age.
    • Improves body image. Several studies have explored the relationship between body image and strength training, revealing that women who engage in strength training often experience enhanced body positivity compared to those who do not. This is reflected by a study involving 49 college women who underwent strength training twice weekly for 12 weeks, as well as another group of 62 women who reported more positive body image after lifting weights twice weekly for 15 weeks. The study’s 92 women who did not participate in strength training did not report similar gains surrounding body positivity.
    • Builds lean muscle and decreases body fat. Building muscle through strength training not only enhances your physical strength but also revs up your resting metabolic rate. This means that even when you’re not actively exercising, your body burns more calories to sustain its basic functions. Essentially, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body naturally burns throughout the day. This doesn’t happen overnight—consistency is key—and Revenig says you should pair your strength training with proper nutrition in order to see results. To maximize the fat-burning potential of strength training, it’s essential to complement your workouts with a balanced and nutritious diet.
    • Can alleviate symptoms of depression. A meta analysis published in JAMA Psychiatry looked at 33 studies (a total of almost 1,900 subjects between them) to evaluate whether resistance training had any sizable positive impact on alleviating depressive symptoms. The study determined that not only does strength training boost physical strength, but it can also help when it comes to mood, loss of interest in activities, and feelings of worthlessness.

    Different Types Of Strength Training

    • Endurance training: Endurance training focuses on building stamina and resilience in your muscles. Unlike other forms of strength training, which prioritize heavy weights and low repetitions, endurance training involves lighter weights and higher repetitions. This helps improve muscular endurance, allowing you to sustain physical activity for longer periods without fatigue.
    • Circuit training: Circuit training involves going through a series of several exercises until you reach the last one, resting, and then repeating all the moves again (and potentially again, and again). Revenig says you can modify this kind of workout to align with your personal goals. “You can manipulate your work-to-rest ratio in circuits depending on what kind of training effect you’re after,” explains Revenig.
    • Hypertrophy training: Strength training does build muscle, and it can be used to increase the size of your muscles too…but only if you’re doing a type of strength training called hypertrophy. So anyone who’s worried that you’ll end up looking like a bodybuilder just because you picked up a weight, don’t be. “An increase in muscle size does NOT equate to bulking unless you are eating to gain mass as well,” says Revenig. You also have to be lifting medium to high reps of a moderate to heavy weight consistently to see significant changes to the size of your muscles, FYI. In other words, strength training a couple times a week isn’t going to do the trick.
    • Max strength training: Revenig suggests transitioning into this type of training once you’ve built up your muscle endurance and mastered basic form. This kind of training involves bringing your number of repetitions down to about three to six and increasing the amount of weight you’re lifting.
    • Explosive power training: Explosive power training isn’t designed for beginners, says Revenig. “Beginners would not be successful in the explosive power realm until they have had time to develop maximal strength.” That’s because it involves training at maximum intensity for short periods of time. Olympic lifts and the push press are two examples of the explosive exercises she’s talking about.

    Strength Training Workouts To Try At Home

    If you work out at home, check out these three workouts:

    If you want to build muscle all over, try this 30-minute full-body dumbbell workout. Looking for a longer program to kickstart your strength training journey? Check out this dumbbell full-body 28-day challenge.

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    Jasmine Gomez is the Commerce Editor at Women’s Health, where she cover the best product recommendations across beauty, health, lifestyle, fitness, and more. When she’s not shopping for a living, she enjoys karaoke and dining out more than she cares to admit. Follow her @JazzeGomez.  

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    Talene Appleton is a fitness and food writer and editor, certified personal trainer (NASM-CPT), and former professional dancer based in New York City. Passionate about both exercise and cuisine, she merges her fitness, nutrition and culinary expertise with the goal of motivating others to embrace balanced healthy living. Her work has appeared in Men’s Health, General Surgery News, The Food Institute, The Nessie, and more.