Strength training. Something He-Man probably did, but Shaggy from Scooby-Doo most definitely didn’t. Mostly it is the use of some kind of weight or resistance to build your fitness, muscle size, and strength. It is something that most certified personal trainers do and teach.
For guys and girls, building lean muscle is key to burning fat and becoming leaner – doing strength training doesn’t have to mean looking like you should be working the doors of a nightclub.
But prepare for people to say things like ‘hey, you’re looking well!’. Or ‘oh my God, that shirt looks amazing on you!’. Or even ‘you look like a new man/woman. What’s the secret to looking so utterly wonderful?’.
The last one might be a bit optimistic, but you get the idea. Over the ten years of working as an ACE and NASM personal trainer, I have learned the best exercises for beginners.
New to strength training? Good. Your life is about to get better. In this, we’ll go over when and how to do it, what goals you should expect and then my Top 5 strength training exercises for beginners.
How often should you strength train? Consistently. Twice a week over a year is going to work better in the long term than training five times a week for just a few months. Listen to what your body is telling you.
DO NOT OVER DO IT! If your body is feeling week, if something is painful in the wrong way, if each session is making you feel worse and not better – you must rest.
But be honest with yourself, giving yourself a couple of weeks off then a couple of weeks on means you won’t be transforming your body in the way you might want.
What to aim for? Well, that’s up to you. But realistic goals are essential. Look to drop a dress size in a reasonable period. Aim to be able to get into a shirt you’ve not dug out from the closet for a while.
When strength training to not get obsessed with the scales – you are building muscle, so your weight may even go UP by a few pounds initially.
Before and after pictures, body measurements and just generally feeling better are far more accurate and vital ways of measuring progress.
Top 5 strength exercises for beginners
So much strength training uses compound movements. That is an exercise that uses two or more muscles at once. Firing up muscle groups rather than isolated muscles means you are creating more lean muscle, burning more fat and saving time!
Further down the line, you can start isolating muscles should you wish. But for now, we are going to be doing more ‘all over’ exercises.
You are doing each exercise in three bursts (known as sets). If muscle size is your goal, do five reps for each on a heavyweight. If you’re looking for a mix of muscle growth and fitness, use a medium weight and do between 8 – 10 reps.
The key though is to increase the weight you are using each week, but about 5lbs.
NOTE: WARM UP!!! Rocking up at the gym or getting straight into a session in your front room without warming up is going to end painfully. You may even do some long-term damage.
5 minutes on a cross trainer, some jumping jacks – anything to get things moving. And then when you start your strength training session, begin each exercise with a lightweight and taking it very easy.
This is so important, mainly as a strength training rookie.
Muscles used; thighs, buttocks, hamstrings.
How?; Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your back straight slowly drop your buttocks to the floor. Come up again slowly. Keep your heels locked to the floor at all times.
Basic; do it without any weights. Your body weight is resistance enough.
More advanced; hold a dumbbell in each hand, or for the big licks hold a barbell across your shoulders and neck. Practice this action first with an unweighted bar.
Muscles used; pretty much the ultimate all-body exercise
How; start laid flat on the floor face down, as if at the beginning of a push-up. Perform a push-up, and as your arms are nearly fully extended jump your feet forward, so you are now at the start of a squat.
Then with your feet flat to the floor jump up straight with arms in the air, before returning to the start position. It should be one fluid motion.
Easier; if initially too tricky, eliminate the jump.
More advanced; use a dumbbell in each hand, and rather than jump at the end lift your arms above your head (as if your Mom is trying to put a sweater on you over your head).
Sitting cross crunches
Muscles used; abs, lower back, buttocks, chest.
How; you know a sit up? That but with a light dumbbell in each hand. As you come up for the sit up, punch your left arm over your right knee.
Alternate arms on each sit up. Keep your core tense and your knees bent.
Easier; do it without the weights
More advanced; go heavier!
Muscles used; chest, back, arms, abs.
How?; Back straight, hands shoulder width apart, as you lower down tuck your elbows into your side (don’t spread your elbows out like chicken wings)
Easier; Do the push up usually but in a knelt stance rather than fully extended legs. Your knees are your pivot, and you are then taking less of your body weight through the arms and chest.
More advanced; Place your hand’s closer together and underneath your chest. Or raise your feet by resting them on the edge of the couch.
Muscles used; triceps, biceps, shoulders, upper back, core
How; a lot of gyms have pull-up bars and frames. And a lot also have ‘pull up machines’ that offer a little assistance to the pull-up. Note with these machines, the more weight you add, the EASIER it is to perform the exercise!
Keep your back straight, latch on to the bar above your head (alternate your grip, so some with your palms facing towards you, and do some with your palms facing away), and pull your chin to the bar.
These are not easy! And it is unlikely you’ll be able to go straight into the unassisted version of these. Even when you can start to do a few unassisted, still use the support of the machine so that you do a full complement of pull-ups.
Remember, start easy, seek advice to not damage yourself and train consistently. Then combined with eating right, watch your body shape change!