Strength Training Basics + How to Get Started
For many of us, making time and finding energy to go to the gym is hard enough. Then there’s the pressure to make a good workout and hope that you’re doing the right thing for your goal. It’s a lot. As helpful as social media can be for access to free workouts; with the over-saturation of influencers, trainers, and constantly changing information, it is easy to become overwhelmed.
If you are new to weight training, it’s always a good idea to reach out to a professional trainer/coach for guidance and advice; however, that can be intimidating too! Whether you are new to strength training or just want to get back to the basics, here are a few tips on training towards YOUR goal! (in no particular order)
1. SMART programming
Smart goals are Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Time-Based.
Be specific. Don't just say “I want to lose/gain weight.” How much weight? How often each week are you going to exercise to work towards this goal?
Have both objective and subjective ways to measure your progress.
The scale is what a lot of us think of when I say objective; a number that is easy to use as
a reference. Body fat %, muscle mass, pant size, amount of weight
lifted, number of repetitions and sets performed are all ways to objectively measure
Subjective measures are equally as important though. These include how you physically
feel during and outside of training, how your clothes are fitting, quality of sleep,
progress pics, etc. These are essential in staying positive and consistent throughout
Set attainable/realistic goals. Stop trying to detox tea and waist train your way to losing 10 lbs in a week. It’s not healthy. You will gain the weight back and end up right where you started. Each week, try to add one healthy habit into your routine and/or take one unhealthy thing away. The following week, build on that momentum. With feeds full of 6-week transformations, it’s easy to compare your progress to someone else. Try to be mindful that we all progress at different rates and genetics, prior training experience, nutrition, and access all factors into these transformations. Ideally, 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week is a good, sustainable goal. If you are new to exercise, you might lose more than this in your first few weeks due to novelty, but do not get discouraged if the pounds start falling off a little slower. Stay consistent and you will see results.
Make sure your workouts are relevant to your goals. If you want to run a 10k then heavy strength training shouldn’t be your main focus. If your intention is to build muscle and lose fat then prioritizing strength training and supplementing (adding a few days a week) cardio would be most beneficial.
Set both short term and long term goals. If the only thing motivating you is the vacation you have coming up, the chances of you returning home and continuing your fitness journey aren’t so high. If vacation is only a short term goal and you have a second goal to reach by your birthday a few months later for example, you will have more motivation to get back on track when you return.
2. Perform both Compound and Accessory movements
Prioritize compound movements (movements that work multiple muscle groups and joints at the same time.) These are your big lifts, performed every week and are the most important for your progress and health. Compound lifts include:
Push (ex. push up, shoulder press, chest press)
Pull (ex. pull up, bent row, lat pulldown)
Carry (ex. farmer’s walk)
Isolation movements are still important for targeting smaller muscle groups like your biceps and triceps but focus only on that muscle group and joint.
In times like this you should be especially proud of yourself for any workout you can complete; however, if you want to see results, strength training at least 2-3 times per week is very beneficial. Organizations like the CDC, WHO, and AHA recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of more intense exercise per week. Depending on your schedule, split this into however many sessions you’d like just get the work done and do it every week.
4. Rest & Recovery
Society pushing the idea of NO DAYS OFF is toxic and leads to fatigue and burnout. Your body needs at least 1-2 days per week to recover. You can stretch or foam roll but try to limit activity that is too intense on rest days.
No pain, no gain is another misused phrase. Your movements should be challenging, but they should not cause pain. Pain is an indicator from your body that something is wrong, and you shouldn’t ignore it. “Feeling the burn” and pain are very different sensations.
5. Machines vs. Free-weights. Which one is better?
Machines can be helpful if you are new to weight training and need assistance with mechanics of the movement. Even advanced lifters can benefit from trying a heavier or new squat variation on a smith machine. In general though, there are more benefits to using free-weights like dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells. Free weights allow your body to move throughout all planes of motion (similar to daily activities) whereas
machines limit your body to one plane. Free weights will also work more muscle groups, improve balance and coordination and reduce your risk of injury more than machines will.
6. Master the basics before moving up
Form is the most important part of weight training. To prevent injury and get the most out of each exercise focus on the fundamentals of the movement before trying to lift heavier weight. It’s a good idea to start with bodyweight and resistance bands and then move on to free weights like dumbbells/kettlebells followed by the barbell.
7. Train toward your goal
It’s helpful to have an idea of how many reps (repetitions) and sets you should perform to reach your goal. Below are some general guidelines to use to help make the most of your gym time.
Endurance training: 12-20 reps x 3+ sets. Rest 30-60 seconds between sets
Increase muscle size and definition (hypertrophy): 6-12 reps with heavier weight for 3+ sets. Rest 60-90 seconds
Improve strength: < 6 reps of very heavy weight for 4+ sets. Rest 2-5 minutes Power: 1-5 reps at very high intensity. Rest 2-5 minutes
Once the weight you’re using becomes easier, increase your weight. Don’t get too comfortable. Your body will adapt to the stress of weights and it will take heavier loads or higher reps to continue towards your goal. Do not be scared to lift heavy!
8. Eat towards your goals.
If you want to lose weight you need to be in a caloric deficit; meaning you burn more calories during the day then you take in (both in food and drinks.) To gain weight, put your body into a caloric surplus and eat more calories than you burn. In a society full of fad diets it’s common to try to take shortcuts with nutrition. Be mindful that food is
your body's fuel and it will show both in your performance and progress checks when you aren’t feeding your body right.