What is Strength Training?
Strength training involves exercising against a resistance with the specific goal of increasing muscular strength. Strength is the ability to exert muscular force. (1)
There are different types of strength, making it difficult to provide an encompassing definition. There is, for example, absolute strength, as demonstrated by the ability to lift a dead weight from the floor. Then there is strength power that you’d experience if you were on the receiving end of a Bruce Lee sidekick. Finally, we have strength endurance, as shown by Charles Servizio when he performed 4601 push ups in 24 hours back in 1993.
Strength training is achieved by exercising against a resistance, but so is bodybuilding, sports training and general fitness training. The difference between them is the purpose, which then dictates how you use the resistance. (2)
With strength workouts the primary goal is to increase the strength of your muscles. For bodybuilders, however, the primary goal is muscular size. Sports people are focused on improving their performance and general fitness enthusiasts are intent on enhancing their aerobic and anaerobic capacity.
Strength Training For Beginners
There is an abundance of research to confirm the beneficial effects of strength training. According to a study reported in the July-August 2012 issue of the Current Sports Medicine Reports Journal, strength training reduces body fat, improves physical performance and movement control, while enhancing bone development and reducing lower back pain. (3)
Muscle strength is an important fitness component for almost everyone. People interested in fitness for health need strength to maintain healthy joints, strong bones, and metabolically active muscle tissue. Those interested in developing attractive, healthy-looking bodies develop strength so they can have lean, shapely looking muscles. Athletes need it to make their movements forceful and powerful.
Types of Strength Training
To increase strength, you need to exercise against a resistance. There are four ways to perform resistance exercises:
(1) isometric (force against immovable objects)
(2) free weights (dumbbells and barbells)
(3) weight machines
(4) calisthenics (exercises that use body weight as the resistance)
Isometrics: Isometric exercises involve exerting force statically or against immovable objects. Unfortunately, you increase strength only in the joint positions worked during the exercise. There are, however, several effective isometric exercises for the abdominal and quad muscles, such as the plank and the wall sit.
· Produces maximum contractile force
· Good for rehabilitation
· Reduced risk of injury
· Does not increase strength through a muscles range of motion
· No progressive overload
Free weight: Free weight training involves the use of equipment moved in the performance of an exercise which is simply raised and lowered as a complete unit. The weight is free to move in any direction and in any manner the lifter can manage; Free weights encompasses barbells and dumbbells, but may also include resistance bands and cable apparatus.
· Inexpensive and portable
· Allow you to move in three dimensions, mimicking natural movement
· Recruit stabilizer muscles
· Takes more effort to follow strict form
· Easy to deviate from ideal exercise path
Weight machine: This is a fixed piece of equipment which includes a frame, plate weight stack and a cable, pulley, cam or lever arms arrangement to connect the user to the resistance. It usually has a pre-designated track along which you exercise.
· Easy to use
· Safer than free weights
· Usually you are seated, which does not mimic natural movement
· Machine dictates the path of movement
· Only train main target muscle
· Designed to fit ‘average’ person
· Calisthenics: Exercises that use body weight as the resistance. Everyone should learn to handle their own body weight. Pull-ups, step-ups, and push-ups are excellent strength builders.
· Cost free and can be done anywhere, anytime
· Trains the body as a unit
· Improves balance, muscle control and kinesthetic awareness
· Limited ability to add resistance
· Hard to isolate muscle groups
· Hard to build leg strength
Home or Gym?
Should you train at home or pay a monthly fee to workout at a commercial gym? When your goal is the ongoing development of strength, it makes good sense to train at a place where you constantly have access to more resistance, since adding resistance is how you get stronger. Many guys (and girls) who train at home have got to a certain strength level and then outgrown the weights that they own. Unless they go out and buy more weight, their strength will stagnate.
There are, of course, other factors that may sway you in the other direction. Consider our list of pros and cons and decide for yourself
Pros of a Home Gym:
· Better long term investment
· Fewer distractions
· More freedom
· No waiting for gear
· You control the hygiene and environment
· No monthly fees
Pros of a Commercial Gym:
· Unlimited access to equipment and resistance
· Motivational atmosphere
· Professional guidance available
· Always someone there to spot you
Cons of a Commercial Gym:
· Have to commute
· Competing for equipment
· Potential hygiene problems
Strength Training for Beginners
Muscles work best when they are slightly warmer than at rest and have adequate blood flow. Preliminary “warm-up” up before exercise increases muscle temperature, muscle and heart blood flow, tissue elasticity, joint lubrication, and gives athletes additional practice before competing or beginning formal practice.
Warm up before doing resistance exercises. A generalized warm-up increases muscle temperature, which makes them work more efficiently and minimizes injury risk. It also helps to move synovial fluid throughout the joint to protect vulnerable joint surfaces. Warm-up also helps to reinforce motor patterns within the brain, which helps to perform the exercise more efficiently.
Do a few “total body” warm-up exercises such as easy treadmill jogging or faster- than-normal walking, jumping jacks, or stationary cycling (600 rpm) before beginning.
Dynamic stretching involves speed of movement, momentum and active muscular effort to perform a stretch. Often the stretch mimics or is closely linked to the upcoming athletic performance.
Perform each exercise with repetitions of light resistance before attempting maximal resistance. If you plan to do heavy squats with 150 to 300 pounds, for example, do 6 to 10 repetitions of the exercise with a light weight (e.g., 135 pounds or less) before attempting heavier weights.
Weight training programs are subdivided into repetitions and sets. Each time you complete the exercise movement you do a repetition. In theory, you could do almost any number of repetitions (one to thousands). However, in practice, most people do 5 to 10 repetitions of each exercise. Each group of repetitions is called a set.
Weight trainers generally do 3 to 5 sets of each exercise. For example, if you were doing 3 sets of 10 repetitions of the bench press exercise, you would perform 10 repetitions of the exercise, rest for 1 to 2 minutes, then repeat the process two more times for a total of 3 sets.
If the primary goal is to gain strength, perform large muscle exercises such as presses, pulls, and multi-joint lower body exercises before exercises for smaller muscle groups such as wrist and curls and calf raises.
Doing small muscle exercises fatigues these muscles, causing them to limit performance when working on larger muscle groups.
Cool-down helps to gradually restore normal resting blood flow levels to the inner organs. Stretching allows your muscles to return to their original length, so they are less stiff post workout.
Best Strength Training Exercises
A good functional strength program will revolve around compound exercises which work multiple muscle groups together. The following six exercises are the key compound strength movements:
Stand with the loaded bar across your trapezius and your hand grips at shoulder width. Your elbows should be pointing down. Keep your back tight with abs braced and a neutral spine. Feet should be shoulder width apart and slight pointed out.
Initiate the squat by breaking at the knees. Then sit back with the hips as you descend to slightly below parallel. Keeping the core tight, power back up through the heels and quadriceps.
With your feet just under your hips, gram the bar, which is sitting on the floor in front of you, with an overhand grip. Bend your knees and push your hips down and back. Maintain a neutral spine position with a natural curve in the spine. Your shoulders should be slightly in front of the bar.
Flick the hips to begin the upward movement, with your weight on your heels. As you rise up, the bar should run up your thighs. Pull up to a full extension and then slowly reverse the motion.
Lie on the bench with feet flat on the floor. Grasp the bar slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Have your spotter help to move the bar from the rack to a point over the chest. Lower the bar in a straight line slightly below the nipples (end of the breast bone). Push the weight straight up to the starting position. Keep the shoulders back and down throughout the movement.
Standing Overhead Press
The overhead press with a barbell begins with the weight at the chest, preferably on racks. For a more advanced weight trainer, the person can “clean” the weight to the chest, but this maneuver should be attempted only after instruction from a knowledgeable coach. This is one of the best exercises for transferring strength from the weight room to sports because it uses the legs and core muscles to stabilize the upper body to perform the lift.
Using a close grip handle, sit with your feet on the platforms provided. You should have a slight bend in the knees and have a neutral spine. Extend your arms out in front of you. Your shoulders should be down and chest out.
Now pull your hands toward your torso. In the fully contracted position, squeeze your back muscles tight. Then return the handles to a 90-degree angle (do not stretch all the way forward). This will keep the tension on the working muscle group.
Stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your knees to lower yourself to the bar and grasp the bar with a double overhand grip at slightly wider than shoulder width grip. Push through your heels to return to a standing position, resting the bar on your upper thighs.
Bend your knees slightly while pushing your hips down until you are almost in a seated position. Draw in the belly button and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Lean forward slightly and make sure your arms are fully extended.
Keeping your head up, pull the bar from its hanging position into your chest. Focus on pinching your shoulder blades together. Pause at the high point before lowering the bar under control.
Home Strength Training Program
Here is a home gym full body strength workout that you can perform with just a single pair of 40 pound dumbbells. Do 3 sets of 8 reps on each move.
- Dumbbell Squats
- Dumbbell Deadlift
- Pull Ups
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Handstand Push Ups