What is Strength Training?

Strength training can be a torturous yet rewarding fitness regimen. During a strength training program you are putting huge stressors on several of your body’s systems including: muscular, skeletal, endocrine, and nervous systems; in return, with good nutrition and lifestyle choices, you reap the rewards of exponentially increase the strength and efficiency of all these systems.

How to start strength training?

The answer to this question is – slowly. Strength training is an exercise in patience. There is no quick way to getting strong and staying strong. It takes time and a lot of hard work. If you are a beginner, the worst thing you can do is jump into a complex routine comprised of too many exercises with too many sets of too many reps; that would be a recipe for injury and overtraining most likely resulting in failure, discouragement, and ultimately, quitting.

The best plan of action is to first ask yourself why you want to start training with weights. Is it to become stronger and faster for a particular sport? Is it to put some additional mass onto your frame? Have you become interested in the world of powerlifting and wish to compete some day? Or do you just simply want to get stronger? There are many reasons to think of but it’s important to decide which is yours so you can know how to strain specifically.

What exercises should a beginner get started with?

If you go on the internet and perform a search with the key words strength training, you will find an endless amount of information and opinions on the subject. My advice would be to find a local gym in the area that is frequented by power lifters; not one of those socially acceptable gyms where their main goal is pack in as many members as possible, mainly consisting of fair weather gym-goers who have no serious interest in improving themselves or their body’s, but rather, are content to pick up a couple of dumbbells and then walk on a treadmill for a few minutes before wrapping it up and calling it a day.

I’m talking about a gym located in some old warehouse, or cinder-block walled, bare-bones building, filled with large, solid, individuals who look like they just walked out of a time machine, transported from the land of the Nephilim. These are the guys (and gals) you want to get strength training advice from.

If you ask any of them what exercises to get started with they will all tell you the same:

  1. Barbell bench press
  2. Barbell back squat
  3. Barbell Deadlift
  4. Barbell shoulder press

That sounds great but I don’t see any exercises to work out my arms?

This is true. But keep in mind; strength training is about creating strength, not aesthetics; for aesthetics you want to look into the sport of bodybuilding. That being said, all four of the exercises listed above, if done correctly, will actually workout the entire body. Your arms, as well as practically every other part of the body, will take part in practically every one of these lifts. Strength training is not about isolated movements, it’s about training the muscles to work more efficiently together to lift heavy weight. It’s also about making the tendons that connect those muscles stronger to support that heavy weight during the lift.

How many sets and reps should I start with for each exercise?

As a beginner you will need to allow your body to adjust to the new stress you will be putting on it. Lifting weights is just like any other stress so the cumulative effect of all your stress needs to be taken into consideration. What other stress do you have in your life right now? I can think of a few common stressors:

  1. Stress about money
  2. Stress about school
  3. Stress about marriage or relationships
  4. Stress about work
  5. Stress about kids
  6. Stress about parents

Strength training adds stress to your life. It doesn’t matter if stress is good or bad, it’s still stress. Regardless of what sort of stress you put on it, the body and mind still need time to recover from that stress.

For example, let’s say you had only one type of stress in your life and it was doing something you thoroughly enjoyed, let’s say snowboarding, as an example. You decide to go snowboarding every day, twenty four hours a day. That’s something you enjoy, a good stress, so you should have no problem keeping this up without any problem, right? Of course not; any reasonable person would know that snowboarding for twenty four hours without stopping for rest, food, and other necessary and beneficial activities is not sustainable. The same applies to both good and bad stress in our normal, day to day lives. If there is too much stress, good or bad, and not enough sleep, proper nutrition, and relaxation, you will eventually suffer a breakdown, mentally or physically.

To slowly work this new stress into your life it’s a good idea to start each exercise off with a light weight, low set, high rep range. I recommend starting by doing each exercise 3 times a week for one set of twenty reps. For example:

  • Monday
    1. Bench press, 1 set, 20 reps
    2. Shoulder press, 1 set, 20 reps
    3. Back squat, 1 set, 20 reps
    4. Deadlift, 1 set, 20 reps
  • Wednesday
    1. Bench press, 1 set, 20 reps
    2. Shoulder press, 1 set, 20 reps
    3. Back squat, 1 set, 20 reps
    4. Deadlift, 1 set, 20 reps
  • Friday
    1. Bench press, 1 set, 20 reps
    2. Shoulder press, 1 set, 20 reps
    3. Back squat, 1 set, 20 reps
    4. Deadlift, 1 set, 20 reps

 

This simple routine will help you start adapting physically and mentally. The high reps with low weight will help your muscles get conditioned without putting too much stress on them. Each set should be with a weight that the final rep feels about one or two reps away from failure.

How do I know if I am doing the exercises right?

If you are going to a serious gym like I recommended at the beginning of my article there should be a lot of people around who you can glean advice from about proper form. I’ve found YouTube to be very helpful as far for visual instruction. There are also a ton of books out there about serious strength training or powerlifting. One book in particular that I consider to be the bible on strength training is Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. This book dedicates entire chapters two each lift and breaks it all the way down to the physics; altogether very educational and easy to read.

Good luck on your journey into the world of strength training. Follow my blog for more info on tips to help you with your journey.

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