Strength Training 101

This article is a follow-on to my last post, 5 Reasons Women Should Strength Train. In that article, I hopefully convinced you of the key benefits of strength training, and now you’re ready to start. But where to begin? Here’s a quick primer on the basic concepts.

Disclaimer: If you have any physical limitations or injury, consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Begin with a simple cardio warmup to loosen up the body, warm the tissues and get the blood flowing. Five minutes of brisk walking, easy jogging, or the elliptical (using arm movements) are all great choices. Skip the stationary bike – you need to be working both the upper and lower body, and supporting your own body weight in the process.

Concept #1: Follow the Progressive Overload Principle

Sidebar_what is intensity

Each time you strength train a muscle, you are causing micro-tears in the muscle fibers. But that’s a good thing, because when these tissues repair themselves, they rebuild stronger than before. Do this steadily and progressively, increasing the overall intensity (see Sidebar) from week to week, and your body will respond with new increases in strength and lean muscle mass. Do too much too soon, and you’ll wind up with an injury in the form of a muscle or tendon tear or strain. Never deviate from what you always do, and you’ll never see any improvement (and you’ll be wasting your precious time as well.) For more on how this process works, read The Body’s Response to Stress – Understanding the General Adaptation Syndrome.

Concept #2: Know Your Goal

There are many forms of strength training, and each will produce a particular result, or as we call it in the fitness biz, “adaptation.” Here are a few of the more common ones:

  • Body composition change: less fat, more lean muscle
  • Muscular endurance: the ability of muscles to continue to produce power for extended time periods (think runners, soccer players, tennis players, etc)
  • Functional strength: mimicking the specific physiological demands of real-life activities, from lifting heavy grocery bags to picking up your children

One specific adaptation that strength training cannot produce is “spot reduction.” Doing fifty  crunches every day will not remove that muffin top, despite what hundreds of Pinterest posts and fitness magazine articles would have you believe.

This table provides a very high level summary of each of these types of strength training and how they are structured:

Table_Types of Strength Trng

Concept #3:  Incorporate each of the six fundamental movement patterns

Table_6 Basic Mvmts

Concept #4: Consistency is key!

For any adaptations to occur, you have to put in the work. Always remember the Progressive Overload principle – working out only once per week is not going to produce results, as your body will quickly lose any short term gains and you’ll likely injure yourself by progressing too rapidly.

Performing a total body workout three times per week is ideal for most. You’ll be able to progress safely from week to week, minimizing the risk of injury while continuing to challenge your body to new levels. You may be able to get by with twice per week, but expect adaptations to take longer. Twice a week is fine for maintenance, though, once you have reached your goal.

There’s so much more to designing an effective strength training program that what can be summarized in a single article – but hopefully you have an idea of where to start. Even better, why not work with a personal trainer? He or she can design a progressive strength training program for you, ensure you practice good form with every exercise, and keep you motivated towards your goals. It’s an investment in YOU!


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