Strength Training 101

This article is a follow-on to 5 Reasons Women Should Strength Train. Hopefully you’re convinced about the benefits of strength training, and 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.

Always begin with a warmup to loosen up the body, warm the tissues and get the blood flowing. This can be as simple as five minutes of brisk walking, easy jogging, or the elliptical (using arm movements). Skip the stationary bike – you need to be working both the upper and lower body, and supporting your own body weight in the process. [Read: Three Key Reasons to Always Warm Up]

Concept #1: Follow the Progressive Overload Principle

Each time you strength train a muscle, you’re 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. But if you never deviate from what you always do, 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.
Each time you strength train a muscle, you’re 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. But if you never deviate from what you always do, 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.

What is Intensity?
In strength training, intensity can be increased by changing the amount of work you’re requiring a muscle to perform. Some common ways to increase intensity:
~ Increase the number of repetitions for a given weight
~ Increase the weight for a given number of repetitions
~ Decrease the rest periods between sets
~ Add more sets
~ Add an instability factor: ex. bicep curls standing on one leg; chest press on a stability ball; anything on a BOSU Balance Trainer

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:

Body CompositionMuscular EnduranceFunctional Strength
Heavier weights
Fewer repetitions
More sets
Longer rest between
sets
Lighter weights
Higher repetitions
Shorter rest periods

Focus on core strength
Body-weight only exercises
and/or use of resistance
bands, stretch cords,
medicine balls

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

Movement PatternExamples
PushOverhead presses (upward push);
chest presses (forward push)
PullRows; bicep curls
HingeDeadlifts; toe touches
LungeForward or reverse lunges;
climbing stairs
SquatBody-weight squats; sit-to-stands
RotationBicycle crunches; Russian twists

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 me? I’ll design a progressive strength training program for you, ensure you practice good form with every exercise, and keep you motivated towards your goals. Consider it an investment in YOU. Reach out to me here and let’s start with a conversation.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks a lot for sharing such a great piece of article! I found it a good helpful write-up with a good sound and explanation. Here I have found some valuable ideas that are definitely helpful for every fitness enthusiast who wants to live healthy and fit. Please keep sharing more updates!

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