Strength training is an important part of staying healthy as we age. Strength training helps build and maintain muscle and bone health to prevent injury, improve our ability to perform daily tasks, and help us look and feel our best.
It’s beneficial for people of all ages and activity levels, from children to seniors, and from weekend warriors to professional athletes. Strength training can be tailored to specific goals like weight loss or increased athleticism, or to general wellbeing.
This guide will cover the basics of strength training, including what it is, the benefits it provides, and how to get started. We’ll also provide tips on proper form and technique, safety considerations, and a nutrition primer. Finally, we’ll discuss some common mistakes and misconceptions that can arise when starting a strength training program.
What Is Strength Training?
Strength training is the practice of using resistance to promote muscle growth and strength. Common forms of resistance used in strength training include free weights, body weight, machines, elastic bands, and medicine balls. Strength training can be used to build muscle, improve power, increase your metabolism, and increase bone health.
When it comes to strength training methods, there are two main types: compound and isolated exercises. Compound exercises focus on multiple muscle groups at the same time while isolated exercises target a single muscle group. Examples of compound exercises include squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, whereas isolated exercises would include bicep curls and leg extensions.
The key techniques used by strength trainers include the following: form, recovery, warm-ups, pacing, and progression. Learning proper form for each exercise is important for reducing the risk of injury and getting the most out of your workouts. Recovery periods should be built into any strength training program to prevent fatigue and burnout. Warm-ups should be done before each workout to increase blood flow to the muscles and reduce the risk of injury. Pacing is the act of performing exercises at a consistent, moderate intensity so as to avoid exhaustion. Lastly, progressive overload involves gradually increasing the resistance and intensity of your workouts over time.
Benefits of Strength Training vs Cardio
Strength training and cardio exercise are two of the most popular forms of physical activity, with both providing numerous benefits for overall health. While both are important for muscle and bone health, strength training has certain advantages that can be beneficial for long-term health.
The main difference between strength training and cardio is the amount of time spent exercising. Cardio exercises tend to involve prolonged, moderate intensity activity. Examples of this include running, jogging, cycling, and swimming. On the other hand, strength training involves shorter bursts of higher intensity activity such as squats, push ups, and weight lifting.
Strength training has a number of advantages over cardio when it comes to developing muscle and bone health. To begin with, resistance exercises stimulate the growth of both muscle and bone tissue, while cardio does not. This is because muscle and bone cells grow in response to stress that is created by resistance. Additionally, strength training helps to improve your posture, balance and coordination, making daily activities easier. Furthermore, research suggests that regular strength training can help protect against age-related muscle and bone loss, increasing functionality and reducing the risk of falls.
Cardio provides additional benefits such as helping to burn calories and aiding heart health, but for maximum muscle and bone health, strength training cannot be beaten. When combined with a balanced diet and sufficient rest, strength training can offer a host of exciting rewards for your body and mind.
What Is Strength Training Equipment?
Strength training requires the use of various types of equipment, from free weights to workout benches to fitness machines. Free weights are some of the most common and versatile strength training tools. Examples of free weights include barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and medicine balls. Workout benches are frequently used for additional strength training exercises, such as chest presses or shoulder presses. Fitness machines provide a more stable platform for strength training, allowing you to complete exercises with strict form and alignment. Common strength training machines include leg press, cable machines, and Smith machines.
Benefits of Strength Training Equipment
Strength training equipment is essential for performing a variety of exercises and achieving better results. Free weights allow for multiple angles of movement, providing a greater range of motion. Workout benches allow you to perform exercises in an elevated position, improving stability and form. Fitness machines provide increased safety and a more controlled range of motion, which can be beneficial for beginners.
Safety Considerations for Strength Training Equipment
Before using any strength training equipment, it is important to familiarize yourself with proper form and technique. Improper form can cause injury or strain. When using free weights, make sure to use the correct body position, keep the weight close to your body, and control the weight during the entire movement. Using a workout bench or fitness machine, always adjust the seat to the correct height for your body, and use caution when adding weight plates or changing settings.
Strength training is a great way to build muscle and bone health, but it’s important to remember safety first. Proper form and technique should be maintained when performing any strength exercises to reduce the risk of injury. Here are some tips for staying safe while strength training:
- Always warm up and cool down before and after a workout.
- Choose the right weight for each exercise; too much weight can lead to injury.
- Practice proper form and technique to get the most out of your workouts and reduce the risk of injury.
- Be mindful of your body and don’t push yourself too hard. Take breaks when needed.
- Listen to your body and stop immediately if you feel any pain or discomfort.
If you are just starting out with strength training, it is important to seek guidance from a qualified trainer or coach for proper instruction on technique and form. Also, make sure to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity, frequency, and level of difficulty as you gain experience and confidence.
Sample Strength Training Exercises
Strength training exercises are a great way to improve muscle and bone health. A few examples of strength training exercises to help build muscle and bone health include:
- Push-Ups: Push-ups are an excellent upper body exercise that works out your chest, shoulder, and triceps muscles. Start by lying flat on your stomach with your hands placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Push down and off the ground, extending your arms until they are straight.
- Crunches: Crunches are a great core exercise that strengthens your abdominal muscles. Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head, then raise your shoulders towards the ceiling. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly lower your back onto the floor.
- Squats: Squats are a lower body exercise that targets your glutes, hamstrings, Quadriceps, and core. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back, bending your knees until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Ensure your chest is lifted and your knees remain in line with your toes. Slowly rise back up to the standing position.
- Bent-Over Rows: Bent-over rows are an upper body exercise that works out your biceps, lats and shoulders. Begin by holding a weighted barbell with both hands, palms facing inward. Bend your knees and lower your torso at a 45-degree angle towards the ground, extending your arms straight down so that the barbell is held near the ground. Bend your elbows and pull the barbell upward, towards your chest, pause, then lower it back down.
- Lunges: Lunges are great for improving balance and flexibility. Start by standing with your feet hip width apart. Take one large step forward with your right leg and sink into a lunge. Make sure your front knee does not go beyond your toes. Hold for a few seconds, then press back up to the starting position.
Strength training exercises can be adapted for any fitness level. For more ideas, speak to a qualified trainer who can guide you through the different exercises and movements needed to build and maintain a healthy body.
Sample Strength Training Plans
Beginning and advanced strength training programs are different in terms of intensity, duration, and exercises. Starting any kind of strength training program requires the knowledge of what exercises to do, how much and how often, and how long each session should last. Here are some sample strength training plans that you can use as a starting point to develop your own program.
Beginner Strength Training Plan
A beginner strength training program typically lasts three to four weeks and is designed to get someone used to the basics of strength training. The goal is to get familiar with the exercise techniques and how to use the equipment safely. A typical program consists of two to three workouts per week and the exercises are done at a moderate intensity. An example of a beginner strength training plan includes the following:
- Monday: Chest and Shoulders – Push-Ups, Incline Bench Press, Overhead Press/Military Press, Bent-Over Rows.
- Wednesday: Back and Arms – Lat Pulldowns, Seated Rows, Bicep Curls, Tricep Extensions.
- Friday: Core and Legs – Squats, Lunges, Planks, Crunches.
Advanced Strength Training Plan
An advanced strength training program builds on the basics of the beginner program and increases the intensity and duration of the exercises. The goal of an advanced program is to increase muscle mass and strength while improving endurance. An example of an advanced strength training plan includes the following:
- Monday: Chest and Shoulders – Flat Bench Press, Incline Dumbbell Press, Overhead Barbell Press, Bent-Over Rows.
- Tuesday: Cardio – Running or High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for 30 minutes.
- Wednesday: Back and Arms – Weighted Pull-Ups, Seated Cable Rows, Barbell Curls, Tricep Kickbacks.
- Thursday: Core and Legs – Deadlifts, Squats, Step-Ups, Leg Press.
- Friday: Cardio – Cycling or Swimming for 30 minutes.
Always remember to warm up before each workout, and cool down afterwards. Stretching exercises and foam rolling are important for injury prevention and improved mobility.
How to Assess Progress and Set Goals
Tracking progress is essential for any strength training program. To assess your progress, take measurements and track changes in body composition over time. Some effective measures of progress include body weight, body fat percentage, circumference measurements, and strength gains. Additionally, regular photos or videos can give a good overview of your progress.
Once you have assessed your progress, you can set realistic and achievable goals for the next phase of your program. Make sure your goals align with your fitness level and that they are attainable in your remaining time frame. You may also consider enlisting the help of a personal trainer to assist with goal setting. Finally, ensure that your program includes progressive overload, which means gradually increasing the difficulty level of your workouts as you reach your goals.
A Nutrition Primer for Strength Training
Proper nutrition is a critical component of any strength training program, as the diet a person consumes can directly influence their ability to build muscle and achieve bone health. Eating the right foods helps the body reach its full potential and provides necessary fuel for each and every workout. Here are a few nutrition basics to keep in mind when starting strength training.
Calorie intake should be adjusted depending on an individual’s goals and activity level. Generally, people who strength train need more calories than those who do not. For those focused on increasing strength and muscle size, an extra 200-500 calories per day is recommended. However, it is important to note that the amount of calories consumed should always reflect the amount of calories burned off during exercise. When trying to lose weight through strength training, aim for a slight calorie deficit of about 200-300 calories per day, which can help produce a steady rate of weight loss.
An adequate intake of protein is essential for optimal muscle growth and bone health. Protein helps the body repair and build muscle tissue after strength training workouts, making it an especially important part of any strength training diet. Consuming 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day is recommended. Good sources of protein include lean meats, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes and soy products.
Carbohydrates and Fat
Carbs are the body’s primary source of energy, and should make up the bulk of an individual’s daily caloric intake (about 45-65% of total calories). Good sources of carbs include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and starchy foods such as potatoes, rice, and pasta. Fat is essential for providing the body with nourishment, and should make up 20-35% of total calorie intake. Healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, avocados, olive oil, and nuts can help boost energy levels and improve recovery time from intense workouts.
Hydration is important for any type of fitness regimen, but it is especially essential for strength training due to the large amounts of sweat typically lost during workouts. Aim to drink 12 to 16 ounces of water before each session and 16 to 24 ounces of water or sports drink during each workout session. Staying hydrated helps maintain energy levels as well as prevent dehydration, cramps, and heat exhaustion.
Protein supplements, like shakes and bars, are often used by strength trainees to ensure enough of this macronutrient is consumed on a daily basis. Supplements may also be recommended if it is difficult to get all of the necessary nutrients from food alone. However, whole food sources are always ideal, as they provide more nutrition than processed supplements. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any medications or supplements.
Common Mistakes and Misconceptions
When it comes to strength training, there are a few common mistakes and misconceptions that often prevent people from achieving their goals. Many beginners fail to properly warm up before beginning a workout. Warming up is essential for preparing the body for exercise, increasing heart rate and blood flow, and helping reduce the risk of injury. Another mistake beginners make is focusing on one muscle group too much. It’s important to vary the exercises you do so that you’re targeting all muscles equally in order to promote balance and symmetry.
Many people also think they can build muscle quickly by lifting very heavy weights. However, this is not the case. It is recommended to focus on technique and control of the weight when strength training. Using heavier weights than you are able to control does more harm than good. Lastly, many strength training programs don’t incorporate stretching as part of the exercises. Stretching is an important part of muscle and bone health, allowing muscles to lengthen and relax after a workout.
Strength training is an effective and efficient way to build muscle and maintain bone health. It provides benefits that are superior to cardio and can be performed safely with the right equipment and technique. With a sample strength training program and proper nutrition plan, most individuals will be able to see noticeable results within a few weeks. Strength training provides an opportunity to improve overall physical health while increasing mental and emotional wellbeing. With enough practice, it can become a lifelong activity.
We hope this guide has provided valuable insights into the role of strength training in building muscle and bone health. We encourage readers to take this knowledge and use it to make informed decisions about their physical activity program. Careful planning and commitment will help ensure that results are realized and maintained.
Finding extra information on muscle and bone health, strength training, and nutrition can be difficult. To make it a little easier, we’ve compiled a few reputable online resources that might help you on your strength training journey.
- American College of Sports Medicine – The ACSM offers an extensive library of free resources and programs about various aspects of physical activity, fitness, and health, including strength training.
- The Mayo Clinic – The Mayo Clinic’s website contains many articles on strength training, nutrition, and fitness.
- The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) – The NSCA provides educational materials and resources, including books and videos, on strength training and building muscle.
- BodyBuilding.com – BodyBuilding.com is a popular website with a wealth of information about strength training and how to build muscle.