Strength training doesn’t necessarily mean you want to be a bodybuilder and look like Arnie.
No matter what your age or athletic ability is, strength training can be beneficial to your mobility and performance.
The truth is everyone can strength train and it doesn’t need to take hours in the gym to begin to see results.
Throughout this article, we’ll look at strength training, offer advice on strength training at home and look at the best strength training exercises.
What is strength training?
Let’s start with the basics.
Strength training or resistance training as it’s also known is exercising using your own body weight or tools to help you build muscle mass, strength and stamina.
Basically, you use your own bodyweight against some type of resistance, such as:
- Your body weight (we’ll explain)
- Free weights, like dumbbells or barbells
- Resistance bands
- Resistance machines
If you’re new to the weights room it can be an intimidating place to be.
The good thing about strength training is that it’s a pretty versatile kind of workout that you can do almost anywhere.
Yes, it’s popular in many gyms. But you can also build your own strength training routine in the comfort and privacy of your own home.
Why is strength training important?
If you’re looking to reduce body fat, increase lean muscle mass and efficiently burn more calories, strength training could be the way forward.
The disappointing fact here is that, as you get older your lean muscle mass will naturally reduce with age.
Your body fat percentage increases naturally over time if you choose not to do anything to replace the lean muscle that you lose.1
The good news is that strength training exercises can help protect and improve your muscle mass at any age.
How can you test your strength?
The easiest way to test your current strength is to try how many press-ups you can do over a three minute period.
Only count the push-ups where you lower yourself far enough to bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
A fit 30-year-old adult man should be able to do at least 20 push-ups. Women should be able to perform around 15 push-ups.
8 benefits of strength training
Strength training may also help:
Increase bone density
One 2018 study suggests that Strength training may help you increase your bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that weakens your bones.2
Help with weight management
Another study from 2015 found that strength training can help you better manage your weight.
Using your own body weight may also help you increase your metabolism to help you burn more calories.3
Increase your quality of life
By doing strength training you may also improve your quality of life. You may also see improvements in everyday activities as your muscle mass builds.
Strength training may also help protect you from injury, particularly in your joints.
This can be particularly helpful for people as they get older as it can help contribute to better balance and the risk of falls, helping you keep your independence for a little longer.4
May manage chronic conditions
For the same reason, doing a regular strength workout out may help you warn off the early signs and symptoms of some persistent conditions, including:
- Back pain
- Cardiovascular disease
May improve mental power
It’s no secret that exercise can help improve your brainpower, and strength training is no different.
One research study suggests that regularly participating in a strength training program may increase your thinking and learning skills, particularly as you get older.
Improve your energy levels
Again, it’s fairly common to know that exercise can lift your energy levels.
However, in terms of strength training, one study found that carrying out a strength training program over a six month period saw an increase in energy in both men and women.5
Improve balance and posture
As you get older your balance and posture may suffer as a result.
One 2015 study looked at 80 male and female participants who trained regularly using strength training workouts.
The results found that there was some improvement in balance and posture following the trial.6
Improve your mood and wellbeing
A Harvard University study found that people who do strength and conditioning workouts two or more times a week have an improved mood.
The trial, which included over 1,800 people found that there was a “significant change” in the mood for those who took part in the research.7
How do I start strength training?
If you’ve decided that you want to start your own strength training workout, the first step is likely to be that you have enough space to exercise comfortably.
This can be at home or in a gym if you wish.
Normally you’d begin at home. So, you’ll want to find an area big enough for you to move your arms and legs freely.
You won’t need much equipment in the first instance, but if you did want to invest in anything, then you might want to look at items such as:
- An exercise mat
- Resistance bands
- A kettlebell – choose a suitable weight
- A stability ball
- A medicine ball
If you don’t want to jump straight in with dumbbells or a kettlebell, you can improvise!
You can try using water bottles, sandbags, canned goods or whatever takes your fancy instead of weights.
Before you start your workout, it might be a good idea to do a warmup.
This will allow your muscles to warm up properly before you start working them properly. You can do this by doing any of the following for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Brisk walking
- Jogging on the spot
- Movements of the arms, legs and other main muscle groups
3 Strength training tips for beginners
Here are our top tips for beginners who want to start strength training...
Start with a manageable weight
Try and use your judgement when picking your weight and how many repetitions (reps) you do.
For example, if you’re struggling on rep 2 of 10, then the weight is too heavy. You ideally want to be getting to rep 8-10 and find it challenging, but not too much.
From this, you start to build your strength and gradually increase the weight load from week to week.
Take the time to warm up properly
Taking your time to warm up properly is really important. It’s a bit like letting oil heat up in the pan before you start cooking.
Allow yourself 5 to 10 minutes of light cardio before exercise.
Don’t exercise to exhaustion
Try not completely empty the tank when doing strength and conditioning exercises.
One 2016 study noted that working too hard can actually have a negative effect, particularly for beginners.8
What are the 5 basic strength training exercises?
When you’re starting out, and you’re all warmed up, you can start with a few simple bodyweight exercises to get you started.
You won’t need any equipment for these, except maybe a mat or towel if the floor in the area you are using is too hard.
Try and keep a smooth, steady and controlled movement through each of the following movements.
The lunge is a simple exercise that works the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves and other muscles in your lower body.
How to do lunges
Start by standing up tall, feet shoulder-width apart.
Step forward with your right foot and lower your hips toward the floor until your right leg is at a 90-degree angle and your left knee is parallel to the ground. Make sure your front knee doesn’t go beyond your toes.
Lengthen your spine to keep your torso upright.
Hold this position for 5 seconds or longer.
Then step your right foot back to meet your left and repeat this movement with your left leg.
Repeat 10 to 12 times, then rest briefly and do another set.
Squat to overhead raise
You can complete this exercise with or without weights. In the early stages of strength build, it’s as much about form as anything.
Strength training without weights can be beneficial while you build up to using light dumbbells or an alternative and increase the weight as your strength builds.
The squat to overhead raise is a great exercise to work your glutes and leg muscles.
If done correctly you should also feel the muscles in your core, back and shoulders, as well as your triceps.
How to do a squat to overhead raise
Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips and your arms alongside your body.
Slowly lower your hips down into a squat position.
Press up to come back into standing and raise your arms overhead.
Return to the starting position.
Do 1–3 sets of 8–12 repetitions.
If you’ve done any strength or conditioning classes before, you may be familiar with the plank.
Plans are an excellent way to exercise and improve your core strength and stability.
Over time you will also notice that the plank can also strengthen the muscles in your back, chest and shoulders.
How to do a plank
Rest on your forearms and toes only, keeping your body in a straight line with your buttocks clenched and your abdominal muscles engaged.
Try to hold this position for 30 seconds. If that’s too hard, start with 20 seconds.
As you gain strength and fitness, try to hold the plank position for 1 minute or longer.
Once you have mastered the plan you can try a more challenging version by lifting one leg at a time while you’re holding the plank position.
The press up or push up is perhaps one of the more common strength exercises.
They’re a great test of strength and when done properly can work the chest muscles, as well as your shoulders, triceps and abdominals.
How to do a press up
Start in a plank position with your palms directly under your shoulders.
Keeping your back flat and bracing your core, lower your body by bending your elbows until your chest almost touches the floor.
Immediately push your body back up to the starting position.
Repeat 8–12 times. Start with 1–2 sets and build up to 3 sets as you get stronger.
If you are finding this exercise difficult, you can do an easier version by putting the weight on your knees instead of your toes.
A less challenging version of the press up can be done by putting your weight on your knees instead of your toes.
Again, the sit is probably one of the more popular or well-known exercises for a strength workout at home.
It’s a fairly simple exercise that you can do as part of your strength workout at home.
How to do a sit up
Lie down on your back.
Bend your legs and place your feet firmly on the ground to stabilise your lower body.
Cross your hands to opposite shoulders or place them behind your ears, without pulling on your neck.
Curl your upper body all the way up toward your knees.
5 strength exercises you can do at home
Read on to find out our top exercises that you can do at home...
Free weight exercises
We have five good free weight exercises for you to try at home.
Ideally, you should start with a 5-pound dumbbell or something of equivalent weight.
Once you have managed to build up your strength you can switch to 8 or 10 pounds.
You can use alternatives to dumbbells such as canned goods or water bottles, just make sure you grip them properly to avoid injury.
Dumbbell shoulder press
The dumbbell shoulder press targets your shoulders, arms and can also strengthen your core and chest muscles.
How to do a dumbbell shoulder press
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Pick up the dumbbells and raise them to shoulder height. Your palms can face forward or toward your body.
Raise the dumbbells above your head until your arms are fully extended.
Pause in this position for a few seconds, and then bring the dumbbells back to shoulder height.
Do 1–3 sets of 8–12 repetitions.
Dumbbell triceps kickback
How to do a dumbbell tricep kickback
Grab two dumbbells and hold one in each hand.
Bend your torso at a 45-degree angle, and bend your elbows so they form a 90-degree angle.
Then straighten your arms out directly behind you, engaging your triceps as you go.
You can either do one arm at a time or both together.
If you’re a beginner, start with 1–2 sets of 8–12 reps, and build up to 3 sets as you get stronger.
Resistance band exercise
Resistance bands are a lightweight and versatile tool that can help strengthen your muscles. They work by resisting against your body weight.
A study from 2010 found that your muscles will be worked just as hard with resistance bands as they would with free weights or weight machines.8
Resistance band pull apart
This exercise works the muscles in your back, shoulders, and arms.
How to do a resistance band pull apart
Stand with your arms extended out in front of you at chest height.
Hold a resistance band tautly with both hands. The band should be parallel to the ground.
Keeping your arms straight, pull the band toward your chest by moving your arms outward to your sides. Initiate this movement from your mid-back.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together, and keep your spine straight, then slowly return to the starting position.
Do 1–3 sets of 15–20 reps.
This exercise works the muscles in your hips and legs. You’ll start with a light- to medium-resistance band to do this exercise.
How to do a hip extension
Loop the resistance band around both your ankles. You can use a chair or wall for balance.
Keeping a straight line in your body, pull your left leg back as far as you can, keeping it as straight as possible.
Slowly return to the starting position.
Complete 12 reps with your left leg, then repeat with your right leg.
Complete 2 sets on each side to start, and work up to doing 3 sets as you build up your strength.
Resistance band leg press
This exercise works your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. Like a leg press on a weight machine, this exercise makes you work against gravity.
How to do a resistance band leg press
Lie on your back and lift your feet off the ground.
Bend your knees, creating a 90-degree angle. Flex your feet, pointing your toes upward.
Wrap the resistance band around your feet and hold the ends.
Press your feet against the bands until your legs are fully extended.
Bend your knees to return to a 90-degree angle.
Do 1–3 sets of 10–12 reps.
When can you expect to see results?
You need to spend hours a day in the gym, lifting weights and dumbbells to see results.
You can see improvement in your strength training when you do two or three 20 to 30-minute strength-training sessions a week.
The warm down is just important as the warm-up.
Finish each workout by cooling down for 5 to 10 minutes.
This allows your heart rate to lower naturally. You can try walking on the spot or gentle muscle stretches, which will help the muscles recover.
Strength training summary
Strength training is a great way to build lean muscle mass, burn calories and help your metabolism.
Doing 20 to 30 minutes of strength training, two to three times a week can help you burn body fat and help you lose weight quickly.
For the best results, you should also look at eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.
If you have any concerns you should speak to your GP or a health professional about what sort of exercises might be best for you and your lifestyle.
Last updated: 10 November 2021