3.63 Basic Concepts for Strength Training

Here are some basic concepts, mistakes to avoid and simple rules to keep in mind as you start strength training in order to make your exercise safe, effective and enjoyable.

Warm-up: Your warm-up for strength training should actually be aerobic activity. Walk briskly on the treadmill for 10 minutes, ride a stationary bike or use the elliptical. This helps warm up your muscles to get you ready to strength train.

Start Light: You really should start out much lighter than you think. Starting with weights that are too heavy will lead to soreness, discomfort and even injury. As a general rule, you should be able to easily do 8-12 reps of a given exercise without fatigue at the end of your first set. If you have a hard time doing this on the first set, go for a lighter weight on the second set. If you are getting fatigued, you will find yourself using other muscle groups to compensate, which can lead to injury. Don’t let this happen.

Don’t Start Too Light: While it is important to be safe and not start too heavy, starting too light will not get you as many results or benefits. If you can do 20-30 reps of a given exercise easily without muscle fatigue, it is probably too light. Also, once you can do 3 sets of 8-12 reps completely without losing form or getting too fatigued at the end of the 3rd set, then it is time to go a little heavier on the weight.

Start Slow: Your exercise motions should be nice and fluid, while being relatively slow. Fast and jerky movements put too much strain on the joints and can lead to injury. Watch the pace in the videos that you find in your HeartStrong.com Heart Health Programs and you will get the idea. Each rep should take 3-5 seconds. Do not move too quickly or you will lose concentration and form which can lead to injury. Remember, slow and controlled.

Breathing: Be sure to breath out as you are doing the heavy work and breath in during the times of less work. Failing to breath properly or holding your breath can result in temporary high increases in your blood pressure.

Reps/Sets: For a majority of strength training exercises you should try to do 8-12 reps and a total of 3 sets. Your muscles should be fatigued significantly toward the end of the 3rd set. If your form starts to suffer due to muscle fatigue or you don’t think you can make it through the 3rd set, you should stop. Rest for about a minute, then try to finish the set with good form.

Rest Between Sets: The right amount of time to rest is about 60-90 seconds in between sets. Resting too short will not give your muscles time to recover. Resting too long lets your heart rate come down and does not keep the pace of exercise going. When doing circuit training there is frequently no rest between circuits, but here we are talking about strength training.

Rest Between Workouts: Be sure to rest any specific muscle group at least 2 days before another strength training session. Strength training 2 days weekly makes this easy. You can chose to do a whole body workout each day with at least 2 days in between or you could just work your upper body one day and your lower body the next day. Resting your muscles is crucial to allow them to heal, grow and most importantly, prevent injury.

Frequency: Significant strength gains can happen exercising a muscle group just once weekly. Even greater gains can happen if you work a muscle group twice weekly. If you try to go to three times weekly for any specific muscle group, then the gains are not as great (less time for the muscle to repair and grow) and the risk of injury is higher (overworking the muscle). For twice weekly strength training routine, most people do two full body workouts mixing up the exercises or the do an upper body routine one day of the week and a lower body routine another day of the week. Core exercises can be done more frequently without as high of a risk of injury.

Compound Exercises: The best and most effective exercises are those that use large muscle groups. The more muscle you are using during an exercise, the more calories you burn and the more muscle you will end up gaining. Doing a simple exercise like a biceps curl is considered an “isolation” exercise since only one muscle is being used. Some good compound exercises include:

  1. Bench press
  2. Lat pull-down
  3. Squatting

Dumbbells: A complete upper or lower body strength training program can be done in your home with only dumbbells. To do this at home, you will need a complete set of dumbbells ranging from 2.5 lbs up to about 25 lbs and maybe more depending on your strength level.

Machines: While there are some all-in-one strength training machines that you can purchase for your home, using machines for strength training is better done in a gym. This way each machine is completely designed for that one exercise making it easier and less likely for injury.

Pulleys: These can be helpful as well. You can use these to strengthen pretty much every muscle group in multiple different motions with varying resistances.

Resistance bands: These can be very helpful to reproduce many of the exercises that normally require equipment at the gym, such as the lat pulldown. They come in different lengths and resistances.

Calisthenics: This is using you own bodyweight for strength training, such as pull-ups, pushups and situps. These will be a part of your HeartStrong.com Heart Health Program.

Soreness: You will have some muscle soreness the first time you work a muscle group that will start about 12-48 hours after the workout. The soreness will go away within 3-4 days and the next time you work that muscle group, the soreness will be less or there will be none at all. This is called “delayed onset muscle soreness” or “DOMS”.

Complete Workout: A complete workout during strength training is considered 8-12 reps and 3 sets of about 8-10 different exercises targeting multiple muscle groups. Each workout should last about an hour, but no longer. It is always important to work larger muscle groups first, then smaller muscle groups, and work the core muscles last. Fatiguing your core muscles at the start of a workout may lead to poor form and injury.

Spot-Reduction: This is one mistake to avoid. Exercising a certain area (i.e. abdominal muscles or triceps) WILL NOT reduce the amount of fat in that area. People looking to get rid of their “gut” will not succeed if they only do sit-ups. Losing fat is a whole body process. Aerobic exercise, strength training and of course a healthy diet are all effective to reduce overall body fat percentage and will reduce the size of your gut and all fat in the body.

Now we will discuss some examples of specific exercises for upper body, lower body and core strength training, including which muscle groups they target and the proper form. There are hundreds of different exercises and they are not all covered on HeartStrong.com. There are many great online resources for strength training.

The exercises will be separated into exercises that you would usually have to do at the gym, due to the equipment they require, and exercises that you can do at home with dumbbells or your own bodyweight.

HeartStrong.com ©2023