Strength Training: Build Muscle and Strength with Routine

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Last Updated:
March 1, 2024

No workout regime is complete without strength training. Despite the numerous physical and mental health benefits of lifting weights, only 1 in 4 Americans meet both the aerobic and resistance training exercise guidelines (1)

Whether you are a beginner looking to get started or an experienced lifter seeking to refine your approach, this guide will provide insights to optimize your strength training routine.

What is Strength Training?

The main objective of strength training, also known as weight or resistance training, is to enhance muscular strength, endurance, and mass through repeated muscle contractions against resistance.

Strength training offers benefits across the lifespan. When you incorporate strength training into your routine, you’ll see enhanced athletic performance and a multitude of benefits to your overall health. As you age, strength training maintains muscle mass and bone density, promoting functional independence and reducing the risk of falls. 

Understanding Strength Training

Strength training, otherwise known as weight training or resistance training, is a muscle-strengthening form of exercise. Your body faces a new force in strength training, and with repetition and different loading patterns, your body adapts over time with enhanced neuromuscular control and greater strength. 

Following each strength training workout, your muscles go through muscle protein synthesis, where muscle cells go through molecular and enzymatic changes to repair the muscle fibers damaged during the exercise. The result: stronger or even larger muscles with better neuromuscular control.

Your strength program can be geared towards your specific goal, whether to gain maximal strength, increase muscle mass (or hypertrophy), or simply support your other lifestyle and sports activities. Strength training makes you more efficient and powerful in all your movements, enhancing quality of life and sport performance. 

Strength training comes in many forms. You can use your body weight for resistance, such as in calisthenics, or you can use added load through free weights (dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells), machines (pin-loaded, pneumatic, or digital), or in variable resistance (resistance bands or chains). 

8 Benefits of Strength Training

Strength training can help you reach your healthiest self, boasting benefits across multiple body systems and enhancing physical and mental health. Here are eight health benefits you’ll see when you stay consistent in your strength training program: 

  1. Builds strength and endurance: As the name suggests, strength training is the most direct way to enhance muscle strength, muscular endurance, and muscle hypertrophy (2). You will see vast improvements in these outcomes when you first start strength training, and then by manipulating different training variables, you can build sustainable strength over your lifetime.
     
  2. Enhances bone density: Your bones depend on force to maintain strength as you age. When you add force with strength training or weight-bearing exercises, like running or jumping, you see an improvement in bone mineral density–reducing your risk of osteoporosis and potential bone fractures (3).
  3. Strengthens immune response: Strength training builds muscle tissue, which secretes myokines that have a protective effect on health, even playing a role in reducing illness rates in extreme cases of COVID-19 (4)
  4. Improves movement patterns: Strength training improves your mind-body connection so your muscles and tendons can react more efficiently and with more power in life and sport, which means you can move faster, change directions, or stop yourself from falling simply by adding strength sessions a few times a week (5)
  5. Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease: Strength training aids in improving blood pressure, insulin resistance, cholesterol, body composition, arterial stiffness, and systemic inflammation–all of which are direct or indirect cardiovascular risk factors that may lead to developing heart disease (6)
  6. Makes you feel happier and less stressed: Overwhelming evidence suggests that consistent strength training is associated with reduced symptoms of perceived stress, anxiety, and depression and improved mood and energy levels (7)(8)(9)
  7. Sharpens your thinking: Studies show strength training improves cognitive function and memory by increasing blood flow to the brain and potentially releasing proteins, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) or insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) (10).
  8. Boosts metabolic health: Strength training helps to make you more sensitive to insulin and reduces visceral body fat by building more lean muscle (11). As a result, your body can efficiently use and transport glucose, improve body composition (body fat), and reduce your risk of chronic metabolic conditions.  

Essential Strength Training Exercises

A holistic strength program challenges the muscles in various ways, including multi-joint and single-joint exercises and bilateral (both sides) and unilateral (one side) exercises. The three major lifts to build total-body strength include squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. Traditionally performed with a barbell, you can perform them with dumbbells, kettlebells, or weight machines. These three exercises can also be expanded to include shoulder press and pull-up, or lat pull-down.   

Another way to think about your program is by using major movement patterns: push, pull, hinge, squat, and loaded carry. However you conceptualize your exercise choice, including all the major muscle groups throughout the week for a balanced program.

Here are some tips to ensure you safely get the most out of your strength workouts: 

  • Focus on building a full range of motion in a movement before adding weight. 
  • If you’re using a new weight or lifting to failure, ask someone to spot you. 
  • Use progressions, like elevating your feet in a push-up, for an extra challenge.
  • Modify an exercise, like elevating your hands in a push-up, to meet your current fitness levels. 
  • Perform a warm-up to prepare you for your workout with active flexibility, general aerobic exercise, or lighter sets of the exercises you plan to perform.
  • Take time for a cool-down following your strength workout, particularly after heavy lifting, to return your body to rest. 
  • Maintain proper form with a mirror or video, or work with a personal trainer to refine your exercise technique. 

With the proper preparation and special attention to good form and technique, you can safely progress your training to build strength, endurance, and power.  

Crafting a Strength Training Routine

How you program your frequency, intensity, volume, and rest periods is based on your workout goals and current exercise habits.  You can fine-tune your workouts to foster a specific adaptation as you progress and set specific goals like maximal strength, endurance, hypertrophy, or power.

How much total volume you accumulate over the week can guide progression. Research indicates that working up to a total weekly volume of around ten sets per muscle group per week is a strong starting point for muscular strength and hypertrophy (12). You can adjust your intensity, sets, repetitions, and rest periods around the general program recommendations for resistance training adapted from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (13)

If you’re just starting to incorporate physical activity into your routine, two full-body workouts that target all the major muscle groups may suffice to create an adaptation. Alternatively, when your volume per muscle group starts to get too challenging to perform in just two workouts, you can expand into a 3-, 4-, or 5-day split routine. 

You can use progressive overload to adapt to new demands over time to avoid performance plateaus. Your regimen should be specific to your goals and individual needs because no one program creates the same adaptation across different people. Rest and recovery are crucial to maximize strength and hypertrophy to facilitate muscle protein synthesis.

Nutrition and Supplementation for Strength Training

To see actual results in the gym, dialing in your nutrition to support your resistance exercise routine is essential. When your muscle cells undergo muscle protein synthesis, the protein you take in in your diet plays a substantial role in the cell’s ability to repair. Adequate protein (aim for 1.6-2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight daily) will support your strength and hypertrophy efforts. 

Resistance exercise relies heavily on high-intensity energy pathways, which will require carbohydrates. In fact, adequate glycogen storage can stimulate muscle protein synthesis following a workout (14)

A well-balanced diet that includes protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables is a sustainable way to support your strength training. In addition, studies suggest creatine provides unique benefits for muscular performance when you are regularly weight training (15)

Advanced Strength Training Concepts

When you’re strength training consistently year-round, periodization becomes important to structure your training program into different training phases, each with its own specific goal and intensity level. This systematic approach prepares you for long-term strength development to prevent plateaus and overtraining while maximizing progress. 

By varying the intensity, volume, and type of exercises over time, periodization keeps the body challenged and continuously adapting, leading to more significant gains in strength and muscle mass. Additionally, periodization allows for proper recovery periods, reducing the risk of injury and ensuring the body can repair and grow stronger between workouts. 

To keep your workout fresh and challenging, you can vary advanced loading patterns like drop sets, accentuated eccentric loading, compound sets, forced reps, and accommodated resistance. Most importantly, long-term strength and hypertrophy gains come from long-term consistency. 

Conclusion

Strength training is a fundamental component of fitness that offers countless benefits for individuals of all ages. With consistent weight training, you can expect to see improved athletic performance, increased bone density, enhanced metabolic health, and better mental well-being. 

Whether you're a beginner or an experienced lifter, understanding the principles of strength training and implementing them into your fitness regimen can help you achieve your health and fitness goals.

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Strength Training FAQs

How often should I do strength training each week?

First, consider your total volume per muscle group per week; aim to progressively reach at least 10 sets per muscle group per week. 

How many days a week should I do strength training for optimal results?

If you’re just starting out in your program, two full-body workouts might suffice for optimal results to build muscle and strength. You may then be able to schedule 3 full-body workouts or split into a 4- or 5-day routine, whatever works best for your schedule.

What are the health benefits of strength training?

Strength training boasts a myriad of health benefits including improved insulin sensitivity, bone density, executive function, cardiovascular health, quality of life, and even improved longevity.

What are strength exercises?

Any type of repetitive exercise that resists an external load.

How do you strength train for beginners?

Strength training is effective for all fitness levels. Even just adding one set of resistance training per muscle group can have health benefits. Work up to two strength training routines per week of all the major muscle groups, using your own body weight, free weights, or weight machines.

What are the big five strength training?

The big five exercises include bench press, deadlift, squat, shoulder press, and pull-up (or lat-pulldown). The major movement patterns include push, pull, hinge, squat, and loaded carry.

Can I do strength training at home?

Yes, you can start with bodyweight exercises, and as you progress, you can use household items like canned goods or a jug of milk to add resistance to your body weight. Consider purchasing free-weight equipment, resistance bands, a connected fitness device, or joining a local gym from there.

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Cite this page:

Reiner, S. “Strength Training Basics: Build Muscle and Strength with a Personalized Routine” AIM7.com, March 1, 2024, www.aim7.com/exercise/resistance-training/strength

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