Strength Training 101: Where to Start (Exercises & Routines)

So you want to get strong, and you have no idea how to start (like this cat).

In this Beginner Strength Training Guide (part 2 of our Strength 101 series) – you’ll have both the confidence to start getting strong AND a plan to follow.

We’ll be covering the following:

How do I start strength training?
Which strength training program is right for me?
Best strength training workouts for beginners.
How much weight should I lift?
The 9 best strength training exercises.
Strength training for weight loss.
“Just TELL ME What Strength Program I should do.”

These are the exact strategies we use with our 1-on-1 Coaching Clients to help them build confidence and start strength training, and I’m excited to cover all of this in this massive guide.

This is also quite a lot to absorb, so we’ve combined this article along with the rest of our strength articles into a “Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know” guide. Grab it free when you join the Rebellion by putting your email in the box below.

Download our comprehensive guide STRENGTH TRAINING 101!
Everything you need to know about getting strong.
Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training.
How to find the right gym and train properly in one.

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How Do I Start Strength Training?

Weights like these are great tools for strength training.

Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life.

You’ll look back years from now and thank “Past You” for starting strength training today. And I promise, you WILL strength train today.

After all, strength training doesn’t need to be scary or overcomplicated!

Strength training really comes down to two things:

“Movement of any weight (including your body weight) – Doing ANY exercise that pushes your muscles outside of their comfort zone, forcing them to rebuild stronger to prepare the next challenge.
Progressive overload: doing slightly more than last time (lift heavier weight or do 1 more rep) consistently. Your muscles will have constantly have to adapt and will constantly be rebuilding themselves stronger.

That’s it.

This means if you drop down and do ONE knee push-up right now, technically you’ve done a strength training workout.

It also means if you then do TWO knew push-ups tomorrow, then you are officially following a strength training routine.

In other words, YOU CAN DO THIS.

Like this man says, "You can do it" wants you to start strength training!

Now, there are many different “strength training” paths. Like a “skill tree” in a video game (with branching paths and progressions), you can progress up one path, and mix and match movements from others depending on the situation.

These paths depend on your goals and what equipment you have available to you.

Here are the types of strength training:

BODYWEIGHT TRAINING

Bodyweight training is simply doing an exercise in which your own body is the “weight” you are “lifting.”

Duh.

Batman does bodyweight training for his strength training!

This is the BEST place for anybody – regardless of weight or age – to start their strength training journey.

Why is this the best place to start? Two big reasons:

#1) You always have your body with you (unless you are a ghost, in which case, this is awkward). This means you can work out ANYWHERE with bodyweight training:

Our Beginner Bodyweight Routine in your living room.
Our Hotel Workout in a hotel (obvi).
Our Park Workout in a…well, you get the point.
In a house with a mouse, in a box with a fox. Wait.

#2) Moving your body is the most “human” thing ever! By learning to push and pull and hang and squat and lunge, you are doing what your body is literally designed to do. By getting strong with bodyweight movements, you’re making yourself antifragile and less injury prone.

Bodyweight training isn’t as easy to ‘scale’ as some of the other strength training methods, but you can get REALLY strong with just bodyweight training (working up to advanced movements like handstands, 1-legged squats, and gymnastic ring work).  

DUMBBELL TRAINING

This cartoon uses free weights for his strength training.

Dumbbells are a great first step into the world of weight training and strength training:

Most gyms will have dumbbells, even if it’s a basic gym in your apartment complex.
A set of dumbbells doesn’t take up a lot of room, which means you can have a pair at home without a large footprint.
Dumbbells make it easy to add difficulty to a bodyweight movement: holding dumbbells while doing lunges, for example.
Dumbbell exercises can be less intimidating than barbell training for some, and are a step towards barbell training.
Dumbbells have an added stabilization challenge, and will point out muscle imbalances pretty easily (“oh my right arm is stronger than my left arm.”).
You can scale easily. Once the 10 pound weights become too easy, pick up the 15 pound ones!

KETTLEBELL TRAINING

A kettlebell is essentially a cannonball with a handle on it. They come in any weight imaginable, they don’t take up a lot of room, and can be used in dozens of ways for a great compact workout. Our 20-minute kettlebell workout has 8 simple exercises you can do with just one weight.

Although there are “adjustable kettlebells,” you’ll most likely be working with a single kettlebell, and then adjusting your movements for “progressive overload” (making the workout slightly more difficult each time). If you are a member at a gym, they’ll most likely have multiple kettlebells that you can use to level up.  

BARBELL TRAINING

Male or female, young or old, if your goal is to get strong quickly, use 20 seconds of courage and get comfortable training with a barbell (I’ll help you, I promise):

“Progressive overload” is easy – you simply add weights to either side of the bar, allowing you to progressively lift more and more weight each week.
It’s much easier to go heavy safely – especially for lower body movements like the squat and the deadlift.

The biggest downside to barbell training is that in order to train at home, you need to have purchased a squat rack, a barbell, a bench, and enough weights for your house or garage (which can be an expensive investment, especially when starting out!).

If not, you definitely will need to join a gym membership.

Not sure which path to pick? You’re not alone – this stuff can be overwhelming.

If you want a custom build workout program that is catered to your experience and situation – and grows along with you – check out our 1-on-1 Coaching Program. We get to know you and your goals, will check your form via video, and make adjustments based on your progress!

You can learn more by clicking on the image below:

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Which Strength Training Program is Right for Me?

Push-ups like these are a great way to start strength training (drill instructor optional).

So, what’s the best workout program to start as a beginner?

Realistically, it’s the one that you will actually do.

Barbell training might be optimal in terms of building pure strength quickly, but if you don’t see yourself actually getting to the gym regularly – or you’re too self conscious to enter the free weight section (for now) –  no problem! Start with bodyweight training.

Conversely, bodyweight training might seem convenient and easy to start now, but if you can’t motivate yourself to work out at home, you might be better off joining a gym.

So let’s get you a workout program!

Everyone, including Carlton here, is happy you want to start strength training.

As we cover in our “How to Find the Perfect Workout Plan (for you)”: MOST beginners will be best served by following a “full body” or “total body” routine – a workout that targets every muscle in your body – 2 to 3 times per week, (with a day of rest in between each workout).

This full body workout will have 4-5 big compound movements.

A compound movement is an exercise that recruits LOTS of muscles simultaneously and forces your body to work in unison. An example would be the barbell squat, which recruits every muscle in your core, butt, and legs to work together to lift the weight. This is WAY more efficient – and effective at building pure strength – than doing 5 different isolated leg exercises.

Why do 5 exercises when 1 exercise will get you better results in 20% of the time?

To answer your next question, let me tell you about how many sets and reps you should do as a beginner! As we explain in our “how many sets and reps” guide:

Reps in the 1-5 range build super dense muscle and strength.
Reps in the 6-12 range build equal amounts of muscular power, strength, and size.
Reps in the 12+ range primarily build muscular endurance and size, and improving form.

Many beginner strength programs will encourage you to keep things simple and just do 5 sets of 5 reps for each exercise, in an effort to optimize progress as a beginner interested in strength gains.

I personally encourage people to aim for a weight that they can lift for 8-10 reps. This gives you a chance to really work on your form and lift safely!

The max lifts will come later, my friend. You gotta learn to walk before you can run!

“Steve, which workout plan is better?” 

It depends on your goals!

If your main goal is general fitness and fat loss, doing a circuit style workout will likely help you reach your goals (make sure you see our section below for “strength training for weight loss”).

If your main goal is to get stronger and/or put on muscle, following a more traditional, pure-strength style routine like the above gym workout is going to get you there faster.

TRUTH BOMB: EITHER workout will help you reach nearly any goal provided you do two things:

Eat correctly for your goals too. How you eat will account for 80-90% of your success or failure when it comes to weight loss or bulking up.
Increase the difficulty of your workouts. This is that “progressive overload” stuff we were talking about earlier. Doing 1 more bodyweight squat, lifting 5 more pounds, or completing your circuit 10 seconds faster than last workout. By forcing your body to constantly adapt, your muscles will never get complacent and have to keep burning extra calories and rebuilding themselves stronger.

Depending on your current situation, and how quickly you’re looking to cut through the “trial and error” and get expert guidance, I might have an interesting solution for you.

We have a pretty killer 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program here at Nerd Fitness, where you’ll work with a coach that will build a workout program for your body type and goals, check your form to make sure you’re doing them safety, and even help plan out your nutrition too.

If you want to learn more about our coaching program, you can click in the box below:

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The Best Beginner Strength Training Programs

A gym like this is a great way to strength train, as Darth Vader knows.

“Alright Staci, are there any ‘out of the box’ beginner workout programs I can start following now?”

Yup! Let me share with you some of our suggestions:

Here are 5 workouts you can follow TODAY. Pick the level that you feel most comfortable with, and then level up when you feel ready:

#1) BEGINNER BODYWEIGHT WORKOUT:

Our Beginner Bodyweight Workout has a variety of rep ranges to promote endurance, strength, and cardiovascular health. Complete one set of each exercise and then moving directly onto the next exercise:

20 body weight squats
10 push ups
20 walking lunges
10 dumbbell rows (using a gallon milk jug)
15 second plank
30 jumping Jacks
Repeat for 3 rounds

#2A) BEGINNER NERD FITNESS DUMBBELL WORKOUT

If you are just getting started with dumbbells and you’re looking for a beginner workout program to follow, this is our Level 3 Gym Workout, “Join the Dumbbell Division”:

10 goblet squats
10 push-ups
10 dumbbell rows per side

I knew you’d ask, so here is Goblet Squat video explanation (from the Nerd Fitness Academy):

 

And here is our video on how to do dumbbell rows:

#2B) BEGINNER NERD FITNESS KETTLEBELL WORKOUT

Our Beginner Kettlebell Routine is a workout you do anywhere you have room to swing a kettlebell. So, probably not in a phone booth or a closet or a bathroom stall. But other than that, pretty much anywhere else.

Complete 3 circuits:

8 Halos (each side)
10 Goblet Squats
8 Overhead Presses (each side)
15 Kettlebell Swings
8 Bent Over Rows (each side)
6 Front Rack Reverse Lunge (per side)

#3) BARBELL TRAINING: 2 DAY WORKOUT SPLIT

As we cover in our “how to train in a gym” guide (where we take you from “lost sheep” to “barbell badass”), this routine is a much more focused weight training, strength building workout that gets your feet wet with barbell training. Click on ANY exercise to learn how to do it properly.

NF BEGINNER BARBELL STRENGTH WORKOUT: DAY A

Do 3 rounds of:

10 barbell squats
10 push-ups
10 bodyweight rows

NF BEGINNER BARBELL STRENGTH WORKOUT: DAY B

Do 3 rounds of:

5 barbell Romanian deadlifts
10 push-ups
10 dumbbell rows per arm

WHAT ARE SOME OTHER POPULAR STRENGTH TRAINING PROGRAMS?

#1) The original “Starting Strength” is considered the gold standard beginner barbell weight training program by many. We highly recommend you pick up the actual book if you are serious about barbell training – it’s one of the most important training books you can ever read.

#2) Strong Lifts 5X5: A solid workout program that starts you out very slow, with just the barbell, and helps you master form before you get too heavy. It also keeps things VERY easy with “do 5×5.” Stronglifts has been around for a long time and is a solid program.

#3) Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1: This program allows you a little more freedom to do exercises that you enjoy, or work on personal weaknesses, because you choose some of the assistance work.

Note: You can modify any of the barbell training programs to be done with dumbbells, if that’s what you have at home!

Lastly, you can always write your own workout plan!

However, depending on your current situation, and how quickly you’re looking to cut through the “trial and error” and get expert guidance, I might have an interesting solution for you.!

We have a pretty killer 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program where you’ll work with a coach that will build a workout program for your body type and goals, check your form on each exercise via video, and even help you plan out your nutrition too.

If you want to learn more about our coaching program, you can click in the box below:

Nerd Fitness Coaching Banner

How Much Weight Should I lift?

Is this LEGO lifting too much or too little for his strength training?

We have a FULL resource on how to determine your starting weight for lifting, but I’ll give you the gist here.

The simple to learn but tough to implement answer: lift enough so that you can get through the set, but not too much that you have NO fuel left in the tank at the end.

And then, try to lift sliiiightly more than last time.

How much weight should I start with?

If you are using dumbbells or a kettlebell, always err on the side of “too light” versus “too heavy.” You want to learn the movement correctly and build correct form.
If you are training with a barbell, ALWAYS start with JUST the bar, no matter the exercise (By the way, a standard barbell weighs 45 pounds).

“How fast should I add weight to the bar?”

Here’s my opinion: add the minimum amount of weight each week you can, even if you THINK you can lift more. It’s better to finish a workout full of momentum and say “I can do more!” than defeated and saying “that was too much, crapola.”

Think of it this way, even if you are adding just 5 pounds per week to the bar, within a year you would be lifting 300+ pounds!

So go SLOW. Team NF’s Steve even bought little half pound weights and increases many of his lifts by just 1 pound per week. It’s a big part of how he transformed from Steve Rogers to Captain America.

And if you are looking for this content in easily digestible form, make sure you download our free Strength 101 Guide when you join the rebellion below:

Download our comprehensive guide STRENGTH TRAINING 101!
Everything you need to know about getting strong.
Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training.
How to find the right gym and train properly in one.

I identify as a:

Woman

Man

The 9 Best Strength Training Exercises to Learn

Squats like this are key for strength training.

If you’re new to all this “strength training” stuff, hopping into a program and going from zero to sixty might be a recipe for failure.

Instead, be patient, and take the time to learn these movements first.

I’m going to share with you the 9 best strength training exercises for beginners. Click on any of these exercises to get a FULL explanation of the movement, step-by-step:

1) The Push-Up: The best exercise you could ever do for yourself when it comes to using your bodyweight for push muscles (your chest, shoulders, and triceps):

2) The Bodyweight Squat: This exercise serves a dual purpose: it is the foundation for building strength AND helps build proper mobility. If you are going to ever do barbell squats, you need to work on hitting proper depth with a bodyweight squat first!

3) The Inverted Bodyweight Row: Until you can get your first pull-up or chin-up, these exercises are GREAT to start building your pull-muscle strength: your back, biceps, and forearms.

4) The Pull-Up and Chin-Up: Once you can support your bodyweight above the bar, the world becomes your playground. No strength training routine should be without pull-up or chin-up work! (if you can’t do a pull-up or chin-up yet)

5) The Bodyweight Dip: As you start to get stronger with push-ups and need to find a way to increase the challenge, consider doing dips – warning: these are very advanced, but incredible strength building exercises.

 

6) The Barbell Squat: Probably the best exercise when it comes to building strength and muscle throughout your whole body. Show me somebody who squats heavy and I’ll show you a great physique. This is a MUST:

7) The Barbell Deadlift: Maybe the best exercise of all time, and certainly the most primal: “pick the weight up off the ground. Done.”

8) The Barbell Press: Press a barbell above your head. This recruits all of the muscles in your chest, shoulders, and arms in order for you to lift the weight over your head. As a bonus, you need to really flex and brace your core, which gets those muscles working too.

 

9) The Barbell Bench Press. Lie on a bench, and lower a barbell until it almost touches your chest. Pause, and the press it back up towards the sky. Repeat! And get strong.

 

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: commit to trying ONE of these movements in the next week. Use 20 seconds of courage, recruit a friend who has lifted or trained before, and try your best.

We all start somewhere!

Speaking of starting out…

Never done many of the movements in the plan you’re doing before?

Always start out with just your bodyweight and make sure your movement is correct!

If it’s a barbell movement, use a broomstick (or PVC Pipe). If it’s a dumbbell movement, use two sections of PVC or something else that is light and small to simulate a dumbbell.

When it comes to movements like squats, deadlifts, pull ups, bench press, your form is crucial. Develop good habits with lightweight and you will save yourself months of frustration later and will protect you from injury.

If you’re struggling with certain elements of a movement, don’t get frustrated! Just understand that you’ll have areas in which you can improve.

When I started, I really liked practicing all of the movements at home because I could watch a video online at the same time as I was watching myself do it in a mirror.

Videotape yourself and compare it to videos, or post it to the form check section of the Nerd Fitness Forums.

Still uncomfortable with the movements after that? Look around at local strength and conditioning gyms and see if you could hire a coach (here’s how to find a good trainer) for one or two sessions just to go over the basic movements.

If you want a coach in your pocket, who can do video form checks, provide feedback, and adjust your workouts based on your progress, you can check out our 1-on-1 Coaching program! I’ve had an online coach for 4 years and it’s changed my life. You can learn more by clicking on the box below:

Nerd Fitness Coaching Banner

Strength Training For Weight Loss

Strength training like with these dumbbells is key for a weight loss program.

So you’re looking to lose weight, and tired of hours of cardio (me too).

And you’re wondering if strength training for weight loss – by following one of the workouts in this guide is a viable solution.

Or, gasp – will strength training make you too bulky? (SPOILER: it won’t)

Yes, Strength training will help you lose weight IF you do two key things for effective weight loss:

Calorie restriction: eating fewer calories than you burn every day
Strength training with progressive overload (picking up heavier stuff)

As we point out in our “Cardio vs Intervals vs Weight Training” article, strength training is the MOST efficient method for weight loss.

Not only that, but you can find study after study after study that shows you the benefits of strength training for weight management when combined with “calorie restriction.”[1]

As I cover in our “Why can’t I lose weight?” article, here’s why eating a caloric deficit and strength training is SO magical when combined:

When you strength train – by picking up something heavy – your muscles are “broken down” during the exercise itself, and then they rebuild themselves stronger over the next 24-48 hours.

Guess what happens during those 24-48 hours?

Your body will divert as many calories consumed as necessary to “Rebuild Muscle!”

It also diverts additional calories to “Burn as Fuel” to handle this increased “muscle rebuilding” activity.

Which means two amazing things:

Your metabolism is revved up for this time period, burning more calories than normal.
Rebuilding muscle is a calorie taxing activity!

Not only that, but when you eat a caloric deficit, your body doesn’t have enough calories to fuel all the day’s activities. In these instances, your body will pull from your stored fat to make sure all the work still gets done.

This is the trifecta of physical transformation victory:

You get stronger and keep the muscle you have.
You burn through the fat you’re trying to get rid of.
You’re decreasing your body fat percent and keeping your muscle = look good naked.

In other words, strength training + eating right is the BEST path for weight loss out there! And yes, in certain situations, you can actually lose weight AND build muscle at the same time.

This little sheep is stoked you can lose weight and gain muscle with strength training.

So how do you put this into practice? Pick one of the strength workouts in this article. Calculate your daily caloric needs. Learn about healthy eating. And start.

In other words…

Pick up something heavy, and eat a vegetable.

Oh what’s that? You just want somebody to tell you exactly what to do? Fine!

“Just Tell Me What Strength Training Program to Follow!”

Relax, you'll be fine strength training, just like this little trooper is fine with his bear.

Okay! Unless you are collecting underpants, you should now have a workout program you want to try out!

“Staci, this is a lot, can you just TELL me what to do?” Okay fine. Here are the steps again for you:

STEP ONE: PICK YOUR WORKOUT PATH:

A) If YOU ARE TRAINING AT HOME. Pick one of these 3 based on what equipment you have:

Beginner Bodyweight Workout (no equipment)
Kettlebell Beginner Workout
Dumbbell Division Workout (Level 3 of Gym Guide)

B) IF YOU ARE TRAINING IN A GYM: Amazing! I love gyms. Read our “How to train in a gym” guide and go from Level 1 to Level 5 over the next month.

This will help you go from scared newbie to barbell-badass.

STEP #2: TRY A NEW EXERCISE: In addition to following a workout program, I’m gonna push outside of your comfort zone – that’s where real growth happens. Learn ONE new movement this week. Pick one of the exercises below and try it out!

How to squat
How to deadlift
How to bench press
How to do the overhead press
How to do a pull-up
How to do a push-up
How to do an inverted row

STEP #3) GET A YODA! If you are somebody that just wants to be told exactly what to, how to train for your goals, and are good at following direction, consider hiring a coach. I’ve been working with an online coach since 2014 and it has changed my life – and I do this stuff for a living!

Read our guide on “Is a personal trainer worth it?
Consider the NF Online Coaching Program!

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No matter what you do today: don’t be afraid of doing everything wrong – truth be told, the majority of the people in the gym don’t have any idea what they are doing, and are just as nervous as you are!

Muster up your 20 seconds of courage if you need to, and let me know in the comments how it goes!

What questions do you have about getting started?

So, what’s the biggest thing holding you back from starting strength training?

-Staci

PS – Check out the rest of the articles in our Strength Training 101 series:

Strength Training 101
Strength Training 101: Finding the Right Gym
Strength Training 101: How Much Weight Should I Be Lifting?
Strength Training 101: How to Build Muscle and Strength Quickly
Strength Training 101: How to Squat Properly
Strength Training 101: How to Deadlift
Strength Training 101: How to Bench Press
Strength Training 101: How to Do a Pull-Up
Strength Training 101: How to Do a Bodyweight Row
Strength Training 101: How to Do a Dip
Strength Training 101: How to Overhead Press

photo source:[2]

Footnotes    ( returns to text)

Like this study and this study and this one.
 Gregor Winter: Dimitry Klokov, Ken: Cat Dumbbells, William Marlow: Assorted Weights, Kaleb Fulgham: Dumbbells, W_Minshull: Stormtroopers in Gym, Lego LiftingKristina Alexanderson: Teddy Love, Jason Ternus: Stormtrooper Pushups

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific


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