Whether you’re using gym weights or your own body weight for resistance, strength training is a great way to build and tone muscle, lose weight, and boost overall health. For best results, a good strength training workout should focus on the entire body, instead of just one particular area such as abs or arms. You can focus on one set of muscles at a time so that you are working on different areas each day.
It’s also important to choose a workout regimen that suits your individual fitness level to avoid risking injury. If you’re a beginner, start slowly with a light weight that you can handle (where you feel tired 6 to 12 repetitions) and gradually increase the weights as you get stronger, ideally under the guidance of a professional trainer or fitness instructor.
5 best strength training exercises
Squats are a great strength training exercise because it involves virtually all the muscles in your legs as well as your core. Start with using your body weight to perfect your form, then try increasing resistance by holding dumbbells or a bar in front of your shoulders (front squat), resting a barbell on your back (back squat), or holding a weight in front of you after your form is established (goblet squat).
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Squat your hips while bending your knees and keeping your back flat.
- Lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Push into the floor with your heels to go back to your starting position. This counts as one rep.
- To avoid sagging, keep your heels flat and your knees aligned with your second toe.
Push-ups target all the pressing muscles in your upper body, including your chest, shoulders, and triceps, and may help you improve your chest press strength with a dumbbell or barbell. If a standard push-up on the floor is too difficult at first, elevate your hands on a step or table—the higher your hands are, the easier it will be.
How to do it:
- Start with your palms flat on the floor, hands shoulder-width apart, shoulders stacked squarely over the wrists, legs stretched behind you, and core and glutes engaged in a high plank.
- Lower your body to the floor by bending your elbows. If necessary, go down on your knees.
- Straighten your arms by pushing through the palms of your hands. This counts as one rep.
Deadlifts are widely regarded as one of the most effective workouts for strengthening the posterior of your body, particularly your glutes and hamstrings. There are several types of deadlifts, including the Romanian, conventional barbell (where you draw the weight from the floor), and sumo (where you lower the weight as your hips are hinged in a wider stance and toes are pointing out).
How to do it:
- To protect your lower back, start with a lighter weight and practice in front of a mirror until you're comfortable with the movement. If you don't have a barbell, a pair of heavy dumbbells or loop resistance band will do.
- With a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and arms relaxed by the front of your quadriceps.
- Hinge forward at the hips and gently bend your knees while pushing your buttocks back. Slowly reduce the weight along your shins while keeping your back flat. The floor should be approximately parallel to your torso.
- Push through your heels to stand up straight and return to the starting position, keeping your core engaged. As you pull, keep the weight close to your shins.
- As you reach the starting position, take a breath and squeeze your buttocks. That counts as one rep.
4. Bent-over rowing
Working on your rowing strength can help you achieve your first bodyweight pull-up, which is a difficult exercise but a good measure of strength.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your sides, gripping a dumbbell in each hand.
- Hinge forward at the hips, pulling your buttocks back, with your core engaged. Make sure your knees are bent and your shoulders aren't rounded (how far you can bend over depends on your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility).
- Keep your neck in a comfortable, neutral position by gazing toward the ground a few inches in front of your feet.
- Pull the weights up to your chest, keeping your elbows tight to your body and squeezing your shoulder blades for 2 seconds at the top of the exercise to complete a row. As you move the weight toward your chest, your elbows should travel past your back.
5. Single-leg exercises
Single-leg exercises, whether it's a single-leg deadlift, step-up, or reverse lunge, are essential for building strength because they can help you discover and correct strength imbalances. As a result, you'll be able to improve your bilateral lifts. Single-leg movements demand a lot of core stability, so your abs get a workout as well. To begin, try them without any added weights until you've mastered your balance.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your core engaged.
- Take a step backward with your right foot, landing on the ball of your foot and keeping your right heel off the ground.
- As you descend into a lunge, bend both knees at a 90 degree angle. Keep your core engaged and hips tucked (don't let your buttocks protrude). Placing your hands on your hips may sometimes be useful to ensure that your hips aren't tilting to the side or front and back.
- To go back to your starting position, push through the heel of your left foot. You have the option of doing all your repetitions in a row or alternating sides.
How often should you do strength training?
Depending on your fitness level and goals, strength training should be limited to 2-4 times a week. Lifters who are more advanced can increase the number of sets, reps, or resistance.
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