Strength training is a crucial part of any fitness journey, but starting a strength routine for beginners can be tricky.
You can start a strength routine by mixing a variety of bodyweight and resistance exercises. You should do the strength routine 2-4 times a week. You will likely see strength improvements after doing these routines after 2 months. You can enhance your results by also focusing on your nutrition, doing more reps, increasing the intensity, etc.
What Are Strength Exercises?
A strength exercise is any activity that engages your muscles to work harder. Strength exercises increase your endurance, power, and your muscle’s size and strength.
Typically, activities that make you work against resistance or use your own body weight are considered strength exercises. Some examples include:
- Weight lifting
- Using resistance bands during workouts
- Squats, sit-ups, push-ups, etc. (bodyweight exercises)
- Walking up a hill or stairs
When it comes to strength training, weight-lifting is an obvious example. Every time you lift weights, the weights act as a form of resistance. The weights offer stress to the muscles to make them adapt and become stronger.
Of course, you may not be able to build a lot of strength from things like walking uphill for 20 minutes, so you need to start gradually and increase the intensity and/or time to get better results. For instance, going on a two-hour hike up a mountain is an excellent way to build strength.
Many exercises that you might already do already encourage strength. As stated above, basic bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats can build strength.
Resistance bands force your muscles to push harder, but they are often better for people who need more challenge in their workouts. Beginners may want to avoid resistance bands until they build a decent amount of strength.
For instance, you can start using a light resistance band in your workout after a month of consistent work. The resistance band will make your regular routine harder, encouraging you to build more strength and muscle.
Strength Does Not Guarantee Huge Muscles
Starting a strength routine is ideal if you want to get stronger in the gym or succeed in a sport. However, it is important to know your goals and manage them properly; that way, you will not feel disappointed in your results. You do not want to confuse strength training with hypertrophy training.
Most strength routines will not build massive muscles. Think about MMA fighters, competitive Olympic weightlifters, boxers, etc.; they are all very strong, but they usually do not have big builds.
However, it is always important to remember that you may not have huge muscles when focusing on strength routines. You will definitely grow lean muscles from a strength routine, but they may hit a “limit” if you do not focus on other exercises that encourage more muscle growth.
You can slowly incorporate other exercises or switch up your routine if you want to build bigger muscles. Additionally, you can have days where you focus on a strength routine.
For example, you can spend two days of the week doing your strength routine then focus 2-3 days of the week on muscle mass (hypertrophy training). However, strength routines will help you get stronger, making you last longer in a gym. Plus, it helps you lift heavier weights.
For instance, if you want to grow bigger muscles, you will eventually need to lift heavier weights. To lift heavier weights, you need to get strong enough to do so, which you will gain from strength training.
Low-Frequency Vs. High-Frequency Training
Many people, particularly beginners, often find it hard to figure out how often they should workout in a week. How much you should do in a routine and how often you should do it can affect your results.
For instance, Thomas et al., 2016 looked into high-frequency strength training results compared to low-frequency strength training results. The study wanted to find if there was a difference in the results of strength and lean mass.
For the high-frequency training group, they worked out thrice a week. They trained each muscle group and performed 3 sets per muscle group per session. They completed three body workouts in total.
As for the low-frequency training group, they worked out each muscle group one time in that week. They completed the same exercises as the high-frequency group, but they completed nine sets in one session.
The low-frequency training had a routine split over three days. Each day focused on different muscle groups:
- Pectoralis, deltoids, and triceps
- Upper back and biceps
- Quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and abdominals
Both groups followed their strength training routine for eight weeks. Surprisingly, researchers found no significant difference in lean mass and strength between the groups.
Therefore, you can adjust your strength routine as you please. Some people prefer to do total body workouts while others prefer working on specific muscle groups; you will not miss out on any gains if you choose either.
How Often Should I Do Strength Training?
Ideally, you should do strength training exercises 2-4 times a week. Just remember to let your body rest for a full 24 hours before attempting any workout. Otherwise, you increase your risk of injury.
What Equipment Do I Need?
You can have different equipment, but it can be intimidating and expensive to buy many items at once. Luckily, you will only need a barbell for the beginner strength routine.
You can always slowly add more equipment as needed. You do not need to go all out on full gym equipment; the basics like resistance bands, dumbbells, etc., should be fine.
Strength Routine Ideas for Beginners
Using a barbell with weights that you are comfortable with, you can do the following workouts:
3 Sets of 5 Reps: Pendlay Rows
3 Sets of 5 Reps: Standing Military Press
3 Sets of 5 Reps: Squats
3 Sets of 5 Reps: Bench Press
1 Set of 5 Reps: Deadlifts
3 Sets of 5 Reps: Squats
Try to do workout 1 twice a week and workout 2 once a week. For example:
Tuesday: Workout 1
Thursday: Workout 2
Saturday: Workout 1
This is an extremely simple workout routine, but it is an excellent option for beginners. While it may seem too simple and easy for you, it is important to master the basics and build your strength before moving onto more complicated and intense routines.
Progressive overload is crucial in strength routines because it helps you avoid hitting a plateau. Progressing or changing your workouts will help you get stronger, and avoid stagnancy.
You can increase the intensity or change up your workouts every month or so. You can also listen to your body to see if your body still responds to your current workout routine.
Strength Routine Ideas for Intermediates
If you have been hitting the gym for a while, you likely have a decent amount of strength. If you want to enhance it, you can try out the following routine:
Floor Chest Fly
Aim for 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps.
If you want to try a strength training program as an intermediate, you can try Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1. The 5/3/1 method is where you do three sets in total: one with five reps, one with three reps, then a final set of one. It offers a simple yet effective training routine that is excellent for strength building.
Strength Routine Ideas for Experts
Once you reach the “expert” level, feel free to experiment with various routines and increase the reps/sets as needed. If you are stuck on ideas, here is a routine that you can try:
Bulgarian Split Squat
Dumbbell Front Squat
Try to complete 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps. You should up the weight as needed to challenge yourself.
HIIT Routine for Strength Training and Weight Loss
If you want to try losing weight but want to gain strength, throwing a HIIT routine into your workout is a great idea. Most HIIT workouts work as cardio and strength training, making it excellent for people who want to reach their weight loss goals.
Remember that it is important to put some effort into your workout when you do a HIIT routine. A HIIT routine aims to get your heart racing, so you cannot lazily perform the workout.
However, that does not mean you should go all out; doing bursts of the exercises with 100% power can quickly drain your energy before the workout is halfway done. Instead, try to aim for almost 80% of your maximum effort during a HIIT routine.
Here is an example of a strength training HIIT workout that you can try (aim for as many reps as possible unless stated otherwise):
- Grab a light dumbbell in each hand. Bend your arms up, keeping your elbows bent and your palms facing down. Do alternative arm-punches for 45 seconds.
- Rest for 15 seconds.
- Sprint on a treadmill (or do high knees) for 45 seconds.
- Rest for 15 seconds.
- Grab your light dumbbells again and do alternative-arm punches for 45 seconds.
- Rest for 15 seconds.
- Perform a squat, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Press your two dumbbells overhead once you are at the top of the movement, locking your arm at full length.
- Rest for one minute.
Repeat the circuit three more times to complete a total of four circuits.
If you do HIIT training, you should try to do it 2-4 times a week. You must let your body rest for 24 hours to let your body recover.
You can also try a HIIT routine the same week that you do other forms of strength training to make your exercises more interesting. For instance, you can do two days of resistance training and two days of HIIT training.
It may be best to do a mixture of moderate-intensity (weight-lifting, resistance training, etc.) training and HIIT training.
Doing high-intensity and high volume workouts enhances your endurance and cardiovascular strength. Doing heavy resistance workouts at a moderate intensity and volume build muscle and strength. Therefore, doing a mixture of both can give you the best results.
What if I Feel Too Tired to Finish the Strength Training Routine?
If you are a beginner, do not be too harsh on yourself. It is perfectly fine for the first week or so of your training routine to take longer breaks. You could also take a quick “pause” between reps as needed.
Remember, you are building strength, so the exercises will feel challenging at first. It is perfectly fine to feel tired and take longer to complete a workout.
However, that does not mean you should give up on the exercise early. The goal of strength training is to push your muscles and make them stronger. Therefore, you still need to push through and complete the workout if you want to achieve your goals.
How Long Will It Take for Me to See Results?
Everyone is different, so you may not be able to base your results on other people. Your results vary on how often you train, your lifestyle, your diet, etc.
However, most people will notice a slight difference in how they feel when they workout and their bodies after one month. However, you will notice some serious changes in your muscles and strength after two months of consistent effort.
It is important to note that you need to make your exercises more difficult as you progress. If you continue to do the same workouts after three months, your body will find the routine too easy, and you will not build strength.
You can make your strength workouts more difficult by increasing the weights or doing more reps/sets.
Nutrition plays a huge part in your strength routine. Without proper nutrition, you will likely struggle with your strength routine or see minimal results.
Some forms of nutrition you can focus on include:
Cutting focuses on losing fat instead of gaining muscle. It involves cutting calories and exercising to reveal the muscles under the fat. Typically, people slowly decrease their calorie intake; do not try to drastically cut your calorie intake because you will plateau faster than normal.
Cutting is ideal for people who want to lose more fat. Some things you should focus on consuming while cutting include:
- Lean proteins
- Fiber-rich foods (helps you feel full)
- Lots of water
Bulking is the opposite of cutting; you focus on gaining a lot of muscle. If you see a big, muscular guy in the gym who clearly has big muscles but has some fat, it is likely they are bulking.
Contrary to popular belief, bulking does not revolve around gaining fat; it focuses on gaining muscles. Therefore, you still need to eat rather healthy foods like:
- Fish, poultry, and meats
Lean bulking is a mixture of both, but rather than traditional bulking it focuses heavily on building muscles while gaining very little fat. Therefore, you will regulate your calorie surplus to eat enough nutrients without gaining fat. Additionally, lean bulking only adds around 100-200 calories, compared to regular bulking which adds 500 or more calories.
Some foods that you would eat while lean bulking include:
- Lean proteins (chicken breast, salmon, shrimp, lean beef, etc.)
- Greek yogurt
Something relevant to lean bulking is body recomposition.
First, body composition refers to how much fat-free (water, bone, muscle) and fat your body has. Body recomposition looks at what your body actually contains instead of just weight.
Analyzing your body composition is more beneficial than looking at your BMI or weight. It helps you look at your body fat percentage in relation to your muscle mass.
Body recomposition is not a standard diet; it involves changing your physical and nutritional habits to enhance your fat to muscle ratio. There is no set way to try body recomposition since it is more of a lifestyle.
Some common ways to evaluate your results using body recomposition is to measure your body’s circumference and measure your body fat (like with skinfold calipers).
Should I Take Performance-Enhancing Drugs?
Typically, you should not take performance-enhancing drugs, especially when you are just starting a strength routine. You need to learn how to build your own strength first.
Additionally, they might not be helpful if you use them when you just start working out. You should only use them if you plateau in your results. However, you should first try to push yourself by giving yourself a harder work out routine and enhancing your diet before you decide if you need performance-enhancing drugs.
You should also be wary about which performance-enhancing drugs you try because some may be too strong for you. Some common performance-enhancing drugs that people take to give them a bit of a boost when they plateau include:
- Anabolic Steroids
Caffeine gives you a rush of energy, so it can boost your alertness and potentially your endurance. However, it may not give you amazing strength results because it mostly just makes you feel better.
Creatine supplements give you bursts of high-energy, which can help you power through more difficult workouts, especially if you try progressive overload. Additionally, creatine helps you increase muscle mass.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic testosterone. Many people use it to increase strength and build muscle mass.