What is a good strength training workout?
Strength training is a form of exercise where muscular strength, size, and endurance are increased by adding resistance against movement. This resistance can come in a variety of forms, from dumbbells to barbells to kettlebells, even sandbags and tyres.
A good strength training workout incorporates the 'big four' compound movements of the squat, bench press, deadlift, and shoulder press. It also incorporates a combination of barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells. This is to get a rounded workout and work your muscles in different ways by putting them under different stresses. Finally, the best strength training workout is safe and incorporates both a thorough warm up and cool down in order to maximise efficiency and reduce the risk of injury.
What are the benefits of strength training?
Strength training has many benefits, from being healthier to looking better.
Being strong is useful.
Being strong is a great asset in daily life. You'll be able to lift your kids with ease as well as heavy shopping and moving furniture. You will have fewer limitations and face fewer obstacles on a daily basis. It's especially useful if you work a manual job which involves a lot of heavy lifting and functional movement.
Strength training increases bone density.
The older we get, the more fragile our bones become as well as becoming more likely to break and develop osteoporosis. Strength training increases bone density which will help you stay healthy as you grow older and prevent bone-related health issues. Having increased bone density is also good for your joints as will prevent excess stress being placed on your knees and ankles when you run and walk. Strength training even stimulates the manufacture of new bone.
Strength training increases your metabolism.
Lifting weights raises your metabolism and it stays at an elevated level long after you're finished. Experts estimate that your metabolism stays elevated for up to 39 hours after your workout! This is because lifting strains your body so much that it needs extra time to recover and you burn calories even when you're resting after the workout.
Strength training improves blood flow.
Resistance exercise (such as lifting weights) produces a different pattern of blood vessel responses to aerobic exercise, suggesting that it may have specific and important benefits for cardiovascular health. Research has shown that strength training improves blood flow and can lower your blood pressure.
Helps control blood sugar.
A study by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research tested the effects of resistance training in people with type 2 diabetes. The study found in subjects with type 2 diabetes, both the low and moderate intensity circuits reduced blood glucose concentrations. However, the low intensity circuit produced lower glucose levels with less metabolic stress. This finding is particularly relevant to overweight, often untrained individuals who are just beginning a diabetes management program. Even a single bout of low intensity resistance exercise offers clear benefits for blood sugar management. As the individual progresses, intensity can be increased.
Weight training can help lower your bad cholesterol. According to a 1987 study conducted by I.H. Ullrich and colleagues published in the "Southern Medical Journal," HDL and LDL cholesterol levels can benefit from weight training. This study took 25 men who weight trained for eight weeks, three times per week. The weight-training program showed a decrease in blood LDL levels.
Strength training increases serotonin, your happy hormone. A Harvard study once found that ten weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than counselling. This is particularly important for women since they are more than twice as likely to experience depression and only one out of three actually seek care.Not feeling good? Then train. Not happy? Then train. Need an instant mental and mood boost? Then train!
Can I do strength training at home?
You don't have to just do heavy lifting at the gym to benefit from all these fantastic health improvements. Resistance training involves any kind of weight or resistance, and this can include household items. You could use this surprising household item to switch up your training.
You can get stronger by using dumbbells and kettlebells in your own home and cables and resistances bands. If you do want to lift heavier weights or benefit from the expertise and experience of a personal trainer, find a local gym and enquire about strength training programmes that they recommend.
The squat is one of the biggest exercises in fitness. It is a huge compound movement that can help to improve your fitness and strength in a number of ways. But what if you can't squat properly? How can you improve your squat?
Why can't I squat properly?
Squatting is a natural, functional movement that humans have been doing since the dawn of time. When we were young we would squat perfectly and naturally without even thinking about it. Just take a look at a child playing around, they'll drop into a squat and get back up again without a second thought. As we age, we get less and less good at it as we lose mobility and become sedentary in our lifestyle.
If you can't squat properly, it could be due to lifestyle or it could be due to your personal physiology. If you haven't done a squat since you were a child, you can't expect to do one perfectly first time you try. Like everything, exercises take practice, and you should ask an expert or fitness professional to give you guidance the first time you try to squat.
Some people have more reduced mobility than others, which may also affect your squat capabilities. If you have stiff or weak ankles, you will struggle to squat. Again, practice makes perfect, and with the right physio training, you'll be able to do a full, proper squat in no time.
Squats are a compound movement, meaning they use multiple joints and muscles to happen. A simple body weight squat utilises almost every muscle in the body and arguably once weights are added, no muscle gets left behind. It's a good idea to get well acquainted with the body weight squat before you add weight, so that you can be sure you have good form.
How to do a squat
- Begin with feet just outside shoulder width and toes pointing very slightly outward.
- Find a point to focus on looking straight ahead, don’t look down as this will compromise your spine.
- Head up, sink your weight back into your heels and bend your knees.
- Sink your bum down as low as your hips and flexibility allow.
- Your chest should stay upright and your back remains flat, the knees should follow the toes.
- Driving off your heels, straighten back up to the start position.
How to improve your squat
Lack of Range
A lack of range in your squat is usually caused by stiffness, inflexibility or even ankle instability. If your heels lift off the ground towards the bottom of your squat it is likely that you have either tight hamstrings, ankles or both. Stretching the ankles and hamstrings will help to achieve the full squat depth.
Knees collapse inwards
Your knees caving inwards during a squat is a common sign of weak abductors and gluteus medius, although there can be many other reasons as with any imperfection. Exercises which focus on activating these muscles such as lying clamshells, banded squat walks and single leg lunging can help to activate these areas. This being said, there are olympic athletes whose knees collapse inwards as they compete, who clearly don’t suffer from ‘weak’ anything. So it is not the only cause.
Back caves forwards when squatting
A weak posterior chain can lead to bending forward as the lower back attempts to make up for the weakness and ends up pulling you forward. Strengthening the hips, glutes and hamstrings will enable them to engage better and pull your body back to the correct alignment.
An arched back when squatting can be caused by a multitude of problems, a weak chest, poor posture, a weak trunk or even simply too great a weight can cause the shoulders to arch, compromising your squat technique. Trying to establish the cause of this imbalance can often be the most difficult task, but then there are simple steps which can be implemented in order to address the issue. A weak chest can be worked on by focusing on exercises such as flyes and pullovers, whilst fully engaging the pecs by forcing the shoulders back. A weak trunk can be improved by working on core strength using exercises such as the plank and hanging leg raises.
The barbell squat
Olympic squat, weighted squats, whatever you want to call it, this is when the squat becomes a game changer and has the greatest effects not only on strength but on weight loss, fitness and body composition. Weight training has a whole article of benefits of it’s own which you can read under “strength training”.
The first battle, do I use a neck wrap or not? To barbell squat you will need an olympic bar, collars and a rack. You will not need: Chalk, lifting gloves or a neck pad for the bar. If you hold the bar correctly you don’t need to use a pad to support your back, that’s what you’ve got traps for. What’s more - wearing a neck brace can damage your proprioception, you need to be able to feel the bar properly for effective balance. Padding makes the bar thicker, moving it upwards which causes a more forward lean and emphasises lower back stress. As your weight lifting gets serious and your strength increases a bar pad won’t be any help anyway. Heavy weights hurt.
Setting up to barbell squat
This is another common trait many will miss, despite the fact they’re in the gym, we can still call these people lazy, as they’re the ones who don’t want to faff with moving the rack to fit them properly, which can lead to poor technique. As someone who is 5 ft 2, I physically HAVE to set the bar up every time, as at most people’s height, I’d be trying to lift it over my head! The bar should be set at a height somewhere between your breast and collar bone. It needs to be low enough that when you stand with knees locked, the bar lifts off the rack, without you going on tip toes. It’s a squat not a calf raise.
Once you’ve set the bar up, it’s time to step under it, place the bar across your shoulders and select your grip. This is another vital piece of the puzzle. Follow these steps:
Step up to bar. Duck under bar. Make sure head is central. For a high placement, the bar sits across the neck, resting on your traps, for heavier weights the bar is usually placed slightly further down, so the weight is more central and therefore less likely to cause damage to the lower back. Keep your hands as close as possible without causing strain, which will flex the upper back and provide “cushioning”. Point your elbows down, straighten your wrists and keep your elbows in.
That’s the setup, so this is the moment where you have a stern word with yourself, big yourself up and then go for it. You should be able to straighten and un-wrack in just two steps, if you have to lift the bar any further out you could put yourself at risk.
The squat technique itself is almost identical to a bodyweight squat, except now you’ve got a badass weight on your back. The main factor here is to make sure you keep your head facing forwards rather than looking up, as this will cause compression at the top of your spine.
Once you have the basic squat perfected, the possibilities of where you can take it are endless. In our next post we will look at squat variations, so keep your eyes peeled!
Try this upper body arm workout for women to blast your arms and get results! Including exercises for biceps, triceps, and shoulders. Perfect for toning and sculpting your arms and bingo wings.
Cable Tricep Pull Downs
This exercise is for isolating the triceps.
How to perform the tricep pull down
Using either a straight bar or rope attachment, attach to a cable machine in the high position. Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, pull the bar down and keep your elbows tucked in. Push the bar down, fully extending your arms, then slowly raise the bar up back to the start position. Keep the movement control and feel the burn in the back of your arms!
Key exercise tips:
- Keep the elbows tucked in
- Fully extend the arms
- Exhale as you press down and inhale on the way up
- Too much movement of the arms – taking the elbows away from the body
- Shrugging the shoulders and using the trap muscles
- Going too heavy and using momentum
This is a great cardiovascular exercise that will trim and tone the arms whilst simultaneously working the core and blasting the shoulders.
How to use the battle ropes
Hold the ends of the rope at arm's length in front of your hips with your hands shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, soften your knees, and begin alternately raising and lowering each arm explosively. Keep alternating arms for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, instead of making waves, start slamming the rope into the ground. Make sure to keep breathing and don't hold your breath!
Key exercise tips:
- Tense your abs tightly during performance
- Concentrate on keeping your speed fast
- Don't hold your breath
- Sacrificing technique with fatigue
- Performing the exercise for too long
Dumbbell Bicep Curls
This is an isolation exercise for the biceps using a pair of dumbbells.
How to perform the dumbbell curl
In a standing position, holding a dumbbell in your hand and keeping your elbow pinned to your waist, curl your arm up to your chest, flexing your elbow then slowly extend it back down again. Repeat on each arm for 10-12 reps.
Key exercise tips:
- Keep your elbow in a fixed position
- Fully extend your arm at the bottom of the movement
- Moving the elbow out of alignment
- Going too heavy and sacrificing technique
- Swinging the body with the movement
Tricep Bench Dips
This is a body weight exercise that you can do virtually anywhere. It’s a compound exercise, which means it will hit all three of your tricep muscles as well as your shoulders and chest muscles.
How to perform the tricep bench dip
Position your hands at shoulder width apart on a bench with your hands facing forward. Extend your legs out, taking your bum off the bench balancing on your hands.
Lower your body down towards the floor taking your arms into a 90 degrees bend. Press your body upwards, extending out your arms back into the start position.
Key exercise tips:
- Keep your core tight to maintain an upright position
- Make sure your elbows track in line with your hand
- Breathe in as you lower and breathe out as you press up
- If you find it difficult to perform the tricep dip with straight legs then bend your knees placing your feet flat on the floor
- Rounding/curving back
- Not going low enough
- Hyperextending the elbows
Here are 7 bodyweight exercises to do with a partner. Aim for as many reps as you both find comfortable for 2-4 rounds. Label yourselves A and B for the first round and then switch for the second.
1. PARTNER DEEP SQUAT - Both partners to cross both hands over, arms stay locked, belly drawn into lower spine. Squat all the way down, drive up through the heels, stand tall and squeeze your glutes.
2. SHOULDER PRESS PRESS & V SIT - Partner A will sit in a V Sit position, abs pulled in tight to lower back, shoulders relaxed, back straight and legs together whilst partner B is creating resistance as A pushes up and down into a shoulder press. Working the abs & shoulders simultaneously.
3. PARTNER ROW - Partner A will be in a hold Plank position, body in a nice strong and straight line and holding onto elbows whilst partner B stands either side and rows A into their tummy. Partner B's knees to be soft, abs switched on and hinging from the hips.
4. PLANK CORE COMBO - Both are in a plank position, body in one straight line, abs pulled in tight. Opposite hands will clap whilst opposite leg comes up at the same time. Focusing on keeping hips and shoulders square to the ground whilst maintains core stability.
5. STAGGERED STANCE PULL - Holding opposite hands, one goes down to the floor whilst the other pulls the other partner up. The focus is on the mid back.
6. PLANK HOLD & TRICEP DIPS - Partner B will be in a plank Hold position (forearms or full plank) with the core switched on, shoulders relaxed with strong form whilst partner A will do Tricep Dips. Partner A needs to make sure elbows are 90 degrees and squeezing the triceps at the top of the range.
7. PARTNER TOE TAPS - Both facing each other, at a quick pace tap each other's opposite foot. Sometimes known as quick Feet this is a great workout finisher and cardio fix.
About the authors: Carly and Elia Siaperas are a married couple who together own a PT studio in London.
Strength has many benefits, both inside and outside of the gym. Becoming stronger is a goal of many people and there are lots of different methods you can follow to find what works for you.
How does the body get stronger?
The body gets stronger after a progressive overload. This means putting the body under pressure and stress so that it has to adapt and change to meet the needs you are giving it. An example of this is lifting a weight you haven't lifted before or by doing more reps than you have done before.
Stress is a key reason for your body to change, and having observed soldiers returning from World War One, Physiologist Walter Cannon used the popular phrase ‘fight or flight’ to describe the hormonal reactions in our body in response stress. In addition to life threatening situations, more mundane activities such as exercise also evoke a response.
How do you get physically stronger?
In order for your muscles to get bigger and stronger, you have to apply overload. To overload means that the muscle experiences a load above and beyond what it previously adapted to in order to trigger the sequence of a new adaptation.
When you force your muscles into overload by lifting weights, a chain reaction of cellular events goes into full swing, leading to an increased production of contractile proteins. This process is called anabolism and also leads to the muscle increasing in size.
Physically, when you lift weights you are creating small 'satellite' tears in your muscles, which then repair and grow stronger when you eat and sleep. This is why you feel aches and pains after a particularly demanding session, and why correct nutrition and sleep are so important.Men have more testosterone than women and so will have bigger, stronger muscles. Women who don’t use anabolic steroids or hormones won’t gain male sized muscles as they simply don’t have the hormones it requires.
Men have more testosterone than women and so will always have bigger, stronger muscles. Women who don’t use anabolic steroids or hormones won’t ever gain male-sized muscles as they simply don’t have the hormones it requires.
How can you increase your strength?
If you want to become a lot stronger, it is best to lift heavy weights in a low rep range. Contrarily, if you are looking to be more slim-lined and have better endurance, you should opt for higher rep ranges. A typical rep range guideline is as follows:
Strength/ Speed/ Power
So for example, if you are looking to become the strongest guy in the gym, you need to be lifting as much as you can for just 1-3 reps each time you hit the gym. On the other hand, if you wanted to be a bit leaner and slimmer and have more endurance, you'd want to do 12 reps with a moderate weight.
It’s important to remember that each rep range requires a different amount of rest, with the strength rep ranges requiring much more rest (up to 5 minutes) between each set. It is also important not to overload the muscles every single time you train for weeks on end as this is likely to lead to overtraining and injury. Take a de-load week around once a month to allow your body to recover fully.
What's the best workout for muscular strength?
5x5 is a training style that is often claimed to be the best for gaining strength. 5x5 consists of completing 5 sets of 5 reps for each exercise. Typically, you would do 5x5 (five by five) on big compound exercises like squats and deadlifts for best results.
Stronglifts have created a 5x5 workout which incorporates all the major compound lifts, 3 times per week. The main lifts are the Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Overhead Press and Barbell Row. The stronglifts training regime only requires 3 training days per week, with a day's rest between each session.
You do three of these exercises each workout, three times a week, for about 45 minutes per workout, squatting every workout, three times a week.
WORKOUT OPTIONS: You will need to alternate between workout A and workout B. So for example, workout A would be performed on Monday and workout B on Wednesday, and then back to A on Friday.Workout AWorkout B
Bench Press 5x5
Overhead Press 5x5
Barbell Rows 5x5
Pushups 3 x Failure
Pullups 3 x Failure
- Add 5lbs. total weight to each workout until you can't get 5 reps on all 5 sets anymore.
- If you happen to stall on an exercise and cannot perform 5 reps then take off 10% of the weight.
- Continue adding 5lbs total weight each workout until you stall again.
Can I lift while pregnant?
You can certainly continue training and lifting weights while pregnant, it's just important to listen to your body and not put yourself under more strain than you usually would. When you see women doing insane lifts while pregnant, it's because they were able to do that before they were pregnant. If you've never lifted a weight before, during pregnancy is not the best time to start.
Benefits of lifting weights while pregnant
Mental toughness. Being strong during pregnancy can help develop mental toughness which prepares for labour and motherhood. Mother of three and Coach Nicole Crawford explains “During labour, your body is going to do things you didn’t know it could do and feel stuff you didn’t know you could feel. Your body is going to tell you it’s not fragile and it’s going to push this baby out whether you like it or not. Keeping up with a strength training routine helped me build confidence in my body and its abilities. If you spend your whole pregnancy thinking there’s something wrong with your body, you’re going to freak out when you start having hard contractions, just like if you go into a workout thinking it’s too hard, you’re going to struggle to get through it during the toughest parts”.
Decreased Pain and Pregnancy Discomfort. Having a strong core and lower back will help your body to cope as it goes through the changes required of pregnancy. Whilst strength training in the wrong way can increase pain, whether you're pregnant or not, during pregnancy weight training with correct technique can actually ease discomfort. Lifting weights with good form on a regular basis can help prevent both back pain and sciatica as well as help you to maintain good posture and carry your extra weight more functionally.
Maintain the stamina for labour. Labour can be an endurance event involving strength and stamina greater than any workout. Maintaining a fitness regime can help you to fight through the labour, the fitter you are the better your body will uptake Oxygen. Julie Tupler, author of Maternal Fitness, says “If your abs are weak, you won't be able to push effectively."
Being strong for menopause
Menopause is probably the most important time in a woman's life for her to be physically strong. Training for strength during menopause is essential to ward off osteoporosis and brittle, fragile bones. Strong muscles reduce the possibility of injuries, improve body composition, provide a sense of confidence, and allow you to recover more quickly from physical activities. As women age, their muscle mass decreases anywhere from 3-5% for every year after 30. Weight training programs for women are effective in preserving muscle mass and preventing sarcopenia and the decline of metabolic rate according to the American Society of Sports Medicine.
Every decade that you lose muscle tissue, your metabolism also decreases by about 5 %. This slower metabolic rate contributes to middle-age weight gain even if you eat the same amount of calories because you don't burn the same amount of calories as your metabolism has slowed. Strength training can slow the metabolic decreases, muscle loss, and weight gain that normally occur in middle-aged women. Muscle is metabolically active tissue that requires energy (calories), everyday your body uses more than 35 calories to maintain each pound of muscle, while only 2 calories are needed to sustain a pound of fat, which is why training for strength can help to increase metabolism, as well as strength and bone density in older women.