Get Strong 101: A Complete Strength Training Guide for Beginners
Do you want to get strong? Are you new to strength training but want to start? Stick around – because this is Get Strong 101: A Complete Strength Training Guide for Beginners.
What is strength training?
Strength is the maximum force a muscle can generate. The same can be said for muscle groups too.
Therefore, strength training is exactly what it says – exercising to get strong. You’re looking to constantly improve your body and take your muscle fibers to the next level.
It makes sense that you’ll be working towards lifting more too. Whether that is gripping and ripping a barbell, or powering through pull-ups.
It just so happens that lifting weights is a great way to build muscle and burn fat. So, besides becoming as strong, you can boost your body composition.
Lift something heavy, you build muscle. Lift something heavy, you can body fat. Who doesn’t want that?
More specifically, strength training is a form of exercise using increased resistance to induce muscular contraction. The intention of these contractions is to build strength, muscular size (hypertrophy), and anaerobic endurance.
But this isn’t Wikipedia, so that’s the last time we’ll be talking like that. There’s no need.
Let’s get right into the benefits of strength training.
Why start strength training?
Strength training is about more than just getting strong. But that’s the first reason to start!
Being stronger does two things:
- Physical preparedness
- Health benefits
First of all, being strong is never a bad thing. You’re much better suited to handle whatever life throws at you – you can literally move it easier to start.
A stronger body is also injury prevention. Your muscles are better prepared to lift, move, and press whatever stands in its way. Obviously, this is beneficial for anyone, not just athletes and manual workers.
Secondly, lifting helps increase bone density. Stronger bones won’t fracture or break as easily if you fall, and they’ll keep you free from injury in later life.
Bones also become more resilient to the hardship they face in every day. Which, thinking about all the people you know who’ve broken something, is quite a lot.
If being tougher inside and out wasn’t enough, strength training can scorch through body fat. When combined with a calorie deficit, it’s ideal for maintaining and constructing lean muscle, all while burning excess body fat for fuel. For years they said it was impossible, but the science of body recomposition says it’s true.
Another rub off from building muscle is a ramped-up metabolism. It requires a lot more energy compared to body fat, so just by having more, you can increase your daily calorie burn.
Strength training for athletes
Athlete? Being strong is never a bad thing in sport. No athlete on this planet has ever said I wish I wasn’t this strong. Know one who has? They’re either crazy, lying, or both! Being strong means you’ll work at a lower percentage of maximal capacity when you need to actually use it.
Strength training is a precursor to power development. Power is speed paired with strength; meaning that by being stronger, you’ve got the potential to up your power. Of course, we’re not all gifted with natural explosiveness, but it can be worked on.
Regardless of who you are – fighter, CrossFitter, or obviously powerlifter, being more explosive is never a bad thing. Hear that? That’s the sound of you loading up a barbell right now.
Strength training is also an insurance plan on your career. A stronger body can take a lot more punishment than a weak frame.
It’s common for athletes to get injured, only to find out if they hadn’t been so strong, they’d be worse off. Your bones become denser from dedicated lifting
Yes, we’re still banging on about strength training. Because not only does it increase physical preparedness but insures against increased health risks too.
Recent research revealed that muscle strength can be an indicator of all-cause mortality risks. To put it plainly, stronger people tend to live longer. Want to live forever (or just a tad more)? Get stronger!
Regular resistance exercise is proven to decrease the risk of heart disease and obesity. Given that they’re two of the nation’s biggest killers, preventing them is paramount regardless of age.
Then you have the mental health benefits shown by numerous studies. According to experts, regular lifting can even calm the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Not to mention elevate mood!
But, all that’s good for the young bucks among us. What if you’re too old to lift?
It’s all a lie – a myth thrown out by scared GPs and frantic daytime TV doctors. No one is too old to lift; the science is clear. Studies indicate that even the oldest individuals can benefit from strength training.
It can help generate bone density, maintain muscle mass and strength, prevent degenerative diseases, and most importantly keep your independence. Providing people of all ages use sound technique, no one is too old to train!
To round everything up, here is a list of conditions strength training can help prevent or improve:
- Muscle loss (sarcopenia)
- Bone loss (osteoporosis)
- Aids/HIV symptoms
- Heart disease risk
- Diabetes risk
- Blood sugar levels
- Low mood
- Low testosterone
Types of strength training
It’s easy to get lost in thought of giant seven-foot men ripping barbells clean off the floor. But the truth is, strength training is a lot more than you see on World’s Strongest Man. In fact, there’s more to it than your powerlifting friends get up to too.
Calisthenics is a style of training that exclusively uses bodyweight. It’s just you, gravity, and the potential to make gains.
Honestly, you can definitely get strong without weights. There are advantages to life under the iron, but moving your body still creates tension. For some people starting out or who’re injured bodyweight training can be ideal.
One thing calisthenics thrives from is creativity. Finding new ways to make pushups, pullups, squats and crunches opens up different avenues and angles. Try a pistol squat or muscle up and you’ll soon see how challenging calisthenics can be.
Before anybody cries out in the comments section, hear us out. Bodybuilding does use strength training as part of its sport.
Bodybuilding is the art of sculpting your physique using a mixture of strength training and cardio. Although the focus isn’t always on raw strength, bodybuilders can be notoriously strong.
Unlike calisthenics, bodybuilding relies heavily on weights for training. Think barbells, dumbbells, cables, and pulleys.
You’ll usually find most bodybuilders using a split routine too. Some do it for preference, others because it’s now almost tradition. Whereas powerlifters and strongmen typically train lifts/events, bodybuilders often concentrate on a set body part – think arms day, then shoulders, then legs, etc.
Note that bodybuilding is mainly all about aesthetics. Strength isn’t the sole destination.
Powerlifters have one goal – move the most weight. They concentrate solely on three events and try to rack up the highest total.
The three events powerlifting employs are the bench press, back squat, and barbell deadlift. So, training is geared up around improving one of these areas at a time. Even the ones that don’t compete use increasing their lifts as a positive goal.
Powerlifters will also compliment their big three lifts with accessory exercises. These might be to improve stabilizing muscles, prehab against injury, or even fine-tune certain parts of their lift.
Strongman is the art of lifting heavy and awkward objects. Atlas stones, cars, logs, and sometimes trucks are all shifted by these bulking giants.
Well, we say bulking giants in the loosest way possible. Strongman is becoming really popular because of its variety and focus on functional strength. Despite the name, there is an army of fierce female competitors out there too!
Modified strongman training is now a popular go-to for certain athletes as well. Fighters and NFL players in particular are using farmer walks, sled drags, and other traditional strongman training to take their strength to the next level.
Functional strength training
You know, some people just want to be full-body strong. They might not follow a set discipline, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hit the gym hard. Functional strength training mixes everything from the previous three to work the entire body.
Sport-specific strength training sort of slots into this section too. This is strength training carried out by athletes to benefits their sports performance and reduce injury. Footballers, swimmers and cyclists are all in the gym leveling up their body.
You could probably include CrossFit in this section too. Because while it’s not totally specific, they do train for all-round functional fitness within the parameters of a sport.
What are the best strength training programs for beginners?
There are hundreds if not thousands of different strength training programs out there. That’s not counting the individual plans set up by strength and conditioning coaches either.
So, for the sake of this article, we’ll just cover three of the best for beginners wanting to get super strong. Up first, is the increasingly popular, grip and rip method of 5×5.
StrongLifts 5×5 is hands down one of the most popular strength programs on the web – period. It’s simple, easy to follow, and is a great starting point for beginners. You begin with plenty of headroom, meaning you can start progressing right away.
As a lifter, you’re only required to hit five specific barbell exercises each week:
- Bench press
- Overhead press
- Bent over row
That is literally it. Then, you have your accessory exercises if you choose to do them. While they’re not mandatory, we advise you pull up your lifting socks and get ’em done!
StrongLifts 5×5 works using an on/off approach to your week. So, you’ll lift on one day, followed by a much-needed rest day.
Workouts are also split into an A/B format. Meaning you’ll only ever have to follow those two. Naturally, you’ll complete A on day one of your workout week, then B after a day’s rest. You also only train three days out of seven and save the weekend for two days of recovery.
Okay, but why 5X5? The best thing about this system is its simplicity. You just need to complete five sets of five reps, then you’re done.
Deadlift day is the only exception because you only perform the one set. Seriously, it’s that simple! You thought we were going to say simple, didn’t you?
Jim Wendler constructed his 5,3,1 method to be simple, streamlined and effective.
This plan is similar to 5×5 in the way it focuses on the big lifts. But it takes away the bent over row to leave; the deadlift, squat, bench press, and military press.
5,3,1 is centered around four week training blocks. These are then filled with four working days, with a day for resting in-between.
Individual workouts focus on one core lift. You’ll have decided a goal rep and weight count for the workout too. It’s important to set these preestablish objectives, so you can keep progressing.
Here’s how to train 5,3,1
- Day one – Bench press + accessories
- Day two – Squat + accessories
- Day three – Military press + accessories
- Day four – Deadlift + accessories
You’ll work these sessions for four weeks before adding:
- 2.5 kg to your bench and overhead press 1RM
- 5 kg to your squat and deadlift 1RM
Next, calculate your working % for the second cycle.
Here’s how a cycle should be laid out:
- Week one – 3 sets of 5+
- Week two – 3 sets of 3+
- Week three – 1 set of 5, 1 set of 3, 1 set of 1+
- Week four – 3 sets of 5 (deload)
So in week one, you might work your way up to 85%, week two 90%, and week three 95%. Four is your deload week to take your foot off the gas and recover! Aim for around 60%.
Notice how there’s a + at the end of each set? This is your opportunity to hit a new rep PB. Keep going for as many reps as possible while maintaining good form. If your form breakdown, stop.
Starting Strength is the brainchild of legendary coach Mark Rippetoe. A man who was not only a powerlifter for nearly four decades but an Olympic weightlifting coach and gym owner.
In his method, Rippetoe takes the most basic of human movement patterns and progressively adds load to make the body stronger. The tool of this titan? Barbell training.
According to the Starting Strength website, this is how athletes have been getting stronger for millennia. Taking movement patterns and increasing loads in a logical, time tested manner.
Apparently, it’s not for average Joe’s looking to workout on the latest gym machines. Instead, The Starting Strength System is a logical approach to classic barbell training to get you strong! That’s it, do pass go, pick up a handful of chalk on your way.
Sorry, we can’t outline the Starting Strength plan. You’ll have to pick up the book for that one!
The importance of progressive overload
How do we get strong? By creating trauma that forces our muscle fibers to grow back thicker, denser, and better prepared to handle the tension inflicted on them. You break them down, and build them back – you guessed it – stronger. And how do you do that? Progressive overload.
Progressive overload is the process of constantly adjusting the stress you put on your body to force adaptations. It’s proven by science to work, and without it, your body is too smart to adapt. You can’t trick yourself smarter, you have to work for it.
Picture the scene; you’ve become strong enough to bench press 170 lbs. for ten reps quite easily. So, now you decide to add on another 5 lbs. to the barbell to increase the workouts total volume load. The workout becomes tougher before you eventually adapt to that load too. You’ve just used progressive overload.
Naturally, adding weight onto the bar is a tried and tested strength method. After all, hitting higher numbers is the main mission of most lifters, not just size gains. But there are other ways you can apply progressive overload:
- Add weight to the bar
- Increase reps
- Increase sets
- Boost work time
- Reduce rest times
- Hike up intensity
Progressive overload isn’t just reserved for resistance training either. You can apply it to all aspects of fitness; from sprint training in a swimming pool, to running and jumping rope. Just keep gradually asking more from your body, and force it to adapt.
Note: You will need to schedule in a planned deload every four, six, or eight weeks. These don’t need to be seven days of total rest, just train with a lower intensity and reduced volume load.
The last lift on strength training
If you’re able, be strong. Strength training can improve your life almost instantly, and we’re not just talking about helping you trim up either.
Strength training instills a sense of accomplishment. It brings goal setting, discipline, and proven mental health benefits.
Mental fortitude is matched by physical prowess too. You become stronger, leaner, fitter, and better prepared for whatever life throws at you. Groceries get carried in one trip, you can renovate the house yourself, your work colleagues call on you in their hour of need. Plus, if you’re an athlete, you’ll usually be working at a lower percentage of your full capacity. Who works harder? The stronger or the weak.
All this aside, strength training helps prepare your body for later life. It’s your add-on life insurance to protect your heart, musculature, and bones for old age.
Start strength training with these tips today! We’ll be bringing you a how-to of the best beginner exercises soon.
Get good, get strong.
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