Beginner Programs for Strength Training


fit couple weight training

Beginning a strength training program can be a frightening endeavor for many individuals that have no previous experience with resistance training. Not only can it be intimidating if you are going to perform your weight training workout at a fitness center, but there is a lot of information associated with strength training that must be learned and understood as well.

One of the best ways to become more comfortable with adding a weight training program to your daily lifestyle, and performing it with regularity and achieving your personal health and fitness goals, is to break the various items associated with strength training into smaller categories and sub-sections.

By doing so, the overall endeavor into weight training will seem less daunting. Below are several of the concepts related to weight training that can be broken down into smaller sections:

  • Understanding the various major muscle groups and how they operate in terms of movement.

  • Understanding the various exercises for each of the major muscle groups and how to properly perform them.

  • Defining your personal strength training routine and schedule.

  • Modifying your nutritional diet to support your weight training exercise routine.

  • Defining and setting your personal weight training goals.

It is our belief that all fitness routines should incorporate some form of strength training that is performed on a regular basis. The health and fitness benefits associated with regularly performing a strength training routine cannot be overstated.

By taking the time to learn and understand the items listed above, you will be better able to perform a strength training routine that will not only lend itself toward achieving your personal fitness goals, but complement a lifestyle that is filled with good health and wellness.

Understanding the Various Major Muscle Groups


It is important to understand what the various major muscle groups are and how they operate. For example, the biceps muscles are located on the front side of each arm between the shoulder and elbow and are intended to support the arm when it bends at the elbow. It is the biceps muscles that contract and allow the lower portion of the arm (between the elbow and hand) to move.

In addition, it is important to understand that several muscles work together to perform a single movement. For instance, referencing the previous example, when the arm is bent at the elbow the biceps muscles contract, while the triceps (muscles on the back of the arm between the shoulder and elbow) extend. Likewise, when the arm is straightened at the elbow, the triceps muscles contract and the biceps muscles extend.

Each muscle has the ability to contract and extend. When a muscle contracts, its length shortens. The shortening of the muscle's length is considered the concentric portion of an exercise. Conversely, when a muscle extends, its length is increased. The lengthening of a muscle is considered the eccentric portion of an exercise.

For example, when performing a standing barbell curl, the biceps muscles contract and shorten in length when the barbell is moved toward the chest. This portion of the movement is considered the concentric portion of the exercise. Lowering the barbell back to its starting position (by your waist) forces the biceps muscles to extend and increase in length. This portion of the movement is considered the eccentric portion of the exercise. All muscle groups work in this fashion.

For this reason, each of the various major muscle groups have been categorized as either a pull muscle group or a push muscle group. A pull muscle group is a muscle group that contracts when a pulling motion is performed, and a push muscle group is a muscle group that contracts when a pushing motion is performed.

For example, the biceps muscles are considered a pull muscle group since they contract when the barbell is pulled toward the chest. On the other hand, the triceps are considered a push muscle group since they contract when the arm is extended at the elbow or away from the body.

Another way to envision this concept is to evaluate which portion of the exercise movement is the hard portion to perform. For example, when performing a flat barbell bench press, the hard portion of the exercise is pushing the barbell from your chest to a fully extended position over your chest. The primary muscle group involved in performing this movement is the pectorals muscles (i.e. chest) and the secondary muscle group is the triceps.

Both of these muscle groups are considered push muscle groups since they contract when the barbell is pushed away from the body. This being said, each major muscle group is defined as either a push muscle group or a pull muscle group based on it contracting during the hard portion of the exercise.

Primary Muscle Groups


While the human body is comprised of over 600 different muscles, individuals that strength train typically focus on only the primary muscle groups:

    major muscle groups
  • Abdominals: The muscles that make up the front of your mid-section.

  • Biceps: The muscles located on the front of your arm between your shoulder and elbow.

  • Calves: The muscles that make up the lower portion of the back of your leg below your knee.

  • Deltoids: The muscles that make up a large portion of the curve of your shoulder.

  • Forearms: The muscles located on the lower arm between the elbow and wrist.

  • Gluteals: The muscles of your posterior.

  • Hamstrings: The muscles located on the back of your leg between your gluteals and knee.

  • Latissimus Dorsi: The muscles located on the sides of your upper back under the arm pit.

  • Pectorals: The muscles of your chest.

  • Obliques: The muscles on the sides of your mid-section.

  • Quadriceps: The muscles located on the front of your leg between your hip and knee.

  • Trapezius: The muscles located on the sides of your neck.

  • Triceps: The muscles located on the back of your arm between your shoulder and elbow.

Understanding the Various Exercises and How to Perform Them


female performing flat barbell bench press

Once you have a better understanding of how each major muscle group operates, you will be able to understand how each exercise works a specific muscle group. This knowledge will assist you in understanding how to perform each exercise with the proper form.

It is important to perform each strength training exercise with the correct form as strength training places a fair amount of stress on the various joints of the body. In addition, strength training exercises can place the body in vulnerable positions where improper form can increase the probability of sustaining an injury.

Another important aspect associated with strength training is learning to listen to your body and understanding the difference between "good pain" and "bad pain." It is important to understand that when you perform a weight training routine, the intent of each exercise is to tear the muscle fiber of the muscles involved in the specific exercise. Under this process, muscle size and strength can be improved. This is why your muscles become sore after a workout and why you need to allow a minimum of 24 to 48 hours of recovery time for each muscle group that you exercise.

In addition, strength training places a fairly high level of stress on the various joints involved in each exercise type. For instance, performing exercises that work the triceps can place a large amount of stress on the elbows, and performing leg exercises can place a large amount of stress on the knees.

This being said, it is important to understand the difference between typical muscle soreness that occurs from exercising a muscle group and soreness that is a result of injuring the muscle tissue, ligament, tendon and/or joint. It will take time to learn and understand the differences between the two. Talking to other individuals who regularly weight train about the soreness and/or pain that you feel in a specific location may be beneficial.

In general, muscle soreness will last for no longer than 2 or 3 days. If the pain or soreness persists for an extended period of time, it is a good idea to evaluate your form when performing exercises that target that area.

Finally, remember that it will take time to learn to perform each exercise with perfect form. One approach is to begin your strength training routine with the basic core exercises for each major muscle group., as these exercises are usually relatively easy to grasp.

Defining Your Personal Strength Training Routine and Schedule


There are several factors that must be considered when defining your personal strength training routine and schedule. First, it is important to determine your weight training routine and schedule either before or in parallel with defining your personal strength training goals.

For example, if your personal strength training goals are to become a bodybuilder and to increase your lean muscle mass by 50 pounds over a 3-year period, a strength training routine that consists of performing a 30-minute weight training circuit routine twice a week will not suffice. However, if your personal strength training goals are to simply tone your muscles and perform a strength training routine in addition to your overall fitness routine, the previous schedule may be sufficient.

It is important to match your personal strength training goals as closely as possible to your strength training routine and schedule. By doing so, you will minimize the probability of creating a set of personal strength training goals that are unachievable. For individuals that are just beginning a weight training program, it may take some time to determine how your body reacts to your workouts before you are able to set goals that are realistic yet challenging to achieve.

In addition, as you better understand how your body responds to your strength training routine and schedule, you can modify your workouts and schedule to better support your personal weight training goals. For instance, let's imagine that one of your strength training goals is to be able to lift 200 pounds for a single repetition when performing the flat barbell bench press within 6 months. If, after 3 months of training you find that you are only able to lift 135 pounds for a single repetition, you will need to reevaluate and modify your strength training routine and schedule.

Below are several factors to consider when defining your personal strength training routine and schedule:

  • How many days per week can you perform your strength training routine?

  • How much time per exercise session can you commit to?

  • Will you be performing your weight training routine at a fitness center or at home?

  • If performing your strength training routine at a fitness center, are they conveniently located and open during the times that are most convenient for you?

  • What strength training equipment is available for you to use?

  • Are you going to exercise all muscle groups in a single workout or are you going to break the muscle groups into separate workouts?

  • Is your strength training routine going to be your primary form of exercise, or is it only a portion of your overall fitness routine?

  • Will you be performing your strength training routine with a training partner?

  • Do you have any physical limitations or injuries that you need to consider when defining your strength training routine?

It is important to understand that the first priority for an individual that is just beginning their weight training program is to strengthen their structural frame. More specifically, to strengthen their soft tissue (ligaments, tendons and muscles), and their skeletal frame and joints. This process will take time and is best achieved by performing the basic core exercises for each major muscle group.

Creating a Nutritional Diet to Support Your Weight Training Routine


nutritional weight training diet

When adding any type of physical activity to your daily lifestyle, it is important to ensure that you are providing your body with the nutrients it requires to perform the activity with energy and intensity.

Once you have completed your physical activity, you will want to ensure that you supply your body with the nutrition needed to replenish your energy stores and rebuild your muscle tissue.

Performing a weight training routine with regularity places a large demand on your body, especially in terms of energy. This energy must be replaced in order for your body to repair the muscle tissue that was damaged during your workout.

In terms of nutritional intake, you will want to consider how you supply nutrients to your body before, during and after your workout.

In general, you will want to consume a highly nutritional, balanced and natural diet. In other words, consume a nutritional diet that is unprocessed and derived from whole food sources that are natural.

Eliminate highly processed foods that are high in calories and fat and low in nutritional value. Ideal choices are fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, nuts, fish, chicken, lean cuts of beef, and healthy oils.

Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat Intake Ratios


The following percentages represent how much of your daily caloric intake should consist of protein, carbs and fat, depending on your strength training goals:

Adding Muscle Mass

  • Protein: 30% to 40%
  • Carbohydrates: 40% to 50%
  • Fat: 20% to 30%

Increasing Muscle Definition and Reducing Body Fat

  • Protein: 20% to 30%
  • Carbohydrates: 50% to 60%
  • Fat: 15% to 25%

Protein intake is extremely important for muscle strength, repair and growth. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, protein requirements for individuals who regularly strength train are approximately 1.6 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or about 0.8 grams of protein per day per pound of body weight. For example, a strength trainer weighing 150 pounds would need to consume 120 grams of protein per day.

Nutritional Tips


Below are a few nutritional tips that are designed to improve your endurance and intensity during your workout and speed your recovery phase as well:

  • Consume foods high in protein and complex carbohydrates approximately 30 minutes before you perform your strength training routine.

  • For weight training sessions (may include a cardiovascular portion) that last longer than 1 hour and are performed at a moderately high level of intensity, consume a sports drink during your workout.

  • Consume foods high in protein and complex carbohydrates either immediately or within 30 minutes of completing your strength training routine.

  • Do not consume excessive amounts of protein supplements, as you should be able to achieve your daily protein requirements through eating plenty of chicken, fish, soy products, low-fat dairy products, and lean cuts of beef.

  • Consider consuming 5 to 6 smaller meals per day instead of the standard 3 meals. This approach works better for some individuals than others. In addition, always eat a healthy and nutritious breakfast.

  • In general, consume a nutritious and healthy diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and high quality monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (e.g. nuts, seeds, avocados, and oils).

  • Consume plenty of water before, during and after your strength training session.

For additional information on how to nutritionally support your strength training efforts, please feel free to peruse our Weight Training and Nutritional sections. There are several articles related to nutritional approaches and dietary tips that are designed to complement and support your weight training efforts. In addition, you will find several articles that discuss nutritional supplementation options and the pros and cons related to each type of supplement.

Defining and Setting Your Personal Weight Training Goals


defining your weight training goals

Similar to setting any types of goals, your strength training goals need to be well-defined and measurable. By taking the time to define a thorough set of strength training goals that are measurable and associated with a milestone for completion or obtainment, you will be able to precisely monitor your progress.

This will allow you to determine, in real time, whether you are on schedule to obtain each goal. In the event that you begin to fall behind, you can make the necessary modifications to get back on schedule.

In addition, as you begin to achieve each of your personal weight training goals within the specified time-frame, you will gain confidence in your ability to actually achieve your goals. This will create a higher level of motivation and commitment.

Below are several examples related to defining and setting goals that are well-thought-out and measurable:

Vague Weight Training Goals

  • To lose weight
  • To learn to lift weights
  • To increase your strength on the flat straight bar bench press
  • To increase the size of your arms
  • To decrease your waist measurement

Well Defined Weight Training Goals

  • To lose 15 pounds of excess body weight by July 4th, 2012
  • To try every piece of equipment in the fitness center and perform each exercise with the correct form by April 30th, 2012
  • To increase your single repetition maximum on the flat straight bar bench press from 225 pounds to 275 pounds in 3 months
  • To increase the size of your arms from 10.5 inches to 13 inches in 9 months
  • To decrease your waist measurement from 42 inches to 36 inches by August 31st, 2011

Safety and Common Sense


It is important to practice safety and use common sense when performing your strength training routine. In general, if you are performing an exercise and something seems unsafe, discontinue the exercise and talk with a personal trainer. Below are several tips designed to reduce your probability of injury when performing your personal strength training routine:

  • When performing the various exercises, be sure you have the necessary gear such as weight belts, straps, wraps and gloves where appropriate.

  • Never rest the dumbbells on a bench as they may roll off and cause an injury or damage equipment.

  • Always use safety collars when performing exercises that require a barbell.

  • Always maintain proper form. Most fitness centers and gyms have personal trainers on hand that can assist you in understanding how to properly perform an exercise. Performing each exercise with the proper form and technique is one of the best ways to reduce the probability of injury and maximize the efficiency of your workout.

  • Consider working out with a training partner, which can provide you with additional motivation and a higher level of commitment. Training partners add an increased level of safety in that they will be able to spot you when you are lifting a heavier amount of weight or if you are performing an exercise to failure. In addition, a training partner can offer constructive criticism when appropriate, suggest alternative training approaches and exercises, and push you to obtain your personal strength training goals.

  • Always exhale on the hard part of the exercise and remember to breathe when performing each exercise.

  • Listen to your body when strength training. Regularly performing a strength training routine with even a moderate level of intensity will cause your muscles to be sore. This is expected as you are actually tearing the muscles fibers when performing your strength training routine. However, joint pain and excessive muscle soreness (longer than 2 to 3 days after your workout) are not typical and should be viewed with concern.

  • Do not push your body so hard so that you increase your probability of injury. Start your beginning weight training program by performing each exercise with an amount of weight that you know you can handle, and complete a reasonable number of repetitions. This approach will allow you time to make sure that you learn to perform each exercise with the correct form.

Regularly performing a strength training routine is an excellent exercise choice for improving your overall level of health and fitness. Strength training provides several health and fitness benefits that are unique to strength training, and should be part of everyone's fitness routine.

However, it is important to remember to always focus and pay attention when strength training as there is always the possibility of injury.

man performing incline dumbbell press

Whether you are simply adding a strength training routine to your overall workout routine or intend to focus primarily on strength training as your primary form of exercise -- Either way, you will be on the right path to good health and fitness.

Remember that the results produced by regularly performing a strength training routine take time and will not occur overnight. It will take time for your structural strength to improve and it will take time to visibly see the changes in your physique.

This being said, with a little persistence and a willingness to regularly perform your strength training routine, your personal health and fitness goals may be closer than you think.

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