I was recently asked to talk more about strength training, which I am more than happy to do! In case you didn’t know, I have been a Certified Personal Trainer for the past 6 years. I am certified through ACE, NASM, and FMS. In fact, through my work as a personal trainer over the years, I realized my passion and love for nutrition. That being said, I still have a strong passion for fitness and hope to keep my hand in the personal training world while I pursue nutritional therapy. After all, fitness and nutrition go together like peanut butter and jelly. And, who doesn’t love peanut butter and jelly?
On that note, I’ve created a program that I believe is the best of both worlds: a 4 week program that includes personal training and nutritional therapy. You can read more about this 4 Week Jumpstart program on my Work with Me page (scroll to the bottom)!
In my opinion, strength training is one of the best kinds of workouts. It makes you stronger and feel more confident, while also boosting your metabolism, building muscle, and burning body fat.
Ladies, listen up: if you’re worried about “getting bulky,” please read my previous post, 10 Reasons Why Women Should Lift Weights, and continue reading below.
Here’s a quick overview of the health benefits of strength training:
- Build muscle, increase strength, and decrease body fat
- Improve stamina, mood, and energy levels
- Reduce risk of metabolic disease and other chronic health conditions
- Increase strength of bones and joints
- Boost metabolic rate (calories burned/day)
- Improve balance and longevity
Identify Your Goal
Strength training can help you achieve various health and fitness goals. But for the purpose of this post, I’m going to zero in on the most common strength training goals:
- Improving endurance
- Increasing strength
- Building muscle (hypertrophy)
Once you’ve identified your primary goal, we can move forward in building your perfect strength training program!
When creating a strength training program, we first have to consider how we move. As human beings, we utilize parts of the body to form whole, integrative movements. As a proponent of functional movement, I believe there are 7 primary patterns of movement, including:
- Gait (Walking)
It is important to include every movement pattern in a strength training program. Why? So that you can best improve your functionality, mobility, and strength across the board. As you can probably tell, these primary movement patterns touch on every part of the body. They utilize all muscle groups, from head to toe, resulting in a comprehensive, full-body workout. For the purpose of strength training, I am going to focus on the first 6 movements, which work together to promote optimal gait (#7).
Putting it Together
The amount of days you workout per week will determine the workout “split” or structure that works best for your goals and schedule.
If you are training 3 days (or less) per week, I recommend sticking to full body workouts. Participating in 3 full body workouts per week help you get the most bang for your buck. If you train 4+ days per week, it is best to focus on specific movement patterns/muscle groups during each workout to avoid over training your muscles and allow for adequate recovery.
There is a fine balance between applying enough stress to the muscles to create change (more on this below) and allowing for adequate rest and recovery. Every time you participate in strength training, you apply stress to the muscles, causing them to break down and rebuild. If you don’t let your muscles rebuild fully (typically, 48-72 hours), they will stay in a continuous state of “breaking down” without repair. As a result, you will feel fatigued, and most likely, not see any improvements in strength and/or muscle definition.
I’ve outlined example workout structures based on number of days per week:
2 Day Training Program
Day #1: Full Body (Squat, Lunge, Push)
Day #2: Full Body (Hinge, Pull, Rotate)
3 Day Training Program
Day #1: Full Body (Squat, Push)
Day #2: Full Body (Hinge, Pull)
Day #3: Full Body (Lunge, Rotate)
4 Day Training Program
Day #1: Hinge, Rotate
Day #2: Push
Day #3: Squat, Lunge
Day #4: Pull
5 Day Training Program
Day #1: Hinge
Day #2: Push, Rotate
Day #3: Squat
Day #4: Pull, Rotate
Day #5: Lunge
6 Day Training Program:
Day #1: Hinge
Day #2: Push
Day #3: Rotate
Day #4: Squat
Day #5: Pull
Day #6: Lunge
Now that we have a better understanding of movement and how it affects your workout program, let’s further discuss each movement:
Hinging primarily engages your hamstrings, glutes, and full posterior chain. My favorite hinge exercises, include:
- Barbell Deadlifts
- Floor/Glute Bridges
- Kettlebell Deadlifts
- Single Leg Deadlifts
- Kettlebell Swings
A squat is pretty self-explanatory: think of moving from a seated position to a standing position. Your quads, glutes, and hamstrings are primarily used during squat movements. My favorite squatting movements include:
- Body Weight Squats
- Barbell Front Squats
- Kettlebell Goblet Squats
- Pistol Squats
Lunging mainly engages your quads, glutes, and calves, resulting in a complete lower body movement. My favorite lunge exercises include:
- Split Squats
- Walking Lunges
- Forward or Reverse Lunges
- Lateral lunges
Pushing mainly engages the upper body, but can easily engage the entire body (depending on the exercise). This movement primarily uses the pectoralis, tricep, and deltoid muscles. My favorite pushing movements, include:
- Overhead Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Single Arm Military Press
- Bench Dips
- Dumbbell Chest Press
Similar to pushing, a pulling movement primarily engages the upper body. My favorite pulling movements include:
- Bent-Over Barbell Rows
- Seated Rows
- Dumbbell Reverse Flies
Proper rotation should engage every core muscle and often involves the full body. My favorite rotation (and anti-rotation) exercises include:
- Side Planks
- Cable Rotations
- Mountain Climbers
Gait is the technical word for walking. Surprisingly, optimal gait can be challenging to achieve, but it’s certainly not impossible. My favorite gait exercises include:
- Walking (preferably outside)
- Running (preferably outside)
- Dumbbell or Kettlebell Farmer Carries
Well Culture provides great visuals examples of these 7 movements.
Sets, Reps, and Load
When creating the perfect strength training program, we first have to consider your fitness primary goal: endurance, strength, or hypertrophy (muscle definition). Then, with your goal in mind, we can consider the different variants of a program, including how many sets and reps are performed, as well as the amount of load used. To continually progress and meet your goals, we must understand the importance of progressive overload. This concept explains that the stress applied to the muscles must gradually increase in order to progress. Without progressive overload, it is easy to plateau, which the last thing we want in a strength training program.
Repetitions: the amount of times you perform each movement/exercise.
Endurance: >15 reps
Strength: 6-10 reps
Hypertrophy (Muscle Definition): 8-15 reps
Sets: the amount of times you repeat the repetitions for each exercise.
Endurance: 2-3 sets
Strength: 3-5 sets
Hypertrophy: 3-5 sets
Load: additional weight used for the movement.
Disclaimer: Before adding load to any movement, it is essential that you can perform the movement correctly. I recommend seeking the help of a certified personal trainer to ensure your safety and the effectiveness of the movement.
When it comes to adding load to your exercises (ie. dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, etc), I recommend starting light, then increasing in weight. The last few reps of each set should be challenging. If you’re not being challenged in those last few reps, it’s time to increase weight.
With all of these considerations in mind, we can create an effective and enjoyable workout program! If you have any questions about strength training, feel free to leave them below. Or, if you’ve decided you would like to work with me as a personal trainer (in-person or virtually), you can send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.