The goal of strength training is to increase strength or to get stronger.
But this goal is a very broad one so I want to explain how to strength train properly.
Weight lifting and training for strength are closely related.
One of the first steps you'll need to take in strength training is choosing the best weight lifting exercises.
This is just one of the things I'll explain for you today.
Strength Training Table of Contents
You will find very detailed information about strength training on this page so I've made it easier for you to navigate this page with the table of contents below. Each of the links below take you further down this page.
- Weight Lifting and Strength Training
- Strength Training Program
- Strength Training Tips
- Benefits of Strength Training
- Strength Training Equipment
- Kettlebell Strength Training
- Strength Training Exercises
- Strength Training Without Weights
- Strength Training for Women
- Strength Training Diet
At the end of each of the content sections above, you will find a link back to the table of contents. This makes it very easy for you to navigate this page.
Weight Lifting and Strength Training
Weight lifting and strength training are closely related.
In order to strength train, you're going to need some type of resistance or weight load.
This is where weight lifting comes into play.
A weight load or exercise resistance must be increasing over time for your strength levels to increase.
You may work with the same weight load and increase reps over time but strength gains are faster when increasing resistance versus repetitions.
Something called the repeated bout effect will come into play when you use the same amount of weight for extended periods of time.
What is Strength Training?
Strength training is a type of physical exercise that uses resistance of some type to force a muscular contraction which utlimately leads to an increase in strength.
Weight lifting is the primary method of building strength.
Your body will adapt to the weight you lift by increasing muscle strength.
If you continue to lift the same amount of weight for the same number of reps, your body will have no reason to adapt to a new weight load.
However, increasing reps versus increasing weight lifted, will eventually lead to very high reps using the same weight load. This will lead to gains in endurance more than gains in strength.
For instance, imagine doing 100 reps of bodyweight squats versus 5 reps of 405 pound squats. With the 100 rep squats, you will be exercising muscle endurance more than muscle strength.
The Best Strength Training Exercises
Later, I will talk in depth about strength training exercises, but I want to make sure you know the absolute best exercises for strength training.
There are 7 core weight lifting exercises that will form the basis of all strength training programs you'll find here at Weight Lifting Complete.
Here's a quick list of the best 7 overall exercise “movements” that you should be doing:
- Bench Press
- Overhead Press
- Chin Up
All of these 7 strength training exercises should be included in your workout plan over time.
Your focus in strength training should be to get very good at doing these exercises and very strong on these exercises.
A combination of these strength training exercises will build a very strong and very balanced body as all major muscle groups are worked with just these 7 exercises.
The Best Strength Training Equipment
Again, I will go into much more detail later for strength training equipment, but I want to go into a quick introduction to the best equipment for strength training.
I've been lifting weights since the year 2000 and have built a very nice home gym in my basement.
If I had to start over from the beginning, I would purchase the following equipment in this order:
- Power Rack with Cable System
- Olympic Barbell Sets
- Extra Weight Plates
- Trap Bar (for deadlifts)
- Dumbbell Sets
- Weight Bench
- Chin Up Station and Dip Station
- Ironmind Hip Belt
Most power racks will come with a chin up bar and some power racks may have the capability for dip bars. Chin ups and dips are required when using the WLC System so I highly recommend you have the capability of doing these top exercises.
The above list of strength training equipment allows you to safely perform all 7 of the core weight lifting exercises.
The Ironmind hip belt allows you to add weight around your body to chin ups and dips. This means you may be able to delay the purchase of this equipment until you are strong enough to add weight.
Strength Training Workouts
Now that you know the best weight lifting exercises and the best weight lifting equipment, you'll want to know how to perform the best strength training workouts.
I will definitely go into strength training workouts in much more detail later, but you'll need to know the following pieces of information to execute workouts properly:
- Workout Schedule (when to lift weights)
- Workout Exercises (exercise selection and order)
- Number of Sets (how many times each exercise)
- Number of Repetitions (how many reps each exercise set)
- Rest Time Between Sets and Exercises
- Starting Amount of Weight (how much weight to lift first workout)
- Intensity Level (when to stop a set)
- Plan of Progression (when to increase weight lifted)
- Stall Plan (what to do when you have trouble increasing weight lifted)
- When to Cease Workout Program (when to take a full break and how long)
If a workout plan doesn't include all of the above information, it's not a good strength training workout plan.
You must know all of the information regarding the plan before starting. Planning and understanding how a workout plan works is of the keys to consistency and sticking to your plan.
When you run into any issues, you'll have a plan for those and you'll know exactly what to do to continue making strength gains.
Rest and Recovery from Workouts
With any workout, your body needs time to rest and recover from that workout.
This is especially true with weight lifting and strength training workouts.
When you lift heavy weights, you are damaging muscles throughout your body.
Because you are doing the big compound exercises like squats and deadlifts, you are using the largest amount of weight your body can lift.
Strength training workouts provide a unique stimulus to your body from any other types of workouts.
Your body needs time to repair muscles and react to the muscle and strength building stimulus you provided. In other words, you don't immediately get stronger or larger muscles from a heavy set of squats.
The human body reacts after the workout so you need to give your body adequate time and provide adequate resources for recovery.
All of this rest and recovery stuff can get very complicated and detailed too so I will go into depth on this throughout the Weight Lifting Complete website.
The most important thing to remember is to not add a ton of exercises and workout all the time to get results. Your body needs time to recover and grow stronger.
Strength Training Program
There are a huge number of strength training programs in existence so how in the world will you know which strength training program to use?
I'm going to give you all the details you need right here for a perfect strength training program. Even people who have been lifting weights for years can benefit greatly from this strength training program.
Strength Training Schedule
There will be two different workouts for this program: Workout A and Workout B. I will give you details for these 2 workouts soon, but for now, you need to know when to perform each of the workouts.
Day 1 = Workout A
Day 2 = Rest
Day 3 = Workout B
Day 4 = Rest
Day 5 = Workout A
Day 6 = Rest
Day 7 = Rest
Day 1 = Workout B
Day 2 = Rest
Day 3 = Workout A
Day 4 = Rest
Day 5 = Workout B
Day 6 = Rest
Day 7 = Rest
After week 2 is complete, you will simply repeat the schedule. For instance, in week 3, you will perform the week 1 schedule of workout A, workout B, then workout A again.
This schedule will continue with alternating strength training workouts until you are ready to stop the program (this is explained more later).
Weight Lifting Workouts A and B
Here are the exercises, sets, reps, and other details you need for each workout.
1. Low Bar Squat, 3 sets of 5 reps each set
2. Weighted Push Up, 3 sets of 5 reps each set
3. Pendlay Rows, 3 sets of 5 reps each set
4. Dips, 3 sets of 8 reps each set
1. High Bar Squat, 3 sets of 5 reps each set
2. Overhead Press, 3 sets of 5 reps each set
3. Trap Bar Deadlifts, 3 sets of 5 reps each set
4. Chin Ups, 3 sets of 8 reps each set
Rest Between Sets and Exercises
Rest 2 minutes between sets and between exercises. Do all sets of a given exercise before moving onto the next exercise.
Do not rest for huge periods of time between sets meaning don't get on your phone or talk to someone in the gym.
Focus and get your workouts done. Then, get out of the gym and get some healthy food from whole food sources.
Choosing the Starting Weight for Each Exercise
No matter your experience, you should start with light weights for this strength training program. When I say this, there is a strategy behind starting out with light weights.
“Light weights” are relative to each and every person. I will explain more for beginners to weight training and what weights to lift for people who are more experienced and know their current rep maxes for each exercise.
Starting Weights for Beginners
Of course, every single person is different and you will know your starting capacity better than I. These are just very general guidelines so use them in that way. For instance, if you know you can't do 95 pound deadlifts, then start lighter.
Low Bar and High Bar Squat
Start with just an Olympic barbell with no weight plates. Just the barbell is 45 pounds.
Weighted Push Up
Start with just your body weight. Weighted push ups should be with a barbell set at the correct height in a power rack and your feet elevated over a weight bench.
This version is much easier on your wrists and works great for adding weight to push ups.
Start with just the 45 pound barbell. If you have very light weight Olympic plates (bumper plates), you can use those to get the bar at the correct starting height.
Use only the Olympic barbell to start. This may be heavy for some people. If so, use a standard barbell which is approximately 20 pounds (diameter of the bar is much smaller making it lighter).
Trap Bar Deadlifts
Start with 95 pounds on the bar. A trap bar weighs approximately 45 pounds. Add a 25 pound weight plate to each side of the trap bar. If this is too much, use lighter Olympic sized weight plates (bumper plates).
Chin Ups and Dips
Start with body weight only, but use heavy resistance bands (get different resistances to make progress) to decrease your body weight. Wrap them around the chin up bar and dip handles and then put one of your knees in the band to assist you.
Starting Weights for Experienced Weight Lifters
If you are an experienced weight lifter, start with 30 to 40 percent less than your current rep maximums.
As an example, if your current 5 rep max for low bar squats is 285, you would get your calculator out and multiple 285 by 0.6 to get 40% less than your current 5 rep max (285 x 0.6 = 171).
If you want to start a little heavier, you would multiply 285 by 0.7 to get 30% less than your current 5 rep max (285 x 0.7 = 200).
This is just an example. Use your actual numbers to get the correct starting weight for you.
Remember, the key here is to start light. If you haven't had a break from strength training for a while, take a week or two off before starting this strength training program.
Increasing the Amount of Weight Lifted
For this strength training program, you will use the exact same weight for all sets of a given exercise.
Weight increases for an exercise will only occur from workout to workout. In other words, you will use the same weight for all 3 sets of squats.
Then, you will change the weight you using for the next exercise and use the same weight for all 3 sets of that exercise.
You will increase the weight the next workout IF you achieved good form on all reps and hit the target number of reps on all sets.
For example, if you do 135 pounds on squats for 3 sets and you get 5 reps on each set with good form, increase the weight next workout.
How Much to Increase the Weight?
A good rule is to increase the weight by 2.5% each workout when you achieve all reps in good form and hit the rep target for an exercise.
All you need to do is keep your calculator handy and multiply your current weight by 0.025 and see what you get.
Let's look at 95 pounds for trap bar deadlifts and see what weight you'll be lifting next.
95 pounds x 0.025 = 2.375 pound increase
This is where fractional weight plates come in and work well. If you have a set of 1.25 pound weight plates, add one to each side of the bar for your next workout for an increase of 2.5 pounds.
If you started out really light and believe you can add 5 pounds to the barbell, do it. This can simplify the weight increases for you. Add a 2.5 pound weight plate to each side.
When you're getting strong fast, you might even think the current weight you are using is way too light. Add a 5 pound weight plate to each side.
Be Patient When Increasing Weight
Don't get in too big of a hurry and increase the weight by large amounts too fast.
You can hit a wall when you do this. Give your body time to benefit from each weight load, but not too much time.
Try not to use the same weight load for more than 3 workouts. Your goal is to increase the weight every workout, but you can repeat the same weight as needed.
See the section on stalling below if you have trouble increasing the weight for more than 3 consecutive workouts.
Stalling and Having Trouble Increasing the Weight
Obviously, you won't be able to increase the amount of weight you are lifting for long periods of time.
Most people can keep increasing weight on this strength training program for 8 to 15 weeks or more. The longer you can continue increasing the weight, the better results you will see!
Don't make huge jumps of weight between workouts without having a plan in place to do so. This particular strength training program is not designed to make huge jumps in weight lifted between workouts.
Follow This Rule for Stalling Out
Stalling means you haven't been able to increase the weight on any given exercise for 3 consecutive workouts.
Once this happens (and it will eventually), decrease the weight ONLY on the exercise that is stalling by 10%. This is what I call a “reset.”
As an example, if you were using 185 pounds, you would multiply 185 by 0.9 to get your new weight (185 x 0.9 = 167 pounds). When you hit the target number of reps on this exercise for all sets with your new decreased weight, increase the weight by 2.5%. You will most likely shoot right past the previous weight that was giving you difficulty.
Try to stick to 2.5% weight increases on your exercises and stalling will stay away for longer periods of time. When you start increasing by large amounts, this is when stalling may occur.
For example, overhead press uses overall lighter weight than squats. If you increase by 5 pounds on overhead press and squats, it makes sense that you will stall out and hit your capacity much sooner on the overhead press. If you follow the 2.5% rule, you will not stall out so soon on the overhead press.
Another Step for Stalling
If you want to continue for an even longer period of time with this strength training program, you can do so once most of the exercises have stalled out for strength gains.
For the strength training exercises that are stalling after you've already “reset” once, you will now decrease the weight by 20% (the multiplier is 0.8) and change the number of reps for all 3 sets to 3 reps (for those with a target of 5 reps) or 5 reps (for those with a target of 8 reps).
Remember, you will only do this for the exercises that are stalling and need a bigger reset this time around. Always use the strategy for the first reset before taking this step.
You can also decrease the overall volume by changing to 1 set versus 3 sets. This is an even further step you can take to continue getting gains from the very heavy weights you will now be using. Less overall volume requires less resources for recovery. This is another tactic you can use to continue progress with your workout program.
When to Stop This Strength Training Program
If you have already reset exercises the first and second time as described above and aren't making progress on most of the exercises, it's time to take a break from weight training.
You've done an awesome job to this point and have worked really hard. A break is well deserved.
The full break from all weight lifting and any vigorous exercise is a strategy that sets you up for even more success the next weight lifting program.
You need to rest for 7 to 15 days. You should continue light cardio about 3 times per week to get blood flowing throughout your body. And continue eating ONLY healthy foods. This isn't a break from your normal diet foods, which shouldn't include junk at all.
Continue eating well with rest, and your body will continue growth during this rest period. You will not lose muscle when taking a break for 7 to 15 days. If you do, it will come back very quickly when you start the next program.
Conclusion to This Strength Training Program
You can start using this strength training program right now as it is a very good one that is intelligently designed and proven.
This is just one example, though, and you'll find a huge number of weight lifting programs available here at Weight Lifting Complete.
Every weight training program here is focused on strength gains, but some are designed for muscle gains over strength gains.
We usually call this difference size or strength. So you'll find “size specific” or “strength specific” workout programs here, and the one I have given you above is definitely a strength specific program.
Muscle strength and muscle size are closely related. You need more of one to get the other. Focus on strength first and then take advantage of your new strength levels with new muscle size. Then, the new muscle size will lead to a higher capacity for strength.
Strength Training Tips
If you've read the previous sections of this page, you have most likely already picked up a huge number of strength training tips, but I want to provide you with even more in this section.
Proper Workout Warm Up
Before you start a strength training workout, you must warm up properly. A proper warm up will allow you to lift heavier weights while an improper warm up will force you to use lighter weight and do fewer reps.
For instance, you must start with a pre-workout warm up in which you get your body warmed up and break a sweat.
Pre-Workout Warm Up Example
- 5 minutes of light cardiovascular exercise
- 10 front to back leg swings
- 10 side to side leg swings
- 20 jumping jacks
- 10 bodyweight squats
- 5 bodyweight push ups
- 20 arm cirles each direction (front and back)
Specific Strength Exercises Warm Up
Now here's the part of your warm up that can make or break your results. This is a very important tip so please pay attentio to this one.
If you are lifting heavy weights, you need at least a few specific exercise warm ups before going to your heavy weight for your working sets.
For instance, you wouldn't go straight to 300 pound bench press for 5 reps when that is close to your maximum.
Instead, you would do something like this when warming up for a working set of 300 pounds for 5 repetitions:
- 45 pounds for 5 reps
- 95 pounds for 5 reps
- 145 pounds for 4 reps
- 195 pounds for 3 reps
- 245 pounds for 2 reps
- 275 pounds for 1 rep
This gets you warmed up but not fatigued for your working sets. Notice that you never do more reps in a warm up set than you do for your working set.
The above sequence can change if the target number of reps is higher. If you're doing a set of deadlifts with 315 pounds for 12 reps, the warm up sequence might look like this:
- 135 pounds for 8 reps
- 185 pounds for 6 reps
- 235 pounds for 4 reps
- 285 pounds for 2 reps
There is not a perfect equation or outline for specific exercise warm-ups, but I am hoping the above examples give you a much better idea. You also don't need to rest much between the warm up sets. Just change the weight and get them done.
Most people wear themselves down with too much weight for too many reps. Don't do this as this will greatly affect your overall strength gains and muscle gains.
Best Time of Day for Your Workouts
This all comes down to your daily schedule and what you can fit into your schedule, but I have a tip for you.
Your strength training workouts should be a high priority in your life because this is improving your health and your entire outlook and attitude for each day.
Since your workouts are a high priority, I recommend you do them early in the morning before your day gets started. This means nothing will be in the way (usually) for you to complete your workout.
A home gym cannot get a higher possible recommendation from me! Get up early, fix an egg omelet for breakfast with all types of healthy ingredients added to it, get a big glass of raw milk, and enjoy your food and drink. Then, head over to your home gym and get your workout done.
Then, have another quick whole food meal after your workout and off you go for the day. Get a shower and get ready for work, school, or anything else you have. That's it. Your workout is done and you feel great for the rest of the day.
Your workout days start with a great accomplishment. That sense of accomplishment and getting something done will help you be more productive the rest of the day!
Adjust Your Workout Schedule
This is a strength training tip that may be difficult for you at first, but when using the WLC System for some time, will become easier for you to execute properly.
When you are doing big compound weight lifting exercises like the ones in the strength training program I've given you on this page, your body may need an extra day or two of rest between workouts.
Most likely, this would happen when you get to the heaviest weights and more than you've ever lifted before.
You need to monitor how you are feeling and your results with the WLC System methods.
If you're feeling really fatigued and run down, you might start by adding an extra day of rest between workouts. If you begin feeling better and strength gains improve, this is a sign you needed just a little more rest for this program.
Now, this tip is not an excuse to be lazy and skip your scheduled workouts. Only use this if you truly need it as there is a difference between being lazy and adding a rest day because you need it.
Learning How to Do the Exercises Properly
My recommendation to you is to get a copy of Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe.
This is an absolutely great resource to use for learning how to do the best exercises properly. I wish I had this book when I first started lifting weights.
Instead, many things had to be corrected by me further down the line when I was lifting heavier weight which is dangerous to do without proper form and technique.
Within this exercise execution book, you will find tons of great information on the squat, overhead press, deadlift, bench press, and more.
Do Specific Exercise Warm-Ups Between Sets
You can save plenty of time in your workouts by doing specific exercise warm ups in between the working sets of other weight training exercises.
Instead of completely resting between sets, you can use this active method of rest to prepare for your next exercise.
Sometimes, depending on the workout plan, this may work well and other times it may not. So please use this at your own discretion.
This can save a lot of time if you're at the portion of your strength training program when you are lifting very heavy weight.
An example for warming up the overhead press in between sets of squats looks like this:
- Overhead Press Warm Up, 45 x 5 reps
- High Bar Squat, 255 x 5 reps
- Overhead Press Warm Up, 65 x 4 reps
- High Bar Squat, 255 x 5 reps
- Overhead Press Warm Up, 85 x 3 reps
- High Bar Squat, 255 x 5 reps
- Overhead Press Warm Up, 105 x 2 reps
You can now see that you are ahead on your overhead press warm-ups by 3 sets. The only issue you might have is you may do the overhead press at the power rack with the same barbell as you're using for high bar squats.
This is why I have multiple barbells and 2 different spots on my power rack to do exercises (one inside the rack and one on the outside of the rack).
I do the squats inside the rack for safety reasons and the overhead press on the outside of the rack. So you have to think ahead so you can save time in your workouts.
How To Get Assistance for Chin Ups and Dips
You may have noticed the recommendation earlier to use resistance bands for assistance with Chin Ups and Dips.
With the example strength training program, your target is 3 sets of 8 reps each for chin ups and dips. But how do you do this if you can't even do a single rep with only your body weight?
The answer to this is to use resistance bands to provide the assistance you need. For example, you may weigh 175 pounds and decide to try a 100 pound resistance band. This leaves you with about 75 pounds to lift versus 175 pounds of body weight.
If you can't get 8 reps with the 100 pound resistance band, add a 25 pound band to the 100 pound band to assist you slightly more.
This is how you get the assistance you need on chin ups and dips. Before long, you will not need the resistance bands and will instead need a hip belt to add extra weight around your waist.
Benefits of Strength Training
All of the amazing benefits of strength training are so numerous that it's difficult to remember them all and list them out. Here's just a few of these benefits:
1. Improves Your Physical Fitness
When you get really strong on the best exercises, your body functions much better throughout everyday life.
Lifting heavy objects is much easier now. Your mobility and balance also improves with strength training. You will move better throughout your life when you gain functional strength.
As you age, balance and mobility are highly important. Strength training gives you this benefit.
Another aspect of physical fitness is body composition. Lifting weights definitely improves your body composition.
2. Protects Your Bones and Muscle Mass
As you age, your body begins to decline.
You can fight that decline in bone health and muscle mass through strength training. This decline in health can even be slowed to a halt through weight lifting.
I don't know anyone who wouldn't to slow aging down as much as possible.
Strong bones are a result of strength training as your bone mineral density is greatly improved. When a muscle contracts, the bones cells are stimulated and start production of structural proteins.
Because of this, minerals are moved into your bones creating stronger bones.
3. Results Are No Longer Temporary
When people attempt to lose weight, they usually do so without strength training and this is a very bad idea.
Without weight lifting and a low calorie diet, you will lose weight fast but most of the weight will be muscle mass and not body fat.
This is bad because once you start eating “normal” again that muscle mass is not there to burn off all of that normal food and you gain weight back very quickly.
If you start strength training and cardiovascular exercise, you won't need to starve yourself to lose body fat and you'll keep all of that precious muscle mass.
4. Improves Your Posture
Poor posture can cause mental and physical stress. This can cause soreness and pain throughout your life due to improper alignment within your body.
These posture problems may be linked back to weak muscle groups.
Training all of the muscle groups throughout your body with the best exercises will improve your posture.
You'll also feel much better when your posture improves.
5. Helps You Manage Chronic Diseases
Did you know that strength training may be as effective as any medication for arthritis? This is true.
Weight lifting assists with all types of chronic disease but can also help to prevent those diseases before they get there.
Glucose control within your body can be greatly improved with strength training and a healthy diet packed full of healthy foods.
Strength training improves the ability of your muscles to use blood sugar (glucose).
Body fat increases the risk of many diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and even promotes the development of cancer.
6. Improves Your Mental Health
Depression and anxiety is reduced through strength training. Endorphins that are triggered through exercise help with this.
I've always done better mentally when I lift weights, but there's proof that overcoming obstacles like weights during a workout really increases mental toughness.
Setting goals and reaching those goals in your workouts provides you with happiness in your life.
If you are never achieving anything, your mental health will decline.
7. Improves Your Body Image
When you get stronger and see the physical changes in your body, the image you have of yourself greatly improves.
You know that you look better and feel better when you are improving your strength levels.
Body fat is lost and muscle is gained, which greatly improves your body image. You gain more energy and feel so much better about yourself when you're improving body composition.
Confidence in yourself is an amazing thing that everyone should have. Strength training improves your self confidence.
8. Increases Your Life Span
Wow, if this isn't a benefit you want, then something must be wrong with your outlook on life.
Did you know the grip strength has been correlated to life span? Better start doing more farmer walks and grip training!
Body composition is also related to your life span. Make improvements in strength and body composition and your life expectancy will improve.
Strength Training Equipment
Strength training equipment can be a very confusing topic so I want to go into detail on exactly what you need.
You won't want to waste your time with certain pieces of weight lifting equipment.
Free Weights Are Key
Definition of free weights: “A weight used in weight lifting that is not attached to an apparatus.”
Free weights allow your body to move freely during an exercise and do not “lock” your body into a specific plane of motion.
Exercise Resistance for Strength Training
Any type of free weight will do for your workouts, but you need a way to safely increase the weight on the best exercises (squat, deadlift, bench press, row, overhead press, chin up, dip) over time by large amounts.
For instance, a milk jug filled with sand could be used as a form of free weights, but how are you going to increase it from 10 pounds to 50 pounds or more over time? You can't easily do that without increasing the size of the jug.
Barbells and Weight Plates
Olympic barbells and weight plates are the easiest way to increase weight by large amounts over time. Barbells and weight plates are free weights.
All you have to do is load the weight plates onto a barbell. But, for strength training exercises like the squat, how are you going to get a heavy barbell on your upper back.
When the weight is heavier than what you can lift over your head and lower onto your upper back (not very safe as I have done it before as a beginner), you need a power rack to hold the weight in position for you.
With weight lifting exercises that use both arms to lift a barbell, a barbell does, to a point, limit free movement of each arm. Both arms are “locked” together and working together. For instance, some very wide grip and very narrow grip movements will lock your arms into different positions and this can be similar to a machine.
The biggest advantage of barbells and weight plates (with a power rack) is you can easily load very heavy weight for your exercises and have the barbell in the position you need with a power rack.
Dumbbells are a great form of free weights and one that allows you to move naturally throughout all movements.
You are never locked into a position with dumbbells as both arms are able to move freely throughout all portions of a repetition (positive, peak contraction, negative, full stretch).
The disadvantage of dumbbells is they get very large and very difficult to get into position for many different weight lifting exercises. For other exercises, they are not difficult to get into position.
For instance, cleaning two very large dumbbells up into position for overhead press is very difficult compared to a barbell already set at the correct height in a power rack.
Yes, you can gain more functional strength using large dumbbells but the target exercise will get less stimulation as you'll use much energy getting the dumbbells into position (if you are successful). Imagine getting 80 pound dumbbells into position for the overhead press versus using a 160 pound barbell in the power rack.
Also, for some exercises like squats and deadlifts, you most likely won't have large enough dumbbells available.
Because the kettlebell is very similar to a dumbbell, the same information applies here.
You probably won't find large enough kettlebells to do lower rep ranges for many of the best exercises.
Instead, kettlebell training forces you to use exercises that don't use heavy weights. For instance, single leg squats would be used with lighter kettlebells versus barbell squats with heavy weight.
The lighter weight used means the exercise does not use as many muscles throughout your body and you are isolating more muscle groups. Single leg squats are a great exercise but do not use heavy weights because you are using one leg at a time and fewer overall muscles at once.
Because of this, I like to use kettlebells for certain exercises in a strength training program every now and then because I like to mix different types of free weights.
For beginners, I would rather the focus be on barbell exercises so you are using the heaviest amount of weight. Later, you will switch exercises once you have gotten really strong on the previous exercises. Then, you can choose different squat variations like the single leg squat with a kettlebell.
I am not a big fan of resistance bands for use on exercises by themselves. The reason is that it's difficult to get a constant resistance and you don't really know a precise resistance of the band.
The goal of strength training is to get stronger and measuring this strength increase is important. Increasing the resistance from workout to workout is also important.
Resistance bands make this very difficult to do. Instead, we use them for assistance on chin ups and dips and as you simply try to decrease the resistance band assistance over time to get stronger.
Using them on all exercises is not recommended because it's difficult to measure progress.
Using Body Weight as Resistance
If you don't have any strength training equipment, your body weight is a great way to get started.
You can do great with just your bodyweight for a good amount of time. Simply increase the number of reps to get stronger.
Since your body weight isn't changing by much and cannot be controlled, you will eventually stall on your results because you aren't increasing the weight lifted.
The best way to get stronger is to increase the weight you are lifting. Bodyweight exercises are some of the best overall exercises, but weight needs to be added to them for you to continue to get results.
A cable system is highly recommended and is a great form of exercise resistance.
But, the cable system exercises should NEVER be the focus of your workouts. The big 7 free weight exercises should always be that focus.
Later down the road, you can use a cable system to help target the muscle groups that need the most work.
For example, cable kickbacks (a very difficult exercise when done properly) can really help to improve your hamstrings and glutes and help you learn how to use those muscle groups more effectively.
Weight machines of any type are not the highest recommended form of exercise resistance for strength training.
Yes, you can use a machine and increase strength greatly but many machines can be dangerous as they lock you into a specific plane of motion and do not provide you with functional strength.
You move freely throughout your daily life, and you need that same free motion to get the most out of weight lifting exercises.
For instance, a Smith Machine is not recommended for squats because you aren't allowed to move freely.
You aren't even required to balance the weight as much which doesn't improve that aspect of your physical fitness.
For some exercises, I do use a Smith Machine. These are exercises like seated calf raises. I personally do all types of calves exercises because I've had a weakness in the size of my calves throughout my life.
For weighted push ups, I also use the Smith Machine bar to place my hands because it is safe and in a fixed position.
Many people purchase Bowflex machines because Bowflex makes it sound like their machines are better than free weights.
This is bogus marketing that simply isn't true. You can trust me 100%, without a doubt, that nothing is better than free weights for building muscle and strength.
Yes, you can still get strong using a Bowflex and, in my opinion, a Bowflex is better than some of those home gym multi-station machines with things like “chest press.” I say this because a Bowflex allows you to move more freely than a weight machine and the resistance is much like a cable system.
For beginners to working out, a Bowflex can be a great way to get started exercising. Eventually, though, you will need to get free weight equipment to get the most out of your time and effort.
Other Weight Machines
There are a huge number and variety of weight machines in existence so it's difficult to discuss all of them.
Just know and understand that your choice to use a weight machine is not the best choice you can make.
Free weight exercises will always out perform a weight machine because they provide a more complete resistance to your body throughout the range of motion of any exercise.
And yes, there are better free weight exercises within free weights. For instance, I always look for exercises with a greater range of motion.
An example is the overhead press. I personally prefer the single arm overhead press with a dumbbell because I can get very heavy dumbbells into position with the help of both arms and I get a much fuller range of motion than one I can use with a barbell.
Also, the single arm overhead press is much less stressful on your lower back than the barbell overhead press.
The Equipment You Need
The correct strength training equipment is not difficult to recognize and allows you to do the best exercises.
I want to go into more detail on each of the best pieces of weight lifting equipment. Here's a quick list:
- Power Rack
- Barbell Sets
- Weight Plates
- Trap Bar
- Weight Bench
- Chin Up Station
- Dip Station
- Ironmind Hip Belt
The above list is just about everything you need. Some power racks have cable systems with them and this is highly recommended for later, but it's not something you MUST have.
Now, let's go into more detail about the pieces of weight lifting equipment shown above.
Build Your Home Gym
Before I get to the best equipment, I just want to take a quick minute to recommend you start building a home gym.
Trust me, working out will be much better, more convenient, save you money, save you much time, and provide you with better results overall when you have a home gym.
Driving to a gym wastes time and money (lots of it) and ends up costing you results too because you will skip workouts due to the inconveniences.
Start building your home gym today, and you will be so happy that you did.
A power rack should form the center piece of your workout equipment.
If you want to use a barbell and weight plates for squats, bench press, and overhead press, then you need to have a power rack.
You can go without a power rack, but you will have some limitations to what you can do safely in your home gym.
Most power racks will come with a chin up bar too so you won't have to worry about purchasing additional equipment for doing chin ups.
Some power racks will have dip attachments or dip bars as well, but most I have seen do not.
At least 2 Olympic barbell sets are highly recommended so that you can use 2 different barbells for your workouts.
This comes in handy when you're trying to prepare and warm up for your next exercise in between working sets with your main weight lifting exercise.
You can never have enough barbells or weight plates as this gives you more capability for your workouts.
If you only have one barbell, you won't be able to do other exercises at the same time. You'll see what I mean once you begin your workouts with only one barbell.
You should have plenty of weight plates of all sizes: 45's, 35's, 25's, 10's, 5's, and 2.5 pound weight plates.
Without a good number of weight plates, you'll be moving weight plates between barbells and exercises.
For instance if you have a barbell loaded with weight plates for deadlifts on the floor and a barbell loaded with weight plates for the bench press in your power rack, you'll have to move weight plates between barbells if you don't have enough plates.
In order to do your workouts in the most time saving manner, you need a lot of weight plates!
The best way to store them is on your power rack weight holders and additional weight holders if needed (most likely you will need additional).
The trap bar deadlift is one of the most highly recommended strength training exercises I can provide you with.
In order to do this exercise, you'll need a trap bar. I even have a specific area of my home gym set up for just trap bar deadlifts.
The exercise is that good and deserves its own bar and area in your gym too.
You can also use the bar for shrugs further down the road (if trapezius muscle group is a weakness for you).
A set of hex dumbbells, adjustable dumbbells, or any other dumbbells that go from 5 pounds all the way up to 80 pounds or more is my recommendation.
For my home gym, I only go up to 80 pound hex dumbbells.
After that, I use an adjustable dumbbell set that uses standard weight plates. I can easily take these up to 150 pounds or more with the standard weight plates (using 25's).
For example, single arm rows will use very heavy dumbbells as you can get really strong on this exercise.
You need a strong and sturdy weight bench that isn't too large or too heavy to move easily.
The weight bench you choose should also be easy to incline and decline.
Make sure you get one with a high weight limit as you'll need as you build strength.
Chin Up Station
Your power rack should have a chin up station included. If not, you'll want to have a place to do chin ups.
Some chin up stations come with dip bars too so this is a great option.
I have a chin up and dip station in my home gym and use both my power rack and this chin up station for chin ups.
Check the height of your home gym ceiling and the height of the chin up station with about another foot of clearance above it as you'll need room for your head to come above the bar.
If your power rack has dip bars or an option to add them, you definitely want to make sure you get them.
You can get a dip station or dip stands if your power rack doesn't have that option.
Dips are one of the 7 best exercises so I highly recommend that you don't forget about this exercise or ignore this exercise.
Ironmind Hip Belt
You don't have to get an Ironmind hip belt as they are costly, but they are extremely high quality and nothing else I've seen comes close.
There are lower cost and lower quality weight belts available (ones that allow you to hang weight from your waist).
My hip belt has lasted for at least 15 years and doesn't even look like it's been used. I have used it almost every workout that I've done. It's an amazing piece of strength training equipment that I highly recommend you get while you still can.
The hip belt can be used for so much more than a weight belt, so again, this is highly recommended. For example, you can do hip belt squats. For my workouts, I use the hip belt for calf raises and squats so there is no additional stress to my lower back.
Kettlebell Strength Training
Kettlebell strength training is similar to straining with barbells and dumbbells.
If you have tried working out with kettlebells, you'll see that they are similar to dumbbells but the weight distribution for an exercise is much different.
This difference makes many exercises feel very different and more difficult if you aren't accustomed to training with kettlebells.
For instance, the kettlebell handles are rotating in your hands as the weight changes position for many exercises. For other exercises, it doesn't change position as much.
Kettlebells Provide Additional Benefits
You will receive many benefits above barbells and dumbbells when mixing this tool into your workouts: strength, stamina, mobility, coordination, power, balance, and more.
I do not recommend using only kettlebells in your workout program, but you can if you want to try them for extended periods of time.
Instead, I recommend a mix of barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells for your strength training. For beginners, I recommend barbells. Then you can start adding dumbbells and then kettlebells.
Yes, I believe kettlebell strength training can take your strength to new levels.
Drawbacks to Kettlebell Strength Training
The issue I have with them is you don't get to lift the heaviest weight possible for exercises like squats and deadlifts unless you have some huge kettlebells and then they are very difficult to get into position for squats.
When going to an all kettlebell strength training plan, I believe your legs and lower body may not be worked to a higher capacity as you can with a barbell and trap bar.
Think of overhead kettlebell squats versus a heavy low bar squat. You just won't be moving as much weight, and again, heavy weight does special things for your body.
Highly Recommended But Not Exclusively
But then, kettlebells provide other benefits other than lifting really heavy weight. So yes, I highly recommend kettlebells but not exclusively for your workouts.
Also, you will need to have a large number of different size kettlebells to lift progressively more weight over time. Kettlebells take a very large amount of space compared to other weight lifting equipment so plan ahead if you want to use them in your home gym.
I have an adjustable set of kettlebells and would recommend these if you don't have a huge amount of space in your home gym.
Strength Training Exercises
I've discussed the best strength training exercises throughout this strength training guide.
Now, though, I want to continue into more detail for the top 7 exercises and many different options for each.
Remember, the 7 core weight lifting exercises will build a completely balanced bldy for you without the need to add other exercises.
The 7 Core Strength Training Exercises
So here is where I will go over the seven best exercises to build strength.
I'll list the main exercise first and then give you several alternatives that also work great.
1. The Squat
The squat and deadlift are the king of all strength training exercises.
You will be able to lift the heaviest amount of weight on either the squat or the deadlift.
Squats MUST be included in your strength training program unless you have an injury or some other reason for not doing them.
Squat Exercise Video
- Front Squat
- Hack Squat
- Barbell Squat
- Sumo Squats
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Goblet Squat
2. The Deadlift
Deadlifts are an amazing exercise that you should be doing.
When you love lifting heavy weights, the deadlift will be one of your favorites as it is for me.
Seriously, if you aren't working on getting extremely strong on this exercise, you are missing out on serious strength gains throughout your entire body.
Deadlift Exercise Video
- Stiff Leg Deadlift
- Romanian Deadlift
- Barbell Deadlift
- Sumo Deadlift
- Dumbbell Deadlift
- Trap Bar Deadlift
- Kettlebell Deadlift
- Suitcase Deadlift
3. The Bench Press
The bench press is not the highest rated exercise for the “bench press” movement. What??? Yes, this is confusing but let me explain.
A push up is the recommended strength training exercise when you can safely add heavy weight around your body. Do this with a hip belt, a barbell in a power rack (grip the bar here), and elevate your feet on a stable weight bench.
Then work on getting really strong on weighted push ups versus the bench press. Push ups are a superior exercise when you can add weight safely and progressively.
Push Up Exercise Video
Note: move the bench back compared to what you see in this video and turn it long ways. Get your butt down and even throughout your body.
Bench Press Exercise Video
Bench Press Alternatives
- Incline Bench Press
- Barbell Bench Press
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Decline Bench Press
- Close Grip Bench Press
- Flat Bench Press
- Reverse Bench Press
4. The Row
The inverted row is one of the best starting movements you can choose, and it's easy to decrease the difficulty by using a more upright body.
This version of the row is also more difficult to add weight to but can be done when elevating your legs on a bench and using a hip belt.
My favorite rowing exercise is the one arm dumbbell row.
Inverted Row Exercise Video
Here's an example of how to add weight to inverted rows. You can elevate your feet more to hang weight from the bottom.
Row Exercise Video
- T Bar Rows
- Seated Cable Row
- Bent Over Row
- Barbell Row
- One-Arm Dumbbell Row
- Dumbbell Row
5. The Overhead Press
The overhead press, in my opinion, is a better overall upper body strength training exercise than the bench press.
You should always include some type of overhead press exercise in your workout plan.
Overhead Press Exercise Video
Overhead Press Alternatives
- Dumbbell Overhead Press
- Overhead Barbell Press
- One-Arm Overhead Press
- Military Press
- Push Press
6. The Chin Up
If you can't do a chin up, use resistance bands to help you. Or, jump up to the top of the bar and slowly lower yourself as this will get you much stronger fast.
You need to include the chin up exercise in your strength training plans unless you can't do them for some very good reason.
Before you know it, you'll be using a hip belt to add extra weight to this great upper body exercise.
Chin Up Exercise Video
Chin Up Alternatives
- Various Grip Chin Ups
- Various Grip Pull Ups
- Rack Chin Ups
- Kipping Chin Ups
- Negative Pull Ups
7. The Dip
The dips exercise is like an upper body squat and works just as well for the upper body as the squat works for the lower body.
You need a stable dip station to do dips. Do them in a power rack as shown in the dips exercise video, but this can be very unsafe.
It's a much better and safer idea to get a dip station made for doing dips safely.
Dip Exercise Video
- Parallel Dips
- Forward Leaning Dip
- Upright Dips
- Bench Dips
Strength Training Without Weights
Yes, strength training without weights is possible by using your body weight for resistance.
God gave us all a way to strength train with just our body weight. So you can definitely get much stronger using only your body weight with the best bodyweight exercises.
Here's a List of the Best Bodyweight Exercises
Check out this list and tell me what comes to mind first for you:
- Push Ups
- Inverted Rows
- Handstand Push Ups
- Chin Ups
YES! Most of these strength training exercises are in the list of the 7 best exercises overall.
This is because the best overall exercises move your body weight through space. The only one missing is the deadlift and that's because you are moving your body in space with heavy weight.
How To Gain Strength With Just Your Body Weight
There are several different ways to gain strength when using body weight as resistance.
Since your body weight isn't changing much, you have to find other ways to increase strength.
Increasing the number of reps you are doing with body weight is the first step in getting stronger with higher reps.
To a point, high reps increase your maximum but you are also improving endurance more and more over strength as you get to very high reps.
For instance, you might work your way up to 200 body weight squats. Well, you aren't really improving your strength too much when you hit 201 body weight squats. You're working more on muscle endurance than muscle strength.
This is why it's very important to find a way to increase resistance when strength training without weights. You will reach a point of no return on strength improvements.
Make The Exercises More Difficult
Here's a very good example for you to ponder.
Instead of doing a normal squat movement for very high reps, change the exercise to a more difficult version of the squat.
A good choice might be single leg squats, pistol squats, or Bulgarian squats because you are now using most of your body weight on a single leg versus two legs.
Another example is doing jumping lunges or jump squats to make the exercise more difficult. This improves your explosiveness and improves your overall physical fitness.
Just Get Some Free Weights
Instead of trying to work your way around free weights, just get some.
If you don't have much money to purchase any or not much room for a home gym, just get a set of adjustable dumbbells with some weight plates.
This will improve your strength gains so much! Just a single pair of adjustable dumbbells will skyrocket your strength gains when added to your body weight.
Strength Training for Women
Many women just don't believe strength training is for them. Let me tell you this. Strength training for women is highly important to your health.
My wife is an amazing woman, and I have three daughters who are going to be strong. I don't believe women should limit themselves because God didn't limit you and make you weak like some women believe.
Men aren't the ones limiting women from strength training. I only see women limiting other women. This is not good for women! You need to be strong and getting all the benefits of weight lifting too.
Don't Limit Yourself
For example, many women I know (family and friends) will tell my wife to just let the men get the heavy stuff. We help people move all the time, and my wife is my partner. She is amazing and carries all the heavy stuff with me.
Many of the men are too weak to lift the things that my wife lifts.
There are amazingly strong women (stronger than me) throughout this world so don't think you can't be extremely strong as a woman. You can, and it's very fun.
The sky is the limit for you and for I. Never let someone else limit what you can do. So all the women out there who don't believe they can lift anything, you are wrong.
This Gets My Highest Recommendation
I highly, highly, highly recommend strength training for women.
And guess what? It's no different than strength training for men. Our bodies are very similar and the best exercises for men are the same for women.
So everything you see on this guide to strength training applies to both men and women.
Strength Training Diet
Now to one of my favorite topics: eating food! All of that talk about working out has made me hungry so let's talk about a strength training diet.
Your strength training workouts will require energy and support. When you rest between workouts, your body will need lots of nutrient dense foods all throughout the day.
Your goal is to pack your diet full of nutrient dense foods without any junk food or unhealthy food.
The better job you do at eating only the healthiest of foods, the better your strength gains will be. You will recover faster and build strength faster.
Now let's take a look at some diet guidelines that will support your strength goals.
Many people have been lied to and tricked into believing some foods are healthy.
Because of this trickery out in the world, what I am about to tell you might surprise you. Hopefully not.
If you haven't been eating healthy foods, though, your results will skyrocket when you change the way you eat.
Whole Food Natural Sources
The healthiest foods in this world are whole food natural sources with no processing done to the foods (or as little as possible).
Let me give you an example. I can go out in the fall and pick up hickory nuts off the ground and harvest them myself before the squirrels eat all of them.
Those hickory nuts will be healthier than anything you find in a “health” food section of a typical grocery store. Those nuts will out perform ANY protein bar you can find as most are packed full of harmful ingredients.
This is just one example of healthy food. Carrots that you grow in your own garden will be packed with more nutrients than the typical carrots you find in a grocery store. Your garden grown carrots will even taste much better! This is the truth.
Our typical food supply flat out stinks so you have to work on finding better sources of food.
Healthy Sources of Protein
Protein is very important to building muscle and strength, but you don't have to go crazy with the protein as some people do with whey protein shakes all day long and throughout the night.
You simply need a good whole food source of protein with every meal and snack you have. Carbohydrates and fats combined with the protein will help your protein work even better within your body.
Top 10 List of Protein Sources
- Grass Fed Beef or Bison
- Organ Meats
- Wild-Caught Fish
- Pasture Raised Chicken
- Wild Turkey
- Wild Duck
The above is definitely not an all inclusive list but includes some of the best overall protein sources.
Healthy Carbohydrate Foods
Carbohydrates, for some dumb reason, have gotten a bad reputation. Maybe the Atkins diet did this, but this is absolutely ridiculous. All of the fad diets have really ruined the way people eat.
You can think of the best carbohydrates as premium fuel for your body. Who doesn't want to have energy throughout the day?
Without carbohydrates, you'll have issues doing as well with your strength training workouts. Yes, fat can be used as fuel too but carbohydrates are premium fuel.
Top 10 List of Carbohydrate Sources
- Brown Rice
- Sweet Potatoes
- White Potatoes
This list is definitely not all of the best carbohydrate foods but should give you an idea about the best.
Some people have been scared to eat foods high in fat for a long time now because of some scare in the 80's and 90's that high fat foods will kill you.
For instance, people won't eat whole eggs any more and simply want the egg whites because the yolk is “too high in fat and cholesterol.” This is horrible information to spread! Just wrong (shaking head).
The yolk of a healthy egg has all the healthy nutrients and good cholesterol. If you aren't eating yolks, you are missing out!
You can trust me when I say that healthy fats will not make your fat or unhealthy. This is 100% truth.
Top 10 List of Healthy Fat Sources
- Raw Milk and Cheese from Grass Fed Cows and Goats
- Butter from Grass Fed Dairy
- Pumpkin Seeds
Yes, you can pretty much eat as many nuts and seeds as you like (without any added ingredients like oils and salt) and you aren't going to gain fat (unless you go crazy ridiculous).
I do this all the time myself, and my health has only improved while my strength and lean muscle mass increases.
Water is all you really need. Add some lemon and lime to your water often (but not all the time).
Stay hydrated throughout the day and especially around your workouts as water affects your strength levels greatly.
Coffee is okay a couple of times per week, but you don't need it every day. If you're addicted to caffeine, you need to stop drinking coffee and cut it out. I don't need ever drink coffee, and I am doing great without it.
No soda AT ALL (diet soda is just as bad). Sugary fruit juices are not allowed as they are very unhealthy (no exceptions). Sweet tea is out (for good and never again). Sugary lemonade no longer exists for you.
Energy drinks are no good at all. Get rid of them for good. Hydration drinks are no good. Water is better. Vitamin water is a junk drink.
I think you get the picture now. Stick to water all the time. Some herbal teas are fine. Use a little honey from a local farmer to sweeten your herbal teas if you want (just don't go crazy all the time with the honey).
Strength Training Meal Plan
You need to know how to put all of your meals together to support your strength training efforts.
Only healthy foods are allowed as explained already. No junk foods and no cheat meals ever. You're done with all that trash. No fast food either.
Number of Meals Per Day
You should have at least 3 full meals per day at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Depending on your schedule, have up to 8 meals including snacks counted as a meal because all snacks should include protein, carbs, and fats.
Six meals is about the perfect compromise but 4 meals and 5 meals are good too. Remember, snacks count as a meal.
Time Between Meals
The recommended time between meals is approximately 3 hours.
But don't worry if you eat every 4 hours as your muscles aren't going to atrophy or melt away. They will be just fine. Now if you hit 5 hours without food, that's a different story. Just kidding. You will also be just fine if you go 5 hours without food.
Some people stress out about not eating every 2.5 hours or 3 hours. Don't stress out about that kind of stuff.
Sample Meal Plan Schedule
Here's a quick example of what I mean for a meal plan schedule.
- 7:00 AM Breakfast
- 9:30 AM Mid-Morning Snack
- 12:00 PM Lunch
- 3:00 PM Mid-Afternoon Snack
- 6:00 PM Dinner
- 9:00 PM Pre-Bed Snack
Your job is to fill in the foods or healthy recipes for your meal plan. Count calories as your strength training diet plan is the control panel to your results.
You must track the calories you are eating and monitor your body weight and body fat percentage.
If you are gaining muscle, you are doing perfect. If you are gaining fat (not likely if eating only healthy foods), you will need to decrease calories.
If you are stalling on body weight with no gains in muscle or loss in fat, you need to increase the calories to gain muscle or increase cardiovascular exercise to lose body fat.
Strength Training Supplements
Here's great news for you: “You don't need any strength training supplements!”
Save your money. You don't need creatine, whey protein, casein protein, lean beef amino acide, beta alanine, glutamine, growth hormone booster, ZMA, or anything else.
Whole foods are absolutely amazing and so many times more powerful than any supplement in existence.
The truth is you can get much better results without supplements because your body doesn't have to work harder to get rid of all that trash from your body. Your body sees much of that stuff as some foreign substance and tries to get rid of it from your body.
This takes precious resources away from your body that could be used towards building muscle and strength.
Conclusion to Strength Training
I truly hope that this strength training how to guide has really opened your eyes to the right way to gain strength and muscle.
This is the most comprehensive guide to strength training that you will find anywhere.
If you have any questions at all, please just let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org) as I am happy to help any time.
Actually, that's exactly why I am here. I wish you the best in your strength training efforts.