A beginner's guide to strength training

Find out some strength training exercises for beginners

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
Ask Louise

17 February 2020

What are some strength training exercises for beginners?

Strength training exercises for a beginner will include movements like a plank, push-ups, and squats. It can also involve doing particular types of exercise, such as hiking, Tai chi, or cycling. If you have some equipment like weights or resistance bands to hand, you can also use these in your strength workout. 

How do I start lifting weights?

Every week, it is recommended we complete 150 minutes of aerobic activity, in addition to 2 days of strength activities.

To ensure you do this safely and effectively, this blog provides information on the following:

  • Benefits of strength exercises
  • How to lift weights safely
  • Examples of weight lifting exercises
  • The importance of recovery after weight lifting.

Benefits of strength exercises

Exercise in itself has many benefits, with increased life longevity, improved heart health and improved mental wellbeing being just some of the many positives associated with it.

However, strength activities have some unique advantages, such as:

  • Increased muscle strength, size and stamina
  • Stronger joints
  • Improved flexibility 
  • Better posture
  • Reduced aches and pains
  • Slower bone and muscle loss associated with aging.

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How to lift weights safely

Research shows that weight-training sports actually have relatively low levels of injury compared to team sports.1 However, the key is that it must be done properly, and safely.

Progress slowly

Don't try to lift too, much too quickly. Start with small weights, or gentle strengthening activities, and very gradually increase the amount you do. By making your targets achievable, you're more likely to progress.

Also, progressing slowly avoids putting too much stress on the joints and ligaments. If you were to get injured by doing too much, it could take a while to recover.

Learn good form

Ask an instructor at your gym to show you how to lift weights safely, rather than diving straight in. A personal trainer can also offer guidance longer term.
Work all muscles

Do a variety of muscle strengthening activities to work different muscles. If you give your legs a workout by going for a cycle one day, for example, then the next time you do a strength activity, it may best to focus on arms. You could plan ahead of time what you want to do and when.

Warm up

Joint pain, muscle pain and stiffness can all occur if you don't warm up properly. A warm up usually involves plenty of stretching. For guidance on this, take a look at our video on how to do the 'spiderman' stretch.

Don't push through pain

When doing strength exercises, you should aim to do it until you feel you need a break, but not so much that it is painful. Usually 20 minutes or so doing this kind of activity would be sufficient.

If the strengthening activity is causing you pain, it is best to stop and rest for a few minutes. If the pain persists when you return to it, it is probably best to call it quits for the day.

Pain is an indication that something in your body isn't right. If it is still there the next time you exercise, it may be better to take a short break from sport, or to try another strength activity instead.

Both sides of the body work equally during a strength training. So, if one side hurts more than the other, it's most likely a sign to stop, or to correct your posture.

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Examples of weight lifting exercises

Lifting weights is one example of strength training, but there are lots of other activities that are considered strength activities as well, including:

  • Climbing
  • Gardening
  • Push-ups
  • Using resistance bands
  • Cycling
  • Squats
  • CrossFit
  • Bench press
  • Tai chi
  • Dance
  • Walking up stairs
  • Hiking
  • Circuits
  • Martial arts.

The importance of recovery after weight lifting

Any exercise, including strength activities, requires a period of recovery to reduce the chance of injury and prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This causes reduced muscle strength, reduced range of motion and swelling.

To facilitate recovery, take a warm bath, stretch, drink plenty of water and get a good night's sleep. You can read more about good recovery strategies in my blog 'Why is recovery important after exercise?'.


1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27328853 


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