Strength training will change your life.
If you want to lose weight, gain muscle, and/or just look and feel better than ever for an upcoming event, strength training will do just that.
In this comprehensive series on strength training and weight training, we’re going to cover EVERYTHING you need to know about getting strong.
In this introduction, we’ll cover:
- What are the benefits of strength training?
- What IS strength training?
- Can I strength train for weight loss?
- Am I too old for strength training?
- Will lifting weights make me bulky?
- I don’t like gyms, can I still strength train?
- How to start getting strong today (next steps).
In this series on Strength Training, we’re going to cover ALL the things you need to know:
- Best beginner strength training programs to follow
- Strength training for women
- How to build your own workout
- How to join a gym
- How to train in a gym: 5 gym workouts to follow
- The 9 best strength training exercises
- How to build muscle quickly
By the way, hi. I’m NF Lead Female Coach Staci Ardison with a 425 pound deadlift, and strength training has changed my life.
Here’s that deadlift by the way (at a bodyweight of 150 lbs):
In addition to helping men and women get strong with our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program, I also turned this entire Strength 101 series into a free downloadable guide when you sign up in the box below:
- Everything you need to know about getting strong.
- Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training.
- How to find the right gym and train properly in one.
Life is EASIER when you’re strong:
- Carrying groceries? One trip.
- Children to carry? No problem.
- Car stuck in the snow? Push it out with ease.
- Feel like a badass? YUP!
Let’s get the long term benefits out of the way: building strength has been shown to:
#1) Halt and even reverse sarcopenia: As we age our skeletal muscle deteriorates (sarcopenia) – so strength training helps us stay independent (and out of a nursing home) and live longer.
#2) Prevent disease and degenerative conditions: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women; Strength training helps correct issues relating to cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and inactivity – all factors for heart disease. Cardiologists are even starting to recommend strength training for people who have suffered a heart attack as little as three weeks after the attack.
#3) Improve the quality of life for people with: arthritis, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Down Syndrome, lymphedema, fibromyalgia, who have recently had a stroke, have had a spinal cord injury, cancer survivors and clinical depression.
Now, in addition to making life easier LATER, strength training has a lot of great benefits right now:
- Lose weight, look good naked: You can find study after study after study that shows you the benefits of strength training for weight management when combined with “calorie restriction.”(eating fewer calories than you burn every day).
- Strength training can help increase your metabolism by speeding up your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). It takes your body more calories to maintain muscle than it does to maintain fat!
- Strength training has a much greater level of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption than aerobic exercise. What does this mean? When you finish a workout, your body needs to do a lot of work to replenish itself in order to bring itself back to a normal state (the way it was before you worked out). This takes a lot of energy, and some studies have shown that it can boost your metabolism for up to 38 hours after you finish your workout.
In addition to physical improvements, strength training will make you healthier: Strength training increases bone density, builds a stronger heart, reduces your resting blood pressure, improves blood flow, halts muscle loss, helps control blood sugar, improves cholesterol levels, and improves your balance and coordination.
Strength training will make you FEEL better: Not only will you find yourself with more energy and confidence, less stress and anxiety, and a better overall mood, but you’ll actually begin to think better (resistance training has been proven to help increase cognitive function). And while training too close to bedtime can be a bad idea, exercising earlier in the day has been proven to help prevent sleep apnea and insomnia. I even improved my posture – when I started lifting, I was 5’4”. Now I’m 5’5.5”.
And last but not least, strength training is fun! Whether you are looking for the most effective 20-30 minute workout (to stay fit and look great naked), or are looking for a competitive sport that you can really get into, strength training can help you meet your goals.
It’s easy and fun to see progress as you strength train, almost like leveling up (“You gained 100xp and +1 STR with your deadlift today”).
If you’re looking to improve in other areas (a sport, traditional cardio, or an activity like rock climbing), strength training is an easy choice! Strength training will help keep you injury free too.
Ok, ok. Do you get the point? Strength Training RULES!
Who SHOULDN’T strength train?
Trying to be balanced, I wanted to find studies of a single group of people who should not strength train.
But then I found studies on how strength training can be beneficial for paraplegics.
I also found studies that show the benefits for children and adolescents.
I next found plenty of studies that explain the benefits of strength training for pregnant women.
Oh, and if you think you’re too old, I promise that you are not.
And thus I’ve decided, not knowing you, you should probably strength train. Of course, check with your doctor before you start any sort of strength training program (though, as you’ll see below, strength training doesn’t need to be scary or complicated).
Long story short: EVERYBODY should strength train.
It’s what we’re genetically designed to do: move around, push, pull, jump, and carry things.
“Strength training” of any kind can be explained by two things:
- “Movement of any weight (including your body weight) – Doing ANY exercise that pushes your muscles outside of their comfort zone, forcing them to rebuild stronger to prepare the next challenge.
- Progressive overload: exerting slightly more effort than last time (lift heavier weight or do 1 more rep) consistently. Your muscles will constantly have to adapt and will constantly be rebuilding themselves to get stronger.
That’s strength training!
Which means if you do 10 squats and 10 knee push-ups right now, you have completed a strength training workout.
Feel free to do this right now to give yourself a quick win.
And we’re back! So what’s actually happening to our bodies when we strength train?
Let’s get on our magic school bus and learn about the wonders of muscles!
We’ve got 642 muscles in our bodies (but who’s counting), and they all work together to help our bodies move, stand, and exist.
When you bend your arm, your biceps contract and your triceps do the opposite (elongate) in order to let your elbow bend. Every muscle in your body works alongside other muscles to let you move and do things.
In other words, you push your muscles outside of their comfort zone.
They “break down” and tear slightly during this workout, and then over the next 24-48 hours they rebuild themselves stronger and more resilient.
This is the foundation of strength training, and it’s called hypertrophy.
There are a few types of hypertrophy, which you can nerd out about here (don’t worry, it won’t be on the quiz):
- Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy focuses on increasing the amount of sarcoplasm, the non-contractile fluid found in your muscle. This type of hypertrophy helps build overall size.
- Myofibril hypertrophy focuses on strengthening the myofibril, the contractile part of the muscle. You are strengthening the actual muscle fiber so it helps you build super dense, strong muscles.
- Transient hypertrophy is the temporary increase in muscle size that happens during and immediately after weight training due to fluid accumulation in the intracellular space, that you might know as “the pump”.
“Staci, what does this mean for me?”
We cover exact strategies in our “How many sets and reps?” guide, but here’s what you need to know. Strength train based on your goals:
- If you want dense muscle and strength (myofibrillar hypertrophy), keep the reps low and the weight heavy (in the 1 to 5 rep range).
- If you’re looking to build muscle size, (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy), do more reps with a lighter weight (in the 8-12 range).
- If you’re looking to build cardiovascular health and muscular endurance, hang out in the 12-20 reps per set range.
Please note: each of these rep ranges are NOT exclusive – when you train in a higher rep range you’re not JUST getting size, you’re also getting strength. And if you get really strong, it can also help you with size and endurance.
Don’t forget that no matter HOW you train, nutrition will be responsible for 90% of your results.
Three quick points (which we cover in more detail throughout the rest of this series):
#1) How often should you train? For a basic strength program, working out 3-4 days a week is plenty. This is one of those situations where more is not necessarily better.
#2) Recovery: The general rule is to wait 48 hours before working the same muscle group again. Recovery is different for everyone depending on many different factors such as what the actual workout is, how old you are, your sleep quality, diet, and other recovery elements (such as massage and stretching).
#3) Soreness after a workout: The day after an intense strength training workout – or 2 days after, you’re going to be VERY sore.This is called “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness(DOMS)”. It’s a normal part of the process of repairing your muscles from the damage to the fibers you created while exercising.
Expect to be sorer a few days after doing an exercise for the first few times. As your muscles get used to that movement (and adapt to being put under stress), they will get less and less sore every time.
If you are sore, don’t skip the next workout! The best way to alleviate soreness is to continue exercising. This increases blood flow to the muscles and helps them heal. However, remember that we still need them to heal. Here’s our guide on dealing with soreness.
We get questions relating to weight loss and strength training all the time, and it’s a BIG part of this entire Strength 101 series.
Let me quickly address it here:
Fat and muscle are two different things – one can’t transform into the other. We all have plenty of muscle right now (otherwise we wouldn’t be able to move, walk, sit up, etc.), the muscle is just hiding underneath a layer of body fat.
In order for us to lose weight and look better, we want to do two things:
- Build our muscles stronger and tighter.
- Burn the fat on top of it!
And luckily, both of those things happen simultaneously through strength training!
So NO, you don’t need to lose weight first before you can start strength training.
You will lose weight BY strength training (and keep the muscle you have).
You do NOT need to do hours of cardio for weight loss – weight loss is 90% a result of your nutrition. So honestly, you don’t need to ever set foot on a treadmill again (unless you WANT to).
Strength training will help you lose weight and look better IF you do two key things for effective weight loss:
- Calorie restriction: eat fewer calories than you burn every day.
- Strength train with progressive overload (picking up heavier stuff).
As we cover in our “Why can’t I lose weight” article (full of fun Harry Potter references), combining a caloric deficit and strength training is magic:
- You’re not consuming enough calories to carry out your body’s daily functions.
- Your body needs to use lots of calories to rebuild the muscle that was broken down during the strength training workouts.
- Your body has no choice BUT to pull from fat stores to get stuff done!
Just by doing those two things (get strong, reduce calories), all sorts of wizardry and witchcraft takes place in your body:
- Get stronger and keep the muscle you have.
- Build tight dense muscle.
- A revved up metabolism while rebuilding muscle.
- Burning of body fat to get things done.
Yeah, you’re hearing me correctly.
Lose the body fat that sits on top of your muscles and you’ll make your muscles tighter and denser = look better without clothes on.
So how do you put this into practice?
- Pick one of the strength workouts in our “How to start strength training” section.
- Calculate your daily caloric needs.
- Learn which diet is best for you, and make a small change.
Oh, what’s that? You just want somebody to tell you exactly how to train for your body, and how to eat for your goals?
Check out our 1-on-1 Coaching Program – it’s helped thousands of people lose weight through strength training – and proper nutrition. We work with you on habit building and lifestyle design to actually get stuff done!
As we cover in our “am I too old to strength train” article, no – you are not.
I cited dozens of studies above that show strength training is beneficial for people of all ages. And even for the frail elderly, studies have shown that drastic results are possible in just 10 weeks of weightlifting (for both men and women in their 70s through their 90s).
In fact, weight training has also been shown to delay Alzheimer’s and stave off dementia.
So, if you think you might be “too old,” you’re probably the exact type of person that SHOULD be strength training!
Team NF’s Steve’s gramma is 89 and she strength trains. You are not too old!
By the way, if you are 90+ and reading Nerd Fitness, please email us at email@example.com – I’d love to hear from you 🙂
No (unless you are TRYING to get bulky).
Let me first address this from a women’s point of view, then I’ll get to the men.
“Fear of bulk” is one of the biggest myths surrounding strength training and it makes me a sad panda. The images of “bulky” women that you are conjuring up are from bodybuilding magazines.
When I started strength training, I didn’t get bulky, I got lean:
And I’m just one example. We have hundreds of examples here at Nerd Fitness.
These are women who strength trained to get strong and lean, not bulky. Like Leslie, who lost 100 pounds by getting strong:
Or Bronwyn, who turned into a powerlifting super mom:
That “bulky” look in women does not happen by mistake or overnight – we simply do not have the hormones necessary to get there on our own. To achieve this look, women have to eat incredible amounts of food and consume incredible amounts of drugs.
When we strength train normally, without these supplements, we end up looking like athletes.
And for the men: if your fear is getting too bulky, you can rest easy. Steve, creator of Nerd Fitness, has spent his entire life trying to get “too bulky.” It was only after fixing his diet (and hiring an online coach) that he went from Steve Rogers to Captain America.
That’s right, strength training is only 10% of the “slim down or bulk up” equation. The other 90% is nutrition and total calories consumed.
- Want to lose weight? Strength train + caloric restriction.
- Want to get bigger? Strength train + caloric surplus.
“My focus is on running/basketball/quidditch and I need to stay slim! How do I strength train for this scenario?”
Studies have shown that strength training increases the endurance of your muscles.
In fact, resistance training and weight training not only help to tune up an out of shape nervous system and increase the activation of motor units within your muscles, but also helps increase their overall endurance.
Want to run your first 5K? Strength training will keep you injury free.
If you’re worried about getting too big, remember: there are many types of strength training (and alternate forms of strength training like acro yoga and rock climbing!), and size and strength don’t always go hand in hand.
You don’t ever have to set foot in a gym if you don’t want to.
Sure, gyms are great, as long as you join the right gym.
And we can also teach you how to train in a gym so you avoid that “lost sheep” feeling.
But they aren’t for everybody!
You can get really strong as hell doing just bodyweight exercises at home.
Remember how I talked about “progressive overload” earlier? That applies to bodyweight training too.
You just have to keep challenging your muscles and get strong as heck. Look at any gymnast, male or female – those physiques are built through bodyweight training!
To progress in bodyweight exercises, you need to start, so you have something to advance from. You can begin by trying our beginner bodyweight routine RIGHT NOW:
Oh, I’m not done convincing you to begin your strength training…
If you’re ready to start, fantastic.
Remember: don’t overcomplicate this or psych yourself out. We all start somewhere, and today is a great day to start.
We’d recommend a simple program to get your feet wet. You know, to learn the movements, build some confidence and prove to yourself that you can DO this!
Pick one of the next steps!
- Read Part 2 of Strength Training 101: Pick a Beginner Strength Training Workout.
- Looking to join a gym? Here’s how to find the right gym for you.
- Already a member at a gym? Try our 5-level Weight Training Routine that will level you up from Rookie to Barbell Badass.
- Start barbell training (my favorite): Read our guides on Squats, Deadlifts, and Bench Press. Oh, and you NEED to read Starting Strength, the strength trainer’s bible.
- Want to hire a trainer? Make sure you hire a good trainer!
- Get more info about women and weight training.
I don’t care which next step you pick, as long as you PICK one and try it!
If you are still scared or self-conscious or overwhelmed, I hear you. I used to feel the same way, and it’s easy to get paralyzed by all the different paths you can take.
If you want confidence that you’re are following a program that is tailor-made for your busy life, situation, and goals, check out our popular 1-on-1 Coaching Program.
You’ll work with a certified NF instructor who will get to know you better than you know yourself, keep you accountable, and help you reach your goals.
With one final reminder, we don’t care WHAT program you pick as long as:
- It’s simple to follow
- You have all of the equipment available
- It focuses on compound, full body movements
Congratulations, you just made it through the first class of Strength Training 101!
What big questions do you have about strength training?
Has strength training worked for you?
PS – Please read part two, “How to start strength training today,” and pick one of the workouts to get started!
PPS: Be sure to check out the rest of Strength Training 101 series: Be sure to check out the rest of Strength Training 101 series:
- Strength Training 101: Where Do I Start?
- Strength Training 101: How Much Weight Should I Be lifting?
- Strength Training 101: Finding the Right Gym
- Strength Training 101: Building Muscle Quickly
- Strength Training 101: Inverted Rows
- Strength Training 101: How to Squat Properly
- Strength Training 101: The Overhead Press
- Strength Training 101: The Deadlift