Beginners Guide to Strength Training

Published November 2, 2020
By Health Loft

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Physical strength is important; at the most basic level it’s what allows us to get up from our chairs, open up pickle jars, and hold our children. As we age, strength and muscle mass are two physical traits we lose very quickly. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends resistance training for everyone, regardless of age or current health status. Unfortunately, getting started can be confusing with so many misconceptions surrounding strength training. Lifting weights makes you bulky, squatting is bad for your knees, or if you stop, the muscle you’ve gained will turn into fat. These misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth.  This article will cover the basics of strength training and provide you with a guide to create your own workout routine.  

Benefits of Strength Training

There are numerous benefits of exercise, and strength training in general.  Listed below are just a few of the benefits that you can see by lifting weights. 

Improved bone mineral density reducing the risk for both osteoporosis and arthritis
Increased resting metabolic rate
Improved insulin sensitivity reducing the risk of diabetes
Reduced risk of injury
Improved vascular health
Improved body composition.

Getting Started with Strength Training

Resistance training tends to get complicated but you don’t need a degree in exercise physiology or an expensive customized program designed for you to get started. You just need to follow some simple guidelines to effectively and intelligently see strength and body composition improvements.

  • Start Slow: It isn’t necessary to begin your training with going to the gym 6 times a week for 60 minutes.  Start with something that is achievable and will allow you to build a strong foundation and progress from there.
    • Warm-up:  Warming up is incredibly important to reduce injury and other health risks.  Basic rule of thumb is to warm-up for about 5-10 minutes doing either light cardiovascular activity or warm-up exercises that will get your entire body moving and prepare you for the day’s workout.  If you would like additional details, we have an entire article dedicated to warming-up written by one of our physical therapists..
  • Focus on Form:  Good form will allow you to focus on the muscles that you’re trying to activate, while reducing your risk of injury.  Be mindful of your posture and where your upper back and neck are relative to your lower body.  A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to line up one hand on your sternum with one hand on your abdomen.  When you feel that your form is starting to “break”, our physiotherapists recommend either switch to another exercise or end your workout for the day.
  • Takes days off:  It’s important to rest, it gives your body the time to heal and solidify strength and muscular gains.  Without it, you risk injuring yourself and delaying reaching your goals.  

Choosing Your Exercises

You might be familiar with older bodybuilding routines; Monday is arm day, Tuesday is chest day, etc. This is fine for bodybuilders who have 2-3 hours to spend in the gym each day but if you have other obligations like a job and family, you may want a more efficient approach. We recommend focusing on movements, not just the muscles. Below are five basic movement patterns that we as physical therapists believe should be included in your regimen.

Upper Body Push Exercises
Push exercises can be described as any upper body movement in which you are pushing away from your body. When you do a push up, you’re literally pushing your body away from the floor. When you perform an overhead press, you are pushing the weight away from your body. Many of these movements train the same large muscle groups; your triceps, your shoulders, and your chest. Examples include pushups, overhead press, and dips.

Upper Body Pull Exercises
Pull exercises consist of movements in which you are bringing the weight closer to your body. When you perform a pull-up, you’re pulling your body toward the bar.  When you perform a bent over row, you are pulling that weight toward your body. Many of these movements train the same large muscle groups of your back. Examples of upper body pull exercises include lat pulldowns, pull-ups, and row variations.

Knee Dominant Exercises
Squat or knee dominant exercises can be categorized by the amount of knee bend involved in the movement. These movements utilize the muscle group in the front of your thigh called your quadriceps, along with many other muscles that help stabilize and coordinate the movement. Examples of this include back squats, lunges, split squats, and step ups.

Hip Dominant Exercises
Hinge or hip dominant exercise have less bend at the knee and more bend at the hip. These movements utilize your backside muscles more including your glutes, hamstrings, and low back. Examples include deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and hip thrusts and back extensions.

Loaded Carries
Loaded Carries are often described as a moving plank and rightfully so.  Your trunk musculature is engaged throughout the movement and those muscles are working hard to keep your torso upright. Loaded carries can be movements in which you walk or crawl with weight. Examples of loaded carries include farmer’s walks, bear crawls, suitcase carries, or yoke walks.

Repetitions, Sets, and Frequency
Repetitions and set ranges vary depending on goal and complexity of the movement. As you are first starting out, mid-range repetitions are recommended performing 8-15 repetitions per set for 2-3 sets. As you increase the weight, especially with more complex movements, you may consider lowering the repetition range to 3-5 repetitions and increasing the amount of sets you perform to 4-5. The amount of days per week you train, or frequency, varies based on the individual but starting with 2-3 days per week with a day of rest in between would be ideal.

Below is an example of what a workout routine might look like if you trained three days per week.

Day 1
A1) Goblet Squat 3×12
A2) Lat Pulldown 3×10

B1) Single leg deadlift 3×8 (each side)
B2) Bench Press  3×8

C1) Bear Crawl 3×50 feet
C2) 1 arm dumbbell row 3×12 (each side)

Day 2
A1) Barbell Hip Thrust 3×15
A2) Standing DB Shoulder Press 3×12

B1) Bulgarian Split Squat 3×10 (each side)
B2) Inverted Row 3×12

C1) Kettlebell Goblet Walk 3×100 feet
C2) Feet elevated push ups 3×12

Day 3
A1) Step Ups 3×8 (each side)
A2) Pull Ups/Lat pulldown 3×10

B1) Kettlebell Swing 3×10
B2) Incline dumbbell press 3×10

C1) Farmer’s Carry 3×50 feet
C2) Seated Cable Row 3×10

Strength training truly is for everyone and doesn’t need to be complex. There’s a popular saying by famed power-lifter Mark Bell, “strength is never a weakness.” While you may never bench press 800lbs like Mark, if you make these movements a staple in your exercise program, you’ll undoubtedly see progress. 

To learn more about how you can improve your strength training regimen, you can consult with one of our physical therapists in Chicago (virtually via our telehealth platform or in person) by calling us at (312) 374-5399 or by scheduling an appointment online. If you have further questions regarding dry needling, we would also be happy to answer them.  Remember to also check out our FacebookInstagram, and Twitter pages for more fun facts and articles on nutrition, physical therapy, and exercise!


Submitted by Naveed Shan
Edited by Alexander Franz
Reviewed by James Caginalp PT, DPT, CSCS, CES, PES


  1. Westcott, W. (2009). Acsm Strength Training Guidelines. ACSMs Health & Fitness Journal, 13(4), 14–22. doi: 10.1249/fit.0b013e3181aaf460
  2. Bell, M. (2019, April 4). Strength Is Never a Weakness  [Video file]. ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gKaMkT4FKE

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