Strength training has many more benefits than building muscles and giving you a boost to your physical endurance. In fact, committing yourself to strength training can be the best thing that you do for your health, as it can help you with your weight loss efforts, can reduce the signs and symptoms of aging, and can even boost your mental agility. (In fact, you can learn about the crucial role of strength training to one’s overall well being in our course Intro to BioHacking – Be Smarter, Stronger, and Happier.)
As with any type of physical exercise, you do need to realize that there is a right way and a wrong way to start undertaking a strength-training regimen. That’s because if you do it right, you will boost your efforts and see results much faster while minimizing the actual effort that you have to put into your routine. On the other hand, if you go about things the wrong way, you could potentially be undermining your own efforts or, worse, doing actual damage to your body – often, damage that cannot be undone.
Before getting to the exercises themselves, and how they can help you, let’s examine some of the big myths related to strength training workouts (and some of the strength training workouts you don’t want to do).
Common Strength Training Myths
- Myth #1: Strength training will add bulk to your body.
True? Yes, but only in the most basic sense. While you will see an increase in muscle tone, performing strength training workouts on a regular basis will not give you a bodybuilder’s physique overnight. It’s incredibly important for women to understand this, as this is the number one reason that most women avoid strength training as a regular part of their gym routine – something that can have a major impact on their overall health and that can undermine their fitness efforts. Women who would like more information on how to tone their bodies can check out Key2bFit – Toning for Women, a course that examines the specific fitness needs of women.
- Myth #2: You can target specific areas of your body to tone and reduce fat.
Here’s the truth: while you can increase muscle tone in specific areas, fat just doesn’t work that way. The only way you are going to get a smaller belly, firmer thighs, or tighter arms is by undertaking a comprehensive cardio fitness program in addition to your strength training workouts. This is important to point out, because individuals who attempt to target just one or two areas of their bodies tend to miss the big picture – and do more harm to their bodies than good by not making efforts to improve their overall strength.
- Myth #3: There is a universal, secret formula for optimal strength training results.
It’s really odd to think that this is a myth so many people believe in, but every body is different. Therefore, what works for one person when it comes to strength training may not work as well as another. One of the first things that you need to understand when you are looking to get fit is how important it is to be aware of your body, and what your body is telling you. If you are not seeing results on someone else’s “perfect” strength training plan, it’s time to try something different, and keep trying new things until you hit on a plan that delivers the results that you need.
- Myth #4: You won’t see real results until you hit the gym.
While it’s true that the gym can be a great place to gain instant access to high-tech equipment and the expertise of trainers with years of experience, that does not mean that a gym membership is a necessity for strength training. In fact, a majority of the best strength training workouts can be performed in the comfort of your home, either with no equipment or with only a few basic fitness tools.
Strength Training Workouts to Avoid
When you’re ready to start getting your strength training routine underway, it’s likely that you’ll turn to some of the exercises you might have learned in gym class in your school days. However, some of those “classic” exercises you learned can be pretty harmful to your efforts, either because they don’t do much good or – worse – because they can cause significant physical injury, regardless of how careful you are while doing them. Here’s a look at some of the strength training workouts to avoid.
- Curtsy Lunges
This type of lunge can cause some major problems to your body. This exercise consists of crossing the knee in front of the body during the lunge movement, rather than keeping it straight in front, and that can cause significant injury and undue stress to the hip socket. That’s a big price to pay for a move that doesn’t offer any real benefits over traditional lunges. Avoid these and any other lunges or full body moves that require putting your body out of its natural alignment.
- Leg Extensions
Though it may be one of the most popular leg exercises, many experts are recommending the majority of individuals forego this move in their routine. Performed on an extension machine, leg extensions require you to lift weights by extending the legs outward. The problem results when undue pressure is placed on the knee because of the shearing force of the extension. Quite simply, there are better leg exercises that one can perform with less risk of injury and much better payoff.
There are many strength training experts who still tout the squat as the best of the best when it comes to strength training exercises. The problem with the squat is the fact that it is just not right or most people, and can be especially problematic for beginners who do not know how to perform them correctly. Bear in mind that the main area of the body that squats help with – the upper thighs and the glutes – are not areas you are likely to want or need significant muscle tone or strength. The fact that squats can damage your back makes it better to avoid them unless you’re working with a fitness expert, since they offer little payoff for the cost.
- Pull Ups/Chin Ups
It is easy to purchase a pull up bar to perform this exercise right in your home. However, that does not mean that you should. These are easily among the worst of the worst, as they offer an incredibly low payoff and can completely destroy your rotator cuff. There are ways to make pull ups more efficient and better for your body – for example, by ensuring that you are lifting with your palms facing inward.
Five Essential Strength Training Workouts
With all the “don’ts” out of the way, it’s time to look at the five essential exercises that should be in every individual’s strength training routine. These exercises are crucial because put together, they cover almost the entire body. By performing sets of these exercises on a regular basis, an individual can ensure that they are getting everything they need out of their routine.
Start by laying flat against the ground, with your arms spread out horizontally beside you body and your palms facing down. Then bend your knees so that your feet are flat against the ground and spaced about a half-foot apart.
Once in position, slowly lift your body until your back and thighs are in a straight line. Your shoulders should be the only part of your body that is still touching the ground. While doing this, contract your ab muscles and your buttocks. In a fluid movement, lower yourself back down to the ground, pausing and holding before your buttocks touch the ground. Then lift your hips back up and repeat the process. A set consists of 10 repetitions – do three sets with breaks in between for optimal results.
As was already mentioned, the only type of lunge that you want to perform is the basic front and reverse style. Lunges are simple enough to put into practice. Simply stand straight, and then extend one leg forward into a 90 degree angle, leaving the back leg straightened and lifting your back foot up onto your toes.
There are a few things to keep in mind while performing lunges, however. Remember that you must keep your body straight; otherwise, you will not be receiving the full benefits of the lunge. Also remember to keep your movements as fluid as possible. While you will want to pause in the lunge position, you should still not make each lunge an individual “step”. A basic set consists of ten lunges for each leg, for a total of twenty lunges overall.
Don’t be discouraged by the stereotypical view of the deadlift. You do not need a bar to perform them, nor do deadlifts require heavy weights. (In fact, it is best to avoid anything too heavy if you are a beginner). Acquire a pair of dumbbells that feel comfortable for your current level of fitness. About five pounds is best for an absolute beginner, though you can reduce it to three or increase it to as much as ten.
With your feet at a distance of about a foot apart and the barbells on the floor, grasp the dumbbells firmly in your hands and lift your body upwards, remembering to keep your back straight and to lift with your abdomen, thighs, and shoulder muscles – not with your back. Perform about ten reps per set, and about three to four sets with breaks between.
For a variation of the basic deadlift that can offer additional strength training for your legs and thighs, perform the same move while lifting one leg straight out and back behind the body. Your back and leg should run in a straight line, parallel to the floor.
The plank is all about building your core strength while also increasing the strength and tone of your arms, abdomen, and thighs. It’s a great workout for the entire body, and one that does not offer the same risks for injury as pull-ups, push-ups, or crunches. To perform planks, simply lift your body as if you were performing a push-up. However, instead of moving onto your hands, remain in a position with your entire forearm braced against the ground. Your back should be straight, and apart from your forearms only the tips of your toes should be in contact with the ground.
From this position, you can simply hold yourself in place – for about 20 to 60 seconds, depending on your stamina – and then lower yourself back to the ground before repeating. However, for an additional workout, you can lift one leg into the air until it is in a straight line with your body, then lower the leg and repeat with the other while you continue to hold your body in place. Include five to ten reps in a set, and perform three sets.
- Reverse Crunch
Again, you do not want to perform a basic crunch – however, a reverse crunch offers many of the same benefits without the potential for injury, making it a great choice. Simply lay back with your palms down against the floor. Cross your legs at the ankles and then, using your glutes and your abdominal muscles, lift your legs up until they are straight above your body. You should also be using your abdominal muscles to lift your hips off of the floor. Once in position, hold for ten seconds and then lower the legs without making contact with the floor before repeating the move. Perform up to three sets of fifteen reps.
Other Strength Training Exercises To Consider
In addition to these moves, other types of exercise can also be incorporated into your fitness plan. While there are many different types of exercise that can promote overall strength and well-being, two stand out – yoga and Pilates. Yoga can be practiced by almost anybody, including elderly individuals and pregnant women. Check out the Udemy course titled Short Yoga Sequences for Strength, Flexibility, and Confidence for more information on the power of Yoga in strength training and for some additional poses you can incorporate into your workout.
And it goes without saying that Pilates, a fitness regimen designed for the purposes of increasing core strength, can be one of the most important types of exercise for overall strength and fitness. Pilates – The Master Trainer Series can offer even beginners a full set of exercises that they can use to boost their fitness levels and begin their journey to a stronger body.