Strength training is not only the most efficient way to become stronger. It can also help you lose excess fat, gain muscle, improve cardiovascular health, and maintain healthy bone density. No matter what your goals are, strength training will help you get there.

Once you’ve figured out how to make time for exercise and ease your way into a more active lifestyle, strength training is just one step away. If you’re reluctant to take the plunge and don’t know where to begin, this comprehensive guide is for you.

Let’s start with the basic terms: reps and sets. A rep or repetition refers to one complete movement of an exercise, while a set indicates a group of reps. The number of reps you must do depends on your body type, fitness level and goals. For adding muscle mass and building strength, the common rule is to use heavier weights and do fewer than eight to 10 reps. If you are looking to tone and improve your conditioning, a good rule of thumb is to use light weights and aim for at least 10 reps.

How much weight you use depends on the muscles you are targeting. Your chest, thighs and upper back are larger and stronger and therefore will require heavier weights. Your shoulders and arms are smaller and will thus need less weight. No matter how many reps and sets you do, the last rep must always be the most challenging. Always be in control of the weight, but see to it that the last movement is taxing.

When designing your program, your lifestyle, age and body type must be taken into consideration. If you are willing to invest in a gym membership, you will have access to all the equipment you need to get started. But the gym isn’t your only option. Strength training comes in many forms, and there are exercises you can do at home or in the office with little or no equipment. Eliminating monotony and incorporating different types of activity into your program can even do wonders for your motivation and help you progress faster.

Here’s a quick look at your options.

1. Body weight exercises
These are ideal for those who prefer not to work out in a gym. Bodyweight exercises are convenient, free, flexible, and can be performed almost anywhere. You can do squats, pushups, dips and planks at the office during breaks or at home when you’ve finished your chores. The average gym also has different types of pull-up bars you can use for various exercises.

2. Free weights
There’s always an abundance of these in an average gym. But more and more people are now opting to purchase free weights so they can perform exercises like bicep curls, tricep presses, dumbbell squats and shoulder presses in the comfort of their home.

3. Resistance machines
An average gym has plenty of resistance equipment you can experiment with. When used properly, machines can be as effective as free weights and body weight exercises, but with the added benefit of allowing you to focus on exerting effort, instead of the mechanics and technique behind the movement.

4. Medicine balls
These come in varying sizes and weights, from a few pounds to 150 pounds. Aside from performing simple lifting exercises, you can throw, catch and swing a medicine ball. And since it does not come with a handle, you must recruit multiple muscle groups to use it effectively.

5. Strength classes
It is quite common for gyms to offer different types of strength training classes. These classes often make use of various machines and free weights. They are perfect for those who want to work out in a group.

6. Climbing
This has been a vital part of combat and military training because it is an excellent strength exercise for the entire body. Rock and rope climbing can improve the strength, dexterity, endurance and coordination of the hand, arms, abs, back, shoulders feet and legs.

Note that increasing frequency is not the best way to maximise the effects of strength training exercises. In fact, two or three sessions per week is enough. Simply increase the intensity of your workouts by keeping the movements slow. When performing compound exercises – such as bench presses and squats – lift and lower them slowly, preferably spending four seconds on both the positive (lifting) and negative (lowering) motions. This will tear your muscles at a microscopic level and boost HGH production.

Always give your body plenty of rest in-between high-intensity sessions. As your endurance and strength improve, you can change your program and even decrease the frequency of the exercises. On days not devoted to strength training, feel free to do yoga, running, swimming, and other activities.

When it comes to fitness, variety is key. Strength training will do wonders for your overall health and well-being, but it must be part of a well-rounded fitness program that includes HIIT and regular dynamic stretching, all complemented by healthy lifestyle choices.

If you missed my last post discussing how long your workout should be, you can find it here. And if you want a delicious way to boost muscle growth and recovery, I can teach you how to make the best protein shake in the world.

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