Strength Training Basics

Strength training, in my opinion, with dumbbells (DB), barbells (BB), plates, kettlebells (KB), and using bodyweight (BW) is the best type of exercise one can do to improve physique, muscle and bone density, and aging. There are tons of exercise programs available online on websites and forums such as bodybuilding.com, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, etc. With these many programs, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and get lost on what we should do and how our exercise program should look like. There are a couple of things we need address first. Are you a bodybuilder? Are you a marathon runner or a triathlete? Are you a weekend warrior? Are you a beginner or an experienced lifter? Are you a person who just wants to look good and stay healthy as possible? The answers you give to these questions can and should shape your exercise program. If you are trying to be as big as possible and become a bodybuilder, your program will look very different than the one who is a triathlete. If you are a triathlete, your program will look very different than the person who just wants to look good. This is the main reason why there are tons of different programs and why they all can/can’t work. The program I want to talk about here is for the person that is training only to look good and stay healthy as possible. Even though there are other stuff such as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), mobility, yoga, walking/hiking, play (such as basketball or football) that one should add to their training regimen, this article will only focus on strength training. With all the variety available, I only do 2-3 days of this type of exercise per week which, in my opinion, is enough. Before I bore you more with the introduction, let’s get to it…

The “perfect” workout is a whole-body strength training that incorporates both push and pull exercises. Push (press) exercises for upper body usually includes the shoulders, chest, and biceps. Pull exercises for upper body includes back, triceps and traps. Push exercises for lower body includes exercises like barbell squat, goblet squat, step-ups and lunges. Pull exercises for lower body are deadlifts, and hamstring curls. Doing at least one of each, meaning one upper-body push, one upper-body pull, one lower-body push and one lower-body pull, for a total of 6-8 exercises lasting for 45-60 minutes is enough. How about the set and rep numbers? I find that you can do many variations with this such as 3 sets of 8 reps (3x8), 2x12, 3x10, 4x6, or 5x5. One common thing here is that you do about 25-30 reps total for each exercise. Well 4x6 and 2x12 total to 24 reps, you say. I mean, c’mon! I said about 25-30 reps, so 4x6 and 2x12 works. Don’t worry!

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Sample Program 1:

Shoulder DB press (upper body push), pull-ups (upper body pull), BB bench press (upper body push), BB bent row (upper body pull), KB goblet squat (lower body push), BB deadlift (lower body pull), BW lunges (lower body push), and hamstring curls (lower body pull). Total of 8 exercises.

Sample Program 2:

Standing BB shoulder press (upper body push), lat pull-down (upper body pull), triceps cable extension (upper body pull), bicep curls (upper body push), BB back squat (lower body push), single leg DB deadlift (lower body pull). Total of 6 exercises. If you feel like you need more, you can add some core exercises such as plank holds or ab-rollers.

Here is a list of exercises for each type that you can pick and choose:

Upper body push: Shoulder DB press, military press, Arnold press, BB overhead press, BB bench press, DB bench press, incline/decline DB/BB press, push-ups, bicep curls.

Upper body pull: Pull-ups, lat pull-downs, BB bent row, DB row, DB triceps extension, triceps cable extension, KB row.

Lower body push: BB back squat, BB front squat, KB/DB goblet squat, BW squat, BW lunges, KB/DB lunges, BB back lunges, incline/decline leg press.

Lower body pull: BB deadlift, single leg DB deadlift, hamstring curls, DB deadlift, glute ham raises, good mornings, cleans.

There are tons of other exercises of course that are not listed above. But, if you are not a bodybuilder or a competitive athlete, you don’t need to work every other micro muscle fiber and hit your muscles in every other angle possible. You can definitely add other exercises. But, is it necessary? In my opinion, no! Stick to the exercises that work major muscle groups, work on your weaknesses and try to do at least one from each group per workout totaling 6-8 exercises. You do not need to spend 1.5-2 hours per session or you do not need to split body parts, or you do not need to go anaerobic and do HIIT every time.

If you have any questions/comments, please post them below and let me know what you think. Either good or bad! But most importantly, stay strong and stay safe!