Everything You Need To Know About Strength Training! (From Exercises To Diet To Supplements)
Strength is vital in any physical activity as well as for daily life.
If you want to improve performance and come closer to achieving your goals, look to get stronger first.
Strength training is for people of all ages. Even more so as we age. And improving your physical strength can have the associated benefit of improving mental strength, confidence and well being.
So whether you’re getting into strength training for general health, sports performance, or prevention of health conditions such as osteoporosis, a strength training program’s benefits will extend further than you could possibly imagine.
Read on to find out what strength training is and the many benefits it gives you…
Strength Training Involves 3 Components:
1. Lifting Weights
Lifting weights is the fastest way to get stronger. You can adjust the amount of resistance, train in a controlled environment and easily measure progress. Barbells and dumbbells are the primary tools of the trade.
But unlike a muscle building program, the principles of using weights in a strength training program are different:
- Amount of resistance increases consistently
- Number of sets and reps are lower
- Rest periods are longer
- Days between workouts are longer
- You never train to exhaustion
The most important aspect of lifting weights in a strength training program is to execute correct form in every rep.
This is why the number of sets and reps are lower and the rest periods are lower. When you are less fatigued, you can focus better on your form and technique.
We all know the value of getting our nutrition from good, high quality sources of food. But for a strength training program, it’s not just what you eat but how much you eat which also matters.
Your total calorie count per kilo of bodyweight will increase because you need more energy to keep up with the demands of the program. Put simply, if you want to get stronger you have to eat more of the good stuff!
Don’t let the reduced number of sets and reps, longer rest periods and lack of frequency deceive you. A strength training program is very challenging to the body.
Food will become a crucial component to the success of your strength training program.
Recovery is very important in a strength training program because it does not only involve the muscles. The stress your body undergoes also has an effect on your neurological system specifically the Central Nervous System or CNS.
As you constantly increase the amount of resistance, your CNS will be tasked to recruit more motor units to help your muscle fibres handle the increased weight.
This is the very reason why strength training workouts are less frequent. Your body and your CNS need time to recover. Failure to do so will slow down the rebuilding process, compromise your immune system and leave you at the risk of getting infections.
In this article, we will share with you tips, techniques and principles on how to build strength in the fastest way possible without compromising your safety and health.
Among the topics we will discuss are:
- The benefits of strength training on health, self-confidence and self-esteem plus the consequences of not lifting weights;
- The most popular strength training exercises and why these produce the best results;
- Steps to creating a strength training program with valuable information on workout frequency, scheduling, strategies for motivation and a sample strength training workout plan;
- Strength training diet tips including a list of the best foods for gaining strength and sample strength training meals per body type;
- The best supplements for strength training and how to take them for optimum effect;
If you are ready to take the first step to a bigger and stronger you, then let’s get started!
What Are The Benefits Of Strength Training?
Regardless of what you want to accomplish from a fitness standpoint, your program will always benefit with the addition of strength training. Studies have shown that the benefits of strength training extend beyond its primary effects on muscular performance.
Here are several benefits of Strength Training:
1. Increase Muscle Strength – Strength training is progressive.
The objective of the program is to improve muscular performance by progressively increasing resistance or work load on muscle tissue. You will increase muscle strength, develop power and improve muscular conditioning.
2. Build Muscle – Strength training changes the composition of muscle fibres. As you consistently increase resistance or work load, muscle fibres go through a process of tearing down and rebuilding.
The end result is a bigger muscle that has grown strong enough to handle greater resistance.
3. Enhance Functionality – When you are stronger, you will be able to manage everyday tasks easier. These include walking around with a back pack, moving furniture, performing house chores, carrying the groceries and playing with the kids.
4. Improve Flexibility – Strength training requires you to exercise through a full range of motion. The eccentric, or negative part of the lift, such as when you lower the barbell in a curl, lengthens the muscle.
As you get stronger over time, the range of motion will improve. Flexibility helps reduce the risk of injury.
5. Strengthen Bones – With a strength training program, it’s not just the muscle fibres that will get strong. You will also strengthen bones, ligaments and connective tissue. These all come together to help support a stronger and bigger muscle.
6. Reduce Body Fat – Strength training reduces body fat in 3 ways: First, it consumes more carbohydrates. The fewer carbohydrates in the body the less chances of storing body fat.
Second, it raises your metabolic rate up to 48 hours after exercise. Third, the more muscle you have the more calories you burn.
These are just the musculo-skeletal benefits of strength training!
Here are the health benefits of strength training:
- Increases High Density Lipo-proteins (HDL); the good cholesterol
- Lowers Low Density Lipo-proteins (LDL); the bad cholesterol
- Reduces risk of diabetes by managing blood glucose levels
- Reduces the risk of osteoporosis by strengthening bones
- Strengthens immune system
- Manages stress levels
Then there are the psychological and emotional benefits of strength training:
1. Confidence – When you constantly overcome increased resistance it instills the belief that you can do anything you set your mind and heart to.
2. Self-Esteem – As you gain strength, you build muscle and lose body fat. Your posture improves and physically, you look better. It becomes easier to socialise; meet new people and attract the opposite sex.
3. Positive Attitude – Strength training requires you to set goals and accomplish them. It takes discipline, commitment and dedication to consistently meet your goals. These values will carry over to other aspects of your life.
The benefits of strength training will continue to pay dividends in your later years. If you don’t take your strength into consideration, you may eventually pay for it with your health as you get up in age.
Remember, it is never too late to start a strength training program.
The Best Strength Training Exercises
The best strength training exercises are also the most popular because these generate the fastest results.
There are 3 reasons why these are the best strength training exercises:
- They utilise the largest muscle groups in your body: legs, glutes, back, chest and shoulders.
- These strength training exercises also involve the hips to generate power and the core section to maintain stability.
- These are free-weight exercises which require balance and agility. Therefore, more motor units are recruited to assist the muscle fibres complete each exercise.
The “Big 5” Exercises For Strength Training:
Studies contend that if you only had 1 exercise to do, it should be Squats. No other exercise builds your lower body like Squats. Done properly, Squats target your quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus muscles and calves.
Squats also heavily engage the core section and the hips to maintain the correct upper body position.
In almost all sports, power is generated from the legs and the hips. Squats will help you develop strength, power and stability.
Recommended set and rep range: 5 sets x 5 reps
2. Bench Press
The Bench Press allows you to lift the most weight with your upper body.
This is because the Bench Press is a multi-joint, compound exercise that not only engages the chest but also the lat muscles, shoulders and arms.
A common mistake is placing the feet on the bench. If you stabilise your feet on the floor, you can use your legs and hips to press more weight.
Recommended set and rep range: 5 sets x 5 reps
The Deadlift perhaps represents the ultimate test of strength for 2 reasons.
First, you utilise almost every body part: quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, gluteus muscles, hips, lower back, middle and upper back, traps, shoulders, biceps and forearms.
All throughout the Deadlift, the core section remains activated. Second, you do not have the advantage of “The Kinetic Chain” unlike the Squat and Bench Press. You are literally lifting dead weight.
Recommended set and rep range: 5 sets x 5 reps
4. Overhead Press
The Overhead Press is the best exercise to build strength in the shoulders which is a rotational ball-and-socket joint. This is because Overhead Press is a linear exercise that uses multi-joints to support the shoulder girdle.
Overhead Press utilises the upper chest and upper back to initiate the exercise.
The traps and the triceps help the shoulders lock out at the top position. Meanwhile the core section has to remain tight to protect the lower back.
Recommended set and rep range: 5 sets x 5 reps
5. Power Clean
Power Clean is a strength training exercise that also develops power and coordination. It engages the quadriceps, hips, glutes, hamstrings, lower back, upper back, shoulders, traps and forearms.
The core section works to maintain stability as you transition from the initial pull to hip drive to the clean position.
Power Clean has to be performed explosively. You have to spend time on perfecting form and technique to realise the full benefits of this exercise.
Recommended set and rep range: 3 sets x 5 reps
An exercise program based on the above 5 exercises will yield the fastest results in strength training.
Steps To Creating A Strength Training Program
Building strength requires steady progression. You have to make sure the foundation is available to support a stronger and bigger muscle. The foundation includes your bones, ligaments and tendons that can accommodate progressive resistance.
Because the best strength training exercises involve various muscle groups, you need time to develop the ability to coordinate these different muscles to work together and lift the weight safely and effectively.
Here are the 3 main components of a strength training program:
1. Low Rep Range
In a strength training program, you are not only developing muscles, bones and connective tissue.
You are also developing or “teaching” your Central Nervous System (CNS) to transmit the required motor units for your muscle fibres to handle heavier weight. According to studies the ideal rep range to stimulate the CNS is 1 to 6.
2. Low Work Volume
Training the CNS is one thing. Burning it out is another. A combination of heavy weights and high volume will place too much stress on your CNS.
If you wear down your CNS, not only will you compromise your gains but you will also affect your immune system.
You should not exceed 6 sets in any strength training exercise. This is also why you should only train each strength training exercise once every 7 days.
3. Progressive Resistance
In order to gain strength, you must progressively increase the amount of resistance in every session. A weekly increase of 2.5 kilos in the Bench Press, Overhead Press, Power Cleans and 5 kilos in the Squat and Deadlift may seem inconsequential.
But if you consider the total volume of work, you may be surprised at how much stronger you’ve become.
A 5 x 5 workout yields 25 total reps. By simply increasing the weight by 2.5 kilos the following week; you would have lifted 62.5 kilos more!
These 3 components form the basis for the 2 principles of a strength training program:
1. “Always focus on form and technique” – Low volume of work allows you to maintain focus on the precise execution of each and every rep.
2. “Never train to failure” – Again, you are training the CNS to adapt to strength. Training to failure focuses on muscle endurance.
A strength training program can be quite challenging. Every week you have to overcome heavier workload.
As you progress, a strength training program may bring out your fears, self-limiting beliefs and doubts. Those who cannot handle the stress might quit.
Here are a few effective ways to stick with your strength training program:
1. Set Goals – What is the difference between a person who exercises and a person who trains? The one who trains has a goal in sight.
He or she comes in the gym with a purpose, a mission and a vision. Setting goals keeps you more focused and dedicated.
2. Keep A Log Book – Write down your program in a log book and record your progress. Nothing should be off-limits; write down how you felt, how you performed, what you ate and other details related to your workout.
A log book is a valuable tool to assess your progress and keep you on course.
3. Get A Training Partner – A training partner ensures you are always lifting safely. He or she can assist you when needed.
A good training partner can also be a source of motivation. Talking it over with a training partner is an effective way of confronting your fears.
4. Eat The Right Foods – In order to have a productive strength training program you must fuel your body with the right foods.
Eating junk food or those made with refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients such as sports drinks, carbonated drinks and biscuits/cookies will hinder your progress.
Stock up on good food sources such as organic wild rice, oatmeal, quinoa, organic beef, organic chicken, salmon, cruciferous vegetables and low GI fruits.
You should put in 3-4 days a week for your strength training program.
Strength Training Schedules
Here are 2 schedules to consider. Our priority is time in the gym. The cardio sessions can be performed in the gym, a nearby park or your own home:
|SCHEDULE 1:||4 DAYS A WEEK:|
|Saturday:||Overhead Press/ Power Clean|
|SCHEDULE 2:||3 DAYS A WEEK:|
|Tuesday:||Bench Press/ Overhead Press|
|Friday:||Deadlift/ Power Clean|
A strength training program will not take up much of your time. 3-4 days a week with each session averaging 1 hour should not impose on your schedule.
Strength training is an efficient and effective way to build overall health and fitness.
Strength Training Diet Tips
The first step to creating a strength training diet is finding the best sources of macro-nutrients. Foods in their organic or natural state are the best sources of macro-nutrients.
Strength Training Foods
Here is a list of foods categorised by macro-nutrient. These are your best sources for fueling your strength training workouts and enhancing your recovery:
These carbohydrate sources are packed with vitamins and minerals.
Organic wild rice, oatmeal, quinoa, sweet potatoes, broccoli, kale, cauliflower and apples are rich in fibre which helps lower cholesterol, controls blood glucose and aids digestion.
Quinoa and wild rice contain Vitamin E and selenium. Bananas and watermelon are the best simple carbohydrates to eat after a strength training workout.
- Organic Wild Rice
- Sweet Potatoes
In a strength training program, you need to eat a variety of protein because each source has its own amino acid profile. Organic beef contains creatine which is essential for building strength.
Chicken provides selenium, a mineral that protects the immune system. Salmon, tuna and eggs are packed with essential fatty acids.
Greek yogurt which has probiotics and fibre rich beans are both great for digestion. Mushrooms are packed with vitamins C, D, folate, zinc and manganese which are excellent for recovery.
- Organic Beef
- Organic Chicken
- Greek Yogurt
The best sources of fat are those that are rich in essential fatty acids such as Omega-3’s.
These increase the level of good cholesterol or High Density Lipo-proteins (HDL) and reduce the level of bad cholesterol or Low Density Lipo-proteins (LDL).
Omega 3’s decreases the risk of diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and certain types of cancer.
Healthy fat also protects your cells and the immune system.
- Cottage Cheese
- Chia Seeds
Let’s put together some of these ingredients to create a day’s worth of strength training meals!
Strength Training Meals
The meals shown here are for a lean, 80 kilogram person who wants to gain mass via a strength training program:
- 1 egg
- 170 Grams Organic Ground Beef
- 2 Grilled Tomatoes
- 200 Grams Organic Wild Rice
- 200 Grams Oatmeal
- ½ Avocado
- 50 Grams Almonds
- ½ Roasted Chicken
- 200 Grams Quinoa
- 150 Grams Sweet Potatoes
- 100 Grams Organic Wild Rice
- 170 Grams Ground Turkey
- 2 Bananas
- 100 Grams Tuna
- 200 Grams Wild Organic Rice
- 250 Grams Salmon
- 150 Grams Sweet Potatoes
- 1 Whole Egg
- 10 Grams Ground Flaxseed
Carbohydrates: 325 Grams
Protein: 264 Grams
Fat: 73.5 Grams
In a strength training program, it’s not just what you eat that matters. You must also know how much to eat and when.
The key macronutrient in a strength training diet is carbohydrates because they’re the primary fuel for anaerobic activity.
Where and when you eat carbohydrates will depend on your body type and strength training objective:
Strength Training Macros Per Body Type:
These numbers are based per kilogram of bodyweight. Calories are measured in “kcal” and the macros are in grams.
|Heavy Set||Lower Body Fat||26||1.65||3.0||0.60|
Your distribution of carbohydrates will also depend on your body type and objective:
|Body Type:||Before Training:||After Training:|
Occasionally, you can indulge in a “cheat meal”. This is a meal that you typically would not include in a strength training diet.
But done properly it can help you achieve your strength training goals in the following ways:
- Reset Leptin Levels. Leptin is you body’s hormone for managing body fat levels. It can drop if you are eating low calorie foods all the time.
- Provides incentive for a job well done.
- Eases the mental and emotional stress of the strength training program.
Here are a few cheat meal selections you can consider:
- Lean Organic Burger; plain with vegetables
- Baked Chicken Wings; no skin
- Natural Beef Jerky
- Organic Vanilla Ice Cream
- Natural Fruit Sorbet
Remember, this is just a cheat meal! The best time to have it would be after a workout.
Building strength is not just about lifting weights. 80% of your success comes from the food you eat.
What you feed your body before and after you train will determine your progress in a strength training program.
Supplements For Strength Training
In a strength training program, you are constantly exploring boundaries of strength. The demands on the body are so great that food may not be enough to give all the nutrients you need to support performance and recovery.
Supplements are important for a strength training program because these provide the necessary vitamins, minerals and compounds that the human body or food sources cannot produce enough of.
Here are the best supplements for strength training:
1. Whey Protein
Even if carbohydrates are the primary fuel for strength training, protein is the key macro for recovery. Your muscles need amino acids to repair damaged tissue.
Whey Protein gets amino acids faster into your muscle than any other protein source. Studies have shown Whey Protein is absorbed by muscle tissue within 30 minutes of ingestion.
The best times to take Whey Protein are first thing in the morning and immediately after training with a simple carbohydrate like watermelon. The simple carbohydrate will release insulin which will drive the amino acids faster into the muscle.
Creatine has remained among the most popular supplements for strength training. It has outlived the hype and controversy since it was first introduced in 1992.
This is because creatine has consistently proven to support strength performance.
Supplemental creatine increases the amount of creatine phosphates in our body which produce ATP or Adenine Tri-Phosphate. ATP increases contractual force and allows us to lift heavier weight or do another rep.
There are many types of creatine in the market but basic monohydrate will be enough. Take 5 grams of creatine after training with your whey protein shake and simple carbohydrate.
BCAAs or Branched Chain Amino Acids are composed of Isoleucine, Valine and Leucine. Our bodies do not produce these amino acids but they account for 33% of our muscle tissue.
Studies have shown that supplementing with BCAA’s can enhance strength by increasing tolerance to lactic acid. In addition, BCCAs can improve recovery rate and increase testosterone production.
Some brands of Whey Protein contain BCAAs but in small amounts. Take 6-10 grams of BCAAs after training.
4. Citrulline Malate
If you’ve been taking Pre-Workout supplements, chances are Citrulline Malate will be one of the ingredients. Citrulline is an amino acid that is produced when the body converts arginine into Nitric Oxide or NO.
The more NO in your body, the greater the blood flow to the muscles and the more forceful the contractions. The effect is similar to an increase in ATP. Citrulline also absorbs excess ammonia which is created during exercise.
This allows you to tolerate lactic acid longer which leads to more weight lifted or more reps performed. Take 8 grams of Citrulline Malate 30 minutes before training.
Beta Alanine is an amino acid that when combined with Histidine, creates Carnosine which has been shown by many studies to produce greater strength output. There are Pre-Workout supplements that include Beta Alanine.
It is popularly known for the “tingling” feeling you get in your muscles shortly after drinking it. This is the Beta Alanine binding with nerve receptors and firing off to attach with Histidine. Take 6 grams of Beta Alanine 30 minutes before training.
These are 5 of the best supplements for strength training.
Remember to be responsible when taking these supplements.
Follow the directions on the label and do not exceed the recommended dosage.
It is easy to be tempted to increase the dosage especially if you begin to see results. Keep in mind that supplements are synthetic. It is best to regulate the intake and still rely mostly on healthy and natural food for your nutritional requirements.
Strength training is a great way to build a solid foundation for fitness. It prepares your body for greater challenges as you forge ahead on your fitness journey.
Keep in mind these important action steps to stay on course:
1. Before starting your strength training program, get yourself medically cleared by your doctor.
2. Set the best days and times for your strength training program and commit to the schedule.
3. Remove or donate unhealthy food items from your kitchen and stock up on healthy food choices identified in our Strength Training Diet Tips.
4. Find a gym that is reasonably close to your home or office. It should have a few Olympic sets including barbells and plates.
An Olympic set is accurately balanced in weight and engineered for proper grip and hand spacing. It is the safest equipment you can use for strength training. Power racks are also crucial for safety.
5. Invest in strength training gear:
– Squats, Bench Press, Power Cleans – Olympic Weightlifting or Flat Canvass Shoes
– Deadlift, Overhead Press- Flat Canvass shoes
– HIIT- Running Shoes
Comfortable Wear :
– Squat, Power Cleans- Compression Shorts
– Bench Press, Deadlift, Overhead Press- Jogging Pants
– Lifting Belt
– Wrist Wraps
– Knee Sleeves
– Lifting Chalk
Note- Only use straps, wrist wraps and knee sleeves when needed.
6. If you are a beginner, start out your supplement program with whey protein, BCAAs and creatine. Add citrulline malate and beta alanine only when you have accumulated at least 2 years of consistent strength training.
7. Buy a small notebook as a log book and keep it in your gym bag all the time.
Embarking on a strength training program is an investment in your health and fitness. Always be honest on the assessment of your performance and you will emerge from the program stronger, bigger and healthier.
Strength training can help you achieve your goals regardless of sport or physical activity. Whether you want to run faster, bike longer or swim farther strength training can augment your current training program.
Best of all, strength training has long term benefits on your health and fitness.
As you get older, your body produces less testosterone and this leaves you vulnerable to the effects of ageing. Muscles start to shrink, fibres lose elasticity and bones become more brittle. This is why there is no age limit for strength training.
If you are medically cleared to exercise by your doctor, you should consider starting a strength training program.
In addition to the physical benefits, a strength training program can lower your risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Resistance training has been proven to improve blood circulation.
This ensures your vital organs including the brain efficiently receive nutrients and oxygen. Thus, strength training can improve mental health, cognition and memory.
It will also build you emotionally. As you progress and overcome fears and self-limiting beliefs, you will gain more confidence.
This newfound confidence will manifest itself in the way you look and present yourself. Thus, strength training is a holistic way to overall fitness.
It will build your body, mind and spirit!
Dmitri Simons is a Master Personal Trainer, Head Trainer and Co-Founder of Exercises.com.au.
Dmitri is a qualified PT of 15 years, a qualified Chef, Father of 5 and competes in Triathlons in his spare time. His passion is helping people achieve their health and fitness goals by taking control of their health, eating healthier and engaging in different forms of exercise such as weight lifting, stretching and cardio.