Strength Training 101 – How To Build Muscle Strength at the Gym?

strength training

If you want to lift heavier weights, you’ll need to get stronger and build muscle strength.

Strength training, also known as resistance or weight training, involves exercising a single muscle or muscle group using weight machines, free-weights or own body weight.

The idea is to progressively increase the load on your muscles so that they keep adapting and become stronger.

Strength training is the best way to fight muscle loss, build new muscle, and improving muscle mobility.

Numerous clinical trials on exercise have clearly demonstrated the benefits of strength training; therefore, it is included in most training programs. So sometimes, the best way to train at the gym is not to train like a bodybuilder but like a power-lifter.

Strength Training Exercises

At the gym, you can try a combination of weight machines and free weights to practice strength training.

Squat

Squats target the core and lower muscles like glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. They can also be done using weights, yoga balls, or barbells.

While squatting, the knees must be in line with the feet, and the down bending should be lower than the knee.

Squats help muscle growth throughout the body by promoting the production of hormones essential for muscle growth. They tone the lower body and add strength to the calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Squatting also aids in the removal of waste from the body by improving bowel movement. 

Deadlift

It is a compound weight exercise that involves picking up the weight by bending at your waist and hips and then standing back up straight. Deadlifts target quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings and are super effective in boosting functional strength. 

Deadlifts influence the release of anabolic hormones, support the hips, shoulders, and spine alignment, and enhance core strength. 

Bench Press

Bench press exercise provides upper body strength, specifically to the shoulder, arms, and pectoral muscles, and improves endurance. One can perform this compound exercise with variations like incline, decline, and narrow grip bench press.

One can perform bench press 2-3 times a week; keeping a gap help muscles recover properly. The number of sets will vary depending on the fitness goal; for example, 4-6 sets may prove fruitful to gain strength and 2-3 sets for muscular endurance. 

Bent-Over Barbell Rowing

It is one of the best strength-boosting exercises. Muscles addressed by this compound movement are latissimus dorsi, lower back, hamstrings, and biceps. One must include bent-over barbell rowing exercise in the training routines to strengthen the back and build lean muscle mass.

Military Press

The military press is suitable for strengthening deltoid or shoulder muscles and muscles around it. It stabilizes the shoulder joint and encourages strength and muscular development.  

Push-Up

Another effective way to toughen the upper body is to do push-ups. They can be done everywhere without any equipment. Push-ups primarily target pectoral, shoulder, and tricep muscles. For better results, one can add a variety of push-ups to the workout routine. 

The correct form while doing push-ups is essential; otherwise, one may experience back or shoulder pain. Beginners may start doing them on the knees if they find it challenging. One can also modify them to increase the intensity.

Plank

Plank is deemed as the most effective exercise to build the core and keep your tummy tight. Additionally, planks work the entire body and can help improve posture and flexibility. 

Planks can help boost metabolism and burn more calories. If you are doing a plank for the first time, try doing one plank daily for one minute. Eventually, you can increase the count to 5 or 10 to enjoy the maximum benefits. One can also do side planks to enhance flexibility.

Burpee

Burpees can help burn more calories if done at high intensity as it offers a full-body workout. One can do a standard burpee without any equipment. This two-part exercise includes a push-up followed by a jump in the air. Burpees might be exhausting, but they are worthy to enjoy the dual benefit of gaining strength and cardio fitness. 

One can enjoy cardio benefits by doing burpees are better heart functioning, enhanced lung capacity, healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. 

Overhead Triceps Extension

As the name suggests, this exercise is good for developing and strengthening the triceps. As the person stands with weight above the head, it also engages the core to stabilize the motion.

This exercise requires either one heavy dumbbell or two heavy dumbbells. It helps strengthen the entire triceps. 

Dumbbell Row

This exercise is an excellent back-building exercise. It develops back strength and also promotes grip strength and muscular biceps.

It is advisable not to overload if you plan to begin with this exercise. The back should be straight and not curved. Dumbell row is perfect if you desire an appealing aesthetic shape.

Benefits of Strength Training

Research has shown significant health benefits of weeks of resistance training. Let’s explore them in detail.

Boost Metabolism

Strength training substantially impacts the resting metabolic rate (RMR). It increases our body’s ability to burn calories faster. With strength training, our body tends to burn calories post-exercise as well. 

To examine this, a study1 was conducted on healthy men between 50-65 years of age. They underwent a heavy resistance training program of 16 weeks, and at the end of the study, a considerable increase in RMR with increased fat-free mass was found.

Decrease Body Fat

We all desire to maintain a low body fat percentage in the body. Resistance or strength training can play a prominent role in achieving this health goal. 

It is clearly evident that excessive body fat can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Hence it is necessary to keep a healthy body composition and waist-to-hip ratio.

A controlled trial 2 conducted on 40 menopausal women found that combining resistance training with a nutritional diet is an effective strategy to reduce excess body fat.

Build Lean Muscle Mass

Our body starts losing muscle as we age. Strength training has been shown to increase lean muscle mass Strength athletes and bodybuilders train each muscle group multiple times a week to increase lean body mass and strength. 

A study 3 published in the International Journal of Exercise Session found greater gains in strength and lean mass following both high-frequency (three sets per week) and low-frequency training (nine sets per week) among individuals after eight weeks of strength training.  

Promote Healthy Bones

Resistance training exercises exert temporary stress on the bones, triggering the bone-building cells to rebuild stronger bones.  

Sclerostin is a protein produced in bone cells, which plays a central role in regulating the formation of bone. Prolonged inactivity might affect the skeletal muscle contractility resulting in muscle mass and strength deterioration. 

Research support that strength training increases the tissue density of bones, and it is an ideal intervention to preserve bone loss and increase bone mineral density4.

Facilitate Physical Function

Good body mechanics means using our body’s strength efficiently to move, sit, stand, lift and carry. Several studies provide evidence that improvements in strength, power, or body composition demonstrate progress in physical function. 

Strength training can increase joint mobility and flexibility, aiding balance, body posture, and coordination5. It keeps our spine healthy and minimizes injury risk.

Boost Mental Health

Although aerobic exercises are considered the best stress-busters, resistance exercises are no less. In addition to physiological, strength training offers a lot of psychological benefits. It has been shown to enhance mood, cognition, and overall quality of life. 

Several clinical trials suggest that strength training boosts self-esteem and reduces stress, anxiety, and depression risk 6. Resistance training improves anxiety-related symptoms by modulating the cortisol level and its activity. 

Reduce Cardiovascular Disease Risk

Include strength training exercises in your workout routine to keep your heart healthy. Elevated blood cholesterol levels increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disorders.

Regular strength training improves blood circulation, prevents LDL cholesterol from rising, and strengthens blood vessels and overall heart functioning. 

Minimize Diabetes Risk

Strength training is an effective strategy for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, reducing diabetes risk, and enjoying metabolic health benefits 7. People with diabetes must consider resistance training to improve insulin sensitivity and glycemic control and prevent its resistance.

Strength training relies primarily on glycogen stores for fuel. Once this stored muscle glycogen runs out, the body starts to mobilize extra glycogen from the liver and blood, which helps to decrease blood glucose directly.

Reduce Injury Risk

Muscle balance is achieved when a group of muscles is exercised to make them strong. Weak muscles not only cause early fatigue but can also damage them. Muscle imbalance increase strain and ligament tear risk.

Strength training promotes perfect body alignment, significantly reducing injury risk. When the body is aligned correctly, it can easily engage in intense physical activity without impacting negatively. 

Improve Mood

Resistance training is like an opportunity to develop a healthy relationship with the self. It can regulate mood and increase self-esteem. 

Studies conducted on adolescents and children have demonstrated that resistance training might impact ‘the self’ in youth 8. Exercise can improve overall physical appearance and may boost confidence, especially among individuals who always feel conscious of their looks.

Reps and Sets for Strength Training

Before we discuss how many reps and sets are good to strength train, we must understand the difference between them.

Reps refer to the repetitions or the number of times an exercise is performed.

Sets are the number of times a specific amount of reps are done.

The resistance training intensity and the number of repetitions performed with each set are inversely proportional. The greater the intensity, the fewer the number of repetitions required. The motive is to work your muscles to the point of fatigue so that deep muscle fibers start to build more strength.

Research suggests that adults should train each muscle group for a total of 2 to 4 sets with 8 to 12 repetitions per set and a rest interval of 2 to 3 minutes between sets to improve muscular fitness. For older adults, one or more sets of 10 to 15 repetitions of moderate-intensity resistance exercise are suggested.

Reps and sets help organize workouts and measure progress. If you are a beginner in strength training, it is better to seek advice from a certified personal trainer.  

FITNESS GOALREPSSETSREST
Strength≤ 62-62-5 min
Hypertrophy6-123-630-90 sec
Endurance≤ 122-3≤ 30 sec
Power1-53-52-5 min
Source: National Strength and Conditioning Association, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning

Strength Training Hacks

Train using Body Weight

Strength training using body weight can prove as effective as free weight training. They promote stability and mobility. You can combine body weight exercises with cardio to make the most effective.

You can design your weekly workout routine by including exercises for all major muscle groups.

Try these exercises:

  • Planks
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Push-Ups
  • Step-Ups

You can perform a single set of 15 repetitions and always use proper technique with smooth and controlled movements to avoid injury. 

Train using Free Weights

Free weights exercises are superb for building overall functional strength. They are done using dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells. Free weights allow moving freely, unlike machines. 

Free weights enable us to move each body side independently and improve balance and focus. 

It is essential to understand the proper form, and if you are a beginner, start with light weights and gradually intensify the load as per strength and endurance. 

Common exercises done using free weights are:

  1. Overhead shoulder press
  2. Floor press
  3. Single-arm dumbbell row
  4. Barbell back squat
  5. Floor chest fly
  6. Bench press

Train Using Cable Suspension

Suspension training involves the use of ropes and cables to use your body against gravity to facilitate resistance. It delivers a total body workout and a suitable approach for building strength, losing fat, and improving endurance and flexibility. 

Cable machines come in various forms, like single or dual pulleys and adjustable height grips. Suspension strength training is considered a complete package to strengthen the core and enhance balance, power, and coordination in one workout. 

Common exercises include:

  1. Squat and Fly
  2. Clock Press
  3. Low Row
  4. Tricep Press
  5. Ham Curl
  6. Side-Plank Tap

Cable suspension training improves the range of motion during stiffness and stronger joints. Training in a standing position using cable machines recruits almost every muscle in the body. Whole-body exercises make you work harder, bringing a solid cardiovascular response.

If you plan to try cable suspension strength training, it is advisable to do it under expert supervision.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to build strength at the gym? 

You can use a combination of strength training exercises to build muscle strength at the gym. You can lift free weights or use weight machines. The important thing is to focus on your core, increase weights with fewer reps, avoid overdoing and increase weights gradually.

What are strength training exercises? 

In strength training exercises, we gradually increase physical stress on the muscle by progressively increasing load so that they keep adapting and getting stronger. Popular strength-building exercises include deadlift, squats, glutes bridge, and plank.

How do strength training and muscle building differ?

Muscle building focuses on growing new muscles and increasing their size. In comparison, strength training is done with the purpose of improving the functional ability of muscles.

What is strength training? Can it be done at home? 

Strength training requires performing resistance or weight training. It can be skillfully done at home.

Which are the best exercises for increasing strength in the gym? 

– Bench Press
– Barbell Pullover
– Deadlift
– Leg Press
– Pull-ups

What are the best strength exercises for women?

– Push-ups
– Kettlebell Swing
– Plank
– Dumbbell Chest Press
– Split Squat
– Sit-ups
– Hip Thrust

Can you build strength without building muscle?

Yes, it is possible to gain muscle strength without increasing the size by lifting heavy weights with fewer reps. Keeping the volume low doesn’t trigger growth factors.

References
  1. Pratley, R., Nicklas, B., Rubin, M., Miller, J., Smith, A., Smith, M., Hurley, B., & Goldberg, A. (1994). Strength training increases resting metabolic rate and norepinephrine levels in healthy 50- to 65-yr-old men. Journal of Applied Physiology76(1), 133–137. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1994.76.1.133[][]
  2. Miller, T., Mull, S., Aragon, A. A., Krieger, J., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2018). Resistance Training Combined With Diet Decreases Body Fat While Preserving Lean Mass Independent of Resting Metabolic Rate: A Randomized Trial. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism28(1), 46–54. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0221[]
  3. Franco, C. M., Carneiro, M. A., de Sousa, J. F., Gomes, G. K., & Orsatti, F. L. (2021). Influence of High- and Low-Frequency Resistance Training on Lean Body Mass and Muscle Strength Gains in Untrained Men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research35(8), 2089–2094. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000003145[]
  4. Hong, A. R., & Kim, S. W. (2018). Effects of Resistance Exercise on Bone Health. Endocrinology and Metabolism33(4), 435. https://doi.org/10.3803/enm.2018.33.4.435[]
  5. Lieber, S. J., Rudy, T. E., & Boston, J. R. (2000). Effects of Body Mechanics Training on Performance of Repetitive Lifting. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy54(2), 166–175. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.54.2.166[]
  6. Strickland, J. C., & Smith, M. A. (2014). The anxiolytic effects of resistance exercise. Frontiers in Psychology5https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00753[]
  7. Strasser, B., & Pesta, D. (2013). Resistance Training for Diabetes Prevention and Therapy: Experimental Findings and Molecular Mechanisms. BioMed Research International2013, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/805217[]
  8. Collins, H., Booth, J. N., Duncan, A., Fawkner, S., & Niven, A. (2019). The Effect of Resistance Training Interventions on ‘The Self’ in Youth: a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Medicine – Open5(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-019-0205-0[]

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