Basics of Strength Training: Lose Weight and Get Stronger

By: Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN

Want to really up your weight loss game? You may know that diet and exercise are the main components of a weight loss program, however, the type of exercise that you do matters too.

In this post, we will talk about the importance of including strength training in your routine. If you’ve never done strength training, then no worries! We will give you a basic guide of how to start strength training, the types of resistance training available and how to create a strength workout based on your particular goals!

 

What’s the point of strength training?

You may or may not be concerned with building muscle or getting more toned, but if you want to have a better weight loss plan, then strength training can be a great tool. Even if you just want to lose weight, strength training can help you reach your goals (and perhaps more effectively).

Strength training (also known as resistance training) works your body to build muscle. During the strength training session, your body is burning calories as you work out, but perhaps not as much as a cardio session. However, after a strength training session, your body rebuilds muscle and changes the composition of your body.

Those who have more muscle can actually burn more calories at rest than those who have more fat on their body. Having more muscle means that you can burn more calories at rest, multiplying your weight loss efforts!

Aside from burning calories and building muscles, consider some other benefits to strength training:

  • Boosts your mood
  • Increases your ability to do daily tasks
  • Improves functional ability
  • Helps strengthen bones (which may help reduce the risk of fracture)
  • Strengthens and improve flexibility of joints
  • Practices balance and good mobility

 

How much strength training do I need?

Depending on your goals, the amount of strength training you do may vary from the general public. However, it is recommended that adults exercise all major muscle groups at least 2 times per week (but no more than 3 times per week). Major muscle groups include arms, legs, back, abdomen, chest and glutes. To avoid overexertion, make sure that you don’t exercise the same muscle groups 2 days in a row!

 

Types of Strength Training

Before you jump into strength training, make sure you know which type of strength training is best for you. Make sure you always talk to your doctor before you start resistance training, because there are many instances that can make it dangerous for someone (i.e. injuries, high blood pressure, heart conditions). Also, we suggest that you visit a physical therapist or personal trainer so that you know how to do strength training exercises correctly.

 

Body weight Strength Training

Resistance training consists of adding weight to your muscles and making them work, but did you know that resistance training can consist of using your own body weight? If you don’t have access to weights, try using your own body weight. Here are example body weight exercises that you can do:

  • Push ups
  • Planks
  • Squats
  • Burpees (this one combines cardio and strength!)
  • Leg lunges
  • Lateral leg raises
  • Glute bridges
  • Mountain climbers (this one combines cardio and strength!)
  • Donkey kicks

Some of these exercises are more difficult than others. Start slow and work on increasing the number of repetitions that you do. Bodyweight exercises can be done at the gym or in the comfort of your own home with no additional equipment.

 

Free Weight Strength Training

One of the most common ways to strength train is by using free weights. Free weights may include the following items (and some you can make your own!):

  • Dumbbells
  • Barbells
  • Weight Plates
  • Kettlebells
  • Medicine balls
  • Water jugs for weight lifting
  • Canned goods for weight lifting
  • Ankle weights
  • Weighted vests

You may think of big buff bodybuilders working out with free weights, but anyone can use free weights to meet their weight and fitness goals. Not interested in getting huge muscles? That’s okay! Free weights and the right exercises can increase strength but don’t have to increase muscle size. Take a look at the chart below to understand how you can manipulate weight to reach your specific goals:

Your Goals Weight to Use How to Structure your Exercise
I want to get bigger muscles. Heavier weights to “max out.” With heavier weights, do less repetitions. The weight should be one that you can only do about 5 to 8 repetitions per set.
I want to look more toned. Lighter weights for endurance. With lighter weights, you want to be able to do many repetitions, say, 8 to 12 repetitions per set.

As you can see, the way you work out should align with your fitness goals. For more information, be sure to talk with an exercise expert and your doctor.

 

Machine Strength Training

 There are also machines that can help you work your muscles. These machines are available in commercial gyms or you can buy them for your home. Some exercise machines focus on one specific muscle group, whereas others can give you a total body workout. Here’s a breakdown of several common strength training machines:

Exercise Machine Targeted Muscle Group
Total gym Several and/or all muscle groups
Cable machine Several and/or all muscle groups
Chest press machine Chest
Abductor and adductor machine Legs
Bicep curl machine Arms
Hamstring curl machine Legs
Crunch machine Abdomen
Squat machine Legs and Glutes
Fly machine Chest and possibly back

 

Strength Training Physical Activity

You can also get the benefits of strength training without being confined to a gym or using weights! Check out this list below of all the things you can do to get resistance training benefits:

  • Swimming
  • Using ankle weights while you walk
  • Chores that require lifting like gardening, yard work and/or cleaning
  • Bicycling (especially on a gear with lots of resistance)
  • Hiking
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Dancing
  • Tai chi

 

Want to learn more about physical activity?

Strength training is just one component of physical fitness. To learn about the other components of physical fitness, click here.