Strength training is one of the best types of training you could include in your workout routine for improving your overall health and fitness. Obviously it’s great for building strength and muscle, but it also has many other benefits.
What is Strength Training?
Strength training is any form of resistance exercise done with the aim of getting stronger. This could involve lifting free weights, using resistance machines, or even doing bodyweight exercises.
Whichever your preference, strength training has many benefits for health and fitness. It can help increase muscle mass, support joint health, improve posture, burn calories, and, of course, make you stronger.
Things to consider when planning a strength training routine include experience levels, goals, time, and availability. There are so many ways to train your muscles, and an endless variety of reps, sets, and exercises.
The two most important things for strength training are consistency and recovery. A single training session won't make you strong. You must get in the habit of visiting the gym often and practise good habits outside of the gym, like eating and sleeping properly.
More specific elements of your training will vary depending on your goal. A rep range of over 15 reps is best if you want to improve muscle endurance, 8-12 reps for building muscle (hypertrophy), and 1-5 reps for increasing strength. You should try to fatigue your muscles and push your body to an overloaded state, but you don’t have to go to failure to see changes.
Why is Strength Training Important?
Incorporating strength training into your weekly routine is good for your overall health and wellbeing because it can play a crucial role in the function of the neuromuscular system, which is responsible for coordinating movement from head to toe.
This is important at any age and for any goal, whether you want to improve your quality of life or simply make everyday tasks easier.
On top of this, strength training has cellular benefits that can help your body function optimally. Like cardiovascular training, it can help you metabolise sugars and fats, which can lead to a leaner physique and lower body fat levels.
What Happens When You Train?
Resistance training can change the body in two ways: centrally — by targeting the nerves and signalling to muscle fibres — and peripherally, within the muscle fibres.
Central adaptations come from an increased neural drive, the formation of new synapse pathways, and an increase in motor unit firing frequency.1 Essentially, this means the body develops new ways of signalling to the muscles and muscle fibres coordinate their contractions more effectively, leading to increased force production.
Peripherally, training causes microtears in the muscles, which stimulate a group of cells to repair and rebuild the muscles, leading to them increasing in size and better able to withstand the same force again without tearing.2
This is why recovery — and consuming enough protein to enable it — and consistent stimulus are so crucial. Without proper recovery, the muscles and synapses cannot develop, as they won’t have the time to repair. And without consistent stimulus, the muscles won’t be challenged enough to continue repairing and growing.
What are the Benefits of Strength Training?
Strength training can have many benefits for overall health and wellbeing. These include:
- Hypertrophy. As muscles get bigger, they have greater potential to create more force.
- Neuromuscular coordination. Strength training can improve the ability of muscles to work together, leading to better coordination and increased strength.
- Body fat. Strength training may not involve miles of running, but it can have similar benefits for burning fat.
- Bone strength. The impact and force of strength training can lead to denser and stronger bones.
- Flexibility. Using a full range of motion during strength training can help the muscles move more freely and improve flexibility.
- Mood and wellbeing. The mental benefits for exercise are well known, and strength training is no different, with potential benefits including improved mood, better sleep, and enhanced wellbeing.
- Increase flexibility. Although you might not be stretching as much as you maybe should be after strength training sessions, using a full range of movement is encouraging the muscles to move freely and can help to reduce the effects of inflexibility and the body’s compensations.
How Often Should You Strength Train?
You should do some form of strength training 2-3 times per week, completing 8-10 exercises for 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps.
The full-body training approach is recommended, as it stimulates all of the body, pushing it out of balance and starting off the recovery process. Because of this, training programmes have shifted focus from training individual body parts to training the full body multiple times a week.
Research on this approach has found that a greater frequency of training per muscle group (more times per week) led to greater improvements.3
How to Keep Progressing Long Term
If you want to keep progressing, the most important thing to focus on is long-term development rather than completing the perfect workout. Split your training plan into smaller goals you can work towards every week. This way, you can add a bit more to your training each week, allowing you to achieve your long-term goals.
Strength Training Plans
Strength training plan for beginners
As a beginner, it’s best to keep the training volume lower and focus more on form. It could take a while for visible changes to appear, so it’s essential to stay motivated and focused during these early weeks.
|Day 1||Sets x reps||Day 2||Sets x reps|
|Leg press||3 x 8||Lunges||3 x 8|
|Leg curl||2 x 8||Sumo deadlift||3 x 8|
|Chest press||3 x 8||Single arm row||3 x 8|
|Lat pull-down||3 x 8||Seated shoulder press||3 x 8|
|Upright row||2 x 8||Assisted dips||3 x 8|
Strength training plan for runners
You can improve your running time by building strength and becoming more powerful. But don’t focus only on the lower body — upper-body training is needed for good overall body function.
|Day 1||Sets x reps||Day 2||Sets x reps|
|Squat jumps||3 x 5||Double foot hops||3 x 5|
|Jumping lunges||3 x 5||Jumping step-ups||3 x 5|
|Romanian deadlift||3 x 3||Squats||3 x 3|
|Incline chest press||3 x 8||Lat pull-down||3 x 8|
Strength training plan for bodybuilders
This plan is for intermediate to advanced lifters who want to increase muscle size and strength during the off season. It’s a five-day split that trains each muscle group two times within a seven-day window.
Day 1: quads, chest, bicepsSets x repsDay 2: lats, triceps, trapsSets x RepsDay 3: hamstrings, glutes, shouldersSets x repsSquats3 x 5(Assisted) pull-ups3 x 6Hip thrusts3 x 5Leg extensions3 x 8Bent-over row3 x 8Romanian deadlift3 x 6Bulgarian split squats2 x 10Single arm row3 x 10Leg curl2 x 10Decline bench press3 x 6Bent arm pullovers3 x 10Seated dumbbell press3 x 8Incline dumbbell press3 x 8Shrugs3 x 8Upright row3 x 8Cable crossovers2 x 12Face pulls3 x 12Lateral raise3 x 12Barbell curl3 x 10Triceps press down3 x 10Cable front raise3 x 12
Take Home Message
Strength training is a key element in maintaining overall health and fitness, helping neuromuscular function, bone strength and flexibility on top of improving physical performance.
If you want to live an active life and improve your overall wellbeing, you should consider including it in exercise your routine.
Want more strength training advice?
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- Del Vecchio, A., Casolo, A., Negro, F., Scorcelletti, M., Bazzucchi, I., Enoka, R., Felici, F., & Farina, D. (2019). The increase in muscle force after 4 weeks of strength training is mediated by adaptations in motor unit recruitment and rate coding. The Journal of physiology, 597(7), 1873–1887. https://doi.org/10.1113/JP277250
- Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Van Every, D. W., & Plotkin, D. L. (2021). Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports (Basel, Switzerland), 9(2), 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports9020032
- Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., & Krieger, J. (2019). How many times per week should a muscle be trained to maximize muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of resistance training frequency. Journal of sports sciences, 37(11), 1286–1295. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2018.1555906
Simon started his fitness journey from a young age, and was playing sport as soon as he could roll a ball. This pushed him to compete in a variety of sports from rugby to squash.
After completing an MSc in Strength & Conditioning, alongside a PT qualification, he gained an academic role at the University of Chester. From lecturing to research-based studies, his applied role caters to both team and individual sports.