The Most Important Strength Training Exercises
Did you know that muscle mass decreases by 3% to 8% every decade after you turn 30? The degree of loss is even higher once you hit 60.
If unaddressed, age-related muscle mass loss can lead to sarcopenia. It affects up to 10% of older adults worldwide and causes muscle weakening. It also degrades muscle functions, resulting in an overall loss of strength.
The good news is that it’s never too early (or late) to include strength training exercises in your regimen. No matter your age, these workouts can help with muscle growth, gain, and maintenance.
To that end, we created this guide discussing the top exercises to add to your strength routine. Read on to discover what they are, how they can help, and other tips to boost muscle gain results.
Warm Up Exercises
Anyone new to strength training may find that such exercises feel like punishment. It can get even worse due to post-workout pain, also known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It may get so bad you might find yourself googling which supplements to take or where to buy SARMs.
While that’s entirely up to you, know that strength training is and should feel hard. After all, its goal is to help your body overcome resistance by working out your muscles. So if it’s not challenging enough, you can’t build new muscles and develop the existing ones.
However, you may be able to minimize injuries and DOMS by warming up your muscles before exercise.
For one, cold muscles are like frozen cooked spaghetti; it takes little effort to break them. Warm them up, though, and they become more pliable and, therefore, harder to snap.
It’s the same for stiff and tense muscles; they’re more prone to injury from sudden activity. Thus, it pays to warm them up before subjecting them to more rigorous strength exercises.
Brisk walking for about 5 to 10 minutes is an ideal start. You can follow that up with 8 to 10 repetitions (reps) of the following:
- Inward head rotations
- Outward head rotations
- Inward hip rotations
- Outward hip rotations
- Forward arm circles
- Backward arm circles
- Jumping jacks
Also, if you haven’t been active lately or you’re 40 or older, talk to your doctor before you start training. Do the same if you’re planning to take vitamins or muscle-building supplements. Your physician can tell you if you need them and, if so, which ones are safe for you to use.
Body-weight exercises are best for beginners as they only use one’s body weight. That means you don’t need fancy equipment and can do them anywhere or during gym day.
According to researchers, body-weight exercises are effective methods for muscle gain. They also help improve muscle strength and endurance.
Squats are dynamic strength training exercises involving several upper and lower body muscles. These include the abs, calves, erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings, obliques, quads, and thighs. They’re all vital for daily tasks like bending, sitting, standing, carrying, and walking.
However, squats don’t only build and buff up muscles; they can also boost bone mineral density. The higher your bone’s mineral density, the sturdier they are and the less prone they are to breakage. Plus, they can aid your weight loss regimen.
As a beginner, you can start with basic body-weight squats, also known as air squats.
Before starting, it’s a good idea to imagine a triangle on the soles of your feet. One point should be just right behind the big toe, the second behind the pinky, and the last on the heel. The goal is to direct and spread the pressure on these three areas while performing squats.
With that in mind, position your feet a little more than hip-width apart. Next, clasp your hands together, then bend your knees to lower your hips to a squat as you keep your back straight. Continue to go lower until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
Return to your original position by pushing into the floor with your heels. You can complete three sets of 10 to 15 reps two to three times weekly.
Lunges are multi-joint exercises targeting the calves, hamstrings, hips, glutes, and quads.
Lunges allow you to stretch your hip flexors, improving their flexibility. That can reverse their shortening and tightening, which prolonged sitting can cause. They also work out your core muscles, which then help improve stability and balance.
The more stable you are on your feet and the better your balance, the less prone you are to tripping or falling. Remember: Falls are a leading cause of injury, landing over 800,000 people in U.S. hospitals yearly.
To perform a basic lunge, stand in a split stance and place your right foot about two to three feet in front of the left one. Next, straighten your torso, ensuring your shoulders are back and down and your hands are on your hips.
Bend your knees, and lower your entire body until your back knee is only a few inches from the ground. At this point, your front thigh should be parallel to the ground, and your back knee should be facing the floor. Ensure you distribute your weight evenly between both legs.
Finally, as you keep your weight on your front foot’s heel, raise your body back to the starting position. Repeat the steps to complete one set of 10 to 16 reps. After that, switch to your left foot and complete another set.
Then, once you feel more comfortable, increase your load to two sets for each foot.
Reverse lunges work the same muscles as traditional forward lunges. The chief difference is that with reverse lunges, you put the active foot backward. So, instead of putting one foot in front of the other, you move it behind.
As reverse lunges can be gentler to the knees and ankles, they may be best for folks with injuries in these areas. They may also be easier for older people, especially those with arthritis.
Planking, also called hover exercise, targets the abdominal and core muscles. It can help strengthen the arms, shoulders, and legs, too. It’s not as laborious as squats, but it helps you develop the proper form for other exercises, such as pushups.
To plank, place your hands, palm down, on the floor. Your hands and arms should be directly below your shoulders.
Straighten your legs behind you so that the balls of your feet support some of your body weight. Ensure your back is straight by aligning your head with your spine. Your entire body, from head to toe, should be in an inclined, stretched position.
Maintain that position for at least 20 seconds, then gently lower yourself. You can complete 3 to 6 sets with three reps each every day.
Traditional pushups are excellent strength training exercises for the upper body. They engage your shoulders, pectoral muscles, and triceps. Done correctly, they can also work the core muscles and strengthen the lower back.
To do traditional pushups, begin with the planking position. Next, bend your elbows and bring your chest down until it’s almost by the floor. Then, pause for 2 to 3 seconds before raising yourself back to your starting position.
Complete one set of 12 repetitions, gradually increasing it to 100 reps within two months.
Free Weight Exercises
One of the chief drawbacks to body-weight exercises is that they can make you plateau the fastest. Plateauing is when your body no longer reaps any benefits from a specific workout. It occurs when your muscles get used to the stress a particular exercise places on them.
However, plateauing also means you’ve already gained muscle and strength. But if you want more, you must do more than basic body-weight exercises.
In that case, you can add free weight exercises to your at-home or gym routine.
Free weight exercises are strength training workouts involving resistance provided by free objects. These include barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and medicine balls, to name a few. You can even use soup cans if you’re not ready to invest in free weights.
You can modify body-weight exercises by incorporating the use of free weights. For example, you can perform basic lunges while lifting a dumbbell in one hand. You can then switch to the other hand after one or two sets.
Once you feel more comfortable, move on to two-handed lifting while doing squats.
The trick is to gradually increase the weight of the free weights to avoid plateauing. For example, after a month or two of using 5-pound dumbbells, you can swap them for 10-pounder ones. Then, move on to 15 pounds, 20 pounds, and so on.
Resistance Tubing Exercises
Resistance tubing is a strength training tool featuring a lightweight, stretchable material. The band provides resistance when stretched.
Resistance tubing is available in color-coded strengths or tensions. The lighter the color, the less resistance it provides, making it a good option for beginners. Likewise, the darker it is, the more tension it has, so the more challenge it gives your muscles.
For example, yellow is often the least resistant, followed by red, so they’re best for beginners. From there, the resistance increases from green to blue and black. Some brands also have silver (heavier than black) and gold (heaviest).
Resistance tubing exercises can strengthen nearly all muscles in the arms and legs. Researchers also say they’re one of, if not the best, workouts to help injured knees recover.
Aim to complete two to three sets of 20 reps of resistance tubing exercises after every two days. That 48-hour break is crucial to give your strained muscles the rest they need to recover.
Pull-ups are strength training exercises primarily targeting the upper back, shoulders, and biceps. However, they also engage the core, deltoids, and rhomboids. They help improve grip strength, too, which is crucial if you’re going to lift weights.
Pull-ups are like body-weight exercises, except they require a tool called a pull-up bar. The bar should be high enough that your feet won’t touch the floor when you pull yourself up. If you’re getting one for home use, install it at eye level.
To perform pull-ups, begin by gripping the bar with your hands facing outward. Then, with your body fully extended, pull yourself up until your chin is higher than the bar. Maintain that position for as long as you can before lowering yourself.
Don’t worry if, on your first try, your chin doesn’t go above the bar, or you can only hold on to it for a few seconds. Pull-ups are challenging, so you might need several tries or even a few days to nail one. Either way, keep at it until you can maintain your pulled-up position for at least 30 seconds.
Chin-ups are another type of strength training exercise that you can do with a pull-up bar. Like pull-ups, they also work the upper back, arm, and abdominal muscles.
The chief difference is that chin-ups involve gripping the bar with your palms facing you. This upward-facing position is what you call “supinated.” It activates the anterior chain muscles in the chest, such as the pectorals.
You might find chin-ups easier to do at first than pull-ups due to the difference in arm position. That’s because the supinated position is more natural than the pronated position. Pronated means facing down (or away from you), which often puts more stress on the shoulders.
As with pull-ups, your goal with chin-ups is to also raise your chin above the bar. The longer you hold that extended position, the more resistance you give your muscles. So once again, your goal should be to keep your chin above the bar for at least 30 seconds.
Start Doing These Strength Training Exercises
Remember: Sarcopenia can increase one’s risk of falls, fractures, hospitalization, and surgery. That’s why it pays to build and develop your muscles with strength training exercises as early as now.
So, why not consider adding our recommended workouts to your exercise regimen? The sooner you do, the sooner they can help make your muscles, joints, and bones sturdier.
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