How to Get Started With Strength Training

Must Reads | Strength Training 12 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen

If you’ve found this article then you are probably already aware of the benefits of strength training, but you may not know where to start.

This is a brief introduction to strength training that will provide you with a starting point.

While this guide is no substitution for working with a trained professional there is no reason you shouldn’t start receiving the benefits of strength training as soon as possible.

What is Strength?

Strength, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Strength is relative to each person that is defining it. It’s the ability to do the things you want to do by overcoming physical (and often times mental) obstacles. You may want the strength to rearrange your home furniture, run a marathon, carry all the groceries in one trip, or bench press your body weight. All of these require different kinds of strength. Strength is not only about load (how much weight you can lift), but also about your ability. 

One of the most transformative effects of strength training is what happens to your mind. Each session you will set personal records, and you will lift weights that used to be impossible. These successes will build your confidence and give you the mental strength to tackle challenges you would never have dreamed of.

At Seriously Strong Training we focus on variations of the bench, squat, deadlift, row, and overhead press to develop full body strength. If you can perform these movements pain-free with proper form, you will have the strength for anything life may throw at you.

What is Strength Training?

Strength training is moving your body against external resistance in a controlled manner with movements that challenge major muscle groups. 

Normally this involves using strength training implements like barbells and dumbbells, but anything that provides external resistance can be used. Flipping tractor tires, carrying bags of sand, and pushing cars all count as strength training.

The key to proper strength training is purposeful movement. Proper form and execution is imperative to gain maximum adaptations while avoiding injury

This is why having a coach is so valuable. They are able to provide the form coaching necessary to teach you how to lift weights safely and effectively. 

Why should You Do Strength TRaining?

The number one reason to strength train is to improve your quality of life. The ability to lift things and move around pain-free is necessary to live well. This improvement to your quality of life comes primarily from increased muscle mass and strength. Below I will list more benefits of strength training.

  • Strength training has been shown to increase muscle mass for people of all ages
  • Strength training is the most effective form of exercise for sustained, long term fat loss
  • Your bones will get stronger through increased bone mineral density which will reduce your chances of bone fractures as you age
  • Strength training is great for your mental well-being, stress-relief, and confidence
  • Strength training is a great way to clear your head by forcing you to exist solely in the moment allowing you to forget your worries

How Does your body become Stronger?

There are two key components to getting stronger: how large a muscle is, and how well do you use it?

Growing a muscle is termed hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is the mechanism your body employs to increase the size of a muscle. A larger muscle will have the potential to be a stronger muscle.

The second part to getting stronger is improving your ability to use the muscle you have. This has to do with your brain’s ability to send signals through the nervous system to tell muscles to work. You can become stronger without growing the size of your muscle—you have probably seen or know people that are stronger than they look. That is because their body has become very good at recruiting every fiber of muscle they have.

The best way to become stronger is to build the size of a muscle while also improving your ability to use that muscle. A good strength training program will address both of these areas.

The 12 Major Muscle Groups

Your body is a series of levers and pulleys—remember those simple machines we learned about in grade school? When your body moves the brain sends a signal to your muscles to contract/shorten. When muscles contract they pull upon your bones and that contraction causes movement. This is easy to see if you think about doing a bicep curl. Your bicep muscle pulls on your forearm and brings your hand to your shoulder. Your entire body works this way.

There are over 700 muscles in your body. That is a lot of different muscles, but there is no need to worry about trying to learn them or understand what they all do.

Luckily we can simplify this huge number by grouping your muscles into 12 main categories because many of them always work together. Focusing on training these 12 major muscle groups will ensure that just about every muscle in your body is being worked. We can simplify this even further by focusing on just 6 basic movements to hit all 12 major muscle groups.

The 12 major muscle groups are:

  1. Deltoids
  2. Pectorals
  3. Biceps
  4. Abdominals
  5. Quadriceps
  6. Trapezius
  7. Triceps
  8. Lats
  9. Erector Spinae
  10. Glutes
  11. Hamstrings
  12. Calves

SST MajorMuscleGroups 900x900 Anterior 500x500SST MajorMuscleGroups 900x900 Posterior 500x500

The 6 Basic Movements

A graphic displaying a gear with the six basic movements around it: deadlift, horizontal pull, horizontal press, squat, vertical press, vertical pull

Your body is designed to work with your environment. This means you need to be able to pull things toward your body (or pull your body to them), push them away (or push your body away from them), pick things up, and lower/raise your entire body.

The 6 basic movements you will need to accomplish these tasks and to ensure a well-balanced full body workout are:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift (aka Hip Hinge)
  • Horizontal Pull
  • Horizontal Press
  • Vertical Pull
  • Vertical Press

Performing these exercises regularly (2-3 times per week) will challenge all 12 major muscle groups. This will help improve your overall strength, tone, balance, and coordination.

Please keep in mind that this is a basic list and you will most likely benefit from adding additional exercises specific to your goals or needs. Although these are just the basics these movements are the core of every quality strength training program.

Before learning the 6 basic movements you will want to master the 7 joint control patterns.

The 7 Joint Control Patterns

Like I told you above your muscles are responsible for movement by pulling on your bones. All of this happens around your joints.

Learning to control and coordinate multiple joints simultaneously is what allows you to walk around gracefully without stumbling or falling.

For good weightlifting you will need to learn what I call joint control patterns (JCP).

We will learn them individually and then combine them together to perform the 6 basic movements.

This is a critical part of the process and cannot be skipped.

The JCPs are done without any weight other than your body and helps you learn positioning. If you struggle to perform any of them it may be because you lack the required mobility/flexibility and that will need to be addressed. Check out the How to Get Started with Mobility & Flexibility article for more on that topic. If you’re just getting started with strength training you should read that article and use the tips found there no matter what.

I will list the JCPs below with a brief introduction for each and then follow that list with a video playlist demonstrating each. It is very helpful to have a full length mirror to ensure what you are doing matches the demonstration.

The 7 JCPs are:

  1. Setting the shoulders
    1. This is pulling your shoulders down and back (think PROUD CHEST)
      1. This is important for every single strength training exercise
  2. Thoracic extension (your upper back)
    1. This is flattening out the curve in your upper back and pairs with setting the shoulders
      1. This is important for every single strength training exercise
  3. Wrist control
    1. This is engaging the muscles of your forearm so there is a straight line from your forearm through the back of your hand
      1. This is most important for pressing exercises to have control and prevent wrist pain
  4. Lumbo-pelvic control (your hips)
    1. This is a drill that involves tucking your butt under, and then sticking it out
      1. This is most important for the squat and deadlift
  5. External rotation of the femur (the thigh bone)
    1. This is rotating your thighs away from each other
      1. This is most important for the squat and deadlift
  6. Abduction of the femur
    1. This is separating your thighs from each other
      1. This is most important for the squat and deadlift
  7. Tripod Foot
    1. This is forming an arch in the inside sole of your foot. The tripod becomes your heel, and the left & rightmost balls of your feet
      1. This is most important for the squat and deadlift

The Squat

The squat will target all of the muscles of the lower body: glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.

When you are squatting well you should feel it on the inside, outside, front, and back of your thighs. If you only feel it in your quads (the fronts of your thighs) then you need to make some tweaks. You can use the squat test to figure this out.

Here is a video that will introduce a bodyweight squat.

Once you are performing bodyweight squats well and can perform 20 with perfect form it is time to add weight by moving into the goblet squat. If you’re practicing at home you can use a jug of water if you don’t have any weights.

When you are feeling confident with a goblet squat you will eventually want to increase the difficulty to a barbell squat. The low bar squat is usually the best barbell variation for most people so I will post a video to teach that below.

The Deadlift

The deadlift is a great movement for training your body to lift things well off the ground. This movement will primarily target the glutes, hamstrings, abdominals (abs), erector spinae (your low back muscles), traps (trapezius), and your latissimus dorsi (lats).

To do a deadlift well you must first master the hip hinge pattern.

Once you have the hip hinge down you can move onto the romanian deadlift (RDL).

With the RDL under your belt you can then progress to the conventional deadlift. This isn’t a necessary progression for getting started but eventually you will want to learn that movement.

Horizontal Pull

The horizontal pull is a great exercise for your biceps, traps, and lats.

I recommend two exercises for the horizontal pull based on where you will be doing these exercises. One is body weight (the TRX row), and the other is the seated cable row if you have access to a gym.

Click here for even more horizontal puling exercises.

Horizontal Press

You probably will recognize this exercise as a push-up or bench press. The horizontal press works the deltoids (delts), pectorals (pecs), and triceps.

Again I will recommend two different exercises for learning the horizontal press based on your access to gym equipment or if you will be doing at-home workouts. The first to learn is the push-up, and the second is the bench press.

The push-up can be made easier by doing them on an elevated surface such as placing your hands on the counter. The lower the surface your hands are on will make the exercise more challenging. Be sure to have a firm footing so you don’t slip.

When you feel confident in the push-up you can move onto the bench press. This can be done with dumbbells, but in the video below I will show you how to perform the barbell bench press through a series of videos.

Click here for even more horizontal pushing exercises.

Vertical Pull

Vertical pulling will be most familiar to you in the form of a pull-up. Pull-ups are a very hard movement to do well so instead I will introduce you to a pull-down exercise that works the same muscles: the biceps and lats.

Before learning the pull-down you will first want to master the reverse shrug. This is the first movement you will need to do when performing a pull-down.

After learning that exercise you will be ready for a pull-down.

Click here for even more vertical pulling exercises.

Vertical Press

Vertical pressing is what you do when you put an object onto a high shelf. This movement will primarily focus on building muscle & strength in the delts and triceps.

A great movement for this is the seated dumbbell shoulder press. These can be done standing with a barbell, but it is easiest to learn seated with a pair of dumbbells.

Click here for more vertical pressing exercises.

What about the Core?

I’m glad you asked. The 6 basic movements are a great starting place and will help improve your core strength but they are not going to give you the strongest core possible.

For that you will need to add dedicated core training to your workouts.

That is a whole other topic entirely and the reason I’ve created a free guide to core training.

Just click the button below, let me know where to send it, and within moments you will receive the Seriously Strong Guide to Core Training absolutely free!

Download The Serious Guide to Core Training

What about my butt?

Another great question!

This article only covers the basics of strength training, and any muscles you want to maximize will need focused training.

Luckily for you I have put together a free guide to glute training.

Again, just click the link below to input your name and email to receive the free guide.

Download The Serious Guide to Glute Training

Putting it all together

Now that you have a better understanding of strength training and the exercises you should be doing to get started you are probably wondering how to put it all together.

I’ve got even more great news for you.

You can download the free Seriously Strong Training Beginner Program!

Click the button below and download it for free.

Download The Seriously Strong Beginner Program

Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.