How should I start a strength training program?

Before initiating any program you should always evaluate your goals and learn what it takes to achieve these goals.  Once you understand the goals you will best be able to determine the time frame and how long it should take to get to the final destination.

When starting a resistance program, NASM recommends that you start with a weight that you can do 15-20 reps comfortably for 2-3 sets. This weight is approximately 50% of your max intensity. If the weight is too light add 5 -10 pounds and try again. Exercises that mimic functional activities of everyday life are great to begin with. Functional exercises are squats, lunges, and push-ups. As you train the exercises will get easier. Once the exercise gets easier slowly add weight. Once you have performed this level of exercise for 4-6 weeks increase the weight and decrease repetitions to 8-12 repetitions.

One of the main tips that I would give any person that is starting a strength training program is to find someone that can perform a postural assessment for them. A postural assessment like the overhead squat assessment would be a great starting point to help someone start a strength program off right. What an assessment like this would do is help figure out if you have any muscular imbalances and the professional could also help you choose the correct exercises to help correct them. The reason this is important is because a body that moves correctly will stay injury free, which will help them stay active longer.  

William B. Salt II., MD
If you do not have experience with strength training, we recommend that you begin slowly and work with a qualified personal trainer or instructor in an exercise facility. It is important to use resistance equipment correctly to minimize risk of injury and maximize benefits. You can decide later whether to continue working with a professional, work out on your own at the gym, and/or at home with your own equipment.  Experts recommend a minimum of eight-ten strength training exercises involving the major muscle groups, each with eight-twelve repetitions performed twice a week. 
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Before starting a strength training program make sure you get clearance from a physician if you have an illness or sustained an injury in the last 6-9 months.  One of the first steps in started a strength program is to do a self-evaluation of what your goals are and to put a timeframe on when you want to be able to achieve those goals. Whether you are planning to join a sports team, planning a trip in which hiking/skiing/marathon running etc. is involved or looking for functional strength in your activities of daily life; it is important to plan an appropriate strength training program to enhance those activities.  Make sure when you start a resistance based program that you start with a weight that you can do 15-20 reps comfortably for 2-3 sets. Choose multijoint exercises such as squats(bodyweight or with light dumbells such as 10 pounds), step ups (start with a small platform 4-5 inches and progress from there) lunges, lat pull downs, pushups and planks.  Strength training with a buddy will give you more motivation and ensure adherence to the program and the goals you have set for yourself. As you start your training make sure to rest at least 30-40 seconds in-between sets. After 3 weeks if you can do the weight very easily, then progress the weight to 5 or 10 pounds more. Progress slowly and add small increments of weight to maintain good strength increases and minimize risk of injury.


There are some basic guidelines to follow, whether you use circuit machines, free weights, cable cross machine, body weight resistance or any beginning exercise program.

1. Warm-up all muscles 5-10 minutes before your workout with dynamic stretching (movement stretching) or light cardio.

2. Use a myofascial roll to loosen up tight muscles.

3. Determine a weight to reach muscle fatigue within 12-15 repetitions within a set. (This is for initial strength and conditioning, other training principles apply for different goals)   Note: the first two weeks start light and see how the body responses and then  progress as the body adapts.

4. Perform 2-3 sets per muscles groups. Make sure you work all the muscles groups for a balance within the muscular skeletal system.

5. Always use good form and technique. Make it paramount over increasing the weight.

6. Give the body at least one days rest in between workouts. This is when the muscle repairs and builds itself.

7. After 6-8 weeks you want to "change up" your routine to keep from reaching a plateau where progress stops or slow down.

You can progress from the machines that tend to work the muscles in an isolated way to doing multi-muscle integrated movements that focus on core strength and stability. 

Two exercises I like to start beginning exercisers are the bridge and the plank. The reason I like these exercises is because they force the front of the body and the back to work simultaneously. The inner core muscles have to work to hold you in either of these exercises and your inner core is your center of support.

If you need assistance to start an initial program, I suggest consulting with fitness professional.

Be sure to contact your doctor if you have a medical concerns before starting any fitness program.

Bob Greene
Bob Greene on behalf of The Best Life
To strength train, start with one to two sets of six exercises at least two days a week. Choose a selection that involves all the major muscle groups. After six weeks, increase the number of sets you do to two or three. You may want to consider working with a trainer at this point. A trainer can make sure you're doing the moves properly and also help you evaluate your current routine to make sure you're on track to meet your health and weight-loss goals. If cost is a concern, you can split the fee with a friend. Or invest in just one 2-hour session, during which your trainer can design a program for you for the next six months. Also, gradually increase your aerobic sessions by 2 minutes per week, working toward a total of at least 150 minutes per week. If you're counting steps, increase your steps per day, working up to a minimum of 10,000 to satisfy the aerobic requirement.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.