What exercises improve strength?

Eric Olsen
Any activity will improve strength, but resistance training works directly toward this result. Aerobic dance and calisthenics such as push-ups, sit-ups (always with the knees bent), and pull-ups also build strength. Increasing the intensity of any aerobic activity -- sprinting, walking, running, or cycling uphill, swimming fast laps, and so on -- will also help. These more intense activities are performed at a level of exertion near or beyond the body's ability to supply oxygen to the working muscles, thus they're called "anaerobic" activities. Although you might be able to walk or jog comfortably for hours, anaerobic effort can only be sustained for a brief period, perhaps a few seconds or minutes, and there's no mistaking that moment when your level of effort has taken you across the line separating aerobic from anaerobic effort. At that point, the wastes of the anaerobic metabolism -- lactic acid -- begin to build up in the muscles; it feels as if someone is digging hot pokers into your flesh. Very quickly, the exhaustion of the working muscles and increasing discomfort bring the activity to a halt.

There are fewer data showing that anaerobic training provides the same health benefits as aerobic activities, most likely not because anaerobic training doesn't, but simply because this area hasn't been studied extensively. Anaerobic activities do clearly provide significant health benefits, and as noted previously, strength training, in particular, becomes more important as we grow older.

Although aerobic activities in themselves will help maintain strength, incorporating resistance exercises into your program as a supplement to aerobic exercise is a good idea. This will help prevent injuries resulting from muscle-strength imbalances. A steady diet of running, for example, tends to create imbalances between the muscles of the front and back of the legs, which sometimes can lead to injury; if you're hurt and can't exercise, you're not getting the benefits of exercise. Also, aerobic training tends to develop strength only in those muscles used -- the legs in walking or running or the upper body in swimming, for example. Total-body strength training provides a more balanced, total-body fitness.
Lifefit: An Effective Exercise Program for Optimal Health and a Longer Life

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Exercises that improve strength can consist of anything that offers sufficient resistance to the muscle, forcing the muscle to adapt and become stronger and more efficient. There is really no limit to the number of exercises that will improve strength. Likewise, these exercises can be performed using a multitude of fitness equipment: machines, dumbbells, cable machines, resistance bands, kettlebells, TRX, sandbags, or just using your body weight.

The key to improving strength isn't entirely dependent on what exercises you perform, but rather how you perform them. Your set and rep range, length of rest periods, workout split, intensity and overall training volume will dictate what changes your body will undergo. For example, if improving maximal strength is your goal then your training variables could look something like this:

Sets: 2-4 per exercise, Reps: 3-10 per exercise (dependent on body part & exercise), Intensity: 85-95% of your 1 rep max, Tempo: controlled, medium pace, Rest periods: ~ 2 minutes (will vary greatly depending on conditioning and recovery abilities). Your overall program layout would typically be split into a 2, 3, or 4 day routine, where each day is dedicated to specific body parts. In terms of which exercises improve strength the best, focus on multi-joint exercises that recruit a lot of muscle groups. For example, if you are doing legs and want to improve maximal strength, do squats instead of leg extensions.

The best program for improving strength is going to depend on your current level of fitness and abilities. Strength training is a lifestyle habit so don't try to do to much to quicky. Listen to your body and progress at a rate that your body is capable of handling. Keep track of your workouts so you can focus on making small improvements with each subsequent workout!

Any resistance exercise can help improve your strength.  The biggest area to focus on is making sure that the exercise you are completing is being completed correctly.  An incorrect squat can lead to extra stress on your knees and I do not know of anyone who would want to have pain while exercise.  Something I always try to remind my clients of is complete 5 perfect squats as compared to 10 squats with improper form. 

Regarding the exercises that are best to improve strength.  Here are four exercises that will work every muscle group in your body.  Squat, this exercise will help improve strength in your quadriceps, hamstring, glutes, and calves.  Bridging, this exercise will help improve strength in your hamstrings, abdominal muscle, glutes, and calves.  Push-ups, this exercise will help improve your chest strength, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and back.  Pull-up will help build strength in your back, biceps, core and shoulders.  Again, these are just some of the many exercises, have fun!

The best type of exercises that improve muscular and physical strength involve resistance training with weights or body weight movements that can be done with or without equipment. Some of the resistance training options include dumbbells, resistance bands, and machine cables. Some body weight equipment that is best to use would be a suspension trainer like the TRX system that can be found at most local gyms or can be purchased online at The best exercises will not only be beneficial but sometimes make sure connivance and consistency will come into place to help enhance results.

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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.