Mastering Strength Training: A Step-by-Step Guide to Designing Your Program

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a newbie to the game, strength training is the ultimate key to unlocking a world of benefits. Lower injury risks, improved mobility, and enhanced performance are just a few of the benefits strength work has to offer.

Now, don’t worry, I won’t bore you with a never-ending lecture on the awesomeness of strength training (even though I could talk about it all day!). Let’s cut to the chase because the importance of strength is crystal clear: Getting strong matters, and it matters a lot.

But here’s the million-dollar question – do you know how to design a well-rounded strength routine that brings out the best in you?

Don’t worry if you don’t know the exact answer.  In this post, I’m going to spill the beans and teach you the art of creating your very own powerhouse strength training program. And once you apply the simple principles I’m about to share, you’ll be on the fast track to smashing your goals!

Ready? Let’s get going.

Your Muscle Groups

Alright, let’s get to know your muscle dream team! Your body is a sophisticated machine, and boy, does it have an impressive lineup of muscles. In fact, the human body is packed with around 640 to 850 muscles. That’s a whole army of muscles!” But don’t worry, we won’t let you drown in a sea of muscle names.

Now, drumroll please, let’s meet the heavy hitters – the major muscle groups that will be the stars of your strength show:

  • Chest: The muscles in the chest region, specifically the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, are responsible for various arm movements, such as pushing and hugging.
  • Shoulders: The shoulder muscles, including the deltoids and rotator cuff muscles, facilitate arm movement in different directions and contribute to overall shoulder stability.
  • Back: The back muscles, such as the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and erector spinae, support the spine, aid in posture, and enable various pulling movements.
  • Traps (Trapezius): The trapezius muscle is a large muscle located in the upper back and neck region. It helps with head movement and shoulder elevation.
  • Triceps: Situated at the back of the upper arm, the triceps muscle is responsible for extending the arm and straightening it.
  • Biceps: The biceps brachii, commonly known as biceps, are located in the front of the upper arm. They are responsible for flexing the arm at the elbow joint.
  • Forearms: The muscles in the forearms, such as the flexors and extensors, control wrist and finger movements and grip strength.
  • Abdominals (Abs): The abdominal muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis, support the core and assist in trunk flexion and rotation.
  • Quadriceps: Located in the front of the thigh, the quadriceps muscles consist of four muscles that extend the knee joint and assist in leg movements like walking and jumping.
  • Glutes (Gluteal muscles): The gluteal muscles, including the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, are essential for hip movements like extending the thigh and maintaining hip stability.
  • Hamstrings: Found in the back of the thigh, the hamstrings consist of three muscles that flex the knee and extend the hip.
  • Calves: The calf muscles, consisting of the gastrocnemius and soleus, are responsible for plantar flexion of the foot, like pointing toes downward.
  • The Heart: Although not a skeletal muscle, the heart is a vital organ responsible for pumping blood throughout the body, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the muscles during exercise.

Phew, that’s quite the lineup, right? Each muscle group plays a crucial role in the symphony of strength that is your body.  And knowing and understanding these major muscle groups is crucial for designing an effective strength training program that targets all aspects of your body’s movement and function.

Now it’s time for the practical measures.-

How To Get Started With Strength Training

There are many ways to start strength training.

The abundance of choices makes the endeavor both exciting and intimidating.

Here are the most common options:

Target Muscle Groups

So, how do we get started with strength training? I’d recommend that you  divide and conquer.  Set our sights on each muscle group and train them properly..

Now, don’t worry, I won’t drown you in a sea of scientific jargon. Let’s keep it simple and effective. All you have to do is hit these muscles hard by performing common exercises.

But wait, there’s a secret sauce to success – You should also aim to target your entire body throughout the week.  Next, after a couple of consecutive days of intense training, take a breather or dive into some cross-training fun!

Now, here’s the magic formula: aim for at least five to seven separate exercises that target those major muscle groups. Shoulders, back, chest, hips, abs, and legs – they’ll all get a taste of the action!

And remember, quality over quantity! We’re talking 10 to 12 reps for each exercise – that’s where the gains come to play.

Here’s a list of of some of the most effect strength exercises in accordance to the muscle group being targeted.

  • Chest: Push-ups, bench press, incline dumbbell press, wide-grip dip, and cable crossover.
  • Triceps: Pectoral flies, dips, triceps pull-downs, overhead press, body-up, and close-grip barbell bench press.
  • Biceps: bicep curls, hammerhead curls, alternate hammer curl, barbell curl, cable preacher curl, and concentration curls.
  • Back: Pull-ups, chin-ups, pull-downs, back-rows, deadlift, wide-grip pull-down, and dumbbell row.
  • Shoulders: military press, shoulder raises, Arnold press, hang cleans, and overhead press.
  • Legs (quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back): deadlift, squat, leg raises, calf raises — lunges, one-legged squats, box jumps, good mornings, step-ups, and lying leg curl.
  • Core (abdominals and lower back): planks, side planks, air bike, butt-ups, abs roller, ball crunches sphinx, mountain climbers, hanging leg raises, and so on.
  • Heart: Sprints, Tabata protocol workouts, circuit training. Running, swimming, and other related cardio exercises.

Target Movement Patterns

Let’s take strength training to a whole new level. Forget about obsessing over specific muscle groups – we’re diving into a world of movement pattern magic that’ll transform your workouts like never before.

You see, sticking to the same old routine of targeting individual muscles can lead to some serious drawbacks – like those pesky muscle imbalances that mess with your groove. Sure, it might be most simple way to get started with strength training, but for the long term, your approach should be a little bit more nuanced.

So, here’s the game-changer: focus on movement pattern variations! It’s like learning a secret code that unlocks a world of efficiency and injury prevention. Who doesn’t want that, right?

Here are the six movement patterns you’ll want to master:

  • The Squat – It’s the foundation of strength, like the solid base of a mighty pyramid. Picture yourself as a squatting champ, powering through with those glutes and quads.
  • The Lunge – Take a step forward and unleash the power of your legs. Lunges will have you feeling like a fierce warrior, dominating the battlefield of fitness.
  • The Hinge – Ready to unlock those powerful hips? The hinge movement pattern will make you feel like a force to be reckoned with, lifting and bending like a pro.
  • The Push – Time to channel your inner pusher! Push movements are all about conquering those upper body exercises like a true fitness boss.
  • The Pull – Picture yourself as a master of pulling motions, engaging those back and arm muscles like a champion rower.
  • The Carry – It’s like playing a game of strength chess, carrying those weights and feeling the burn in all the right places.

And guess what? Mastering these basic movements is the key that unlocks a world of progress and efficiency. Every strength session becomes a breeze, and you’ll be racking up gains like it’s nobody’s business.

Here’s a great example of a full workout plan to try.

Examples Of Movement Patterns & Exercises

Don’t know what exercises target which movement pattern?

Don’t worry, I got you covered.

Besides each pattern, you’ll find examples of ideal exercises with video links.

These recommendations are also catered for trainees who might only work out at home, therefore, might be only relying on their body weight for resistance or a set of dumbbells or kettlebells.

The Squat

  • Bodyweight squat
  • Back squat
  • Goblet squat
  • Front squat

The Hinge

  • Bodyweight Romanian deadlift
  • Kettlebell swing
  • Stiff leg deadlift
  • Dumbbell Romanian deadlift
  • Barbell deadlift
  • Dumbbell deadlift
  • Trap bar deadlift
  • Barbell rack pull

The Lunge

  • Walking lunge
  • Goblet lunge
  • Split lunge
  • Reverse lunge
  • Back foot elevated split squat
  • Front foot elevated split squat
  • Single leg deadlift

The Push

  • Pushups
  • Barbell bench press
  • Dumbbell bench press
  • Overhead press,
  • Floor press
  • Barbell overhead press
  • Dumbbell overhead press
  • Single-arm dumbbell overhead press

The Pull 

  • Pull-ups
  • Chin-ups
  • Lat pulldowns
  • Inverted row
  • Chest support row
  • Barbell bent-over row
  • renegade row,
  • bent over row,
  • inverted row,
  • TRX row
  • Single-arm dumbbell row

The Carry

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Farmers carry
  • Overhead carry
  • Mixed grip carry
  • Front-loaded carry
  • Unilateral farmers carry

How Heavy?

When it comes to choosing the weight, you want to find that sweet spot between medium and heavy. Think of it as finding the Goldilocks weight – not too light that it feels like you’re lifting feathers, and not too heavy that you end up stuck under the bar.

Here’s the secret sauce: aim for a load that tires you out after around 8 to 10 reps. It’s like reaching the peak of a challenging mountain – a little struggle, but oh-so-rewarding!

Now, if you’re just starting on this epic strength journey, take it easy with two to three sets. It’s like dipping your toes in the water before diving in headfirst. You’ll build that foundation of strength, one set at a time.

But hey, don’t stop there! As you become the fittest version of yourself, level up and aim for four sets. It’s like unlocking new levels in a video game – each set brings you closer to the ultimate boss level of strength!

But wait, before you unleash the beast within, never forget to warm up. It’s like priming your body for the battle ahead. A little stretch, a touch of cardio – your muscles will thank you for the love!

Now, here’s the insider tip: the number of reps may vary depending on the exercise and the resistance you’re working with. It’s like having different tools in your fitness toolbox – each exercise demands a unique approach.

How Much Rest?

When it comes to resting between sets, the rule of thumb is at least one minute. It’s like a little breather for your hard-working muscles, letting them regroup and recharge for the next round of awesomeness.

Remember, the heavier the weights, the lower the reps, and the longer you should rest between sets.

Constantly Upgrade Your Routine

Want to learn what’s the golden for success? Simple. Strive for progress with every workout. Now, don’t worry, I’m not talking about making massive leaps. It’s all about those small, steady steps that get you closer to your ultimate goal.

And guess what? Failure is not the end of the world – it’s a sign that you’ve given it your all. Embrace it, learn from it, and come back even stronger!

Now, here’s the deal: if you keep doing the same old routine week after week, you might as well be running in place – lots of effort, but no you ain’t going anywhere! We don’t want that, do we?

Repeating the same exercises over and over is like wearing out the same pair of shoes – they’re comfy, but they won’t take you on new adventures. Make it your goal to explore new territories, challenge our body, and surprise those muscles!

Here are a few tips to make your strength training routine a thrilling rollercoaster ride:

  • Pump up the Volume: You can increase the number of reps or sets for a particular exercise. It’s like adding more fuel to the fire – your muscles will feel that sweet burn even more!
  • Spice it up with Variety: Don’t be afraid to switch up your exercises. It’s like trying out different flavors of ice cream – each one brings a unique taste of strength to the table!
  • Play with the Order: Why not shuffle the deck and switch the order of exercises? It’s like rearranging the pieces of a puzzle – you’ll challenge your body in new and exciting ways. For instance, when those hammer curls start to feel like a breeze, don’t just stick to the status quo – add another set or crank up the weight! It’s like leveling up in a video game – you’ll feel that surge of power coursing through your veins!

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