Strength training is one of the oldest disciplines. Legend has it Milo of Croton trained for strength in Ancient Greece by carrying a newborn calf on his back daily until it was fully grown.
Today we don’t use a calf anymore to build physical strength. However we still use the same approach Milo used. This article will give you more info on what strength training is, its benefits & how to get started.
What is Strength Training? Strength training is exercising with the goal of increasing your physical strength. There are two kinds of strength:
- Relative Strength. Gymnasts or rock climbers need strength, but not at the expense of an increased body-weight: it makes their sport harder. Relative strength is building maximal strength while controlling calorie intake and/or adding cardio so you don’t increase your body-weight.
- Absolute Strength. Strongman or Olympic Lifters in the heaviest classes easily weigh 130kg. More body-weight means bigger muscles & thus more strength. Absolute strength is about becoming the strongest person regardless of body-weight.
Benefits of Strength Training. 2-3 generations ago, physical jobs kept you in shape. Nowadays sedentary lifestyles are common: desk jobs, watching tv, driving car all day. Here’s what strength training can do for you:
- Builds Muscle. Strength training builds muscle: the stronger you are, the more muscles you’ll have. Strength training is not bodybuilding however: building muscle is a byproduct of exercising, not its goal.
- Burns Fat. Muscle burn calories. More muscle means more calories burned & thus a lower body fat. You can achieve a year-round body fat of 10% (women 15%) by combining strength training with healthy food.
- Increases Health. Strength training increases endurance, bone density & testosterone levels. Strength training strengthens your joints, lowers cholesterol & improves your sleep. You’ll notice nutrition is important to get results in strength training. All leads to a healthier body & lifestyle.
- Forges Character. Strength training teaches you persistence, sacrifice, self-control, responsibility & builds self-confidence. You’ll get out of strength training what you put into it.
How do You Build Strength? Strength takes time to build. Here’s how strength training programs like StrongLifts 5×5 work:
- Stress. Exercising stresses your body. Your body doesn’t like stress & adapts by getting stronger & building muscle.
- Progressive Loading. Your body quickly adapts to stress. Increase the resistance systematically to avoid plateaus.
- 1 Step Back, 2 Steps Forward. Eventually you’ll stall. You can’t increase the resistance forever. Decrease the resistance for a while, then increase it again bursting through your plateau.
- Speed. The faster you move, the stronger you’ll be. You’re using more muscle fibers & can use momentum.
- Power. Power is the ability to acclerate: going from a dead stop to fast. The quicker you can achieve top speeds, the stronger you’ll be. Olympic lifts like Power Cleans build power.
Types of Strength Training. You have different methods available to build strength. Here’s a non definite list:
- Weight Lifting. Barbells are the easiest method to build strength. Start light, focus on technique & add weight systematically. The more weight on the bar, the stronger you get. Example of weight lifting exercises are the Squat, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Barbell Row & Deadlift.
- Body-weight Exercises. Force you to use your own body-weight as resistance. Can be hard at first if you lack sufficient strength. Examples of body-weight exercises: Pull-ups, Chin-ups, Dips, Pistols & Push-ups.
- Machines. Machines balance the weight for you. This makes them easier & less effective than free weights or body-weight exercises. Machines also force your body into a fixed movement pattern. Position yourself wrong using a lot of weight & you risk injuries.
Getting Started into Strength Training. StrongLifts.com recommends weight lifting & body-weight exercises. Three ways to get started:
- Strong Lifts 5×5. Beginner Strength Training Program based on weight lifting exercises. You’ll start light, focus on exercise technique during the first weeks & add weight progressively. Click here to download your 52 pages free StrongLifts 5×5 eBook.
- Strong Lifts Dumbbell 5×5. Same approach as StrongLifts 5×5, but with dumbbells. Try StrongLifts Dumbbell 5×5, if you don’t have barbells.
- Simple Fit. Has a routine based on body-weight exercises like Squats, Pull-ups & Push-ups. Click here for the strength training program.
Recommended Books on Strength Training. If you want more info on strength training, I recommend you to read these books:
- Practical Programming for Strength Training by Mark Rippetoe & Lon Kilgore. This book will give you a solid understanding of how your body reacts to stress. You’ll be able to design your own strength training programs after reading this book.
- Science & Practice of Strength Training by Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky. Denser than Practical Programming for Strength Training. This book influenced several strength training programs, like Westside.
- Rock Iron Steel: The Book of Strength by Steve Justa. Wisdom from a man that lifted for 20 years. You won’t be able to apply all his methods, but he will make you think about your own approach.
- Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe & Lon Kilgore. The reference on safe weight lifting technique.