Strength Training for Beginners
It’s no secret that strength training has tons of long-term health benefits and builds confidence. So it makes sense that you’re ready to start weightlifting.
There’s a lot of information on weight lifting and routines, but knowing which weight training for beginners program is best for you and your goals can feel a little overwhelming.
We put together a list of the most commonly asked questions regarding strength training for beginners and provided answers so that you can start weightlifting safely and effectively.
Before You Start Weight Lifting
Of course! You don’t have to be strong to start lifting, but you do need to know the basics of proper exercise form so that you can avoid injuries.
As a beginner, it’s important to do what you can to prepare for this new style of training to avoid injury or over-exhaustion.
A good practice is to start with bodyweight exercises – like squats, incline push-ups, planks, and wall pull-downs – and once you are familiar with the basic form you can start adding weights.
This preparation phase can last anywhere from a week to a month. As always, if you have health concerns, pre-existing conditions, or chronic pain check with your doctor before beginning a weight lifting routine.
For the perfect progression from guided movements to strength training for beginners, start our Unlock Your Strength program on the adidas Training app.
The answer depends on your personal fitness goals.
If you are looking for basic health benefits including slow fitness progression or maintaining the strength level you are currently at, then 2x a week, full body, at least 4 sets per muscle group is already enough.
For bigger goals like adding muscle mass or striving for maximal strength, you should try to do 3-5x a week, with 10 sets per muscle group.
Quality matters more than quantity: How many times you work out each week doesn’t matter as much as the volume of training you do when you do work out.(1)
A basic workout structure that will help you get results:
- 4-5 exercises
- 3-4 sets
- 10-15 reps
- With about 1 minute rest between
Want to start strength training but don’t have much time? Start the Unlock Your Strength program – only two workouts a week, 30 minutes per workout, strength training that fits everyone’s schedule.
Yes. By focusing on the proper form and technique, you can work out with weights no matter your body fat percentage. Together with proper nutritional adjustments, weightlifting for beginners can actually help you speed up weight loss if that is your goal.(2)
Resistance training can positively affect body composition, but there is some concern with patients in weight control programs. It is advisable to consult a medical practitioner to align nutritional and fitness goals.(2)
No, you can also work out at home with sets of dumbbells, adjustable dumbbells, or kettlebells. Even resistance bands are effective as long as you can keep increasing the resistance!
However, going to the gym still has greater benefits when it comes to strength training:
- You can progress faster and easier by having more weights to choose from
- Leaving the house to workout creates a sense of commitment and you’ll likely work harder and spend more time at the gym
- There is more inspiration and help all around you when you train at the gym
We understand that starting a new type of exercise routine can be challenging and doing it at the gym can feel intimidating as a beginner. But once you get past the initial intimidation, you will unlock a new level of confidence and skill and broaden your possibilities for finding a type of training you enjoy!
If you are intimidated by working out at the gym, try these tips to help you overcome your fears:
- Start with home workouts
- Learn how to lift with proper form and technique
- Go at off-hours (2 PM is usually a quiet time at the gym)
- Remind yourself that you are becoming an expert on your own body – it’s about you and your health, not them
- Pre-plan your workout. Know what you’re going to do before you go in
- Everyone was a beginner at some point. And you won’t be a “beginner” for long!
Equipment for Strength Training for Beginners
This depends on your fitness level to start, your goals, and what you consider “heavy”. When lifting, the key is to be able to hold the proper posture and technique while doing 8-12 reps. If repeating the reps becomes too difficult after 5-6 reps, the weight might be too heavy, and you should consider decreasing the weight load until you build up strength.
A good starting strength program includes progressive overload – where more weight is added as your strength and ability increase over time. This way, you continuously stimulate your muscles and avoid plateauing in your fitness.
The progressive overload approach is more effective than simply adding more reps to your sets. Plus, it can be more satisfying as you noticeably experience your increase in strength by adding weight to your routine.
You can always choose not to add more weight, but sticking with lighter weights out of fear or hesitation when your body is capable of lifting heavier weights might cause your progress to stall.
There is no need to try to increase weight just because you think you should be lifting more. Stick with lifting the heaviest you can while maintaining good form, and you’ll grow stronger in an effective and safe way.
The aim of weight lifting for beginners is to maintain good form and technique while completing the number of reps. Selecting the right weights requires some trial and error, and the best way to test your ability and choose the right fit is by trying different weights.
- Suggested dumbbell weights for beginners:
- An adjustable dumbbell set is the best option for home training!
- If you can’t get adjustable dumbbells or join the gym, consider having at least 3 sets: Light (2-3kg), Medium (4-5 kg); heavy (6-8 kg)
- A light set is needed for exercises that rely on smaller muscle groups such as arms, whereas the heavier ones are for legs and compound movements
- Tip: go to the store or book a free trial in the gym to try out the dumbbells first
- Suggested kettlebell weight for beginners:
- Female: 8 kg as main (full body and lower body movement such as Swing), 4 kg optional for upper body and core focused movements
- Male: 12 kg as main, 4-8 kg as optional for core and upper body movements
When in doubt – try a lighter weight first and then move on to a heavier one in the next set!
Lifting lighter weights can still build muscle and help you achieve your fitness goals. But if performing 12 reps with good form feels too easy, it’s time to increase your weight load.
The last set should feel heavy, especially those last few reps, but still under good control. If there is no challenge in the last reps, it’s time to move on to a heavier weight.
In the first months of weight training for beginners, it is common to be able to add more weight to each movement every 1-2 weeks with beginner strength training routines. But after a while, the progression will not be as frequent, and it will become harder to increase weight.
If you have limited access to a variety of weight loads and types, there are some alternatives that you can incorporate into your beginner weight-lifting routine.
Resistance bands are super easy to use and are perfect for frequent travelers – just throw them in your bag and go! They’re great for pressing exercises like chest presses or squats, and with additional gear, they can also be used for pulling exercises.
Resistance bands come in different styles and thicknesses – the thicker they are, the more resistance they have. Make sure to get a set of resistance bands so that you can increase and decrease the resistance accordingly.
Aim for resistance tubes or looped long resistance bands, as they create resistance for full-body movements. Mini bands are a good addition to the set but aren’t as versatile as the longer bands.
Check out this video on how to create a DIY resistance band hook on your door: (video Education 5-S)
If you only have access to light weights, you can still get a good strength training workout by adding more reps and making sure to actively engage muscles while lifting to add more resistance while you exercise.
The goal here is to incorporate exercises that activate more muscles in one movement, incorporating balance, coordination, and movement control.(3)
Bonus: there are ways to incorporate resistant bands into your weighted workout routine as well, which is a great way to increase the challenge.
Try our strength program: Unlock Your Strength now on the Training adidas app and follow along with any weight size that’s right for you!
Medicine balls are also a great way to add resistance with minimal joint stress.
Try this home workout that uses a medicine ball and resistance bands – and the best part is it’s designed for you to do with a partner!
These machines are usually found in fitness gyms but can be spotted in many hotel and home gyms too. They provide support and guidance with movements and can be great for beginner weight lifting routines as you learn the proper technique and motions, and for those with orthopedic limitations, issues with balance and coordination, or flexibility.(4)
Check out this video on how to create a DIY resistance band hook on your door:
Scheduling & planning weight training for beginners
Here’s the thing: How much volume (reps, sets, weight you lift) you perform in a week matters more than the number of workouts. Remember, it’s quality over quantity.
Here’s the thing: How much volume (reps, sets, weight you lift) you perform in a week matters more than the number of workouts. Remember, it’s quality over quantity.
When you do a workout, you want to
- Do a minimum of 4 weekly sets (4-12 is recommended) per muscle group; whether you do it in 2 or 4 or 5 workouts matters less
- Plan based on what’s easiest to do for you, with a minimum of 2 days and a maximum of 5. If you want to work out every day, you can always do other activities like walking, yoga, dancing, etc.
- The American College of Sports Medicine recommends relatively brief workouts that provide two to four sets of 8 to 12 repetitions each for the major muscle groups by performing 8 to 10 multi-joint exercises two or three nonconsecutive days per week
- Allow at least a day (24h) of rest between workouts for each muscle group, meaning you can do upper body one day and lower body on the other or take a full 1-2 days off between two full body workouts
Did you know?
Rest days are necessary! They allow muscles to grow and you still burn fat while resting. Resting from strength training is great, but you can still walk, run, or do yoga when you’re on a scheduled rest day, too.
Commonly referred to as “workout splits”, a “split” is how your weight training program is divided up across the week. It allows for muscle recovery between workouts and provides a more structured plan to follow.
Examples of workout splits are:
- full-body split: engages all of your muscle groups during one session.
- upper/lower body split: alternating between upper body workouts and lower body workouts.
- push/pull splits: aka single muscle group splits where you focus on push movements (like bench press and squat) on one day and pull movements (deadlift and pull up for example) on another day.
For beginners, full-body splits are best to start with, taking at least one rest day in-between sessions. Working out major muscle groups is ideal.
Consider using an upper/lower or push/pull split if you:
- Want to minimize your time in the gym (setting up might take less time if you don’t switch body parts)
- Have more than 2-3 days to workout (if you have only 2 days it is better to hit full body)
- Have more specific performance or aesthetic goals
Yes, as long as you are performing your goal reps and weight volume each week, it doesn’t matter how many sessions that gets divided into.
You can get the same results from working out 5 days a week for 30-minutes as you can working out 2 days a week for one hour each. Because the volume and intensity matter more than the frequency.
Even a short 15-20 minute strength training session can bring muscle gains and health benefits if it is done more times per week to cover the minimum of recommended sets.
Warm-ups and stretches can also be modified to shorten the workout duration
Keep in mind that the stronger you are, the more you can do in a short time, such as utilizing the supersets to minimize rest.
What are supersets?
Supersets might be great for your beginner strength training routine. Also known as paired-sets training or compound sets, supersets are where two or more exercises are performed one after the other with limited or no rest between them. This allows for more training to be done in a shorter amount of time.(5)
It is more efficient to create workouts that focus on movement patterns over specific muscle groups. Movement patterns refer to the types of movements we as humans do naturally in our everyday lives, including pushing, pulling, squatting, and bending.
Structuring your workouts around these types of movements helps you have a well-balanced training routine. And performing exercises known as “multi-joint exercises” or compound exercises are beneficial as they help you develop total body strength faster than doing isolated movements, or single-joint exercises.
Basic strength workout structure:
- 4-5 multi-joint exercises (focusing on movement patterns – Push, Pull, Squat, Hinge, and Core)
- 3-4 sets, 8-12 reps
- 1 minute of rest between each set (or more if needed); increasing weight whenever good form allows
5 basic exercises everyone can start with
- Incline Push Up
- Bent-Over Row
Stretching is great for muscle recovery and can help to loosen up sore and tight muscles after a lot of strength training.
For days when you’re feeling extra tight, try this post-workout full-body stretching routine.
Stretching can feel great, but it isn’t totally necessary and doesn’t need to add a lot of time to your training routine. Training with weights through a full range of motion will already improve your flexibility, so extra stretching is needed only if you want to focus on increasing specific joint mobility.
There is nothing wrong with stretching if you enjoy it or if you have specific flexibility goals you want to achieve, but when time is limited, static stretching is not an essential part of the strength workout routine. Instead, opt to add stretching to your warm-up, focusing on dynamic stretching (moving through the range of motion) over static stretches (holding the position).
Warming up the body and muscles before you begin your workout is very important. It can prevent injury and prepare your body for your training routine.
There are so many options for warming up, and it’s important to do what interests you. Don’t start your strength training routine with a warm-up that you dread doing – incorporate movements, activities, machines, or equipment that pump you up!
Warming up with a walk or pedaling on a stationary bike is not a must for short-strength training workouts. Instead, a more specific warm-up that focuses on the movements you will be doing in your routine that day is more useful.
If you are lifting heavy weights and doing fewer than six reps, you need to warm up and can even perform the same lifting exercises with lighter weights.
Try these warm-up routines using resistance bands.
Even a 5-minute warm-up flow – like active or dynamic stretching– can be enough to prep you for strength workouts.
Try this flow and repeat it for 4 rounds:
Inchworm > 20 sec Plank > World’s Greatest Stretch (both sides) > 5 Squats > 5 Good mornings
Combining strength training and cardio has great health benefits. You should prioritize the type of training that is more important for your goals. For example, if you are starting a strength training program and want to do cardio occasionally, prioritize strength training workouts and fit in shorter (up to 60-minute) endurance sessions on your rest days or after the strength workout.
And if you are a runner, schedule your runs first and allow for some rest between the strength training sessions. But note that if high volumes of endurance exercises – especially running-based sessions – are performed, you should avoid strength training for the following 24 hours.(6)
For maximum results in either cardio fitness or strength, you will have to choose one over the other – don’t expect to be fit for a marathon and your strongest at the same time.
Workout routine splits are a great way to stagger and/or combine your strength training and cardio workouts. Combining strength and cardio with HIIT workouts is fun and super effective. Check out this routine to see if HIIT is right for you.
Results & expectations of weight lifting for beginners
Yes, weight lifting can speed up your fat loss, even if you are not sweating and losing your breath while strength training – although that can happen!
Muscle mass burns calories while resting, and your body also experiences a post-workout extra energy burn (EPOC), especially in people who do HIIT training. However, don’t rely on strength training alone as a fat loss tool – dietary changes are key.
Adjust your food intake – weight lifting will speed up fat loss as long as you are not consuming more calories than your body needs to burn.
Remember: gaining muscle strength means you can perform tougher workouts in even less time which will ultimately burn more calories. So pump up your strength training routine and get burning!
Strength training can make you bigger, but the results depend entirely on other factors, such as food intake, genetics, and training volume.
If you want to get bigger and increase muscle size and mass, increase your weekly training volume by doing more sets or reps as much as you can while still giving your body the appropriate rest time.
Eating enough of the right foods supports muscle growth as well.
However, don’t avoid weight training just because you don’t want to gain muscle mass and are afraid of appearing bulky or bigger! You won’t get bigger muscles overnight and you will more likely gain a lot of strength without increasing your muscle size. If you happen to gain more muscle mass than you would like, balance your nutritional intake.
In most cases, gaining muscle lowers your excess fat, and you’ll get leaner before you appear bulky.
To understand more about the effects that weightlifting has on your body, read this article.
You will most likely feel the effects of strength training before you see the body composition change – it takes patience.
Normally, you will start to experience some progress in your strength level eight weeks after you begin a consistent strength training routine.
Visible results will start to show after about 2-4 months.
Your physique looks very different depending on lighting, time of day, menstrual cycle, etc. So don’t judge your progress by frequently checking the number on the scale – it’s not a trustworthy indication of your progress. It’s healthiest to know that you’re getting progressively stronger!
Beginners to strength training typically see faster strength gains at the start of their new training routine, usually in the first 2-3 months, but might have slower progress afterward. But a plateau like this is normal.
Genetics matter: you shouldn’t compare yourself to anyone else, especially in results, because you’re starting your own journey and every body is different.
Be sure to check in with yourself to decide if you might need to spice up your training because you feel bored. There are plenty of strength training workouts and programs to choose from on our adidas Training app.
It is not uncommon for strength training to seem “boring” because it can be repetitive. But progress does come through continuity.
Before assuming that you are bored and feeling the urge to give up, check in with yourself and ask the following questions:
- Are you well-focused during workouts? You might be doing the same workout as last week, but perhaps you can change your focus, concentrating on your form and making improvements.
- Are you using the weight that makes you work or are you just going through the motions? Lifting heavier weights can help you actively engage, pushing you to focus on your form more and deter you from mindlessly lifting.
- Do you have music playing that gets you excited? You may like soft jazz, but it might not be the thing to get your body pumping.
- Are you following the same routine, or can you switch up the order? Consistency is key, but it doesn’t mean you follow the same routine week after week. Simply changing up the order of your set can make you focus more on what you are doing.
- Are you scrolling through your phone in between sets? This can either mean your rests are too long, your weights are too light, or it could be distracting you and needs to be put aside altogether until after your session is over.
A few things that you can do to help curb feeling bored with your strength training are:
Learn to love the mastery of lifting weights. If you really focus on your form, you will discover a lot of interesting improvements you can make to get stronger and be able to challenge yourself with new movements and techniques – while at the same time increasing your body awareness and acceptance.
Adopt a new goal or change up your program. If you have achieved your strength goals and are bored with the program you did consistently for at least eight weeks, it’s time for a change. Think about what could excite you again… entering a competition? Picking up running and doing strength training for runners? Doing an unassisted pull-up? Whatever it is, re-evaluating your goals is always a good way to reignite your excitement and love for fitness.
Keep in mind:
There is a higher chance that you will enjoy strength training if the goal is not purely aesthetic. Aesthetic goals require a lot of sacrifice and control every day and can become tiresome or too challenging, pushing you to want to give up on everything. Instead, choose a more action-focused goal that can keep you engaged and can be a lot more fun!
Stick to the program. Changing plans and programs often will have a negative effect on your results, especially as a beginner. Try sticking to a program for at least eight weeks (up to four months) before switching it up.
Track your progress. Make sure to track your progress, so that you can see when you have “hit a wall”. Note the reps, the volume of weight, and how many sets you are doing.
Reassess your goals. Ask yourself if your goals changed. If so, change the program to better suit your goals. If you are just getting nervous because the results are not coming in fast enough, check in with yourself and notice your behaviors. Are you committed? What is your nutrition like?
If everything is on point and the program is not working for you, consider trying a new one.