Strength Training 101

In my earlier post on the Habits of Successful Aging, strength was right at the top of the list. This was not an accident. Strength training is now recognized as perhaps the most effective way to maintain and improve your energy, vitality, independence and quality of life!


Strength Training is not rocket science, but there are some basic guidelines that, if followed, will ensure safe and effective exercise as well as keeping you on track for success.

NOTE: If you have never lifted before, take this article with you and find a well-qualified trainer at a YMCA or similarly reputable location so that they can work with you to match the actions to the words. Happy Lifting!

 The 101 List

  1. A basic starter routine can consist of only 4-6 exercises. As your strength and skill increase, add additional lifts up to a maximum of 8-10. A good ‘starter’ routine on machines would be 1. Chest Press, 2. Row, 3. Leg Press, 4. Shoulder Press, 5. Bicep Curl, 6. Abdominals (on the floor or a padded table).
  2. Work your larger muscle groups before your smaller ones (e.g. Chest and Back before Biceps and Triceps)
  3. Balance your routine by using a ‘Pushing’ exercise followed by a ‘Pulling’ exercise for opposing muscle groups e.g. Chest (Push) with Back (Pull). Thighs (Push) with Hamstrings (Pull).

Group Ladies

  1. Choose exercises that work your body’s major muscle groups (Chest, Back, Shoulders, Abdominals, Arms, Legs
  2. Adjust each machine to best fit your body shape and size, using trial and error. Make a note of each adjustment and set them in place before each exercise
  3. Start with a resistance (weight) you can comfortably perform for 10-12 repetitions. For the first few sessions, as your muscles adapt to their new work, aim for an effort of around 5 out of 10 on a ‘How hard does this feel?” scale (where 10 is the maximum and 1 the minimum).
  4. Once you feel at home with the machines and exercises you can start to progressively add additional weight/resistance. Your goal will be to eventually work up to a resistance between 8 and10 on your “How hard does this feel?” scale.

Men Upper Body

  1. The ‘rule of thumb’ for progression is to add weight once you are able to complete 12 repetitions with good technique for 2 consecutive sessions. For each progression, (depending on how the previous resistance felt) add a half to one ‘block’ of a machine weight stack (or approximately 5% of your previous resistance, whichever is least). Using this step by step progressive approach, you will be surprised at how fast you adapt and increase your strength!
  2. Focus on good technique throughout each exercise.
  3. Take a breath in at the starting position of the lift
  4. Breath out as you perform the initial effort (The ‘concentric’ phase)
  5. Breath in as you return to the starting position (The ‘eccentric’ phase)
  6. Continue with this breathing rhythm for the required number of repetition

Lady Row

  1. The speed of movement for each exercise should be approximately 2 seconds for the concentric phase and 4 seconds for the eccentric phase’. However don’t get bogged down by the numbers! Focus on “I’ll just go slower on my eccentric”. If you allow the weight stack to crash down, don’t worry too much, you are not going to break the machine! That audible feedback is simply telling you to exert a little more control on the weight stack!
  2. Perform one set of each exercise 2 to 3 sessions per week. Once you have familiarized yourself with the exercises and the effort, you will gain as much strength   from a single set as you would from multiple sets. Also, a substantial amount of research has shown that similar strength gains can be obtained with 2 (higher intensity) sessions per week as with 3, so you don’t have to worry too much about missing a workout and losing strength during a busy week!
  3. Use a Training Log to record your progress. Apart from keeping yourself on track, looking back to see how far you have progressed is highly motivating! NOTE: Request a log in the Comments section below and I will send one via email

If you follow these general guidelines you will be able to safely complete a strength training session in 30 minutes or less including warm up and cool down, even with a maximum of 10 exercises.

QUESTION: What changes in your strengthening routine has this post prompted

Be part of the conversation – answer this question in the comments box below – or ask one of your own!

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