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A Beginners Guide to Strength Training

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

The Joy of Learning How to Use Weights

Woman Doing Goblet Squats Exercise

Making the decision to add strength training to your fitness routine is a great first step towards a healthier you. Your next step is to sign up for a gym membership, but the real challenge comes when you're actually at the gym, surrounded by all the equipment and feeling overwhelmed. If you're new to strength training, the gym can feel intimidating with its array of dumbbells, barbells, and squat racks that might seem like they belong in a torture chamber.

The key to overcoming this gym-intimidation is education and experience. Understanding the basics of strength training will empower you to feel more confident in the gym and make the most out of your workouts. You'll learn about terms such as reps, sets, and the best exercises to help you reach your goals. With the right knowledge, you'll be able to create a workout plan that's tailored to your needs and will keep you motivated and on track towards your fitness goals.

girl doing a biceps curl with a cable machine

Here's How to Get Started With Strength Training

Define and Write Out Your Goals

Before you start lifting weights, it's crucial to know what you want to achieve. Ask yourself why you want to include strength training in your fitness routine and what specific goals you have.

Do you want to lose body fat, maintain muscle mass, bulk up, get stronger, or reduce stress? Write down your objectives so you have a clear direction for your training. Why is it that YOU want to lift weights?

Having well-defined goals will help you stay focused and motivated as you embark on your strength training journey.

Write it down.

Having clear goals will allow for more educated decisions when planning your workouts.

Deciding on how often to train and what exercises to do will be much easier if you have it all written down.

Women going a leg exercise on a weight bench

Frequency of Strength Training: Finding a Balance

One of the questions I am often asked is how many days per week should you be strength training. Well, just ask yourself this question:

Realistically, how many days per week do you want to exercise? What's practical with your schedule and lifetsyle?

This is an important question. At the end of the day, you're going to have to find a happy medium between what's best for your goals, and what is realistic for your life.

My suggestion is to start small. Try to establish a baseline consistency of exercise first. If you're inexperienced with strength training, start with 2 strength sessions per week for your first 2 weeks, and then add in a 3rd day once you're ready.

Unless you're training for a more body-specific goal or training for a particular sport, 3 strength sessions per week is more than enough for the average person.


Weight Selection

If you are embarking on this journey alone without the help of a personal trainer, choosing the right weight for each exercise is going to take a bit of time. While there are calculated approaches such as using a 1 rep max (1RM) calculator, if you're not keen on doing math equations at the gym, simple trial and error may be a less intimidating way to figure it out.

Estimated Reps at % of 1 RM Chart
Estimated Reps at % of 1 RM Chart

For the purposes of this post, I'm going to make it easier for you by giving you an idea of where to begin with each exercise. The key is to always start weight a lighter weight and work your way up.

Test the exercise with a few reps at a low weight and if you exceed the recommended number of reps, then try again with a heavier weight. If you can't quite reach the amount of recommended reps, then try again with a lighter weight.

For example, if the rep goal was 8-12 reps (70-80% 1RM), you would want to select a weight in which you fatigue somewhere within that rep range. If you can do more than 12 reps, then you would go heavier. If you could only do 6 reps, then you should go lighter.

Make sure you are using a workout log-sheet to record what your weights are each workout so that you know exactly what weights to use at your next workout.
Blank Workout Log Sheet Pink and White

Also - Keep in mind, you should always be aiming for a few extra reps at each session, AND it's important to try and increase your weights as you progress through your program. For example, if your goal was 10 reps of an exercise, try to push out an extra rep.

Once you are successful at pushing out that extra rep, now try to push out one more. Over the course of a few weeks, you should find that you'll be able to push out 2-4 extra reps. After that, it's time to increase the weight.

If you were using 8 pounds, for example, next time try using 10-pound weights. You'll likely only be able to do about 8-10 reps again. Continue to repeat this incremental weight cycle at each session. This is what will make you grow stronger!


Would you go straight from sitting for 8 hours at your desk to fully launching into a sprint? Not so likely right? You would want to warm up those stiff muscles so that you don't pull a muscle. Well, the same goes for strength training.

Ideally, you should be spending 5-10 minutes warming up your body before you apply the excess stress of heavyweights.

But, what is the most optimal way to warm up before you lift weights?

Some people spend 5-10 minutes warming up on a piece of cardio equipment. Others warm-up using static stretches, or dynamic stretches.

Static stretching is when you stretch and hold. Dynamic stretching is movement-based stretching where you aren't holding.

Recent studies indicate that static stretching prior to strength training isn't going to improve your performance, and in fact, it can hinder performance.

It's not to say that you shouldn't perform static stretching exercises at all - it's just that it's not ideal to do so before a strength training session.

I recommend usually doing a mix of cardio & dynamic stretching to warm up the body.

Beginner Full-Body Dynamic Stretch Routine Example

Dynamic Warm-Up Routine Printable PDF with Photos

Form & Technique

Learning how to execute an exercise properly using good form and technique can be tricky when you are learning on your own. While it's tricky, it's not impossible but there is a learning curve.

There are plenty of instructional exercise videos online that will go through the proper form and technique, but it can still be tough to know if you are doing the exercise correctly because you can't exactly see yourself.

While you could film yourself and compare videos, this is a timely process that most people don't want to put the effort into. If you have a gym enthusiast friend, however, you may want to ask them to help you out. If that's not an option, then I cannot stress the importance of hiring a personal trainer.

Free Beginner Workout on Your Mobile

Even if personal training isn't an affordable option for you to do regularly, I would still recommend hiring a trainer at least for a few sessions to ensure that you are performing your exercises with the best form and technique that you can.

The thing with strength training is that when done incorrectly, it can lead to injury. Especially once you start lifting heavier weights, or when you move on to more complex movements.

For this particular workout, I will be including instructional videos, and we will be sticking to basic foundational movement patterns that will make it easier to learn on your own.

Review the videos and practice these movements in front of a mirror the first few times so that you can try and mimic the movement patterns. After that, try without the mirrors so that you can not only just learn how to see if you're doing right, but you need to learn how to feel if you're doing it right.

Reverse Lunge with Warrior Twist Exercise

Exercise Selection

Since you're new to exercise and you'll be strength training 2-3x per week, and your workouts will be full-body workouts. Meaning, instead of segmenting your workouts into upper body days, or lower-body days (which is a bit more advanced) you'll be doing a mix of everything.

While for this program you'll just need to follow the exercises that are laid out for you if you ever decided to construct your own workouts just be sure to follow these basic beginners guidelines.

  1. Choose between 8-12 exercises.

  2. Start with the largest muscle groups first, and work your way down to the smaller ones.

  3. Legs, Back, Legs, Chest, Core, Biceps, Triceps, and Shoulders would be an example of the order in which you may want to do your exercises.

  4. Aim for 3 sets of about 8-12 reps for each exercise.

  5. You can choose to follow the exercises as a straight-set program (*see definitions below), or you can group them together into small circuits instead.

  6. After 4-6 weeks switch up your exercises, as well as the sets as reps.

  7. Stick to dumbbells, barbells, and bodyweight exercises at first. Later on, you can begin to experiment with more equipment.

  8. Stick to simple non-complex exercises with basic movement patterns. Once you master the foundations, you can then begin to try compound types of exercises.

Workout Terminology

Workout Terminology

Here's some basic workout lingo that you're going to come across in your strength training journey.

Reps: This is how many times you will perform the specific exercise

Sets: This is how many cycles of the reps you will complete

Straight Set: A straight set is when you perform all of your sets on an exercise before you move on to the next exercise.

Circuit: A circuit is where you will group 3-4 exercises together and perform one set of each exercise without rest. At the end of the circuit, you would rest and then repeat for as many sets as indicated.

Rest: Most workout plans will indicate when and how much rest to take in-between exercises, or at the end of sets. You would usually rest for about 1-2 minutes after each set. I recommend that you time your rest using your phone, or watch in order to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of your workouts. It's too often that I see people at the gym either taking way too much rest or trying to rush through and not taking enough rest. Keep it simple, just use a timer.

Compound Exercise: An exercise that combines two or more movement patterns into one exercise.

Beginner Workout Example

This full-body workout was designed for people who are new to strength training. It will teach you some of the most basic foundational movements that you will encounter at the gym. It's important that you take the time to review and practice the proper form and technique. No matter what your current level of fitness is, this program will be a great start for you!

Frequency: Perform 2-3x Per Week (non-consecutive days)

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells, Bench, Ball, Resistance Band, Timer

Duration: 45-60 Minutes

Warm-Up: 5 Minutes Cardio + 5 Minutes Dynamic Stretching

Exercise 1 - Goblet Squats

Sets: 3 | Reps: 15 | Weight: 0-25Lbs | Rest: 1 Minute

Exercise 2 - Single Arm Rows

Sets: 3 | Reps: 15 Each | Weight: 8-15Lbs | Rest: 1 Minute

Exercise 3 - Static Lunge

Sets: 3 | Reps: 15 Each | Weight: 015Lbs | Rest: 1 Minute

Exercise 4 - Chest Press

Sets: 3 | Reps: 15 Each | Weight: 8-15Lbs | Rest: 1 Minute

Exercise 5 - Ball Hamstring Curls

Sets: 3 | Reps: 10-20 Each | Weight: N/A | Rest: 1 Minute

Exercise 6 - Dead Bugs

Sets: 3 | Reps: 10-20 | Weight: N/A | Rest: 1 Minute

Exercise 7 - Biceps Curls

Sets: 3 | Reps: 15 | Weight: 8-15Lbs | Rest: 1 Minute

Exercise 8 - Triceps Extensions

Sets: 3 | Reps: 15 | Weight: 8-15Lbs | Rest: 1 Minute

Exercise 9 - Reverse Band Flys

Sets: 3 | Reps: 10-20 | Weight: N/A | Rest: 1 Minute

Exercise 10 - Side Plank Hold

Sets: 3 | Reps: 15-30 Seconds Each | Weight: N/A | Rest: 1 Minute

Beginner Strength Training Program Printable PDF

Cardio Training

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines state that adults aged 18-64 years should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. So for the days in between your strength training sessions, try to go for a fast-paced walk, or spend at least 30 minutes on your favorite pieces of cardio equipment at the gym.


While there is a learning curve when it comes to strength training, anyone can learn how to do it no matter what your age or current fitness levels are. The key is to practice and build it into your life in a sustainable way.

I hope you found this information helpful! If you live in the Edmonton area, let's get together for your complimentary consultation. I would be super happy to be your personal trainer and help guide you towards your new-found strength training goals!


Brzycki, Matt (1998). A Practical Approach To Strength Training. McGraw-Hill.Baechle TR, Earle RW, Wathen D (2000). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 2: 395-425.dos Remedios R (2007) Men’s Health Power Training, Rodale Inc. 23.

Behm, D.G., Chaouachi, A. A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Eur J Appl Physiol 111, 2633–2651 (2011).

CSEP. Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines.

Personal Trainer & Founder of Love Your Bod

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