Strength Training Tips

Read these 34 Strength Training Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Exercise tips and hundreds of other topics.

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Specified Strength Training

Ever had a goal in mind? Something to get to that you thought would never be possible? Maybe doing 20 pull-ups at one time, running a mile in under 5-minutes, or doing a handstand with one arm? All those are realistic, and need to be specifically trained for, by doing....those exact exercises.

If you want to do 20 pull-ups in a row, you need to work on pull-ups at least 3 times a week. Same goes for running a mile in under 5-minutes and doing a handstand with one arm. You would need to practice handstands, getting comfortable with that then trying to do it with one arm. You could even do it daily (no more than 6 days in a row though). Some people will tell you that you won't see results because you're not giving your body ample rest and recovery time. Okay, let's pretend they're right: why aren't my legs ruined then? I walked today, yesterday, the day before that, the day before that, etc... so how come they don't hurt and still function fine? WELL, your body adapts. Have you ever seen a person who has limited leg mobility and walks on crutches all the time? They have huge arms and shoulders! They're not broken or not functioning properly, their bodies had to adapt to the change. Back to Specific Strength Training...

If you have a goal like one of those listed above, by all means stress yourself and try the goal a few times a week. Your body will not retard because of it, and your muscles will still heal. Make sure though that you always have at least one day of rest a week, and if you are going to be training the same muscle groups often then proper supplementation is a good idea (banana or blackberris/berries before, recovery supplement, lots of water/protein post workout). You can get to that goal, and don't worry about your body; it is stronger than you think.

Can you work your abs every day? Should you?

When to Work Your Abs

Lots of people work their abs every day, but that is not usually the best way to do it. Treat your abs like other skeletal muscles and work them every other day for best results. Do two or three different exercises, with two or three sets of each. Do your ab exercises slowly and to the point of fatigue.


Workout 'Know-It-All's

When at a gym or ever working out in general, keep your mind open to new things. Lots of people think they know what they're talking about, but in general you can always trust those that can name which muscles are being exercised and why during a routine. Beware of pride in the gym, because that generally results in bad posture, too much weight, incorrect form, not isolating proper musculature, and all in all setting yourself up to get hurt. Trust trainers that have training in this, and never pretend like you know everything.


Doing a Deadlift maximally...properly

When doing a Deadlift, it is important to think about your posture. This can be a dangerous exercise to do in the gym, because if done improperly one can really injure their low-back.

Today I met a 68 year old man, who was doing very heavy weight. I watched him, talked to him, and finally decided that I agreed with him. He has been doing Deadlifts for so long that he competes in weighlifting competitions at his age, weighing only 130 lbs.

Make sure your legs are directly below your hips, and that your arms hang straight down (below your shoulders). This will help make the exercise easier, and you core will function properly giving you maximal power. Always make sure your head is looking forward/upward, and breathe! If you remember these key points, you will perform the Deadlift better and probably even increase your Deadlift weight.


How hard should you grip?

Pretty hard I would say. Most people barely use their hands/forearms when they grip weights, and instead allow their hands to be bent 90degrees backwards when they grip weights. Instead, if the fingers are straight then the fingers, back of the hand and forearm should always be in line with one another. When you grip, keep that line intact at the back of the hand and forearm and just grab the weight by wrapping your fingers around it. Here's why:

A trainer named Roger at a gym I worked at in southern California was having his (very strong) client do a chest press while laying on a stability ball (the big round bouncy ones) utilizing 60lbs. weights in each hand. They had focused mightily on grip and proper posture in general, so his forearms were strongly gripping the weight. After a few reps, the ball popped and the client fell to the floor! He easily could have broken both wrists and had the weights fall on his face/shoulders/chest/abdomen and break something. Luckily the client had a strong grip and just fell to the floor while still gripping the weights, only annoyed that the ball broke. He was totally fine with no injuries.

This is why stressing proper form and posture is so important! When gripping weight, make sure you're gripping the weight strongly and that your wrist is straight in-line with the rest of the forearm. Let's prevent injuries.

Does weight training make you inflexible and muscle-bound?

Staying Flexible

Bend and flex! Weight training helps maintain or even improve flexibility. Just remember during strength training exercise to fully extend and retract, and stretch thoroughly. Use full range of motion in your weight training routine.

What is a drop set?

Drop Sets

Don't drop the ball. You can incorporate drop sets in a weight training routine sometimes for variety, but don't make them the mainstay of your strength training workout. They are best done on selectorized machines, but you can also go down the rack of dumbbells.

Start your strength training exercise with a weight you can lift 8-10 times. Do a set to fatigue, immediately put the pin in the next lighter weight and do another set to fatigue, then do the same thing one more time. If you can do more than 10 reps on any of them, start with a heavier weight next time.

How do I use resistance bands in strength training?

Strength Training and Resistance Bands

Get on the resistance bandwagon! Resistance bands are easier and more flexible than barbells, dumbbells or even hand weights. Your weight training routine will benefit from adding at least one strength training exercise that uses a resistance band.

Try doing squats while pulling on the resistance band wrapped around a doorknob (this weight training exercise strengthens the butt, thighs, back, chest, triceps and biceps).

Be careful in your resistance band strength training to:

• Secure the band around objects, otherwise the ends can come loose and possibly cause an injury

• Before and during every session of your weight training program, make sure your hands aren't damp, sweaty or slippery

If you're accident prone, look into buying a resistance band with safety features (the B-Lines Resistance Bands Upgrade Kit includes a door attachment with safety strap, so you can attach your band to a doorjamb or even a tree and pull, pull, pull without fear).

How will my diet change when I do strength training?

Diet and Weight Training

No fat, no muscle gain. Sumo wrestlers in Japan know this. (So does Hilary Swank, who had to eat 210 grams of carbs per day while weight training for “Million Dollar Baby”).

Before embarking on a weight training routine, adjust your diet. Try infusing your diet with flaxseed oil, high in fat (Omega-3 fatty acids), and also egg whites, which are high in protein. Drinking protein shakes can also give you energy during your weight training program.

You might not need to eat quite as demanding a diet, depending on how demanding your strength training exercise is. But as Suzanne Somers has said, fat is not the enemy. This is doubly true if you're doing strength training. “Eat your greens,” Mom's sage advice, holds true for a weight training diet as well. You'll need to add nutritional supplements, particularly if a high-protein diet (or egg whites) doesn't agree with you).

Will weight training give a woman big muscles?

Women's Muscles

Strong women really do stay young...with strength training. Women build up their muscles in response to weight training, but it is usually seen in the form of firmness and muscle definition. Very few women can build huge, bulging muscles through a weight training routine, even if they want to. They don't have the right hormones. But they'll increase their health and fitness levels, and look younger!

Why am I getting stronger from training but not gaining muscle?

Neurological Conditioning

Don't get nervous if you don't bulk up after your strength training workout. Your first response to strength training is neurological--the nervous system learns to recruit more of the muscle to complete a weight training routine. So your initial strength gains are due to nervous system response, not muscle growth, which comes later. You start to get strong before you start to get big, and that's a good thing.

How do I set up a split routine?

Split Routines

Split the difference! Doing split weight training routines instead of working your whole body each time allows you to do more sets for the body parts you are working and/or spend fewer hours in the gym, although you will be there more days. You can do 6 days a week total, but 4 is enough for most.

Just remember to allow recovery from your weight training program and not work the same muscles 2 days in a row. Typical strength training exercise splits are: upper/lower body; push (chest, shoulders, triceps)/pull (legs, back, biceps); arms, legs, and abs/chest, shoulders, and back.

How far should I straighten my joints when weight lifting?

Locking Out Your Joints

Think you've got a lock on the weight training competition? Be careful about locking out (hyperextending) your joints when doing a weight training routine. You can put too much stress on your joints. This is more of a problem with weight training machines. With free weights, the balancing involved lets you lock out on certain strength training exercises without hyperextending.

What are the best muscles for men to train?

Glamour Muscles

Ah-nold knows that the glamour muscles for men--abs, pecs, and biceps--are all on the front of the upper body, and many men spend most of their strength training time on them. But the Governator didn't get a healthy physique by just focusing on glamour. Balance your weight training routine like Ah-nold balances the budget. For a nice, symmetrical look, as well as to prevent potential problems caused by postural imbalance, it's necessary to train your back as well. And set aside some time to do strength training exercise for your legs, too.

How should I breathe when working out?

Proper Breathing

Just breathe! When doing your strength training exercise, always remember to breathe properly. Exhale on the contraction and inhale on the return. Example: in doing arm curls you would exhale as you curl the bar towards your body and inhale as you stretch your arm out, then return the bar back to the starting position. Establish a rhythm during your weight training routine.

Why am I sometimes not sore until the day after the workout?

Muscle Soreness

Airline delays, telephone delays on hold, and now muscle delays. What's an athlete to do? Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is when you've worked, or worked out, hard and don't really feel it until the next day.

In weight training, it happens when you try a new strength training exercise or one you haven't done for a while, or go up in weights too quickly. Avoid it by starting extra light with a new strength training exercise. If you're a beginner suffering from DOMS, it's best to skip a couple days in your weight training program and wait until it clears up before working out. If you're experienced and feel you can handle it, you can do a very light workout.

The good news is, the next time you do the strength training exercise it won't hurt nearly as much the next day, unless you've let 2 months go by between weight training workouts.

Will I get bigger by working out every day?

Recovery Time

When you're snoozing after your weight training program, you're actually working out. Your muscles grow when you're resting after your weight training workout, not during the strength training exercise itself. If you don't give yourself enough recovery time, you won't see results. This is why you should schedule your weight training routine so you train a muscle every other day or less often. Getting enough sleep is important too, as that is when growth hormone is at its highest.

How many crunches should I do to get flat abs?

Spot Reducing

Can your spot a scam in strength training claims? There's no such thing as spot reducing, despite efforts in some bodybuilding magazines to prove otherwise. Although weight training crunches will tighten up your abs and make them look better, as well as protect your lower back from injury, they will not melt the fat on your midsection. You still need a low fat diet and a weight training routine that includes cardio exercise.

Should I use machines or free weights?

Free Weights or Machines

Weight machines or free weights? As Deion Sanders says, "Both!" You can get good weight training results from either machines or free weights. A combination of both is probably best.

Strength training machines are easier to learn, can be useful for rehab, make it safer to do a weight training routine without a spotter, are more comfortable for beginners, and can allow you to change resistance faster.

Free weights (barbells and dumbbells) allow more variety of movement; train balance and coordination, which weight training machines don't do; allow more functional movements; and are better for many types of sports training. Make sure you learn correct strength training exercise technique whichever approach you take. Try both machines and free weights, and see what works best for you.

Should children do strength training?

Weight Training For Kids

Keep your kids healthy! It's a fallacy that strength training exercise and kids don't mix. Caution, however, is advised and heavy lifting is out.

Kids can have fun and do weight training every day without even knowing it. Urge your kids to:

• Throw and hit balls
• Jump rope
• Play Frisbee
• Bowl

Kids can pretty much turn anything around the house into something to use for weight lifting! Strength training for kids isn't about lifting the heaviest weight possible; it's about lifting any weight (aside from the remote control). The key, however, is not to confuse weight training for kids with weightlifting. Don't push your kids to lift heavy objects!

Older kids benefit the most from strength training, but it's never too late to get younger kids hooked on a weight training program.

Should I do yoga or other stretching exercises before and after every strength training session?

Stretching and Strength Training

Be kind to your body! To avoid strains, sprains, muscle tears, and general soreness while doing your weight training routine, be sure to stretch for at least five minutes. This warm-up will loosen muscles and get the circulation flowing. Try a shoulder rotation and arm rotation (which make your arms and shoulders more flexible for arm shoulder strength training exercise).

When you've completed a session in your weight training program, be sure to sit on the floor and cool down (cool downs are equally as important as warm-ups). Try this cool down:

• Sit with your legs spread apart
• Slowly walk your hands in front of you
• Inhale and exhale
• Walk your hands over to your left foot and grasp the toes
• Let your head hang
• Repeat with the right foot
• Slowly roll up

How do I get started weight training?

Strength Training Basics

Does the thought of incorporating strength training into your exercise routine intimidate you? Have no fear!

All you really need to get started on a weight training program are some dumbbells and possibly some leg weights. Then, find at least one strength training exercise for each of the major muscle groups. These include the biceps, triceps, shoulders, chest, abdominalS, back (upper and lower), glutes (buttocks), hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and shins. (Some exercises work more than one muscle group.)

Remember, KISS: Keep it simple, silly. Keep the exercises basic and perform two to three sets of each strength training exercise two to three days per week. Beginners can benefit from only one set per exercise.

How can I make sure my weaker arm gets enough work?

Dumbbells for Muscle Balance

Favoring one arm after carpal tunnel? Reluctant to put excess weight on it? Try your weight training routine using dumbbells instead of a barbell, which your less flexible arm can't work as well. With strength training dumbbells, that computer-tired arm will recover and get enough weight training work.

Why did I gain weight after I started to work out?

Good Weight Gain

Don't be alarmed if the scale creeps up a bit after you start weight training. Muscle, by volume, weighs much more than fat so that when adding muscle during your weight training routine, you are shrinking if you stay the same weight. We want to pump you up!

For advanced trainees who want to continue to grow bigger and stronger, get creatine information and decide if that supplement is for you.

Can I be sure the equipment at the gym is maintained properly?

Equipment Upkeep

You don't want to use all your muscles on your strength training exercise equipment! Check for frayed cables, stripped bolts, etc. on weight training equipment before using if you are uncertain about its upkeep. Maintain your equipment as part of your weight training program.

Thanks for the great tips, but I'm in a wheelchair. What tips do you have for me?

Wheelchair Exercise

If you have use of your upper body, there are a number of exercises you can do in a wheelchair. (If you can't use your arms, check with a physical therapist for exercise you can do.) You can do a lot with elastic exercise bands. There are usually exercises shown on the package the bands come in, including exercises for the chest, back, and arms. You can get some dumbbells and do arm and shoulder exercises with those. Do about 15 repetitions of each exercise and go quickly from one to the next to get cardio benefit as well as strength. Here are a couple you can do without equipment to get started. Suck your stomach in and hold for a couple of seconds. Relax and repeat. Bend your arms in front of your chest and put your hands together and push. Release and repeat. Push down on the arms of your chair for a second, relax and repeat. Do 6 or 8 repetitions of each. Don't hold your breath!

How and when should I use a spotter?

Using a Spotter

You should use a spotter with most heavy free weight strength training exercises in your weight training routine. A spotter is there to insure your safety during weight training.

Spotters should help you complete your last strength training exercise rep, if necessary, help you rack the bar, and help you control the weight if you falter. Competitive and/or very strong lifters may need 2 or 3 spotters.

However, for noncomeptitve strength training, if your spotter assists on every rep, it is not "all you" and you are not doing as much work as you should. Use less weight and do the weight training conditioning yourself. You should rarely need a spotter on machines.

Do kids get hurt by home weight equipment?

Put Equipment Away

Child-proof your weight training program. If you have small children, take the time to put your weight training gear where they can't get at it. Every year many children under 6 are injured when playing with or around home strength training equipment.

How can I work out in my hotel room when traveling?

Travel With Resistance Bands

Don't leave home without them! When you're on the road, a good way to keep up your weight training routine is to pack some rubber exercise tubing or resistance bands and use that for resistance while doing strength training exercise in your hotel room. Practice with the tubing before you leave, so it will be familiar to you and you will be more likely to stick with your weight training program.

Are the weight settings on all machines accurate?

Using Unfamiliar Equipment

All weight training machines are not created equal. Don't expect the resistance to be the same on all similar strength training exercise machines. One lat pulldown or vertical bench may be actually heavier or lighter than another at the same setting, so you may have to make adjustments to get the workout you expect.

Some Cybex strength training machines number their plates. You can't just add a zero and get the accurate weight--choose the plate that feels right for your workout. When you go to plate loading machines, consider machine weight. The sled on an angled leg press can weigh 50 lb or more, so if you put on 2 plates, it's not the same as putting the pin in 90 on a selectorized machine.

Most Smith weight training machines are counter-balanced, so the bar weighs essentially nothing. If you put the same amount of weight you've been using on the Smith for your squats on a 44-lb free weight Olympic bar, you're in for a surprise.

Finally, remember that even the same brand machines may feel different if they haven't been properly maintained.

When should I use a weight lifting belt?

Lifting Belts

Belt it out: A weight training lifting belt can be used to protect your back during heavy, standing lifts. Don't keep it cinched tight between strength training lifts, as it can raise your blood pressure. (Check with your doctor before doing heavy lifts if you have high blood pressure.)

In most cases, using a belt all the time will keep your back muscles from getting stronger, so they are a specific strength training exercise tool. Don't be one of those people you see walking around the gym with a weight belt permanently on. Plus, they don't go with your general wardrobe.

I love the way Hilary Swank fought in “Million Dollar Baby,” did she use a weight training program?

Hilary Swank and Weight Training

It's not just her acting that won Hilary Swank the Best Actress Oscar. For her role as the gritty Maggie Fitzgerald in “Million Dollar Baby,” Swank embarked on a weight training program that made her intimidating in the film. Through strength training exercise, she gained 19 pounds of muscle instead of the 10 pounds she was asked to gain, according to ESPN.

To train, Swank regularly cycles, runs, and does Pilates (it's no wonder those fight scenes didn't look like the usual Hollywood fakery). Swank's strength training and boxing instruction (four and a half hours a day) gave her the physical muscle for those clashes in the ring. She completed her boxing and weight training in 90 days! There's no guarantee that weight training will turn you into an Evander Holyfield, but it'll make you feel like a champion.


Exercise Video Goodness

I have put up some exercise videos up, so that those of you who want to learn can see how to perform exercises properly. It's at You'll learn lots of new exercises, and then look into our 'Strength Training' tips here on Lifetips to get even more help.


Are you entering a Push Up Contest?

If you were going to enter a Push Up/Pull Up/Squat/whatever contest, trying to get specifically strong in a certain area, here are some good tips.

Write down how many Push Ups you do to begin with. Continually write down how many you do whenever you pratice them. Next would be to figure out proper form and do the Push Ups with very good, extremely good form - perform them slowly to ensure you are doing them right. Next go for amount, for you want to see how many you could do in one sitting. The more you practice, the better you will get at them and the better chance you will have at improving. Continue practicing, asking maybe a Personal Trainer for some tips on how to improve your form. It's true that practice makes perfect.

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Nicholas Frank