If your workout routine doesn’t include strength training exercises, you’re probably not reaching your goals as quickly or effectively as you could be. Long considered the domain of meatheads looking to get buff, there’s a place for resistance training in nearly any fitness regimen.
For those seeking weight loss, strength training is among the best ways to burn fat. For those looking to combat the effects of aging, lifting counteracts the loss of muscle mass that begins in your 30s. And for those who want to bulk up, of course, resistance work is key.
Which strength training exercises you should do, however, that’s more open for debate; everyone seems to have varying opinions on which exercises are most effective, which are superfluous, and which are downright dangerous. But there are a number of safe, effective strength training exercises that are suitable for most of us, so long as we use proper form and the right resistance.
Benefits of Strength Training Exercises
Sense of accomplishment not enough? The advantages of weight and resistance training offer plenty more reasons to expand your fitness routine.
When you do an intense resistance training program, the “afterburn effect” of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) keeps your metabolism elevated for up to 72 hours afterward. That facilitates the burning of fat long after a workout, compared with lower- and moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise.
Fat loss is just one component of any body transformation. The other is muscular development, which can go just as far in determining how you look. For men, that may mean added size, while for women it will most often mean shape, as they lack the hormonal makeup to gain that kind of mass.
That’s even more important if you’re losing weight — 25 percent of which may be muscle — to dieting and low-intensity cardio. Strength training exercises can help preserve and even build muscle fiber that might otherwise be lost, which is especially crucial for those in their 30s and beyond, when muscle mass naturally decreases.
It takes energy to sustain muscle, so the more of it there is, the more calorie-burning capacity you have. That makes your body more metabolically active and efficient, even while at rest.
Bones under stress respond not unlike muscles under stress, stimulating the release of osteoblasts that build new bone tissue. An estimated 1.5 million people suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture every year, so resistance training is a natural complement to calcium and vitamin D intake.
Strength training builds stronger ligaments and tendons, and promotes more balanced body mechanics, decreasing the likelihood of injury during exercise and in daily life.
9 Essential Strength Training Exercises You Can Do at Home
The following exercises should be part of any rounded resistance program. Incorporate them into the appropriate workouts to ensure proper development of the body’s major muscle groups.
Weightlifting Exercises With Dumbbells
Target muscles: Chest, as well as the triceps, shoulders
- Lie on a flat bench holding a pair of dumbbells directly above your chest with your palms facing forward. Your head, upper back, and butt should touch the bench, and your feet should be flat on the floor.
- Slowly lower the weights to the sides of your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body (not flared).
- Pause, and then push the weights back up to the starting position.
Target muscles: Quads and glutes, but also hamstrings
- Stand with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides.
- Keeping your back flat and core braced, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Pause, then push yourself back up to the starting position.
Target muscles: Back, as well as the shoulders, biceps, and core
- Stand with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Brace your core, push your hips back, bend your knees slightly, and lower your torso until it’s nearly parallel to the floor.
- Let the dumbbells hang at arms length with your palms facing back. Engage your shoulder blades to keep your shoulders pulled back (i.e., don’t hunch). This is the starting position.
- Without moving your torso, and while keeping your chin and elbows tucked and back flat, row the weights to the outsides of your ribcage as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Pause, and then lower the weights back to the starting position.
Target muscles: Biceps
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and let them hang at arm’s length by your thighs, palms facing forward.
- Keeping your elbows tucked and your upper arms locked in place, curl the dumbbells as close to your shoulders as you can.
- Pause, and then slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.
Target muscles: Triceps
- Lie face up on a bench with your feet flat on the floor, and hold a pair of dumbbells above your chest with your arms straight and your palms facing each other.
- Without moving your upper arms, bend your elbows and lower the dumbbells to the sides of your head until your forearms dip below parallel to the floor.
- Pause, and then return to the starting position.
Target muscles: Calves
- Hold a dumbbell in your right hand by your side and place the ball of your right foot on an elevated surface with your heel hanging off.
- Cross your left ankle behind your right, hold onto an immovable object with your left hand for balance, and lower your right heel toward the floor (but don’t touch it).
- Rise up on the toes of your right foot as high as you can, giving your right calf an extra squeeze at the top.
- Pause, and then lower yourself back to the starting position. Do equal reps on both sides.
Target muscles: Shoulders, upper back, and triceps
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, and hold a pair of dumbbells in front of your shoulders with your elbows tucked and palms facing each other.
- Press the weights directly above your shoulders until your arms are straight and your biceps are next to your ears.
- Pause, and then lower the weights back to the starting position.
Strength Exercises Without Equipment
Target muscles: Core
- Assume a push-up position, but with your weight on your forearms instead of your hands (your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders).
- Squeeze your glutes and brace your core (imagine someone is about to punch you in the gut) to lock your body into a straight line from head to heels.
- Hold for time.
Target muscles: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core
- Lie face-up on the floor with your arms by your sides, your right foot on a bench (or other immovable object), and your left foot elevated so your thighs are parallel.
- Squeeze your glutes and push through your right foot, raising your hips until your body forms a straight line from your right knee to your shoulders. Make sure to keep your hips parallel with the floor throughout the movement.
- Pause, then return to the starting position. Perform equal reps on both legs.