When determining how often to do strength training exercises, it’s important to understand your individual fitness level so that you avoid risking injury or excessive fatigue. Ideally, strength training should be limited to 2-4 times a week depending on your fitness level and goals.
If you are a beginner, it’s best to start slow and gradually increase your workouts. Advanced lifters can increase the workout intensity by increasing the number of repetitions rather than the weights.
How to start a strength training regimen
When beginning with strength training, your focus should be on doing full-body workouts, which are called compound lifts, rather than on a single part of the body (arms for example) as this will not produce ideal results. Compound lifts exercises are ideal because they engage multiple muscle groups at the same time.
It’s also important to choose the right amount of weights, starting light and increasing gradually. Choose a weight that leaves you feeling fatigued only by the end of 6-12 repetitions and not earlier.
5 strength training exercises for beginners
Strength training exercises that are ideal for beginners include:
- Hip hinge or deadlifts using dumbbells, a bar, or a machine
- Squats with bodyweight, dumbbells, bar, or leg press
- Bench press using a machine, bar, or dumbbells (or pushups may be done instead)
- Overhead barbell shoulder press using dumbbells, kettlebell, or machine
- Barbell row or horizontal row with a bar, machine, dumbbells, or cable
What are the benefits of strength training?
Strength training on a regular basis can have the following health benefits:
- Reduced risk of age-related muscle loss or muscle wasting
- Increased overall functional performance later in life
- Increased metabolic rate
- Lower body fat
- Increased strength
- Improved muscle definition
- Increased energy
- Improved emotional and mental health
- Improved bone and joint health
- Decreased cholesterol
- Better heart health
- Improved memory and focus
- 46% reduced risk of mortality in adults older than 65 years of age
What causes sore muscles after strength training?
Delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) or muscle fever is the discomfort, soreness, or pain that occurs between 12-72 hours after strenuous exercise. DOMS is common after using heavyweights in the gym, walking downhill, or doing squats and pushups.
Heavy exercises increase the workload on muscle fibers leading to small-scale microtrauma (tears) to the myofibrils. The increased tension in the myofibrils causes swelling in the muscle and stimulates the nociceptors (pain receptors) in the muscle fibers, causing pain. Also, there is calcium accumulation inside the cells following the trauma that releases chemicals, which break down and degenerate the muscle protein. Soreness is temporary as your muscles adapt to the injury.
Although DOMS is often interpreted as a sign of an effective workout, it is not always a good sign. It is a warning your body should heed to decrease activity to prevent further damage to muscle fibers.
How can sore muscles be prevented?
DOMS or sore muscles can’t really be prevented, but you can take some precautionary steps prior to a workout to reduce the intensity of soreness and prevent worsening:
- Doing proper warm-up and cool-down exercises before and after workouts (decreases the risk of tissue injury)
- Wearing compression workout clothing (keeps your muscles constricted and reduces swelling)
- Staying hydrated and consuming foods rich in proteins, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties
- Getting the guidance of a professional, certified trainer
- Not overdoing strenuous exercises
- Resting enough between sessions
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Cheung K, Hume P, Maxwell L. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Treatment Strategies And Performance Factors. Sports Med. 2003;33(2):145-64. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12617692/
Krum NL. Understanding Muscle Soreness – How Much is Too Much? National Kidney Foundation. 2020. https://www.kidney.org/content/understanding-muscle-soreness-%E2%80%93-how-much-too-much
Domonell K. This Is Why You Have Sore Muscles Two Days After You Work Out. UW Medicine. 2017. https://rightasrain.uwmedicine.org/body/exercise/delayed-onset-muscle-soreness-muscle-pain