If the words “strength training” conjure visions of complicated gym equipment and crowded fitness centers — you’re not alone. But don’t worry, if you’re considering adding strength training to your routine, there are simple ways to get started without feeling overwhelmed (or even having to step foot inside a gym). Not only is strength training a great workout, but it’s also an excellent way to enhance lean muscle — which is helpful if your goal is weight loss or if you’re trying to maintain weight loss.1
We tapped Jenny Craig’s Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Briana Rodriquez, who is also a certified personal trainer, to share some of her insights on strength training. Whether you’re new to strength training or are just starting to try new exercises, these easy-to-follow tips will help you incorporate physical activity into your day.
Remember to always consult your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
What is strength training?
Strength training, or resistance training, is a type of physical activity that activates your muscles by making you work against resistance. To create resistance, start by using your own body weight. After you can comfortably and confidently complete your exercises, consider adding additional weight and resistance equipment, like dumbbells or resistance bands.
Why is strength training important?
Lean muscle mass naturally diminishes as you age, and can be replaced by body fat if it’s not gained or maintained.1 While this change in muscle mass is normal, you can support muscle health and combat weight gain by keeping up with a strength training routine. That’s not all — strength training may provide you with a variety of other health benefits, including the potential to:
- Combat bone loss by stimulating bone-building cells;2
- Reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases, including cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes;3
- Improve cognitive function in older women by enhancing attention and conflict resolution.4
And if you're wondering, "Does muscle weigh more than fat?" you might be surprised by the answer. Building lean muscle by incorporating strength training into your routine is a great way to look more toned and support your weight loss efforts.
Here’s how to start a strength training routine
1. Familiarize yourself with the lingo.
While you’re considering some exercises to try, you might come across some words or abbreviations that are unfamiliar. Here are a few important ones:5
- Rep (repetition): The number of times you do an exercise or lift and lower a weight in one set.
- Set: A group of reps.
- Rest: A pause between sets that allows muscles to begin recovering. There are also “rest days,” where you’ll give your body time to recover from your workout.
- Form: The correct way to perform an exercise that’s most likely to help you avoid injury while getting the most benefit.
- Free weights: Weights that aren’t connected to a larger piece of machinery. Examples include dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, etc.
2. Always warm up before a workout.
Before you begin your strength training routine, get your body ready for the workout by warming up. When you start moving, you’ll increase your body’s core temperature.6 This is helpful for two reasons: you’ll encourage the tissues around your joints to loosen, which will help with the flexibility and full range of motion you’ll need to safely perform strength training exercises.6 Without this step, cold, tight muscles may be more likely to tear and cause injuries.6
To warm up, try dynamic stretching, a type of continuous movement that will help get your muscles ready for physical activity. Try to stretch the muscles you know you’ll work on during your strength training. If you are focusing on your upper body, try stretches that work your arms, shoulders and back. Pay the same attention to dynamic stretching with your lower body. Stretch for about 5 minutes to get the most benefit.6 Examples of dynamic stretching include:
- Arm circles
- Jumping jacks
For added benefits, you can massage your muscles with a high-density foam roller to help ease muscle tension before you start your workout.
3. Try using your bodyweight first.
No need to break out the dumbbells just yet! Performing the exercise correctly with only your bodyweight as resistance is more important than the amount of weight you use, Rodriquez says.
“You don’t have to do fancy exercises to create resistance,” Rodriquez explains. “Your body weight is sufficient. Once you are comfortable with the exercise and your form is good, you can start using weights.”
If you’re new to strength training, just using your body weight is a great way to get started. Put your muscles to work with simple exercises like planking, pushups and squats that will help with balance and work your core (abdominal muscles), upper body and lower body.
Check out these strengthening and toning exercise videos for an introduction to strength training.
4. Less is more when you’re just getting started.
Aim to do strength training exercises at least once per week and gradually increase the number of days each week as you get stronger.
If it’s your first time trying strength training exercises, remember to start with your bodyweight and a decent amount of repetitions. Twelve to 15 reps per set is a good number to start with, says Rodriquez. Using your body weight or a lesser amount of weight will help you ease into these new movements and perfect your form – you can always add more weight later!
5. Cool down and stretch after your strength training routine.
After your workout, it’s the perfect time to do some static stretching. This type of stretching will help your body wind down after physical activity and may help lessen soreness the next day. Unlike dynamic stretching, where there’s more movement, static stretching involves extending a group of muscles, then holding a position for about 30 seconds.7 Aim to stretch for about 5-10 minutes.8 Start by stretching most of your major muscle groups like your hamstrings and quads, arms and shoulders.
Breathe slowly and evenly as you hold each stretch (try to avoid holding your breath). If something starts to hurt, relax and stop stretching – you may have gone a little too far.8
“If at any point you feel pain, stop, and take your time before going back into your workout,” Rodriquez cautions. “Concentrate on performing the exercise correctly.” After stretching, you can use your foam roller again to help your muscles recover further.
“The warm-up, the cool down and the time you spend stretching are all incredibly important steps to a safe and healthy strength training session,” Rodriquez says. “Prior to the workout you’ll want to loosen up the muscles and afterwards you’ll want to relax them.”
6. Don’t forget to rest!
Aside from taking short periods of rest between sets, rest days are crucial to your exercise success. When you begin working out and start to amp up your routine, it’s important to remember to rest, says Rodriquez.
“Resting gives the muscles time to repair and get stronger,” she explains. “Constant stress on the body can also affect how it processes and stores the food you consume. Rest can be just as important as the food you eat and the workouts you perform.”
How much rest do you need? Everyone is different, so if you still feel sore a day or two after a strength training session, you can always give your body more time. But taking rest days doesn’t mean you need to avoid all physical activity – try something less intense, like going for a walk or doing some simple yoga poses. By continuing to be active, you’ll promote blood flow and circulation – flooding your muscles with oxygen and nutrients.9
Whether you’re a seasoned athlete, new to exercise, or somewhere in between, strength training can help you develop more powerful lean muscles. As with any new exercise routine, Rodriquez says starting slow is key. By easing your body into a new routine, you can avoid getting burned-out or feeling overwhelmed.
Remember, if you ever feel uncomfortable or experience pain, back off and take it easy. Don’t feel like you need to push yourself, especially in the beginning. As you continue to practice your strength training routine, it’ll become easier – and you’ll become stronger.
A balanced eating plan along with physical activity can help support your weight loss goals. Learn more about Jenny Craig’s delicious, convenient meals and one-on-one support by booking your free appointment today!
Stephanie Eng-Aponte is a copywriter for Jenny Craig and has written for the health and wellness, tech, and environmental industries. Stephanie graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Media Studies. They employ an “eat first, write later” approach to food blogging and enjoy the occasional Oxford comma. Outside of writing, you can find them photographing a muttley crew of rescue pups, brewing kombucha, or exploring San Diego.
Favorite healthy snack: Green apple slices with sunflower butter
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
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