Here are the six best strength training exercises for beginners

We know strength training improves you inside and out but if you’re a training beginner, where do you begin? With a wealth of advice on the internet and from gym bro’s, it’s difficult to know where to start. The usual advice you start at the beginning doesn’t apply here.  

Because weight training beginners have limited understanding on what they can and cannot do and are overwhelmed with choices. Their beginning looks like lots of biceps curls and walking on the treadmill. But this stops now. Here are the six best strength training exercises for beginners. These six exercises are relatively simple to do, don’t require a lot of instruction and are safe to perform.

Plus, they will get you strong which will help with any fitness goal. Let’s get started.

Trap Bar Deadlift

The trap bar was originally invented by Al Gerared in the late 1980’s as an easier way to do shoulder shrugs. Trap bar deadlifts are a great alternative for lifters who lack hip mobility, have a history of lower back issues or for the newbie lifter.  

That’s because there is less shear force on the spine as the axis of rotation (lower back/hips) are more in-line with the load as opposed to the barbell. Plus, the raised, neutral handles puts the lifter in a better starting position, as their range of motion is reduced, and their grip is stronger in a neutral position.

This makes for easier set up and execution, easier to teach and safer for the lower back. Once you get this movement the strength gains will come quickly.

Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift For Beginners

The neutral grip puts less stress on the wrist, elbows, shoulders and is safer to perform than other deadlift variations.

The high handles allow for a shorter ROM making it safer for the lower back and lifters can load the bar with more weight. 

Trap bar deadlift is a hybrid movement between a squat and a deadlift.  And if the lifter does either with a neutral spine, it’s not a deal breaker.

 

How to Do the Trap Bar Deadlift

Hinge or squat down and grab either side of the trap bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, keep your chest up and drive your feet through the floor until lockout. Slowly hinge (or squat) back until the weights touch the floor and reset and repeat.

Goblet squat

The Goblet squat has revolutionized the way squat is performed and taught throughout the world.  But what makes it a good strength move for beginners?

Holding the weight anteriorly (in front of you) encourages the lifter to stand up straighter, get the upper back tight and puff out that chest which sets the table for good squat. And the weight acts as a counterbalance that encourages the lifter to sit between the legs and not over the knees. All these are requirements for a well performed squat.

Benefits of the Goblet Squat For Beginners

Is easily modified by reducing the ROM by using a bench if hip mobility is an issue.

Holding the weight in front encourages the lifter to get into a good squat position.

Helps the beginning lifter build their confidence and strength.

How to Do the Goblet Squat

Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at the chest level, below the chin. Keep chest up, shoulders down and get feet in your preferred squat position. Slowly squat down between your knees, keeping your chest up until you reach your appropriate depth, pause and drive through the feet to starting position. Reset and repeat.

Dumbbell Unilateral Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press is easier on the shoulders as the floor stops the shoulder from going into excessive external rotation where pain can happen. The floor provides stability and feedback, helping the lifter find their form safely. And because the dumbbells are harder to stabilize, it slows the lift down, giving the lifter more time under tension which leads to more strength gains.    

Plus, using dumbbells allows you to change the angle of the shoulder and wrist, which is great for the beginning lifter trying to find their groove.

Benefits of the Dumbbell Unilateral Floor Press For Beginners

The reduced ROM reduces aches and pains from larger ROM movements, and it helps build up the strength and control for more difficult lifts like the bench press.

With the floor press you can handle heavier loads in the top half of the movement so they can strengthen the triceps, chest, and shoulders.

The floor makes this a safer lift to build pressing strength and improve pressing technique.  

How to Do the Dumbbell Unilateral Floor Press

Lie side on the floor and grip the dumbbell with both hands and roll on to your back. Make sure the head, upper and lower back are on the floor. Release one hand and make sure there is a little distance between the upper arm and torso. Gripping the dumbbell tight, press up and reach towards the sky. Slowly lower until the upper arm touches the ground. Reset and repeat.

Farmers Carry

The farmer’s carry seems simple because you pick up a heavy weight and start walking. But it’s far from easy. The shoulders ache, the grip starts to fail, and it becomes a battle of wills between the dumbbells and you. This is a great exercise for beginners (and advanced alike) because it trains full body tension from head to toe, good posture, and grip strength.

Take a false step or do it with poor form and you will lose balance. Farmers carry isn’t technical, which makes this a simple exercise to pick up and do. But don’t confuse simple with easy.

Benefits of the Farmers Carry For Beginners

Teaches full body tension and good posture which is needed for more complex exercises.

Requires minimal instruction and is simple to perform.

A strong grip helps you live longer, especially if you find yourself hanging from the edge of a cliff.  (1)

How to Do the two-handed Farmers Carry

Start with anywhere from 25-50% of your body weight in each hand. Grip a dumbbell in each hand and keep the shoulders down and chest up. Walk in a straight line placing one foot in front of the other carefully and deliberately. Walk between 20-40 yards and place the dumbbells back in the rack. Then collapse.

Inverted Row

Inverted rows are not as sexy as pull ups, chin ups and bent over rows but they train an important part of the posterior, the upper back. A strong upper back is responsible for good posture, better shoulder mobility and stability and helps reduce the incident and severity of concussions. (2) The inverted row is simple to perform and is adjustable to varying strength levels, making it great exercise for beginners. Once the lifter becomes stronger it is easily progressed.

Benefits of the Inverted Row For Beginners

A simple exercise to do and is easily regressed or progressed according to the lifter’s strength levels.

Because it’s easier than chin ups, you can do more reps, which makes it a great exercise to add strength and muscle to the upper back.

The inverted row is an upside-down plank which helps build core strength and stability.

How to Do the Inverted Row

Adjust the barbell in the squat rack, high enough to grab it with both hands and extend your arms and legs so the body isn’t touching the floor. Plus, high enough for you to do with good form. The bar closer to the ground=harder. Further away= easier.

Lay underneath the bar, so it’s in line with your chest. Grip the bar with a grip that’s slightly wider than shoulder-width. Extend your legs in front and engage and raise the glutes from the ground so the body forms a straight line. Pull the chest to the bar while driving your elbows behind the body. Pause for a second and lower to the starting position and repeat.

Push Up Position Front Plank

The push up position front plank is one of the simplest and unsexist core exercises around. Just get into a push up and hold. Couldn’t be any easier right? Wrong. Every muscle from the head to toe is working to keep the body in a straight line. It’s great for the beginner for the reason the carries are great. It teaches full body tension required for more advanced moves. Plus, before the lifter applies force to gravity it pays to resist it. Still think it is too easy. Hold it for two minutes and then get back to me.

Benefits of the Push Up Position Front Plank For Beginners

The entire core region works as a unit to create tension which improves your overall strength.

Strengthens the deep muscles that surround the spine which improves the ability to keep the spine in neutral with more advanced exercises.

It’s easy to teach, perform, regress and progress.

 How to Do the Push Up Position Front Plank

Start on your hands and knees with hands underneath shoulders and knees underneath hips. Extend the feet back so the knees are off the ground and in the push up position. Push your hands into the floor, engage core and glutes to maintain a neutral spine and hold for desired time.

Sample Program

Here is a A+B three day a week program. Alternate between the two training sessions for four to six weeks.  The reps (and distance) will vary week to week. Fewer reps = use a heavier weight, more reps = lighter weight. When using heavier weights, rest more between exercises in the two-minute range and when using moderate weight rest in the one-to-two-minute range.

Only go up in weight when what you’re lifting feels ‘easy’ Don’t miss a rep and you should never feel like you’re grinding.

Training A

1A. Goblet Squat

1B.  Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch 30-60 seconds each side

2A.  Inverted Row

2B.  Push Up Plank

3A. Unilateral Floor Press

3B. Farmers Carry

Training B

1A. Trap Bar Deadlift

1B. Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch 30-60 seconds each side

2A. Unilateral Floor Press

2B.  Farmers Carry

3A.  Inverted Row

3B.  Push Up Plank

Week One- Reps for strength exercises – 8. Farmers carry- 40 steps. Plank- 20 sec. 3 sets of each exercise.

Week Two- Reps for strength exercises – 5 Farmers carry – 40 steps Plank-25 sec.3 sets for each exercise.

Week Three- Reps for strength exercises-10 Farmers carry-40 steps Plank-30 sec. 2 sets of each exercise.

Week Four- Reps for strength exercises – 8. Farmers carry- 45 steps. Plank- 30 sec. 3 sets of each exercise.

Week Five- Reps for strength exercises – 5 Farmers carry – 45 steps Plank-35 sec.3 sets for each exercise.

Week Six- Reps for strength exercises-10 Farmers carry-50 steps Plank-45 sec. 2 sets of each exercise.

Note- For the Farmers Carry use 25-50% of your bodyweight in each hand.

Wrapping Up

With so many exercises for the beginner to choose from it pays to focus on what exercises train the most muscle and gets the lifter strong without being too hard to do. These six exercises fit the bill. Don’t waste your time doing biceps curls and walking on the treadmill no more.

It’s time to get strong.

Are you still confused on where to start. Click here for my strength program for those new to strength training.

References

1.        Christina Musalek 1, Sylvia Kirchengast Grip Strength as an Indicator of Health-Related Quality of Life in Old Age-A Pilot Study 2017 Nov 24 Int J Environ Res Public Health;14(12):1447.

2.        Justin Honda,1 Seung Ho Chang,1 and Kijeong Kim2, *The effects of vision training, neck musculature strength, and reaction time on concussions in an athletic population.

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