Beginning Strength Training at the Gym

Stand tall like a Magrove Seedling by incorporating strength training into your healthy lifestyleIf you want to work out in a gym or health club, this is an effective all body routine. Do this ten-exercise routine twice a week with at least 2 days between each workout.

In all movements, take 2-4 seconds in each direction of the move, exhaling where you’re doing the most work, and keeping control of movement. Move with full range of motion. Notice that moving more slowly makes the exercise harder. Since you’re trying to build muscle, it makes sense to make the muscle work hard rather than moving quickly.

Review the concepts in Getting Started With Strength Training. Before we get to the routine, it’s good to be reminded of common mistakes. If you look around a gym, you’ll see these things all the time.


  1. Poor form, such as a rounded back or unequal movement on the two sides of the body.
  2. Moving too quickly and bouncing or jerking with the movement.
  3. Shortening the full range of motion in order to make the movement easier.
  4. Doing isolation exercises rather than compound, multi-muscle exercises.
  5. Doing many, many reps and sets with very low weight. This does not build muscle, but women do it all the time.

Strength Training Routine, 2 days a week with 2-3 days between each session

Two sets of each exercise, 8-12 repetitions per set, same resistance in each set, target number of reps listed after each exercise. Take about 30-60 seconds break between sets. The time it takes to walk to the next machine and set it up should be enough break time between exercises. Start with a resistance that will allow you to complete the target reps in the first set and about half the reps in the second set. Then add a rep the following week. When you can do all or more than your target reps, add weight or resistance. Keep records. This will help your motivation. If you’re pressed for time, do 1 set to muscle failure. You can also choose to skip #3 and #9 once in a while to shorten your exercise time, but include them most days. If you’re fatigued or not feeling well, skip a workout and don’t fret about it.

Warm up: Spend 10 minutes on a rowing machine or other machine that uses upper and lower body muscles. If these machines aren’t available, use any cardiovascular machine.

Warm up sets: Do a warmup set with about two-thirds the working resistance for leg press, dip (or bench press), and lat pulldown.

1. Leg press or Sit Back Squat (choose only one)— Quadraceps and glutes

Set the seat of the leg press machine so that your legs extend fully without locking your knees or rounding your back. Hold your back firm by holding your shoulder blades together and keeping your chest lifted. Move through the full range of motion until upper thigh is about parallel with the feet. Don’t let the small of the back round.

Alternative to Leg Press: Sit back squat

Learning good squatting form is one of the best things you can do to increase the functional strength and overall lean muscle mass of your body. Avoid leg extensions–bad for the knees. Squatting is a natural, full-body move and will give you the best results. This movement can be used as a preparation for more advanced squatting exercises.

Hold a stable upright support or stand across a threshold and hold the door jam. Stand facing the support, about 6-8 inches from it, with your feet about shoulder width apart. Your toes are flared 35 degrees. Each hand grasps the support in a position that keeps your hands in one place throughout the movement. Your back is firm and straight or slightly arched, your abdominal muscles are tight, your chest is raised up and out, and you are looking straight ahead. Inhale and slowly squat between your legs until the tops of your legs are parallel with floor, keeping your knees in the same plane as your turned out toes. Your shins are nearly perpendicular to the floor with knees over your toes, not in front of them. (If you don’t have the flexibility or strength to move this deeply, move as low as is comfortable. In time and with practice, you will gain more flexibility and strength and be able to move your legs to a parallel position with the floor.) Your hands balance you, but are not supporting your weight.  Slowly sit back into the squat moving your buttocks toward the floor and between your outspread legs rather than folding your body on top of your legs. Exhale and slowly raise the body, keeping back fixed and upright and holding your balance with your arms and hands. Rise until your legs are no longer working (before they are fully straight), take a deep breath, and repeat.

Progress in Sit Back Squat by adding weight to a backpack. Begin with a few pounds and gradually work up to your capacity.

2. Leg curl— Glutes, hamstrings, calves

Curl leg until machine stops you (use less weight if you can’t do full range of motion). Adjust machine to make sure the rotating axis of the machine lines up with your knee.

3. Toe Raise— Calves

Stand with toes and balls of both feet on a step while you hold on to the railing. While exhaling, rise as high as you can on the toes, keeping knee relaxed. Inhaling, lower heel as far as you can without overstretching. When 2 sets are easy, progress to one foot at a time. To progress further, add a dumbbell in the same hand as the working foot to add difficulty.

4. Chest Press or Dip (choose 1) — Shoulders, pectorals, and deltoids

Try the chest press for 6 months and then go to the dip machine for 6 months. Dips are terrific for the upper body.

5. Lat Pulldown — Upper back and shoulders

Palms facing you, hands shoulder width apart, pull bar to touch front of upper chest or clavicle area, pull shoulder blades (scapula) together for a second when bar is against chest.

6. Dumbbell Overhead Press — Shoulders and upper back

Sit upright (with back supported against upright bench) with a dumbbell in each hand. Pull the dumbbells to parallel with your shoulders with palms facing each other. While exhaling, slowly push the dumbbells up in a straight line from your shoulders until your arms are fully extended. Hold briefly without locking elbows and then slowly lower the weight to your shoulders while inhaling.

7. Row— Upper back and shoulders

Keep back strong with no rounding even when hands are in forward position. While exhaling, pull handles toward your chest, keeping your elbows close to the body, pulling the handles as far back as possible and tightening the scapula for a second at the hardest part of the move. Slowly release handles while inhaling.

8. Back Extension — Back erectors

Belt your body in place and get full range of motion with machine.

9. Side Bend — Oblique abdominals and back erectors

While standing, spread the feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, feet pointed straight ahead, the back strong with shoulder blades contracted and chest lifted (as usual!). Hold a dumbbell in the R hand and let it hang naturally at the side of the leg, palm facing the thigh. Without moving the hips from side to side and keeping the body in a flat plane, bend from the waist and let the dumbbell move toward the floor with the arm remaining straight. Don’t bend forward to get more range of motion, but stop when your torso doesn’t bend any farther in the side direction. If your low back feels uncomfortable, make sure you aren’t bending forward at the waist. If it is still uncomfortable, shorten your range of motion and use less weight. Exhale while slowly straightening the body to slightly beyond upright. Then slowly lower the weight back toward the floor while inhaling.

10. Abdominal Crunch Machine — Abdominals

Adjust the seat and foot rest for your height. Curl your chest close to your hips.

Cool down: spend 5 leisurely minutes on an aerobic machine before ending your workout.