Strength training was one of the most popular fitness trends of the past year, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. In fact, subscription-based fitness app ClassPass reported signups for strength training classes were up 94% in 2023.
And there are some convincing reasons to add strength work to your fitness routine. The American Heart Association recommends strength training at least twice a week. One study found that weight training even once a week can reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Plus, building lean muscle mass increases your metabolism, which helps the body burn more calories, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight, TODAY previously reported.
Strength training also offers benefits for women specifically.
“Strength training can boost women’s confidence and break societal stereotypes about women and strength,” NASM-certified personal trainer and director of innovation at Tone House, James McMillian tells TODAY.com. “Strength training also has some great physical health benefits, like bone health — increasing bone density and reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. As women age their metabolic rate also tends to decrease leading to weight gain. Strength training can help counteract this by increasing muscle mass and boosting metabolism.”
But knowing where to start can be overwhelming: What weight should you use? And which exercises are best?
McMillian stopped by the TODAY show on Jan. 15 to share a simple roadmap you can follow to ease into it — he even included a strength assessment to figure out where to start.
A 4-step pre-workout road map
Before you pick up a dumbbell, McMillian suggests taking time to set yourself up for success by running through this quick checklist:
Define your goals. Set both short- and long-term goals, he says.
Set realistic time frames. Building strength and seeing results takes time. Give yourself a long enough runway to actually hit milestones.
Assess current capabilities. Use the strength assessment below to determine your starting point, including the best equipment to use.
Create a balanced schedule. This includes rest days! "Muscles require time to repair and grow after being exercised," says McMillian. "Incorporate rest days into your routine to prevent overtraining and allow for proper recovery."
How fit are you? Find out with this full-body fitness assessment
Use this strength assessment to understand your body and fitness level and determine your baseline.
Pushups (Upper body): As many reps as possible in one minute, with a modification option from your knees if needed. Record the number of repetitions achieved.
Bodyweight squats (Lower body): Perform 15-20 reps with a focus on depth and control of the movement. Assess the quality of the movement and range of motion when performing the move without using resistance.
Plank (core): Hold for one minute or as long as possible until form breaks. Clock the duration you can maintain a proper plank position without allowing hips to sag or rise.
Flexibility and mobility: Perform dynamic and static stretches targeting major muscle groups, with a focus on the range of motion in your hips, shoulders, hamstrings and lower back. A simple example: Try to touch your toes.
Pay attention to how your body feels during each portion of the test. Once you’ve completed the entire thing, evaluate:
If assessment was easy/doable: Start with dumbbells (and eventually graduate to barbells).
Basic full-body strength workout:
Now that you know your starting point, here is a simple strength routine that can be adapted to any fitness level. For beginners who found the fitness test challenging, start by using your body weight and resistance bands for the upper body exercises. If you found the fitness test doable, grab a set of dumbbells.
8 seated twists
8 chest presses
Perform for 3 rounds total.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com