Muscular Strength Exercises

Laura Williams, M.S.Ed.
Woman lifting weights

Muscular strength exercises can be a great complement to cardiovascular training when it comes to weight loss, but it's also a potent weapon against back problems, bad posture and other ills. You don't have to be a 7-days-a-week gymrat to reap great results either; most people can see noticeable improvement with two to three workouts a week.

House Rules

Since the goal is to build muscular strength, exercises will require the adoption of some basic house rules.

  • Learn correct form - Nothing derails a serious fitness effort more than an injury that puts you on the sidelines for a month. Study up on the exercises before hitting the gym.
  • Use correct weight - Too easy is just that -- too easy. If you can do 20-30 reps, you're not using enough weight and won't see much strength improvement. Conversely, if you use too heavy weights, you'll start cheating and possibly injure yourself. Use weights that allow you to perform 8 to 12 strict reps.
  • More is not better - If you have skinny legs, doing endless sets of leg presses and squats day after day won't help. You make progress while resting between workouts, so only train each muscle group twice a week (once when you get more advanced).
  • Listen to your body - Pay attention to odd pains and weird sensations. It's better to back off and take a few days off than push ahead with an aching elbow only to end up with a hard-to-heal joint injury.

The Circuit Training Routine

In this example, you'll train the entire body twice per week. Go through the exercises one by one, starting over at the end.

  • Warm-up - 5 to 10 minutes on a stationary bike, treadmill or similar.
  • Abdominal crunches - Include some side twists for extra burn.
  • Bench press/chest press machine - 8 to 10 reps.
  • Dips/dip machine - 8 to 10 reps. Don't overstretch the shoulders at the bottom.
  • Chins/lat pulldown machine - 10 to 12 reps.
  • Seated rows - 10 to 12 reps. Be careful to keep a straight back.
  • Dumbbell shrugs - 8 to 10 reps. Use wrist straps if your forearms get tired too soon.
  • Barbell bicep curls - 8 to 10 reps.
  • Squats - 10 to 12 reps. Use a weightlifting belt for safety.
  • Leg press machine - 8 to 10 reps.
  • Calf press machine - 8 to 10 reps. Alternate standing and seated machines if you can.

Start from the top (sans warmup) and repeat two or three times.

The Three-Day Split Routine

If you're a little more experienced and have more time to spend, you can divide the body into three parts and do more focused training. Unlike circuit training, you do multiple sets of one exercise before moving on.

Monday

  • Dumbbell chest press on flat bench - 2 sets, 8-10 reps.
  • Dumbbell chest press on incline bench - 2 sets, 8-10 reps.
  • Standing barbell military press - 2 sets, 10-12 reps.
  • Dumbbell lateral raises - 3 sets, 10-12 reps.
  • Dips - 2 sets, 8-10 reps.
  • Skull crushers (aka. French press) - 3 sets, 8-10 reps.
  • Tricep pressdowns (aka. pushdowns) - 3 sets, 8-10 reps.

Wednesday

  • Abdominal crunches - 3 sets to failure.
  • Ab machine of choice - 3 sets to failure.
  • Deadlifts - 3 sets, 8-10 reps.
  • Chins - 3 sets, 10-12 reps.
  • Dumbbell rows - 2 sets, 8-10 reps.
  • Shrugs - 2 sets, 8-10 reps.
  • Barbell bicep curls - 3 sets, 8-10 reps.
  • Dumbbell concentration curls - 2 sets, 10-12 reps.
  • Dumbbell forearm curls - 2 sets, 10-12 reps.

Friday

  • Squats - 3 sets, 8-10 reps.
  • Lunges - 2 sets, 10-12 reps.
  • Leg press machine - 2 sets, 8-10 reps.
  • Seated hamstring curls - 3 sets, 10-12 reps.
  • Standing hamstring curls - 2 sets, 10-12 reps.
  • Seated calf raises - 2 sets, 8-10 reps.
  • Donkey calf raises - 2 sets, 8-10 reps.

Closing Thoughts on Muscular Strength Exercises

For the best overall health benefit, make sure to do a couple cardiovascular workouts per week in between the weight training whether you choose circuit training or the more advanced three-day split. Also, remember to research the exercises you're unfamiliar with in the sample programs above -- a local personal trainer will be happy to give you the pointers you need if you can't quite figure something out. Good luck!

Muscular Strength Exercises