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A Complete Guide For Strength-Training At Home + 4-Part Plan To Get Started

BB Arrington, CPT
Personal trainer & holistic nutritionist By BB Arrington, CPT
Personal trainer & holistic nutritionist
BB Arrington is NASM-certified personal trainer, holistic nutritionist, and sustainability advocate.
dumbbells strength training at home

Ready to begin your journey to a stronger, even healthier you? Whether you're brand-new to strength training or only have a little bit of experience from group fitness classes, I've created a four-week, easy-to-follow strength training guide for mbg. The goal: I want to help you feel stronger and more confident working with weights.

What is strength training?

Strength training is the practice of using resistance to train your skeletal muscles to get stronger by enhancing their endurance, strength, or size (or all three). 

There are many ways to strength train and various types of strength goals. For example, one can train for muscular explosiveness with plyometrics movements or muscular endurance with higher repetitions and lower weights. You can train for hypertrophy (muscle size increase) or ultimate strength (like a powerlifter). All are phenomenal ways to strengthen the body, and depending on your personal goals, you might decide to train more in one or two different ways. 

For this series, we will be using exercises that feature free weights (also known as dumbbells), as well as bodyweight exercises to focus on hypertrophy. Traditionally, to achieve hypertrophy, trainers suggest an 8- to 12-rep range—that said, recent research suggests you may be able to achieve a hypertrophic goal with a wider variety of rep ranges.

Reverse lunge

Image by mbg creative

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Benefits of strength training at home:

Better blood sugar regulation

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Other than your liver, skeletal muscles are glucose (blood sugar) deposits. With the help of the hormone insulin, glucose is carried from the blood and drawn into the cells of the muscles. This helps the body use less insulin overall to bring down blood sugar levels and contributes to insulin sensitivity, according to the American Physiology SocietyChronically high blood sugar and blood sugar dysregulation can have a myriad of detrimental health consequences.  

Enhance bone building

While your bones are always in a state of breaking down and rebuilding, the NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases advocates for strength training to help build bone and slow down the rate of bone loss as we age. The activity of our muscles when we train enhances osteoblast (bone-building cells) activity. 

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Metabolic health support

Newer studies in the past few decades have found that the contractions from skeletal muscles influence myokine secretion—special peptides from skeletal muscles that have the ability to talk to other organs and tissues. Research published in Frontiers in Physiology suggests that myokines have the ability to prevent or improve metabolic diseases.

Improvements in self-confidence & quality of life

Strength training helps promote physical capability. Whether you've struggled to put your overstuffed carry-on in the overhead bin, or get your laundry up four flights of stairs, with increases in strength, everyday tasks will feel less effortful. 

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Accessibility & convenience

Perhaps you don't feel comfortable in a room full of strangers while navigating a pandemic, you have a newborn at home, or you simply don't have the resources to get to a gym regularly—carving out a little space and time for yourself at home will get you through whatever phase of life you're currently in. Working out at home can be just as efficient as working out at a commercial gym, and it's arguably much more convenient. 

What you need to get started.

If you're just beginning your journey with weight training, know that sometimes you may feel a little confused or unsure—and that is part of the process. Consider it a lifelong practice of learning and improving. Even the top strength athletes have coaches throughout their professional careers.  

I also encourage you to be fearless, not reckless. Know that your form will probably be off when you're learning, but it won't destroy your body—even if you are a little sore in the "wrong" muscles the next day. It's all part of the learning curve. Do take note, however, if you feel pinching, grinding, or shooting pains (especially in the joints)—take those as signs to make an adjustment ASAP.

For this upcoming series, you will need a few sets of dumbbells—kettlebells work well too—of different weights, preferably with more than a few pounds separating them. You'll also need a sturdy chair or bench and a mat or a soft surface you feel comfortable lying down on. Feel free to do these workouts barefoot (if you feel comfortable doing so)—in fact, I personally recommend going shoeless for lower-body workouts

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Essential tips & advice.

single arm lat row

Image by mbg creative

Common mistakes:

The most common mistake I see with training is not understanding the purpose of the exercise. While you may not need to know all the names of the muscles in your upper back, knowing that you're supposed to be engaging the muscles in your upper back, for example, helps build that neuromuscular connection and thus helps you find your strength faster. Knowing what the exercise is supposed to work also helps you gauge if you need to turn the challenge up a notch or dial it down. 

Another common mistake is sticking with a weight that doesn't serve you. If you have the ability to try out different loads, please do. I often see someone use the same load for arm and leg exercises. Why is that an issue? Generally most people's legs can handle more weight than their upper. So if you're squatting with the same weight as you’re bicep curling, chances are you won't be challenging your lower body.

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Progressing your workout:

So how does one safely progress the level of difficulty of your home workouts? I like to use the rate of perceived exertion as the barometer. Notice if an exercise on Week 1 feels like an 8/10 challenge, but the next week feels like a 6. Congrats! That means you're getting stronger, and it's time to ante up.

Always remember that there are more ways to enhance the level of difficulty besides just adding more reps or using heavier dumbbells: Try including a pause at the top of the exercise, add a quarter repetition to each, use more range of motion when appropriate, shorten your rest intervals, etc.

Finding proper form:

While each exercise will have its own specific form, bracing or engaging your core will nine times out of 10 make the move clearer, by maintaining a level of support through your trunk. 

With movements that have a large range of motion, like a lunge or a squat, try setting your breath at the top. For example, when performing a squat, inhale, hold the breath, squat down, stand up, exhale. This helps you maintain intra-abdominal pressure, which will help you feel more stable. 

4-Part Strength Training Plan

Ready to put this knowledge into practice? Below, I've outlined a four-part plan that's low impact, and perfectly suited to do from the safety and privacy of your living room.

If this is your very first time working with weights, feel free to progress through the workout plan at a slower pace. Consider each "week" a different "phase" or "stage": Take two weeks (or more) to continue to the next level. The most important thing is to listen to your body, and progress accordingly.

You'll notice I didn't specify certain days of the week. That's because I want this to work for you and your schedule. Slate these workouts any day you see fit—just try to stick to the indicated amount of rest days (for example, in Week 1, there are two days of rest in between the workouts).

strength training plan

Image by mindbodygreen

Week 1

  • Day 1: Arms/Chest
  • Day 4: Legs

Week 2

  • Day 1: Arms/Chest
  • Day 3: Legs
  • Day 6: Core

Week 3

  • Day 1: Arms/Chest
  • Day 3: Glutes
  • Day 5: Back
  • Day 7: Core

Week 4

  • Day 1: Arms/Chest
  • Day 2: Glutes
  • Day 4: Back
  • Day 6: Core
  • Day 7: Legs 

Workouts to include in your training plan.

Each Monday this month, I'll be releasing a new workout that fits perfectly into this workout plan (arms/chest, glutes, back, core, and legs).

In addition, here are some workouts that you can also slate in accordingly:

Arms/Chest:

Glutes:

Back:

Core:

Legs:

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