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The Only Guide To Strength Training You'll Ever Need (With 33 Exercises)

November 2, 2022
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There are plenty of different kinds of exercises, and it's important to incorporate a variety of them into your fitness schedule for a well-rounded routine. And in the case of strength training (aka resistance training), these are the moves that are going to build your muscles and increase your strength.

Here's everything to know about mastering your strength training routine, plus 33 trainer-approved moves to try yourself.

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What is strength training?

As personal trainer and holistic nutritionist BB Arrington, CPT, previously wrote for mbg, 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).

She explains that depending on your goals, you can do different kinds of strength training. If you want muscular explosiveness, for example, you would do plyometrics. For muscular endurance, on the other hand, you would go for more repetitions and lighter 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," Arrington says.

The benefits of strength training: 

1.

Blood sugar regulation

As neurologist Dale Bredesen, M.D., tells mbg, strength training supports insulin sensitivity, with insulin resistance being a common contributor to cognitive decline1.

Through strength training, 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 Society," Arrington previously noted.

And as doctor of molecular biology Alexis Cowan, Ph.D., tells mbg, muscle that is insulin resistant, on the other hand, loses the ability to effectively take up glucose from the blood circulation, leading to prolonged elevation of glucose levels, and a compensatory increase in insulin secretion from the pancreas. "Over time, this develops into Type 2 diabetes," she explains.

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2.

Longevity and brain health

Strength training helps prevent sarcopenia2 (loss of muscle tissue over time as we age), notes Bredesen. It also contributes to PGC-1 alpha3, a protein that plays a central role in the regulation of cellular energy in the body. As a result, Bredesen even said in a recent Instagram video for mbg that pairing strength and aerobic exercise is your best guarantee to live to 100.

Strength training also has important implications for brain health, according to Bredesen, who tells mbg that exercising is actually one of the best things we can do to prevent cognitive decline as we age4.

3.

Bone health

According to Cowen, strength training supports longevity through not only brain health but bone health as well.

"Frailty is a top cause of mortality and insult to quality of life, as it dramatically increases the risk of bone breaks in old age," she says, adding, "Strength training is absolutely essential for both building muscle and maintaining muscle throughout the aging process."

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4.

Immunity

Additionally, Cowen tells mbg, our skeletal muscle is an endocrine organ that secretes factors known as "myokines." When we work out, myokines are released that directly affect immune cells5.

"Although some of these myokines have inflammatory effects acutely, the net effect over time is the creation of an anti-inflammatory environment," she explains, noting that this anti-inflammatory effect is vital for staving off diseases.

5.

Metabolic health

And speaking of myokine secretions, more research is coming out to suggest that these could actually support metabolic health too. One 2018 study published in Frontiers in Physiology, for example, found that myokines could have the ability to prevent or improve metabolic diseases6.

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6.

Confidence

Last but certainly not least, resistance training is a major confidence booster. Not only will you impress yourself with your gains at the gym as your strength increases, but your body will feel lighter, stronger, and more powerful as your training progresses.

Summary

Strength training can support full-body health in many ways, and it's been associated with increased blood sugar regulation, brain health, immunity, and metabolic health in published science.
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Strength training exercises without equipment.

Ready to get started with strength training? The following moves use body weight for resistance and don't require any equipment. Do them individually, or as a series for a full-body workout.

Don't forget to breathe!

As you move through these exercises, Cowen encourages you to inhale through your nose. "Nose breathing on the inhale is essential for the production of a molecule known as nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is responsible for dilating blood vessels within the cardiovascular system, and blood vessel dilation during exercise is crucial for the blood circulation to deliver nutrients and remove metabolic wastes from contracting muscle," she explains. Your exhalations can be through the nose or mouth, she adds, but breathing in and out through the nose is "ideal at submaximal workloads to maintain an optimal balance of carbon dioxide to oxygen in the bloodstream."
1.

Back extensions

Image by mbg creative

Back extensions demonstrated by BB Arrington.

Target muscles: Back/spinal erectors

  1. Lie on your stomach. 
  2. By squeezing your back muscles, lift your chest off the floor with gaze remaining down and forward. 
  3. Lower chest to the floor to complete the movement. 
  4. Optional: Add dumbbells in hand to advance the exercise. That's one rep. Repeat for three sets of 8 to 10 reps. 
2.

Bird Dog with Knee Hover

Image by mindbodygreen

Bird Dog demonstrated by Helen Phelan.

Target muscles: Glutes, core

  1. Start on all fours. Float your knees a couple of inches off the ground, and hold.
  2. Without shifting your hips, inhale and extend your right arm forward. Exhale as you crunch your abs and pull your elbow toward your torso. Reach it back out, then return it to the ground.
  3. Inhale as you extend your left leg out; squeeze through the glutes. Try not to lift your leg up much higher than your torso. Then exhale to curl your spine and crunch your body inward.
  4. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Continue for 8 breaths.
3.

V-Ups

Image by mbg creative

V-Ups demonstrated by Mindy Lai.

Target muscles: Core, shoulders, back

  1. Lie on your back with your arms and legs straight.
  2. Simultaneously raise your arms and legs as high as you can, keeping them as straight as possible. Try to touch your feet to your hands before lowering back down and repeating.
  3. Continue for 30 seconds.
4.

Side-Lying Hip Abduction

Image by mbg creative

Side-lying hip abduction demonstrated by Suki Clements.

Target muscles: Hamstrings, lateral glutes

  1. Lie down on one side, and stretch your bottom arm out straight, resting your head on top. Bend your bottom knee. Press the fingertips of your top hand into the ground for support.
  2. Flex your top foot. Point the toes downward. Bring your belly button in to stabilize your core. 
  3. Kick your foot up, activating your right outer glutes. Then tap it down to the ground in front of you.
  4. Repeat for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
5.

Lateral Lunge

Image by mbg creative

Lateral lunge demonstrated by Mindy Lai.

Target muscles: Glutes, quads

  1. Begin standing with your hands on your hips or in front of your chest.
  2. Take a big step to the left, bending the left knee and straightening out the right.
  3. Lower the hips down like you would in a squat.
  4. Rise back up, stepping the left foot back to center, squeezing the glutes, and keeping your chest lifted.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side for one full set.
  6. Continue for 30 seconds to a minute as part of a warmup, or complete 3 sets of 10.
6.

Chaturanga pushups

Image by mbg creative

Pushups demonstrated by Mindy Lai.

Target muscles: Shoulders, triceps

  1. Start in a high plank position, with your shoulders stacked over your wrists.
  2. Keep your arms tucked to your sides, bend your elbows, and lower down until your body is hovering over the ground.
  3. Engage your core, press through your hands, and come back to a high plank position.
7.

Corkscrews

Image by mbg creative

Corkscrews demonstrated by BB Arrington.

Target muscles: Core

  1. Lie down on your back and stack your hands to make a pillow for your head.
  2. Cross your legs, feet to the sky.
  3. Lower your legs tracing a small imaginary clock moving clockwise.
  4. When you hit 12 o'clock, lift your tailbone off the floor like you're trying to touch your toes to the ceiling.
  5. Repeat counterclockwise.
8.

Squat and Brush Back Arabesque

Image by mbg creative

Squat and brush back demonstrated by Rachel Warren and Caitlin Riley.

Target muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes

  1. Start in a wide stance, with feet wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Sit your hips back and lower into a squat. Engage your core, and keep your chest proud.
  3. As you engage your glutes and come back up to start, sweep your left leg behind your body, pointing your toe to the back wall.
  4. Bring your left foot down to the ground, and lower back into a squat.
  5. Repeat the movement, alternating legs each time.
9.

Bicycle crunches

Image by mbg creative

Bicycle crunches demonstrated by Janeil Mason.

Target muscles: Abs, obliques

  1. Lie on your back, and bring your knees to your chest. Lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground. Press your lower back toward the floor.
  2. Bend your arms, and bring one hand over your forehead, fingertips facing up. Stack your opposite palm over the other hand.
  3. Bring your right knee toward your chest as you extend your left leg out long. Engage your core and bring your elbows toward your knee, maintaining the same hand position.
  4. Switch your legs and repeat on the opposite side.
  5. Continue alternating for 60 seconds.
10.

Squat Touch to Pushup

Image by mbg creative

Squat touch to pushup demonstrated by Jules Bakshi and Gabi Cortez.

Target muscles: glutes, quads, hamstrings, shoulders

  1. Start standing, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Heels are slightly turned in.
  2. Hop your feet outward while dropping your hand down to touch the ground with your fingertips. Quickly jump back to start, and repeat 2 more times.
  3. Then, drop your hands down to the mat, and crawl out to a high-plank position.
  4. Engage your core, bend your elbows, and move through a pushup.
  5. Crawl back to your starting position. That's one full round. Continue for 1 minute.
11.

Mountain Climbers

Image by mbg Creative

Mountain climbers demonstrated by CJ Frogozo.

Target muscles: core, arms, shoulders, quadriceps

  1. Start in a plank pose, with shoulders over wrists. Pull waist in, drag shoulder blades down the back, and engage the core.
  2. Fire up the belly by rapidly pulling one knee in, then the other.
  3. Continue for 30 seconds.

Strength training exercises with weights.

The following strength training moves use the addition of resistance bands or weights for increased effort. Of course, you can always skip the equipment as you're getting started and work your way up to light (2- to 3-pound) dumbbells. As you get stronger, you can try increasing the weight or resistance.

Don't forget to breathe!

Once weights are introduced, Cowen explains that in general, you want to exhale as you're moving to target the muscles into a contracted state and inhale as you're moving into an extended state. For example, you would exhale as you perform a bicep curl (contracting the bicep) and inhale as you're bringing the weight back to starting position (extending the bicep).
12.

Donkey Kick with weight

Image by mbg creative

Donkey kicks demonstrated by Suki Clements.

Target muscles: Glutes, core

  1. Get on all fours and come down to your forearms. Lift your armpits away from the floor, and shift your weight into your upper body. Place a dumbbell in the crease of your knee (optional).
  2. Keeping your knee at a 90-degree angle, flex the heel, square off your hips, and lift up until your knee is in line with your hips.
  3. Then lower your leg to the ground, and lift it back up. Pull your waist in, and lift the ribs off the floor.
  4. Repeat for 30 seconds.
13.

Single-Leg Glute Bridge

Image by mbg creative

Single-leg glute bridge demonstrated by Suki Clements.

Target muscles: Glutes, quads

  1. Lie down on your mat, with your feet slightly in front of your glutes. Grab one weight, and place it on your left hip. Kick your right leg up.
  2. With control, lift your hips up, then come back down. Keep the weight on your hip and leg lifted the entire time.
  3. That's one rep. Continue for 30 seconds (pulsing for the last 10 seconds), then switch sides.
14.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

Image by mbg creative

Single-leg Romanian deadlift demonstrated by BB Arrington.

Target muscles: glutes, hamstrings, lats

  1. Stand on one leg with your weight in the opposite hand.
  2. Keeping your standing leg soft and core braced, allow your back leg to rise up into the air. Keep upper body tight for increased stability.
  3. With your hips square, drive your hips backward. Return to standing to complete the repetition.
  4. That's one rep. Complete all reps on one side before repeating on the other side.
15.

Windmill

Image by mbg creative

Windmill demonstrated by BB Arrington.

Target muscles: obliques, glutes, shoulders

  1. Turn one leg out about 30 degrees.
  2. Hold the dumbbell in the hand with the turned-out leg.
  3. Reach your other arm up to the sky.
  4. Like you are tracing your turned-out leg, lower the weight down toward your foot, bending over without twisting your chest to the floor.
  5. Using your obliques, lift back up to the start position.
16.

Incline Dumbbell Press

Image by mbg creative

Incline dumbbell press demonstrated by BB Arrington.

Target muscles: pecs, shoulders, triceps, core

  1. Seated on the floor, in front of your sofa (or a wall), lean back so that your shoulders rest against it.
  2. With dumbbells in hand, lift your elbows to shoulder height, wrists stacked over elbows.
  3. Brace your core and keep your gaze forward. Press the dumbbells up to the ceiling, and return to start.
  4. Keep the dumbbells in your peripheral vision; if you can't see them overhead when you press, they've floated too far behind you. (You will feel your lats engage at the bottom of the movement.)
17.

Lying Single-Leg Extension with resistance band

Image by mbg creative

Lying single-leg extension demonstrated by Janeil Mason.

Target muscles: Core, quads

  1. Place the mini band around the soles of your feet. Lie face-up on your mat.
  2. Lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground, resting your head in your hands. Bring your legs into a tabletop position.
  3. Keeping your upper body lifted, press your right leg out straight. Bring it back to start and repeat on the left side. Engage your core to keep your body stable.
  4. Continue alternating for 60 seconds.
18.

Side Plank Crunches with resistance band

Image by Katie Dunlop

Side plank crunches demonstrated by Katie Dunlop.

Target muscles: Obliques

  1. Begin in a side forearm plank with shoulders stacked over the elbow. (For a bonus challenge, you can place a resistance band around your thighs just above the knees, as pictured.)
  2. Inhale, actively extending your top arm up past your head, bicep by the ear. Keep legs and core active, extending through the feet and lifting the hips up. Keep hips and shoulders vertically stacked.
  3. On an exhale, contract your core and drive your upper knee toward your chest as you pull your elbow to meet the knee in the middle.
  4. On your inhale, come back to side plank with your arm extended. That's one rep.
  5. Complete 10 reps on each side.
19.

Plank Row to Downward Dog

Image by mbg creative

Plank row to downward dog demonstrated by Suki Clements.

Target muscles: back, abs, shoulders

  1. Grab a set of dumbbells and hold one in each hand. Start in a high-plank position, with your shoulders stacked over your wrists.
  2. Depress the shoulders toward the hips and row your right elbow toward the hip, then slowly bring it back down to the mat. Repeat on your left side.
  3. Pike your hips up, and move into a downward-facing dog.
  4. That's one rep. Continue for 30 seconds.
20.

Medial Delt Raise with Hinge

Image by mbg creative

Medial delt raise with hinge demonstrated by BB Arrington.

Target muscles: shoulders, lats

  1. Seated or standing, hinge forward about 45 degrees above a flat-back position. 
  2. With dumbbells in hand, keep your arms straight and raise your arms up to make the shape of a capital letter "Y." 
  3. Lower your arms back down toward the ground to complete the rep. (Note: Soften your knees and engage your core to help you feel grounded in the movement.)
21.

Side Angle + Lawn Mower

Image by mbg creative

Side angle and lawn mower demonstrated by Suki Clements.

Target muscles: glutes, biceps, shoulders

  1. From a downward dog, lift your left leg into the air, then step your foot in between your hands.
  2. Grab a weight with your right hand (this is optional).
  3. Come into a side angle position, with your left leg bent at a 90-degree angle and your foot facing away from your body. Keep your right leg extended long, with your foot pressed into the ground, facing forward. Press your left arm into your left thigh, and bring your right arm overhead.
  4. Drop your right arm down, twisting your torso so it's parallel with the ground and reaching toward your foot. Reverse the movement, and press your arm back overhead.
  5. Continue for 30 seconds, then move through downward dog and repeat on the opposite side.
22.

Person Makers

Image by mbg creative

Person makers demonstrated by Mindy Lai.

Target muscles: back, glutes, quads, hamstrings, shoulders

  1. Start in a high plank position, with a dumbbell in each hand, and your shoulders stacked over wrists.
  2. Move through a pushup. At the top of the pushup, row your left dumbbell up to torso height. Return to start, then repeat on the right side.
  3. Then, jump both feet forward to meet your hands. Bring both weights up to your shoulders.
  4. Stand up from the squat, pressing your arms overhead.
  5. Bring your hands back to the ground, then return to a plank position. Move through as many rounds as possible in 45 seconds. Continue to the next exercise.

Strength training exercises for beginners. 

New to strength training? These exercises and modifications are slightly lower impact and suitable for beginners. Start with light (2- to 3-pound) dumbbells, and work your way up.

23.

Half Pushup Hover

Image by mbg Creative

Half pushup hover demonstrated by Helen Phalen.

Target muscles: chest, core, triceps, shoulders

  1. Get into a plank position, with your wrists directly under your shoulders. Engage your core.
  2. Bend your elbows and slowly lower until your body is halfway toward the floor.
  3. Hold for a few breaths, then lower to the ground.

Modification

If this move is a bit out of reach at the moment, try lowering down on your knees. Or try an incline pushup, to relieve some of the challenge.
24.

Tabletop Crunch

Image by mbg creative

Tabletop crunch demonstrated by Jessica Aronoff.

Target muscles: abs, obliques

  1. Lie on your mat, and bring your hands behind your head. Bring your feet up into a tabletop position. Feel your tailbone and lower back anchor toward the mat.
  2. Exhale as you lift your shoulders up off the mat. Inhale as you lower back down.
  3. Repeat for 1 minute.

Modification

To make this move a bit easier, you can position an exercise ball underneath your legs, so long as they stay in that same 90-degree position.
25.

Standing Side Bend

Image by mbg creative

Side standing bend demonstrated by Jessica Aronoff.

Target muscles: obliques

  1. Start in a standing position. Drop your tailbone down, and knit your ribs closed.
  2. Bend your arms, and bring your hands behind your head, keeping your elbows and collarbone wide.
  3. Feel your body stretch up, and then bend to the side. Repeat on the opposite side.
26.

Bicep Curl with resistance band

Image by Katie Dunlop

Bicep curl demonstrated by Katie Dunlop.

Target muscles: biceps

  1. Start standing, with the band in both hands and your feet hip-distance apart. Keep your body weight in your heels and a slight bend in your knees.
  2. With straight arms, bring your hands together in front of you. Start with your right hand facing away from your body and your left facing your thigh. Engage your right side and curl the band up toward your shoulder.
  3. Squeeze at the top and slowly lower with control.
  4. Repeat this same movement on the left and alternating sides. That's one rep. Complete 12.
27.

Split Squats

Image by mbg creative

Split squats demonstrated by Suki Clements.

Target muscles: quads, glutes

  1. Start in a high-lunge position.
  2. Bend your knees and slowly lower down for three counts. Keep your back heel up and your front heel down. Engage your glutes and quads to quickly come back up to start.
  3. Continue for 30 seconds then repeat on the opposite side.
28.

Squat and Rope Pulls

Image by mbg creative

Squat and rope pulls demonstrated by Suki Clements.

Target muscles: quads, glutes, hips, back, biceps

  1. Hinge at your hips, and sit back.
  2. As you inhale, stand up and reach your arms overhead.
  3. Quickly lower back into a squat, and pull your hands to your sides, as if you're pulling a rope down.
  4. Continue quickly repeating this movement for 10 seconds.
29.

Glute Bridge

Image by mbg creative

Glute bridge demonstrated by BB Arrington.

Target muscles: glutes

  1. Grab your heavier weight (no weight for beginners), and lie on your mat. Bring your weight to your hips, and plant your feet on the floor. Tip your pelvis up, and maintain this the entire time.
  2. Lift up into your glute bridge, squeezing the glutes at the top. Slowly lower down for 3 counts, focusing on the eccentric part of the movement. 
  3. That's one rep. Complete 10.
30.

High Plank

Image by mbg creative

High plank demonstrated by Mindy Lai.

Target muscles: Core, back

  1. Place your hands on the ground, stacking shoulders over wrists.
  2. Extend your legs outward, engage your core, and lift your body up into a high plank position.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds.
31.

Prone Swan Lift

Image by mbg Creative

Prone swan lift demonstrated by Helen Phelan.

Target muscles: chest, core, back

  1. Start by lying on your stomach. Glue your feet together, or spread them apart if you have any back pain. Open your arms into a cactus position.
  2. Exhale, drop your belly button away from the floor, and press your pubic bone into the ground. Lift your head, chest, and arms upward. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  3. Inhale as you lower your body to the ground.
32.

Skullcrushers

Image by mbg creative

Skullcrushers demonstrated by BB Arrington.

Target muscles: triceps

  • Lie on your back with feet planted on the floor.
  • With dumbbells in hand, extend your arms to the ceiling.
  • Bending from the elbow, lower the weight to your forehead. 
  • Extend the arm back to the ceiling to complete the rep.
  • Note: Upper arm should remain perpendicular to the floor the entire time.
33.

Squats

Image by mbg creative

Squats demonstrated by Rachel Warren and Caitlin Riley.

Target muscles: glutes, quads

  1. Start in a wide stance, with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Sit your hips back and lower down into a squat position. Keep your core engaged and your chest proud.
  3. Engage your glutes to come back up to start. Repeat as indicated.

The importance of recovery and stretching.

When you start to see gains at the gym, it can be tempting to go all out and never take a rest day. But according to research, you're not necessarily going to speed up gains—and could be more prone to injury.

For example, one 2021 review on strength training data7 suggests that weekly training volume is more important than training frequency. The study authors recommend performing a minimum of four weekly sets per muscle group, with additional research8 noting that waiting 48 to 72 hours to work a specific muscle again is key.

And once you're done working out, don't forget to stretch! Here's more on the fundamentals of stretching with your strength training routine.

Other workouts to include in your routine.

Strength training and aerobic exercise are both valuable in a movement routine. "Strength training really helps your insulin resistance, and aerobics really help the ketone side, the blood flow side, the oxygenation side—so these are very much synergistic in the way they work," Bredersen explains, adding that he recommends getting 45 minutes of either strength or aerobic exercise at least five times a week.

In terms of the breakdown of each, Cowen tells mbg a sample routine could include:

  • Three days of full-body, high-volume strength training
  • Two days of HIIT training
  • One day of zone two training (i.e., light jogging or swimming)
  • An active rest day when you just focus on getting steps in

Here's a quick list of different workouts to complement your strength training:

  1. Running
  2. Jogging
  3. Swimming
  4. Biking
  5. High-intensity interval training
  6. Yoga
  7. Pilates
  8. Rowing
  9. Playing sports (i.e., tennis, basketball, soccer)
  10. Hiking
  11. Dancing
  12. Yard work
  13. Walking
  14. Tai chi
  15. Rock climbing

The takeaway. 

Whether you're new to strength training altogether or you're just here for more inspiration, there's no question it's something we should all be doing to support our muscles, bones, and overall well-being. And when paired with other types of exercise like aerobics and stretching, our bodies are that much stronger—so don't forget to switch it up.

When you begin working your muscles a few times a week (with appropriate rest in between), you'll be amazed by how your body transforms and your strength improves.