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Strength training for beginners

9-minute read

Key facts

  • Strength training is any form of exercise involving weights or resistance.
  • Strength training builds strength in your muscles and protects your bones and joints.
  • This type of training should be part of your weekly exercise program.
  • Strength training reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes and improves your mental health and wellbeing.
  • Seek advice from a doctor or an exercise professional before you start strength training.

What is strength training?

Strength training is any form of exercise that involves using weights or resistance to build strength in your muscles. Strength training is also known as resistance training.

Strength training involves you using equipment or your own body weight. For example:

  • push-ups
  • pull-ups
  • squats
  • lunges
  • lifting weights — using hand or leg weights or gym equipment
  • resistance bands

Household or work tasks can involve muscle strengthening. Activities such as lifting and moving boxes, digging in the garden, or carrying groceries are forms of strength training. This is often referred to as 'incidental exercise'.

What are the health benefits of strength training?

There are many health benefits of strength training, including:

Heart health — Strength training reduces your risk of heart disease and helps with managing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Diabetes — By reducing blood sugar levels, strength training can reduce your risk of, or help managing, type-2 diabetes.

Weight management — Any physical activity, including strength training helps with weight loss and preventing an unhealthy weight gain — especially when combined with a healthy diet.

Mental wellbeing — Strength training helps with preventing and managing mental health problems. It provides you with opportunities to socialise and meet new people.

Bone and joint health — can be helpful for people with conditions that affect bones and joints. For example, if you have arthritis or fibromyalgia, an exercise program that builds your muscles may help to take pressure off sore joints and help to relieve pain. Strength training helps to reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

Injury prevention — Strengthening your muscles may reduce your risk of falls and injuries. It will help you maintaining your ability to do everyday tasks as you age.

Can I do strength training and how often should I do it?

Everyone can take part in a form of strength training. You can do it with or without equipment and almost anywhere. You can start strength training at a gym, with a personal trainer, at a park with friends or by yourself at home.

The Australian physical activity guidelines state that adults, including pregnant women, should do strength training at least 2 times a week.

People aged 65 and older should take part in a range of activities throughout their week that include building muscle strength. This may be weight training, lifting, carrying or climbing stairs.

Children aged between 5 and 17 should take part in strength-building activities on at least 3 days a week. Children under the age of 5 years do not need to do strength training.

How do I start strength training in a safe way?

Follow these steps to starting a strength-training regime in safe way:

  • Get a health check: before you start strength training, it is important to get checked by a health professional.
  • Movement screening: a qualified exercise professional, such as a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist, can give you a ‘movement screen’. This will determine what exercises are safe for you to do based on your body’s abilities.
  • Find a safe space to work out: before you begin, check that you have enough floor space to exercise and for any equipment you are using. Ensure that the floor you are working out on is slip resistant and free of items you could trip on.
  • Set your exercise goals: build up your muscles slowly by setting realistic goals that motivate you to do a little better each time you train. A good session should include strength training for different muscle groups.

The following groups should also consider this advice:

People with a physical illness or disability — Check with your doctor before you start any new form of exercise. Your doctor may suggest a way to train that best suits your situation. They might refer you to a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist who can tailor a strength training program for you.

Pregnancy — If you are pregnant, you can take part in strength training if you are healthy and without pregnancy complications. You should avoid using heavy weights and activities with a high risk of falling. After the first trimester, you should avoid exercises where you lie on your back.

Your GP, obstetrician or maternal health nurse can advise you on exercise during pregnancy. Or call 1800 882 436 to speak to a Pregnancy, Birth and Baby maternal child health nurse.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

What equipment do I need for strength training?

Strength training can involve equipment, but you can also use your own body weight for resistance.

Exercises using your body weight include:

  • squats
  • wall push-ups
  • calf raises
  • bridges

Check out the Live Lighter guide for how to do these strength exercises.

If you prefer to use equipment, strength-training equipment includes:

  • free weights, for example, dumbbells and medicine balls
  • resistance bands
  • machines, for example, leg press and rowing machines

Machines help you stand or sit in the right position, so that you exercise correctly and minimise your chance of injury. Machines are often found in gyms — ask the gym staff for help.

Hand weights and resistance bands are inexpensive. You can store them easily. Incorrect use can be dangerous. It is important to learn how to use these properly to avoid injury. Start with light weights or gentle resistance until you improve your technique.

How do I avoid injury while strength training?

The best way to avoid injury is to learn the correct technique, also called form, for each type of strength-building exercise. If you are using strength training to recover from illness or an existing injury, talk to your doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist. They can advise you on the best way to avoid injury, and the exercises that will best help you to recover.

Common injuries associated with strength training include lower back, wrist, elbow, groin and rotator cuff injuries.

Lower back strain occurs in the muscles around your spine. This can happen when you use weights that are too heavy, or with the wrong posture — for example, when performing squats or lifting weights. Avoid this strain by getting your form right before you add weights to your workout.

Wrist strain can occur when the wrist is under excess pressure — for example, during push-ups or when lifting a barbell in front of your body while squatting. Reduce the pressure and avoid injury by using lighter hand weights.

Elbow pain happens when you lift heavy weights and repeat the same movement each time you exercise. Choose lighter weights, mix up your moves and keep your wrists in a neutral position while lifting weights.

Groin pulls tend to occur during strength exercises such as lunges and squats, which engage your inner thighs. Reduce your chances of groin pulls by doing a full warm up before your workout, including stretching your inner thighs.

Rotator cuff injuries can occur when an exercise involves lots of shoulder movement. To avoid injury, choose the right weights for your strength level, exercise regularly and gradually build up your strength. Maintain good posture while you exercise.

How do I stay motivated while strength training?

Feeling yourself getting stronger is great motivation. But you might go through stages when it is tough to stick to a training schedule. Having a health or exercise professional track your progress can motivate you to keep going. This may also help you to train at your level, so you stay challenged without feeling like it is ‘too hard’.

Try mixing up your exercise routine to keep it fun and engaging. For example, you might train in your local park or gym once a week, and train with a friend once a week. When training with a friend, you can motivate each other and share your goals and successes.

Where can I find strength training guides or coaches?

  • Live Lighter has a guide to physical exercise for beginners, including strength training.
  • Get Started offers a free telephone-based coaching service.
  • Find a registered exercise professional through Fitness Australia.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022

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