Strength Training Basics

All right, everybody (especially you ladies)–are you strength training?? If you are, AWESOME! If you’re not, consider this a friendly kick in the pants to get started! 🙂 OBB Trainer Jani is back this week to tell you WHY you should, plus a great, simple strength training workout that you can do at home or at the gym!

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Trainer JaniI know most of us know that lifting weights is good for us, but believe it or not, there are many women that don’t realize what a huge role lifting weights plays in losing fat and getting the shape that you want.  I know many still fear that lifting weights will make them look “bulky.”  Women don’t really have the genetic potential to build huge muscles since they lack the hormone testosterone needed for the development of large muscles.  Lifting weights WILL NOT make you bulky…excess fat makes you bulky.  If you want to shed body fat, build some feminine curves, and look better in (and out of) your clothes, then you need to add strength training to your workout schedule.  And just in case this isn’t convincing enough, here is a list of awesome benefits from


Benefits of Strength training


Studies performed by Wayne Westcott, PhD, from the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, found that the average woman who strength trains two to three times a week for two months will gain nearly two pounds of muscle and will lose 3.5 pounds of fat.

As your lean muscle increases so does your resting metabolism, and you burn more calories all day long. Generally speaking, for each pound of muscle you gain, you burn 35 to 50 more calories each day. That can really add up.


Researchers also found that unlike men, women typically don’t gain size from strength training, because compared to men, women have 10 to 30 times less of the hormones that cause muscle hypertrophy. You will, however, develop muscle tone and definition. This is a bonus.


Research has found that weight training can increase spinal bone mineral density (and enhance bone modeling) by 13 percent in six months. This, coupled with an adequate amount of dietary calcium, can be a women’s best defense against osteoporosis.


Over and over research concludes that strength training improves athletic ability in all but the very elite athletes. Golfers can significantly increase their driving power. Cyclists are able to continue for longer periods of time with less fatigue. Skiers improve technique and reduce injury. Whatever sport you play, strength training has been shown to improve overall performance as well as decrease the risk of injury.


Increasing your strength will make you far less dependent upon others for assistance in daily living. Chores will be easier, lifting kids, groceries and laundry will no longer push you to the max.

If your maximum strength is increased, daily tasks and routine exercise will be far less likely to cause injury. Research studies conclude that even moderate weight training can increase a woman’s strength by 30 to 50 percent. Research also shows that women can develop their strength at the same rate as men.


Strength training not only builds stronger muscles, but also builds stronger connective tissues and increases joint stability. This acts as reinforcement for the joints and helps prevent injury.

A recent 12-year study showed that strengthening the low-back muscles had an 80 percent success rate in eliminating or alleviating low-back pain. Other studies have indicated that weight training can ease the pain of osteoarthritis and strengthen joints.


According to Dr. Barry A. Franklin, of William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, weight training can improve cardiovascular health in several ways, including lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.

When cardiovascular exercise is added, these benefits are maximized.


In addition, Dr. Franklin noted that weight training may improve the way the body processes sugar, which may reduce the risk of diabetes. Adult-onset diabetes is a growing problem for women and men. Research indicates that weight training can increase glucose utilization in the body by 23 percent in four months.


Women in their 70’s and 80’s have built up significant strength through weight training and studies show that strength improvements are possible at any age.


A Harvard study found that 10 weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than standard counseling did. Women who strength train commonly report feeling more confident and capable as a result of their program, all important factors in fighting depression.


So, now that you know that you can’t afford NOT to strength train, here are some basic guidelines to get you started. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that a strength training program should be performed at least two non-consecutive days each week, with a minimum of one set of 8 to 12 repetitions for healthy adults.

The workout for you this week is 8 different strength training exercises that target all the major muscles in your body. The exercises can easily be done at home or at the gym with dumbbells.  You don’t need all the fancy machine’s to have an effective strength training program.   If you are just beginning, start with one set of 8-12 reps, and then gradually increase the number of sets.  You should choose a weight in which you can complete at least 8 repetitions with good form, but if you can do more than 12, then it’s time to increase your weight.  You should always be striving to increase your weight!  You aren’t going to build a lean body unless you have enough weight to adequately stimulate your muscles.  That last rep should be HARD!

Initial strength gains happen fairly quickly, and it is very motivating to feel stronger.  After several weeks however, your strength gains will begin to taper off and if you feel you have hit a plateau, then it’s time to play around with your sets and reps.  Training at higher intensities with heavier weights and fewer reps (4-8), will produce gains in muscular strength, and training at lower intensities with lighter weights and more reps (12-15) will produce gains in muscular endurance.

So here is a simple strength training routine that you can get started with.  Check the video for proper form and remember these general guidelines for each exercise:  Shoulder blades back and down, keep core engaged at all times, chin pulled in, don’t lock your knees, and keep your knees behind your toes during the squats and lunges.  If you have any questions or concerns about the exercises or strength training in general, just leave a comment and I will do my best to answer them.  Have a great week!

Strength Training Basics with dumbbells

Complete 1 to 3 sets of 8 – 12 reps per exercise. 


Chest Press


Tricep Kickbacks

Bicep curls

Standing lunges

Lateral Raise

Russian twists

Click Here to download a printable workout card for this workout!

And here is a video showing exactly how to do each of those moves!  You’ll notice a little “settings” gear in the lower right of the video.  Make sure you are watching this in High Definition (1080p).  We noticed that it usually auto-plays in low-res and it will be nice and crisp if you watch it in the high definition it was shot in!  Make sure to check out our past videos on the Our Best Bites You Tube Channel.

Jani D. has over 20 years of experience working in the fitness industry.  She has a BS in Health Promotion and is certified in many disciplines including personal training, group exercise, yoga, Pilates, TRX suspension training, Insanity®, Zumba®, and water fitness.  She currently teaches a variety of group exercise classes for the Treasure Valley West YMCA in Boise, ID  and also owns her own personal training business, Body Balance Training.  As a busy mom of five kids she understands the challenge of finding a balance between  family , church, work, maintaining a home, and taking care of ourselves.  She believes that if we can make our own health and well-being a priority, we will be better equipped to handle the demands of a busy lifestyle and enjoy a better quality of life.



  1. I have been doing some of these but I’m definitely going to be adding the others. If I’m doing a 45 min to 1 hour work out how much of that should spent on strenght training? I was doing 15 mins strength then a 30 min run but now I’m wondering if I’m doing it wrong and that’s why I’m not seeing a lot of results??

    1. Hi Crystal, if you feel like you have hit a plateau, then it’s probably time to mix it up a bit. Instead of doing both cardio and weights in your hour time, try doing a split routing where you do cardio 3x per week and weights 2-3x per, alternating days. That way you can spend a little more time lifting weights and doing more sets and exercises for each muscle group. Or another option would be to continue doing both cardio and weights together but break up the muscle groups into different days. For instance,
      Mon- legs and shoulders
      Tues- Chest, triceps and abs
      Wed- rest or just cardio
      Th-back and biceps,
      Friday- go back to legs and shoulders.
      Sat- rest or just cardio.
      Does this make sense? Good luck!

      1. Thanks Jani!
        I have been unable to find my groove and am struggling to keep a routine. But I am not going to give up! Your answer is very helpful and I’m going to use it and some other things to see if I can find something that works for me and gets me excited to get up in the morning. Sadly the only time I have to work out is at 4:30 AM so it has to be something I’m totally into to get my butt out of bed.

  2. This is just what I needed- something simple and basic to make getting back into strength training easy. I like to do cardio at the gym so this is perfect to do at home on the in between days when I daycare. Thanks so much!!!

  3. Excellent post, thanks! I remember you saying you were lifting heavy and I’m wondering what that means for you? I do several sets of 8-12 reps with about 10 pounds for biceps, for example. I know it varies for everyone, but is this what you were lifting? Or, were you lifting 25 pounds, for example?

    1. Hi Staci. The amount of weight you should use will differ for different muscle groups and your level of experience. The key is to choose a heavy enough weight so when you get to that last rep, that’s it. You can’t lift it again…without compromising your form. If you have to start arching your back or using momentum to get the weight up, than you’ve done too many. So if you are lifting 10lbs and you can’t make it to the 13th rep on a bicep curl, than that is an appropriate weight. If you feel like you can keep going and your form is still good, than choose a heavier weight for your next set.

  4. Is it better to do cardio after strength training or before? Or does it even matter? I was told cardio after strength training burns more fat. Thanks for all the advice and motivation you post.

    1. That is a debate that has been battled for years. There have been some studies show that one order is ideal because of this and that, and other studies that show how the reverse order is better because of this and that. My suggestion is to just use common sense. If you are training for an up coming marathon or other distance run and you plan on running that day, then don’t work your legs hard on the weights first because they will feel like jelly on your run. But if your goal is to build strength in your legs and you plan on doing heavy squats, leg presses, etc, than obviously don’t go do a spin class before. My persona opinion is, JUST GET IT DONE! Do what feels best for you, or what is most convenient for you. As far as losing inches, I don’t think it makes that big of a difference to even worry about it.

  5. I have to say that strength/resistance training the past year+ has changed my life, seriously. I feel so much better, stronger, and more confident. Love it!

  6. I’m using this to get motivated and commit to strength training twice a week. Hopefully, I’ll do more, but I WILL do it twice a week. This is exactly what I’ve been wanting to see. THANK YOU!!!

    1. The HIIT and AMRAP workouts are designed to be a total body workout that include both a cardio and a strength component. You don’t necessarily need to do anything more…unless you want to and have the time and energy for it. Just be careful, cause overtraining can lead to injury.

  7. I’d also like an answer to the nagging question of which should come first cardio or strength? Also, I really enjoy lifting and would like to be steered toward a program that addresses different muscle groups on different days of the week. I tried the Jamie Eason Live Fit Trainer before and liked it, but it’s too much of a time commitment for me right now. Any suggestions for a program to follow?

    1. Heather, I addressed your question regarding order of exercise in the comment above, 4.1. As far as split training routines go, check out for split training workouts or I love the fitness buddy app. It has all kinds of workouts and exercises for split routines.

    1. The amount of weight you should start with will vary with each exercise and experience level. Choose a weight that you can lift at least 8-12 times with good form. If you can’t complete 8 reps, then you chose a weight that is too heavy, if you get to 12 and can keep going with good form then choose a heavier weight for the next set. So it will be a guessing game at first, but write down the starting weights you used so the next time around you won’t have to figure it out. But remember, you should be gradually increasing your weights over time.

  8. Is there an alternative exercise to the standing lunge? I am struggling with knee cap pain and am unable to complete this exercise. Any suggestions?

    1. April, knee cap pain is no good. Try elevating your front leg on a step or riser of some sort and use a smaller range of motion. If you have stairs in your home, you could put the front leg on the bottom step. If it still bothers you, try a plié squat (think ballerina) or a step up: using a bench, put one leg on top and stand up, then step down. Repeat 8-12 times then switch legs. See if those options work for you, and if you are sill experiencing knee pain, then just skip the lunges.

      1. Thank you for these modification suggestions. My old(er), crunchy, anti-lunge knees thank you, too.

  9. You guys are the best! This fit club has been super motivating for me, so thanks! Do the HIIT or AMRAP workouts count as strength training as well?

    1. Yes, the HITT and AMRAP workouts definitely count as a strength workout. But I would also include some traditional strength training on other days to mix it up.

  10. So, you girls inspired me to actually do strength training last year. I’ve been at it for a while now, twice a week, increasing resistance as I go. I’m definitely stronger, and am seeing some other benefits, but not the “fat melting” effect. I don’t need to lose a lot, but I weigh the same, and my jeans still don’t fit. Any hints?

    1. T, this is a tough one to answer. Because losing fat comes with a combination of lifting weights, aerobic exercise, diet, and of course genes play a big part as well. Have you taken your measurements? Even though the scale has remained the same, you may have gained muscle while losing fat? Sometime the places where we want it to come off the most are the last to come off…unfortunately. Women tend to lose inches in the bust (sadly) and waistline first, and the hips and thighs last. And vice versa, when they gain weight, they gain first in the hips and thighs and upper body last. It just isn’t fair! Take a look at your diet, make sure things are in check there first, then if you still aren’t seeing any changes, it might be time to change up your workout routine. Hang in there!

  11. Thank you! I’ve been looking for a basic strength training routine for a beginner, and this looks perfect! I really appreciate the nice video to see how each exercise should be performed.

    1. Wendy, I personally have a preference for free weights. Not to say that the machines don’t have any benefit, but when you are doing free weights, you have so many more muscles in your body that are put to work to stabilize your body. When at a machine, say for instance a leg extension machine, the only muscles at work are your quadriceps.

  12. haha, “excess fat makes you look bulky” reminds of the Chris Farley/David Spade quote, “Does this jacket make me look fat?” “no, your face does!” hahahaha

  13. Thank you so much – this is great! I’m currently out due to a twisted tendon (leading to horrid tendonitis) from I think – lifting too much weight! Ugh! What do you do when you are out due to an injury? do you just do cardio then?

    1. Don’t do any lifts that involve that tendon. Give it time to heal. Not sure which area of your body is hurt, but you could still do some strength training for the other areas and yes, still continue with cardio. So sorry your are hurt. It might also help to follow the RICE protocol: rest, ice, compression, elevation, at least until the inflammation goes away. Good luck!

      1. Thanks – it’s my right arm – mainly my elbow. I think I had a twisted tendon because I did some stretching and something popped and I had immediate relief. Now it’s just trying to recover from the trauma. I took this week off from weights. We’ll see how it is after the weekend!

        Thanks for everything – love your posts!!!

  14. Thanks for giving of your time to offer expert advice. My question is about making sure I’m doing enough cardio and weight lifting, and in the right amounts. Right now,I’m doing Zumba Mon and Wednesday for 1 hour, Tues. heavy lifting of upper body for one hour (following Body for Life workout) and Thursday heavy lifting of lower body for one hour. My question is for Friday and Saturday. I do yoga for one hour on Friday. I really feel it in my arms, so I moved my upper body to Tues. so I could have a rest day before yoga. On Saturday I run on the elliptical for 20-40 minutes on the hardest setting. I really feel it in my quads and hamstrings. I really like this schedule, but have heard that I should lift heavy 3 times a week rotating between upper and lower body, if not, I can start losing the muscle I am fight so hard to get. What are your thoughts? Does the yoga and hardest setting for elliptical help keep my muscles growing, or do I need to change things up? Also, when I am lifting heavy, I am slowly working up the lbs I’m lifting as I am getting stronger. I sometimes change the excersizes that I’m doing, but for the most part, I’m keeping them the same as long as I reach “can’t do another one in good form” state. Is this okay, or will my body start to create muscle memory and stop responding? If so, how often do you recommend changing things up? Thanks!

    1. Hi Jenny! As long as your are lifting at least twice a week, you shouldn’t lose any muscle. If you really like your schedule and it is working for you, by all means, continue! Getting your exercise in each week is great, but when you actually enjoy it and look forward to it, even better!!!

      As far as the lifting goes, it is good to switch up the exercises. When you work your muscles differently, they respond differently and you will know that means about 24 hours later…when you are very sore. 😉 Switch them up every couple weeks or so.

  15. Is it safe to continue with these types of exercises (like the examples shown in the video) during pregnancy if you have been doing them consistently before pregnancy?

    1. Brianna, Yes! As long as you have a normal, healthy pregnancy, ACOG guidelines say that you can and should continue exercising and lifting weights. Good luck mama!

  16. Awesome post and video. I have a few questions.

    1. Is the A in your name a long A (like Jane) or a short A (like Jan)? Not that you’ll ever hear me saying it, but I like I to know I’m saying it right when I read your posts and I’ve said it both ways in my head.

    2. If we are doing chest press at home without a weight bench, what should we lie on? It looks like your arms come down just a bit past where they would be able to come if lying on the floor so I wondered if doing these on the floor works or if I need to figure out something else to be able to get proper form with full range of motion.

    3. In the video it looks like you are using the same weights for all the exercises. Is that for simplicity in making the video or do you really do them that way?

    Thanks for teaching all of us!

    1. Ellie, instead of hitting reply, it looks like I just left a comment below, so I don’t know if you saw it or not, but it is comment #21.

      1. Yes, I did see it. Thanks. I just finished doing three full sets with a good amount of weight for each exercise. I don’t have heavy enough weights for the squats and lunges, but I have a cute 3-year-old who is willing to ride piggy-back while I do them. We tried it yesterday and today I did the full 3-sets. It adds a good balance component and my legs were burning by the end of each set, so she’s just the right weight. 🙂

  17. Ellie, I’ve learned to answer to pretty much any version of my name. 😉 But since you asked, it is the short A. Jani is a nickname that my family gave me when I was a baby and it has just stuck ever since. My given and legal name is Janalee, and I have often thought about going back to my given name, but Jani is just easier. 🙂

    Do you have a piano bench? Sara told me that is what she uses at home for a chest press. Or if you have a stability ball, that would be even better. If not, just lie on the floor. You won’t get quite as much range of motion, but it will still be just fine.

    Yes, I did use the same wights for all the exercises in the video for simplicity. You will most likely be able to use heavier weight for squats and lunges, and then probably going a little lighter for chest press and rows, and lighter still, for the bi’s, and tri’s. Basically, the larger the muscle or the more muscles assisting the exercise, the heavier the weight you can lift and vice versa for smaller muscles.

  18. Jani, I have a question about added more sets. Is it best to go through each of the exercises once and then go back for an additional set, or do 2-3 sets of squats and then 2-3 of chest press etc.?? Does it matter?

    1. Kricket, good question. Either way is fine. If you are going to do 3 sets of an exercise before moving on to another exercise, wait 30 to 60 seconds between sets. You can also superset two exercises together, i.e, 1 set chest press and right into 1 set of rows, then back to the chest press, and repeating for desired amount of sets. My personal preference is to either superset or run through it like a circuit (each exercise, one set, and repeat) because you are constantly moving and it takes less time cause you don’t need to wait the 30 to 60 seconds between sets. Make sense?

  19. Really liked this post this week. I have been trying to implement more strength training while at the gym and this gave me what I needed. Thanks!

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