How to Get Stronger and Meet Any Fitness Goal
There are nearly as many ways to get stronger as there are reasons to do it. So, figuring out how to get stronger means finding a routine that’s just right for you.
But before you get into Goldilocks mode, check out this guide. We’ve rounded up practical advice that will help you build strength in a way that matches your interests and goals.
Maybe you’re recovering from an injury, you had a hard time carrying boxes the last time you moved, or you want to be able to keep lifting your little one for years to come. Whatever your motivation, these easy-to-follow tips will help you look, feel, and be stronger.
Discover the foundations of strength training, the techniques and exercises that will help you get stronger, and the many benefits of starting a strength training program.
The Foundations of Strength
When many people think strength, they think flexin’ biceps or poppin’ pecs. While you definitely can build a toned upper body as part of a well-balanced strength training routine, that’s not where the majority of your strength comes from.
The muscles in your arms are much smaller than the muscle groups in your core (which includes your abs and lower back) and lower body (which includes your glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, and all the other muscles of your legs).
In fact, over 50% of your muscle mass is located in your lower body. (Women carry an even greater percentage of their muscle mass in their lower body than men.) No wonder we’ve always been told to lift with our legs!
You can’t move mountains (or bookcases) relying on the smaller muscles in your arms. If you’re wondering how to get stronger, you need to recruit the muscles in your legs and core — whether we’re talking about bench presses in the gym or everyday tasks, like trying to keep your 60-pound dog from chasing cars.
A well-balanced strength training program should target:
Many strength or resistance training workouts dedicate one day of exercise to each muscle group. But, you can also use compound movements to target multiple muscle groups at the same time, creating a full-body workout.
How to Get Stronger: 9 Tactics to Build Strength
There are SO MANY exercises you can do to get stronger. Figuring out how to get stronger is a choose-your-own-adventure activity.
We’ll share some of our favorite workouts below, but first we’ll give you some guidelines to make sure your strength-training adventure is more fun and exciting than dangerous and scary.
These nine tactics will help everyone—whether your workout plan involves sit-ups or cardio hula hooping. Keep these tools in your mental toolbox, and you will get stronger!
1. Establish a Baseline
You’ll only know your workouts are working if you measure your strength before you start your fitness journey. A good way to do this is to find your one-rep max, or the maximum amount of weight that you can lift just one time.
The most common way to find this weight is with a barbell bench press. Don’t attempt this without a spotter. (Workouts are better with friends anyway!)
If your one-rep max is 150 pounds now, you have your baseline. If you’re up to 200 pounds after eight weeks of strength training, you’ll know you’re building muscle.
The other way to establish a baseline is to grab a set of dumbbells at any weight. Then, choose one exercise and do as many as you can while still maintaining proper form.
Let’s say you hold a 20-pound dumbbell in each hand and do squats. If you can do 10 reps now but 25 after eight weeks of training, congratulations! Your strength training program is working.
(You can also do bodyweight exercises to set a baseline if you don’t have dumbbells—just choose an exercise, count your reps, and check in after eight weeks of training.)
2. Start Small
If you go from no strength training workouts at all to daily lifting sessions, you’re setting yourself up for burnout and injury. Whether you’re new to strength training or just getting back into working out, start small.
Aim for two 30-minute strength training workouts each week—as the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend for a healthy life.
Also start small with the amount of weight you lift. You should feel moderately sore after each workout, but not so much that you can’t comfortably bend your knees to sit down or lift that gallon of milk at the grocery store.
If you want to add more strength training to your routine, you can start lifting heavier weights, increase your number of reps per workout, or incorporate more workouts per week once you’re feeling strong, powerful, and ready to take on more.
3. Don’t Overdo It
Even when you're feeling strong, overtraining can cause you to hit a plateau, inhibit muscle growth, or injure yourself. Overtraining injuries are one of the biggest risks of strength training.
Take a rest day between each strength training workout to give your body time to recover, or try some light cardio on days when you aren’t strength training to promote active recovery.
4. Make It Fun
If you don’t enjoy your workouts, you’re not going to stick to them. So, as you start strength training, remember: Lifting weights isn’t the only way to build muscles. The CDC lists yoga and even gardening as good strength training activities.
But, whatever exercise you choose, make sure it feels challenging. Lifting heavy bags of mulch or pushing a full wheelbarrow will make a pleasant afternoon in the garden feel like a workout in no time.
If you get bored of your workouts, try new exercises until you find something that gets you excited to move. Rock climbing, swimming, and even pole fitness can spark up your strength training!
5. Enlist a Workout Buddy
An accountability partner can help you stay on track and meet your fitness goals. Find a friend who will work out with you or check in and ask about your progress.
If your besties are more brunch pals than workout buddies, enlist the help of a certified personal trainer. A Kickoff trainer can help you meet your fitness goals for just $3 per day. (If only we could find a brunch deal that good!)
6. Work on Proper Form
Whether you’re doing bodyweight exercises or weight training, you need to master proper form to avoid injury. One injury could keep you from exercising for weeks and undo the gains you’ve made in your muscle strength.
So, if you’re working out for the first time or trying new exercises, schedule a consultation with a certified personal trainer to make sure your form is correct and you’re performing each movement safely.
7. Warm Up and Cool Down
Another way to prevent injury during strength training is to warm up. Don’t jump straight into deadlifts. Instead, start with some light cardio, like 10 minutes of power walking or salsa dancing.
If you’re using weights, start with lighter free weights that are 50% below your one-rep max. Increase the amount of weight and decrease the number of repetitions with each set.
After you’re done with your workout, take some time to cool down by doing 10 more minutes of cardio, stretching, or using a foam roller, which can significantly reduce muscle soreness. (You’ll be writing that foam roller a heartfelt thank-you note in the morning!)
8. Don’t Neglect Your Nutrition
When you’re trying to gain muscle, the most important element of your diet is your protein intake. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends eating 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. (If you have weight loss goals, go for 0.8 grams per pound of your ideal weight.)
If you’re concerned that your diet is keeping you from reaching your strength training goals, a personal trainer and nutritionist can help you analyze your current eating habits and create a healthier routine.
9. Don’t Weigh Your Progress on the Scale
Muscle weighs more than fat. If you’re trying to lose weight, it may take some time to see results. But, for every pound of body fat that you replace with muscle mass, you’ll extend your lifespan. According to the CDC, strength training improves your cardiovascular health and can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
There’s also a strong connection between your muscle mass and your bone health. Strength training helps reduce your risk of osteoporosis and makes you less likely to injure yourself when you're performing simple daily activities.
And strength training will help you lose weight, if that’s your goal. When you increase your muscle mass, you also increase the rate at which your body burns fat. But, it will take about eight weeks of consistent training to see results in the mirror and on the scale.
You’ll notice your strength and energy levels go up first. Take time to celebrate those gains, too.
3 Workout Routines to Add to Your Strength Training Program
Now that you understand the fundamentals of strength training, let’s find a workout routine that works for you. Here are three of our favorite strength training workouts that you can do at home.
Progressive calisthenics workout: You’ll recognize the exercises in this workout from your high school gym class. From push-ups to sit-ups to lunges, calisthenics workouts have stood the test of time because A) they work, and B) you can do them anywhere with no equipment. This progressive calisthenics workout is ideal for building strength because it gets tougher as you get stronger.
Kettlebell workout: Kettlebells are an inexpensive piece of equipment to add to your home workout arsenal. They allow you to do deadlifts, overhead presses, and weighted squats without having to invest in an expensive barbell.
5x5 workout: If you love powerlifting and barbell exercises, then this training program is for you. It allows you to make major strength gains in a short period of time, and you can do this workout continuously for up to two years before hitting a plateau and needing a new strength training workout.
You Are Strong
We know you’re strong. Now, it’s time for your muscles to catch up.
You can build strength by establishing an achievable routine. Start with two days of strength training per week, and increase the number of days you exercise, the number of reps you do in each workout, or the amount of weight you lift once your current routine starts to feel easy.
The hardest parts of strength training are learning proper form and staying motivated. A certified personal trainer can help you do both. Schedule a consultation to learn how a trainer can help you find exercises you love, stay consistent, and reach your goals. Kickoff trainers do all that for just $3 a day. Get started and get stronger!