Strength Training: Where to Start?

Are you looking to add some variety to your workout routines and start building more strength? Not sure where to begin? This is the article for you!

Strength training, also called weight or resistance training, is a form of exercise that challenges muscles to contract against resistance such as weights, body weight, resistance bands, or machines. Strength training is a great tool to help improve muscle development, endurance, and power which can help to reduce risk of injury. Additionally, it can provide a wide variety of mental and physical benefits such as reducing risk of heart disease, arthritis and type 2 diabetes, improving bone density, weight loss, blood sugar regulation, and improved sleep.


So now we know some benefits of it, but where do you begin with strength training? This depends on your goals! Depending on what you’re striving for, this will determine the kind of  exercises to prioritize and the reps and sets for the exercises you choose. Strength training can involve a combination of body weight exercises, compound lifts and isolation exercises.  Body weight exercises such as squats or push ups can be a good starting point for beginners with emphasis on maintaining good form. Compound exercises involve using multiple large muscle groups at a time and are typically more fatiguing such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, lat pull downs or barbell overhead presses. For example, squatting requires recruitment from your hip extensors, quads, hamstrings and core to work altogether. Since you’re tackling multiple joints at a time, this will increase overall strength, improve efficiency and burn more calories. Isolation exercises generally focus on isolated muscle activation at a time such as bicep curls, leg extensions, or tricep extensions are great additions to your compound training to prevent asymmetries between body parts, increase muscular endurance and size. 

For those just getting started, getting in 2-3 days of strength training with a rest day in between is a great start. You may experience an achy or sore sensation also known as DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness) one to two days after working out. This is normal as your muscles are undergoing temporary tiny, microscopic tears and repair from performing unaccustomed exercises that challenge the capacity of your body. As you start to become more familiar with strength training, your muscles will begin to adapt to external stimulus (exercise) and experience less DOMS, and can begin increase the frequency of sessions per week!

Strength vs Hypertrophy vs Endurance vs Power

Resistance training can be split and combined into many different ways with the goal of strength, hypertrophy, endurance and power.

Strength is the muscle’s max ability to overcome or produce force against external resistance. This is typically measured by the maximum weight you can lift for a given exercise in a single repetition with correct form, also known as one rep max (1RM). Strength training not only causes physical changes, but also neuromuscular adaptations; this improves the mind-muscle connection between the nervous system and muscle to produce movement and create force.Training for strength can focus on several compound exercises that utilizes multiple large muscle groups and in return, increases the demand/recruitment of muscle fibers. Since the goal is to lift as much weight as possible and less on muscle size (hypertrophy) or speed (power), you’ll want to keep the reps low, and sets high in order to lift the max amount of weight before your body begins to fatigue. An optimal set and rep range to train with is around 3-5 sets for 1-5 reps per set with the goal of improving strength at 85% of 1 rep max.

Hypertrophy focuses more on lifting moderately heavy weights and increased reps per set to increase muscle size. The focus of this training is to stimulate muscle growth via progressive overload by increasing the overall volume of your workout. Progressive overload is the concept of gradually increasing the weight, volume, reps or sets in your strength training routine to allow for gradual adaptation and strengthening of the muscles. Increasing the capacity of what your muscles can lift will cause microtears at the muscle that occur at the microcellular level. This slight structural damage is required so new muscle fibers and cells can add and replace the areas that have been damaged thereby increasing the size of the muscle fibers and lead to hypertrophy. While you can still gain strength with hypertrophy training and vice versa, the amount of sets/reps will ultimately affect the goal of the exercise and what you’re trying to achieve. An optimal hypertrophy program would involve a challenging weight and a variable range of sets (3-4) and 8-12 reps at 60-80% of 1RM.

Endurance training challenges the ability to sustain low load resistance consistently and repetitively for a period of time. The focus of this training is to improve aerobic capacity of your muscles; this increases your overall ability to exercise longer. Muscular endurance work can also directly carryover with sport specific training and day to day tasks. For example, working on muscular endurance training to one’s hamstrings and quads would be beneficial to cycling which requires repetitive, rapid flexion and extension of the knee joint. For day to day life, this can translate directly to improving your tolerance to carrying groceries for longer blocks or simply walking for longer hours of the day. Since you will be performing the exercise for longer, the weights will be lighter in comparison to strength or hypertrophy work. An optimal set and rep range should aim to complete 3 or more sets for 15 reps or more.

Power training focuses on the rate of force development in the fastest period of time. Simply put, this means the max amount you can lift in the quickest amount of time; power = force x speed. Power training works on improving explosive strength, muscular and functional performance. This kind of workout would provide good carryover for athletes where speed and power is desirable such as football for quick sprinting or basketball to improve a vertical jump. An optimal set and rep range should aim to complete 3-5 sets of 2-5 reps from 60-80% 1RM.

Rest Periods

Adequate rest time in between sets will differ depending on the type of strength training you’re performing. Rest time is essential to allow proper rest of your muscles and energy between sets and reduce risk of injury. Since strength training and power rely more on how much you can lift or how much force you can generate at one time, there will be longer rest periods to allow for adequate rest. To improve the capacity of muscles, rest breaks will be relatively short for muscular endurance training. Hypertrophy training will be somewhere in between as you won’t be lifting for max strength, but higher load than endurance training. More rest time can be allowed for beginner weight lifters if needed.

The breakdown:

  • For strength adaptations, a rest time of 3-5 minutes is ideal.
  • For hypertrophy training, a rest time of 30 seconds -1 minute is ideal.
  • For power training, a rest time of 2-5 minutes is ideal.
  • For muscular endurance, a rest time of less than 30 seconds is ideal.

Whatever you decide to start with, strength training is a great form of exercise to begin building strength and endurance with a plethora of health benefits. Finding what you like is key and getting familiar with machines, exercises, and concepts is all part of the process! If you’re still feeling hesitant after this or worried an injury is holding you back from starting, don’t fret as we provide personal training for all our clients! As Doctors of Physical Therapists, we are able to modify certain exercises and positions based on presenting symptoms of any injuries so that you can work out pain free. We are uniquely positioned to best understand your body while being qualified to bridge the gap between rehabilitation and performance to help you achieve your fitness goals safely. Reach out today to schedule an appointment or a free 15-minute discovery call to see if we are a good fit for you!



  1. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training, Second Edition. “Determination of Resistance Training Frequency.” National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), NSCA, 1 May 2017, 
  2. National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). 
  3. Rebecca Seguin, Miriam E Nelson, The benefits of strength training for older adults, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 25, Issue 3, Supplement 2, 2003, Pages 141-149, ISSN 0749-3797, (
  4. Rogers, Paul. “Here’s Everything You Need to Know to Start Weight Lifting.” Verywell Fit, Verywell Fit, 19 Mar. 2020, 


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