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A beginners guide to strength training

Strength training is a fantastic way to make long-term changes to your body, from building muscle and increasing your metabolic rate to enhancing your overall health and fitness, the benefits are vast. In this guide we’ll break down some of the fundamental exercises which make up strength training, and the importance of progressive overload to meet your goals. 

Gym in Barnstaple

Getting started with strength training

Set clear goals

Before you begin strength training, take some time to establish clear and realistic fitness goals. Whether you're aiming to build muscle, improve strength, lose weight, or enhance your overall fitness, having specific objectives will help you build a specific, personalised training program.

Learn the correct technique

Correct technique is crucial for making your workouts as effective as possible and reducing the risk of injury. Take the time to learn the correct form for each exercise, and consider working with a qualified personal trainer to ensure you're performing exercises safely and effectively. We offer both online personal training and personal training in Barnstaple ensuring that we can cater to a wide range of audiences, so feel free to get in touch with us to discuss the next step on your fitness journey.

Track your progress

Keep a training log to track your workouts, including exercises, sets, reps, and weights lifted. This will not only help to maintain your motivation and encourage you to celebrate your wins, but ensure that you’re consistently challenging yourself and holding yourself accountable. Regularly review your progress and adjust your training plan accordingly to ensure you're consistently making progress towards your goals.

Listen to your body

Pay attention to signs of fatigue, soreness, or overtraining, and adjust your training intensity and volume as needed. Rest and recovery are essential components of the progressive overload process, so be sure to prioritise rest days and allow your muscles time to repair and grow, as well as ensuring your nutrition fits with your training regime to see the best results. 

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Strength training exercises for beginners


Squats are one of the most widely recognised exercises in strength training, focusing on the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles. To perform a squat, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, lower your hips back and down as if sitting into a chair, keeping your chest up and knees tracking over your toes, then push through your heels to return to the starting position. Start off performing bodyweight squats, then you can move on to adding weights, whether that’s with a dumbbell, a barbell or a kettlebell.


The deadlift is a compound exercise that primarily targets the posterior chain muscles, including the hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and upper back. To perform a deadlift, stand with your feet hip-width apart, hinge at the hips to lower your torso while keeping your back flat, grasp a barbell with an overhand grip, then drive through your heels to lift the weight while keeping it close to your body. You can also perform a deadlift with dumbbells to begin with, ensuring not to put the weight up until your form is of a high standard. Pay special attention to your lower back when performing this exercise and if you feel any pain, speak to a personal trainer or fitness coach before continuing to avoid injury. 

Bench Press

The bench press is a classic upper-body exercise that targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Lie flat on a bench with your feet planted firmly on the ground, grip the barbell with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, lower the barbell to your chest, then press it back up to the starting position. This exercise can also be performed with dumbbells to begin with. 

Overhead Press

The overhead press is a compound exercise that targets the shoulders, triceps, and upper chest. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hold a barbell or dumbbells at shoulder height with palms facing forward, then press the weight overhead until your arms are fully extended. Lower the weight back to shoulder height and repeat.

Pull-up or Lat Pulldown

Pull-ups and lat pulldowns are excellent exercises for targeting the muscles of the back and arms. To perform a pull-up, grasp an overhead bar with an overhand grip, hang with arms fully extended, then pull your body up until your chin clears the bar, this is an incredibly advances movement, so it’s worth tying a long resistance band to the top bar which you can feed your foot or knee through to support you. Slowly, over time, you’ll be able to reduce the level of resistance needed and eventually perform a pull-up band free. For lat pulldowns, sit at a lat pulldown machine, grasp the bar with an overhand grip, then pull the bar down towards your chest while keeping your back straight - this is a much more beginner-friendly version! 


The lower-body exercise of a lunge comes in many forms and can target multiple muscle groups including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, while also engaging the core and stabilizer muscles. You can perform these with bodyweight alone, a great place to start, or add dumbbells/kettlebells for extra resistance. To start, take a step forward with your right foot keeping your knee directly above your ankle and your thigh parallel to the floor. Then, lower your body bending your knees until your back knee is about 1cm away from the floor ensuring your knee doesn’t pass your toes. Keep your torso upright and push through your heel to return to your starting position. Ensure you perform equal reps on either side of your body to avoid muscle imbalances!

Equipment set up for a deadlift

The importance of progressive overload

Progressive overload is the key principle that drives muscle growth and strength gains in strength training. This involves gradually increasing the intensity, volume, or duration of exercise over time to continually challenge your muscles to adapt and grow stronger to meet the increased demands placed upon them.

Without progressive overload, your muscles quickly adapt to a given level of resistance, leading to plateaus in strength and muscle growth. By consistently challenging your muscles with increased resistance, volume, or intensity, you can avoid stagnation and continue making progress towards your fitness goals.

Progressive overload doesn't just mean lifting heavier weights. It also involves varying training variables such as exercise selection, rep ranges, tempo, and rest intervals to keep workouts challenging and stimulating. This variation helps prevent boredom, keeps workouts interesting, and ensures continual progress over time. We’ve got a full guide to progressive overload ready for you so that you can learn all about this core fundamental. 

Kettlebells used for progressive overload in strength training

By incorporating core strength training exercises into your workouts and understanding the importance of progressive overload, you can lay the foundation for a successful strength training journey. Remember to start with proper technique, set clear goals, and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts over time to achieve continual progress and reach your fitness goals. Our gym in Barnstaple is equipped with a wide range of equipment, designed around strength training programs with the support of our knowledgeable personal trainers, so if you’d like to get started today, why not get in touch?


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