10 Muscular Strength Exercises – Introduction
What are the top 10 muscular strength exercises you can do to change your body?
Many people work out to change how they look and feel.
There are entire workouts dedicated to improving aesthetics, and you likely want to know the best exercises for toning or shaping your legs, chest, arms, and back.
However, there is more to fitness than how you look, and, in most cases, training for improved performance will give you the physical changes you want.
That’s because form follows function.
One of the best ways to improve your appearance is by training for strength.
That’s because stronger muscles are generally bigger and more toned.
Strength is also a useful fitness component that will have a significant impact on many aspects of your physical performance and general fitness.
This article explains what strength is, reveals some of the best exercises for developing it, and provides you with a twice-weekly workout designed to build basic strength.
What is Strength?
Strength is often described as the ability of a muscle or muscle group to generate force.
It’s usually expressed in terms of your one repetition maximum, or 1RM for short.
1RM is the amount of weight you can lift once but not twice in a given exercise, e.g., your 1 rep max deadlift, bench press, squat, etc.
However, there are several types of strength, each with different characteristics:
- Absolute strength – your ability to generate maximum force
- Relative strength – your strength relative to your bodyweight
- Strength endurance – your ability to generate sub-maximal force for an extended time
- Explosive strength – aka power, and your ability to generate force quickly
How to Train for Strength
While it is possible to train to emphasize each of these types of strength, it’s also important to understand that each one does not exist in a vacuum, and training for one type of strength will also affect the others.
For example, if you do low reps with a heavy weight to develop absolute strength, you will also experience modest improvements in endurance and power.
That said, if you want to train for a specific task, such as increasing your bench press 1RM, most of your training should revolve around doing bench presses with a heavy weight for low reps.
This is the fitness law of specificity – you are fit for the type of training you do.
For this reason, most strength workouts involve lifting heavy weights for low reps, typically in the 3-5 range.
But, it’s important to stress that even training in the “endurance range” of 15-30 reps will still make you stronger, albeit not as dramatically as low rep training.
The Top 10 Muscular Strength Exercises for Beginners
- Reverse lunges
- Single-leg Romanian deadlifts
- Bench press
- Overhead press
- Bent-over rows
- Planks, and
A commonly neglected but highly effective exercise: The Farmer’s walk
The best exercises for building strength load multiple muscles simultaneously, replicate functional movements, stress your muscles and joints relatively safely, and that can be progressed gradually.
Needless to say, there are LOTS of exercises you can use to build strength!
However, given that the best way to develop absolute strength is with relatively low reps and heavy weights, some exercises are clearly better than others.
Here are ten great muscular strength exercises for beginners.
Note, as well as providing you with the main strength exercise, we’ve also included variations for each one that is every bit as good for building strength.
That way, if you cannot do the main exercise, you can shift your attention to one of the others and still have a great workout.
10 Best Exercises for Muscular Strength Descriptions
Target muscles: Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, erector spinae, core.
The squat is often called the king of exercise, which is a title that’s truly deserved.
When it comes to building lower body strength, the squat is hard to beat.
For this reason, the squat leads off the top 10 muscular strength exercises.
Squats are a movement pattern that you should learn and master with or without weights!
There are lots of different squat exercises to choose from, all of which can help increase lower body strength.
Good options include:
- Barbell back squats
- Barbell front squats
- Dumbbell squats
- Trap bar squat lifts
- Goblet squats
- Bulgarian split squats
- Leg press
#2. Reverse Lunges
Target muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteal muscles, gastrocnemius (calves), core muscles
Reverse lunges are an excellent alternative to squats.
They target the same muscle groups, but put less stress on your knees and lower back.
Reverse lunges also improve balance and coordination.
What’s the difference between reverse and forward lunges?
In the forward lunge, your body weight produces greater pressure on your front knee.
However, when you lunge backward, the majority of your body weight is shifted onto your back leg, which takes some of the strain off of your front knee.
And, because they work the muscles in a different way than squats do, they can help to prevent overuse injuries.
So, if you’re looking for a safer, more balanced alternative to squats with considerable benefits, give reverse lunges a try.
Reverse Lunges – Dr. John Rusin
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Target muscles: Hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteus maximus, erector spinae, core, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, forearms
If squats are the king of exercises, then deadlifts are the queen.
However, many feel the opposite, that deadlifts are the true king of all strength exercises.
Working many of the same muscles, in some ways deadlifts are an even better choice for building strength because they involve more muscle mass and can be done safely without a spotter.
Some of the best deadlift variations for building strength are:
See Squats Vs. Deadlifts: Which is Better for Strength and Fitness for a more in-depth assessment of which of these two powerful exercises is more deserving of the title “King of all Exercises.”
Deadlifts with Rich “Hashi Mashi”
#4. Single-leg Romanian deadlifts
Target muscles: Ankle stabilizers, gastrocnemius, gluteal muscles, hamstrings
There are a few reasons why the single-leg Romanian deadlift (RDL) is such a great exercise.
For one, it’s a fantastic alternative to the standard deadlift for those who want to focus on their posterior chain without putting too much strain on their lower back.
Additionally, RDLs improve your balance and coordination between the left and right sides of the body, which can benefit athletes who compete in sports requiring lateral movement.
Last (for now!), single-leg RDLs emphasize the stabilizer muscles around the hips and knees, which can help reduce the risk of injuries in these areas.
Single-leg Romanian deadlift – sprinter and hurdler
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#5. Bench press
Target muscles: Pectoralis major, deltoids, triceps.
The bench press is to the upper body what the squat is to the legs!
This powerful exercise will help build strength in all your pushing muscles.
On the downside, you will need a spotter to do barbell bench presses, as a failed rep can end in serious injury.
Alternatively, you can do bench presses in a power rack or use one of the safer alternatives listed below.
Effective bench press options include:
#6. Overhead press
Target muscles: Deltoids, triceps.
Overhead or vertical pressing exercises emphasize your deltoids or shoulders.
While you probably won’t be as strong in this movement plane, working on your overhead pressing strength is still important.
Excellent strength training programs contain roughly equal amounts of horizontal and overhead pressing training.
Good overhead pressing exercises for strength include:
- Barbell overhead press
- Dumbbell overhead press
- Shoulder press machine
- Pike push-up
- Handstand push-up
Target muscles: Latissimus dorsi, biceps.
What goes up must come down, and to develop your pushing and pulling muscles equally, you need to include things like pull-ups in your workouts.
Pull-ups are a relative strength exercise in that your bodyweight provides resistance.
Being overweight or weak for your size can make pull-ups far harder.
That said, there are non-bodyweight pulling exercises that are just as effective.
Some of the best pull-up variations include:
- Assisted pull-up/chin-up
- Neutral grip pull-up/chin-up
- Lat pulldown
Target muscles: Pectoralis major, deltoids, triceps, core abdominal muscles
There are many reasons why pushups are such a terrific way to change your body.
For one, they work a variety of muscles in your upper body, including your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
They also can teach you how to engage your core muscles to keep your body braced and stabilized.
Not to mention that all you need is a floor, and you can do push-ups anywhere, with no equipment needed.
This makes them extremely convenient if you’re looking for a quick workout while traveling or away from the gym.
See the article: Army PRT Exercises – Physical Readiness Training to Get Fit! for the circuit of bodyweight exercises developed by the US Army to get their soldiers into shape.
You can use the same drill as well, no equipment necessary!
#9. Bent-over row
Target muscles: Latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, biceps.
Rowing movements work the opposite muscles involved in bench presses.
These muscles are largely located across and between your shoulder blades.
While these muscles are out of sight, they’re very important for posture and shoulder health.
Some of the best bent-over row options and variations include:
- Barbell bent over row
- Single-arm dumbbell bent over row
- Seated cable row
- Inverted bodyweight row
- Chest supported row
- T-bar row
Target muscles: Core muscles
The core is the collective term for the muscles of your midsection, namely the rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis, and erector spinae.
A strong core will help reduce your risk of back pain and also ensure that force generated in your lower body can be efficiently transferred to your upper body and vice versa.
Effective core exercises include:
- Side planks
- Pallof presses
Bonus – Farmer’s walks
Target muscles: hand and forearm muscles, triceps, biceps, core, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, traps, glutes, hamstrings, and quads
Farmer carries aka the Farmer’s Walk is a fantastic exercise for several reasons.
First, it is a compound movement that targets multiple muscle groups simultaneously.
Second, it is an excellent way to ramp up your grip strength.
Third, it can be done with relatively light weights, making it perfect for beginners or those who are new to lifting weights.
I saved the Farmer’s walk for last because it is a surprisingly ‘easy’ yet overlooked way to build total body strength.
And, you can do farmer carries every day without burning out.
All you need to do is start with a lightweight pair of dumbbells or kettlebells, and do a few sets of 40-yard walks.
Increase the weight as you get stronger.
Farmer Carries – double arm, kettlebell, arm overhead
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Strength Workout for Beginners
To build basic strength, all you really need to do is pick 1-2 exercises from each of the 10 muscular strength exercises movement groups outlined above and start including them in your workouts.
Keep your repetitions relatively low, increase your weights gradually as you get stronger, and continue until you reach your ultimate strength training goal.
But, to make things a little easier for you, here are two brief but effective strength training workouts designed for beginners.
Do each one once per week, e.g., Monday and Thursday.
Of course, before you lay your hands on any weights, make sure you spend a few minutes preparing your muscles and joints for your coming workout.
Begin with 5-10 minutes of light cardio, followed by some dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises for your major muscles and joints.
Finally, do 1-2 light sets of the exercises you’re about to do to dial in your technique and get your muscles firing correctly.
Feel free to change the exercises according to your preferences and the equipment available.
For example, if you can’t do pull-ups, you can do lat pulldowns instead.
However, stick to the same basic movement pattern to keep each program balanced.
Barbell back squat
Barbell bench press
Overhead barbell press
Single-arm dumbbell row
The Top 10 Muscular Strength Exercises – Wrapping Up
Strength is a very valuable fitness component.
Whatever physical challenges you face, being stronger will make them easier to overcome.
Strength, which is closely linked to muscle mass, tends to decrease with age, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
In fact, regular training can help preserve your muscle mass and strength long into old age.
We don’t get weaker because we get older; we get weaker because we stop trying to be strong!
The good news is that strength training doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming.
In fact, just a couple of weekly workouts built around simple compound exercises are all you need – especially when you are a beginner and primarily interested in general strength.
And remember, there are no magic exercises or workouts for building strength – it all comes down to muscle tension, effort, and consistency.
Tax your muscles regularly, push them a little harder each time you train, and they WILL get stronger, regardless of whether you’re doing barbell squats, using a leg press machine, or doing isometric squats against a wall.
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