Simple ways to get started with strength training

by Kaiser Permanente |
Person strength training with weights at the gym

The weight room at a gym can be intimidating. You might ask yourself, "How do all these machines work?" or "What’s the proper weightlifting etiquette?" Even if you buy hand weights or other workout gear to use at home, you might not know how to use it. Complicated equipment and risk of injury may keep some people from trying strength training. The good news is there are easy ways to start building strength to help your body, your bones, and more.

"Strength training is part of a whole program for healthy living that includes aerobic exercises, such as running, bicycling, or swimming, plus nutrition and diet," explains Michael Fong, MD, sports medicine fellowship program director at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. "Now there are so many activities that include strength training, like yoga, Pilates, and high-intensity interval training classes. It’s easier than ever to get started."

What is strength training?

Strength training is any exercise that makes your muscles push back on an external force. It’s also known as resistance training. And when you add weights, it’s called weight training. You can even use your own body weight to build strength, muscles, and endurance. Regardless of how you do it, strength training offers many benefits, including:

  • Stronger bones — Strength training can increase bone density, lowering the risk of fractures.1 Older adults often have osteoporosis, which weakens bones. According to Dr. Fong, weightlifting can improve bone density and reduce the risk of fractures from osteoporosis.
  • Better balance and flexibility — Strength exercises may help joints stay flexible and reduce symptoms of arthritis.  As you get older, this can help prevent injuries from falls. Stronger muscles also help improve balance and flexibility.
  • Improved sleep — Strength training can help you fall asleep faster. It can also improve how well and how long you sleep. In fact, some research shows it may have a bigger impact on sleep quality than aerobic exercise.2 

Start small and go easy

One of the most important things you can do is start small. Each body is different, but a general rule is to start with light weights. "Try 2- or 5-pound weights before trying something heavier," says Dr. Fong. "You can also do strength-building exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, squats, and planks with your own body weight."

It’s also important to go easy on yourself when you start any new workout. Make sure to listen to your body during strength training. If you feel any pain, it’s a good time to stop. Consider switching to a lower weight or trying the exercise again later. "Recovery is also part of the training. You need to let your body rest. So, you may work out one day, and then take a day off," explains Dr. Fong. "Getting good sleep is also important."

3 ways to add more strength training to your routine

To get started, you don’t have to go straight to your local gym. There are simple exercises you can do to stay active and build strength — even at home. Whether you use equipment or not, here are 3 ways to start your strength training today:

  • Add push-ups, lunges, and squats to your routine. You don’t need fitness equipment to have an effective workout.
  • Try a yoga, Pilates, or tai chi class. Many of the poses and exercises involve using your own body weight.
  • Use resistance bands to maximize your workout. There are different levels of resistance to choose from. And you can find many resistance band tutorial videos online to help you get started.

Remember that you can’t rush the process. “Go light and easy to get started,” says Dr. Fong. “You can work your way up to more weights and repetitions as you go. The important thing is to start somewhere and stay with it.”

For more ways to stay active, visit our fitness and exercise site today.

1 "Weight-Bearing Exercises to Maintain Healthy Bones,” Kaiser Permanente, July 10, 2023.

2 "Resistance Exercise May Improve Sleep More Than Aerobic Exercise," American Heart Association, March 3, 2022.