Anyone who comes into our office will hear me preach about the positive impact of strength training on fat loss, however many may not be sure where to start in pursuing a strength building routine. In this article I want to break down some of the basics that you need to proceed with a strength program, specifically the two different categories of strength building exercises that you are most likely to encounter in the gym.
There are plenty of resistance exercises available to you, but not all exercises are created equal. When you pick up a barbell, dumbbell, or get into a machine, you will be engaging in one of two types of resistance exercise; isolation or compound.
Isolation exercises are those where the strain is localized to a single muscle group and typically require movement in only one joint at a time. An example of an isolation exercise would be a dumbbell curl, in which you merely bend the elbow and use primarily the bicep in order to lift the weight. Compound exercises on the other hand recruit more than one muscle group and involved flexion or extension in 2 or more joints. A bench press is a common example of a compound exercise, in which you use your chest, shoulders, back, and arms to move a barbell off of you chest.
While isolation exercises have their uses, in the beginning you want to focus on compound exercises, as these exercises elicit the greatest response in muscle growth, calorie burn, and hormone production.
In addition to the number of muscle groups used in an exercise, you also should considered the TOTAL muscle being used to push or pull the weight. Even among compound exercises there is a hierarchy;
Squats are the king of the weight room, since they use very large muscle groups as drivers (hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps) as well as to stabilize throughout the squat (lats, abdominals, etc). Not only will you maximize strength gains by focusing on squatting, but you will also see increased calorie burn as well as testosterone, adrenaline, and HGH production (great for stripping body fat).
The next on the list is the Deadlift. The deadlift is a move which involves picking up a weighted barbell from the ground and standing up. While this lift has a relatively short range of motion, it makes up for this in overall muscle used to execute the lift. Not only will you train all of the muscles that you hit with the squat, but you will hit the larger muscles harder and force your body to adapt to supporting an extremely large amount of weight. For all the reasons listed above, you may ask why Deadlifts fall to second behind squats but the answer is fairly simple; deadlifts are just too hard to do as often as squats and so must take a lower priority.
The last lifts I will address are the Bench Press and the Standing Press. Unlike the first two exercises, these lifts focus on the upper body (chest and shoulders respectively) but still do so in a compound way. These lifts should be attempted at least once weekly in order to maintain and improve upper body strength and composition, not to mention if you want to have toned arms and shoulders after you’ve managed to strip off the fat and show off your hard earned muscles.
I will follow up this article with individual writeups about each of the listed exercises and more, as well as include advice on how to approach your sets and reps when approaching a new routine.