Intro: This is part three in a series about strength training for beginners. If you haven’t done so already, we suggest that you read the following articles first:
Let’s be honest. There is an awful lot of strength training equipment out there and an incredible number of videos and articles telling you how to use them.
Despite all this information, it’s incredibly easy to get lost in it all. Not to mention, if you’re going to the gym for the first time, it can be incredibly nerve-racking going to the free weight area with all the muscle-bound men (and women) everywhere.
You can make all the notes in the world and watch all the YouTube videos, but no matter how much time you put in to doing that, it’s still a scary place to be.
In today’s article, we’re going to talk about how to get started, the equipment you should use as a beginner, and the equipment you should NOT use. So, if you do decide to take up strength training, at least you know you’re starting it the right way!
What Equipment Do I Need?
That’s a great question. There’s a lot out there to choose from; however, it’s not the right question to ask first. The first question you need to ask yourself is:
How Strong Am I Currently?
Before you spend any money on equipment, you need to know the answer to that question. If you’re a beginner, your equipment needs will be far less than that of an advanced everyday athlete (even though they prefer minimal equipment, too!) So if you don’t know the answer to that question, let’s find out if you pass some of our basic strength assessments.
Answer yes or no to the following questions:
Can you hold a 2-minute plank?
Can you hold a 2-minute glute bridge?
Can you hang from a bar for 60 seconds?
If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, your equipment needs will be extremely minimal to begin with. That’s because you have to master your own bodyweight first before progressing to anything more complex.
If that’s the case, we recommend the following options of equipment to purchase based on your budget constrictions:
- Extreme budget: Nothing. There are plenty of bodyweight exercises we can do.
- Small budget: Pull-up bar (ideally wall mounted)
- Medium budget: Pull-up bar and a TRX system
- Unlimited funds: Pull-up bar, TRX system, set of kettlebells (8kg, 12kg, 16kg, 20kg, 24kg)
It’s not that much equipment, is it? In fact, all the equipment above can be stored at home. You don’t even need a gym membership. You don’t need all the fancy machines, gizmos, and adverts you see everywhere. They’re nice to have, maybe, but they’re not essential for you to get stronger.
The fitness industry is one big lie. It’s built on the foundation of preying on people’s fears and trying to sell to those fears. The equipment listed above is tried and tested, a proven method of helping beginners (and advanced) people get stronger with minimal fuss and minimal expenditure. Don’t fall for that big fancy all-in-one home gym that they advertise everywhere.
It’s not what people who are really strong use or do. At Strength Matters, we’re everyday athletes.The fitness industry is one big lie. It’s built on the foundation of preying on people’s fears and trying to sell to those fearsClick To Tweet
Why Fixed Weight Machines Are Bad in the Weight Room (For Beginners)
Walk into any commercial fitness gym and you’ll see a plethora of machines for various strength training exercises. The debate on whether machines or free weights are better has been around for decades. There was a time when machines ruled the gym world and were the only way to train. Then, scientists realized that while machines are good for training size and strength, they neglect key core and stabilization muscles. This led to people believing that machines were BAD for you.
So here’s the thing. Fixed weight machines have a place in the world of fitness. However, for beginners, we stay well clear of them. As a beginner to strength training, we need to create the foundations for strength training. Think of the foundations of your house. If those foundations are rocky, your house will come tumbling down. It’s the same with your body. We need to build those foundations with good bodyweight strength and awareness first.
Fixed weight machines are non-functional. They don’t train complete human movements that are necessary to move well, perform, and cope with everyday life. Weight machines don’t translate well into functional strength for daily activities and athletic endeavors. They neglect the smaller stabilizing muscles – the important muscles around the joints that, if neglected, can lead to chronic injury, poor posture, and pain.
So if you are a beginner who answered “no” to any of those questions above, think bodyweight first. Let’s create the foundations for the fun, exciting strength training we can do at a later date.
But What if I Answered YES to All the Questions Above? What Equipment Do I Need?
If you answered “yes” to the three questions, it means you’re not a complete novice to strength training and you are now progressing into the world of intermediate training. We need to ask you more intermediate questions to determine your equipment needs.
Here at Strength Matters, we have a number of set standards for strength. This is based on years of experience and working alongside some of the keenest minds in fitness. Everyone has a slightly differing opinion, but on the whole, we all agree on key elements.
Here are some of the Strength Matters strength standards and questions you need to ask yourself:
Can I do 3 pull-ups?
Can I do 3 chin-ups?
Can I do 5 push-ups?
Can I crawl, knees off the ground, non-stop for 5 minutes?
Can I do 5 reps x bodyweight back squats?
Can I do 5 reps x 1.5 bodyweight deadlifts?
That might seem like a lot of questions, but these are just some of the basic strength standards we have at Strength Matters.
If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, it means we need to get you stronger ASAP. Here are our recommendations on the equipment that you need:
- Extreme budget: Pull-up bar
- Minimalist budget: Pull-up bar, TRX, kettlebells (12kg, 16kg, 24kg)
- Medium budget: Pull-up bar, TRX, kettlebells (12kg, 16kg, 24kg, 32kg), Olympic barbell + weight plates
- Unlimited budget: Pull-up bar, TRX, kettlebells (12kg, 16kg, 24kg, 32kg), Olympic barbell + weight plates, squat rack, concept 2 rowing machine and/or assault bike
These our baseline strength levels for optimal healthy living. Don’t worry if you aren’t there yet or you think “There’s no way I can do that.” Many people have thought that, and they went on to smash these numbers.
In terms of equipment, did you see what we did on the unlimited budget? We’ve put two pieces of cardio equipment on the list. Cardio doesn’t make you weak. It does in fact make you stronger. “Cardio makes you weak” is actually #FakeNews.There is an art and a science to strength training; however, it doesn’t need to be complicated.Click To Tweet
Our Approach to Strength Training
There is an art and a science to strength training; however, it doesn’t need to be complicated. At Strength Matters, we have a simplistic approach to strength training. In fact, we call it the Strength Continuum:
Health —> Movement —> Bodyweight —> Dumbells/Kettlebells —> Barbell
Health comes first. Without our health, we have nothing. if you don’t believe that health comes first, read this quote from Andrew Read:
Health comes first. Don’t believe me, try running a marathon with a broken leg. ~ Andrew Read
I don’t think I’ll ever better that quote. Either way, I hope you get the picture. We shouldn’t neglect our fitness or sporting goals for health (unless you’re an elite athlete). As everyday athletes, our goal is to live a healthy and prosperous life, and that starts with health.
(You may want to read this article about WWS where we go more in depth about health.)
Once we have the basics of health in place, we can then turn to movement. Movement is the foundation of strength and the foundation of our house (body). With rocky foundations, you can rest assured that the house will come crumbling down.
Movement includes a good level of mobility, flexibility, and balance. Sadly, the older we get and the more life gets in the way, the more we have to prioritize this above strength training. Movement training is often neglected because it’s not sexy work.
In fact, it’s really hard work. But the importance of it is profound, and the difference it can make later on in life is so important. Would you prefer to slowly meander along as an 80 year old, or sprint up and down hills? That’s the difference movement training can have on the body later in life.
Barbells Come Last.
There’s a reason that barbells come last in our continuum. It’s because the barbell always wins. I would like you to remember that fact. I have seen more people injure themselves through barbell training than any other modality. Backs, hips, knees, herniated disks, and shoulders. You name it, I’ve seen it.
The barbell is unforgiving. and therein lies the problem. You can always add more weight. For many, it’s an ego thing. For others, it’s a competitive thing or they just want to keep adding more weight for the sake of it, irrespective of how it moves. For some, it’s not even necessary.The barbell always wins.Click To Tweet
Yet for the glory of being stronger, the barbell is crowned the king of kings. It may appear simple; however, the lifts, be they powerlifting lifts or the Olympic lifts, are extremely technical. It’s all easy until it gets heavy. The #1 rule of training is to not get injured. If you get injured during training, you’re doing something seriously wrong.
The barbell needs to be respected. You need to earn the right to address it. To use it. To add load to it. For that reason alone, it’s why we transition strength training for beginners from bodyweight first.
It creates the foundations of strength. It teaches the principles of tension (Strength = Tension, FYI), and when we move from bodyweight to dumbbells/kettlebells, there is a self-limiting factor in the weight that we use. That’s why when recommending strength training equipment to beginners, the barbell is never mentioned. That’s an intermediate to advanced tool.
It’s not that we don’t want you using it. Far from it, we want you to use the barbell for the right reasons. We put safety first. Too many people jump straight to the barbell only to find a few weeks later they’re injured and right back where they started. Never underestimate the power of bodyweight and dumbbell and kettlebell training. Sometimes that’s all you need.
When it comes to strength training equipment, it can get extremely confusing with so many options. However, as a beginner or novice to the world of iron, it’s important to remember that less is more. You don’t need fancy machines or the latest gizmo from QVC. Sometimes you just need your own bodyweight and a good progression to follow. And if you have the budget, a pull-up bar and some kettlebells.
It’s only when you start progressing from a beginner to advanced everyday athlete that you need to start considering other modalities and using other tools. As your goals and needs change, like any master craftsman, you need to choose the right tool for the right job. If there’s one thing I can leave you with, the most important thing to do is to take action. Lack of action will get you nowhere.
Thanks for reading. Welcome to the wonderful world of strength training. It’s actually a lot less scary than you think.
Every Journey Begins With a Single Step
In every great movie, the hero embarks on a path that promises adventure, challenges, and finally, achievement. Often, the hero finds a guide that takes the hero under their wing and pushes him or her to the limit. Just think, where would Luke be without Yoda? We are the stars of our own movies. And we all need that guide.
When it comes to fitness, a coach can be your guide to movie hero-type success, and your secret weapon. There are so many benefits to having a personal coach. I would go so far as to say that coaching is a prerequisite for achievement. Period.
Applying the Strength Matters System to achieve a pain-free athletic lifestyle won’t be easy but it’s guaranteed to work if you follow it. And we’re here to guide you every step of the way.
Are you ready to take that first step?
Life’s better as an everyday athlete. ~ James Breese