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Strength Training Concepts for Beginners

Strength Training (also called Resistance Training or Resistance Exercise) has so many benefits.

But... Strength training jargon can be a little confusing. Especially when you're just starting out. Here is a straight forward glossary of strength training concepts for beginners to get you started.

Load or Resistance

The weight you’re lifting – bodyweight, dumbbells, kettlebells, barbell and weight plates, etc.

Woman strength training to prevent osteoporosis with Karin Weinstein
Dumbbells as load or resistance in strength training.

Muscle Strength

The outcome of multiple positive adaptations that increases the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to exert maximal force against resistance. (See High Intensity below.)

Muscle Endurance

The ability of a muscle or group of muscles to exert repeated (less than maximal) force without fatigue. (See Low Intensity below.)

1RM or 1 Repetition Maximum

The amount of weight (load) you can lift only one time. (Typically determined using a 1 Rep Max Calculator like this one.)

Training intensity

Measured as a percentage of your 1RM.

  • Low Intensity = 55-65% of 1RM

    • Appropriate for warm ups and muscular endurance

    • High number of repetitions - more than 15 reps

  • Moderate Intensity = 65-85% of 1RM

    • Appropriate for beginning strength training

    • Moderate number of repetitions - 5-15 reps

  • High Intensity = 85-100% of 1RM

    • Ideal for improving muscle strength and bone density

    • Low number of repetitions - 1-5 reps

Training Frequency

How often (usually times/week) an exercise is performed or a muscle/muscle group is trained.


The number of times an exercise is repeated consecutively within a “set”. (See Sets below.)


A group of consecutive repetitions.


Performing two different exercises back to back with little or no rest between skills.

  • Makes workouts more time efficient by allowing one area of the body to rest while a different area works.

  • Examples:

    • Working opposing muscles/muscle groups (row/chest press)

    • Working upper/lower body (overhead press/squats)


An essential component of a solid strength training program, rest is…

  • The length of time between sets (measured in seconds or minutes)

  • The length of time between training sessions (measured in hours or days) needed to maximize the benefits of strength training. (See Stress-Recovery-Adaptation Cycle below.)

Compound Exercise/Movement

Exercises involving two or more joint movements.

  • Compound movements require whole-body coordination and are a more effective and time-efficient way to strength train.

  • Examples: Squats, lunges, deadlifts, chest press, overhead press, chin ups, pull ups

Isolation Exercise/Movement

Exercise involving only one joint movement.

  • Examples: Bicep curls, triceps extensions, leg extension, hamstring curls

Progressive Overload

The process of gradually increasing weight (or other variables such as range of motion, frequency, sets, reps) as one’s body adapts and becomes stronger.

Stress-Recovery-Adaptation Cycle

Understanding this cycle is essential for maximizing the benefits of strength training while minimizing risk of injury.

Phases of this cycle are as follows (and are represented in the graph below):

  • Phase 1 — Stress: Muscles are exposed to appropriate strength training loads. This stress prompts fatigue which is reflected in a (temporarily) decline in strength.

  • Phase 2 — Recovery: Time between training sessions while the body recuperates from applied stress with adequate rest and nutrition.

  • Phase 3 — Adaptation: Your body intelligently responds by increasing capacity in preparation for the training session.

Graph showing stress-recovery-adaptation cycle used in strength training with Karin Weinstein
Graph showing stress-recovery-adaptation cycle

Now that you have a better understanding of Strength Training Concepts for Beginners, it's time to put these concepts into action...

Join me via Zoom for Mindful Strength on Thursdays at 9am! Each class is recorded and available for 7 days so that you can grow your muscles and bones on your schedule.

OR... Call 732-690-9497 or email me to schedule a private personal training session.

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