Weight Training Programs For Basic Strength

These sample weight training programs are designed to develop basic, functional strength. For more sample weight training programs designed to meet other objectives (such as increased muscles mass, maximal strength, explosive power or strength endurance) see the main strength training section.

A phase of basic strength training is important for adapting the body for more strenuous, subsequent weight training. It aims to balance the body’s musculature by working most or all of the major muscle groups and prepares tendons, ligaments and joints helping to reduce the risk of injury later on (2).

Recall from the sport-specific approach to weight training programs that this basic strength phase should precede maximal strength training, hypertrophy training and explosive power training (3,4). This is important even for experienced strength-trained athletes as the nature of competitive sport places uneven stresses on the body…

The basic strength phase aims to balance strength between the two sides of the body (1). Racket sports for example, place greater strain on the shoulder and arm muscles of one side of the body for example. Soccer players usually have a predominant kicking foot.

It also aims to restore correct balance between the flexors and extensors (such as the hamstrings and quadriceps for example) (1). The table below gives an approximate guideline to the balance of strength between various muscle groups.

Balance between agonists and antagonists

Core strength training should be a major focus of “basic strength” weight training programs. This involves working the abdominal muscles, lower back muscles and other muscle groups supporting the spinal column and hip girdle. Weak core muscles may be associated with injury, and are more likely to occur when training becomes more demanding.

Designing Weight Training Programs for Basic Strength

The length of basic strength weight training programs depends on the experience of the athlete and also the importance of strength to their particular sport. Inexperienced athletes should follow a program such as the samples below for 8-10 weeks (2). This helps to ensure their bodies are fully prepared for more intense training.

Experienced athletes require only 3-5 weeks of basic strength training and any longer may lead to an undesirable detraining effect (2). However, as short as this phase may be it should not be skipped for the reasons outlined above.

Weight training programs for basic strength should be completed in the early part of the preparatory phase, often called early pre-season. However, for athletes with little or no strength training experience this basic strength phase may need to start in the off season or transition period.

Because basic strength training should work most major muscle groups, a circuit training format is ideal. It alternates between muscle groups allowing a quicker recovery and a greater number of exercises to be completed. Circuit training does not have to incorporate an aerobic or cardiovascular element. It simply refers to the organization of exercises and in fact, for our purposes, a circuit training program should consist only of resistance exercises.

A wide range of equipment can be used for these circuit-style weight training programs, including bodyweight resistance bandsmedicine ballsdumbbells and barbells.

The parameters for resistance, sets and repetitions are covered in the table below:

Parameters for basic strength weight training programs

Exercises should be set up so that a muscle group is not worked on two consecutive exercises. A simple format to follow is to alternate between the upper body and lower body or total body / upper body / lower body / core exercise for example.

Inexperienced lifters should start with body weight exercises and progress to free weights. If free weights are used the resistances should start off low to moderate (see the table above) and gradually progress towards the end of the program.

Most athletes will move on to one of the maximal strength training programs following this basic strength phase. It’s important that there isn’t too big a jump in resistance from the end of basic strength training to the start of maximal strength training.

Sample Weight Training Programs for Basic Strength

The following sample weight training programs should follow the parameters in the table above. Exercises should be completed in the sequences set out.

Program 1 – Bodyweight Exercises

  • Burpees
  • Push ups
  • Lunges
  • Crunches
  • Box step up with knee drive
  • Pull ups
  • Alternating split squats
  • Supermans

See the circuit training exercises article and abdominal exercises article for exercise descriptions.

Program 2 – Medicine Balls & Resistance Bands

  • Medicine ball lunge cross over
  • Resistance band lateral rows
  • Medicine ball oblique crunches
  • Resistance band squats
  • Medicine ball kneel to push ups
  • Resistance band lunges
  • Medicine ball reverse curls
  • Resistance band bent over rows
  • Medicine ball single leg chops
  • Resistance band biceps curls

See the medicine ball exercises article and resistance band exercises article for exercise descriptions.

Program 3 – Free weights

  • Dumbbell squats
  • Bench presses
  • V sit ups
  • Deadlifts (light weight)
  • Bent over rows
  • Back extensions
  • Lunges
  • Seated dumbbell shoulder presses
  • Russian twists with dumbbell
  • Calf raises

The weight training programs could also be combined taking various exercises from each.

References for basic strength weight training programs

1) Baechle TR and Earle RW. (2000) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning: 2nd Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

2) Bompa TO. 1999 Periodization Training for Sports. Champaign,IL: Human Kinetics

3) Stone MH, O’Bryant H, Garhammer J. A hypothetical model for strength training. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1981 Dec;21(4):342-51

4) Stone MH, O’Bryant HS, Garhammer J, McMillan J and Rozenek R. A theoretical model of strength training. NSCAJ. 1982 4(4):36-40