Strength and conditioning training can seem like a daunting endeavor at any experience level, especially given how competitive the fitness world can appear. At Chicago Strength, we aim to make working out accessible and fun for all, especially for beginners! Whether you’re just starting out, or looking for a new routine, read on about the ten strength and conditioning moves that are great for beginners.
In any strength and conditioning workout, there’s no doubt you’ll encounter a squat or one of its many variations. It’s one of the best exercises for your lower half because it works your core, quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.
Body positioning and technique: To get into position, stand with your feet just over shoulder-width apart, feet facing forward. While looking straight ahead, with shoulders back and down, engage your glutes and core to push your hips over your heels until your knees are at 90 degrees. Then, push through your heels to return to a standing position. Repeat for three sets of 8-12 reps.
Tips: When you’re in a squat position, be sure your knees are above your ankles to avoid knee injury. Standing next to a mirror helps to refine your technique. You can also start out by using a chair and practice sitting down and standing up using only your core, glutes, and hamstrings, not using your hands.
Variations: Once you feel like you’ve mastered the basic squat and want to challenge yourself further, there are many variations you can try out.
2. Reverse Lunge
Like squats, lunges are the holy grail of leg workouts. Not only do they exercise your hamstrings and glutes, they promote hip flexibility, stabilize your core, and improve balance. Starting out, you might feel a little off-kilter, and that’s okay! With practice, both your strength and balance will improve.
Body positioning and technique: Begin standing hip-width apart, then take a step back so your knees are at 90 degrees, keeping the back knee just above the floor. As with doing a squat, be sure to keep your front knee above your ankle to avoid injury. Keeping weight on the front knee, squeeze your glutes (keeping your hips tucked under) and push through your front heel back to a standing position. Repeat for three sets of 8-12 reps for each leg.
Tips: To up your lunge game, hold hand weights while you do the reverse lunges.
3. Lateral Lunge
The lateral lunge is another variation of the lunge — in fact, there are many variations of the lunge, but we couldn’t fit them all in this post.
Body positioning and technique: Start out standing hip-width apart, then shift your body weight over your right leg, squatting until your knee is bent to a 90-degree angle. Then push off with your right heel and return to the starting position. Then, do the left side. Do three sets of 8-12 reps.
The word “push-up” may conjure up excruciating memories of gym class, but don’t worry! There are many easy variations of push-ups to try that will strengthen your arms, back, core, and chest until you eventually work your way up to a full push-up.
Body positioning and technique: Wall push-ups are a great starting point, and also put less stress on your wrists. To begin, stand in front of a wall with your feet farther away from your arms, and lower yourself to the wall as if you’re doing a vertical push-up.
Variations: The farther away you stand from the wall, the more challenging it will be. You can also try a modified push-up (unfortunately, more commonly known as a “girl push-up” — another memory of middle school we’d love to forget).
Planks are a great way to begin strength training because the longer you hold them, the more difficult they are. So, start small, and eventually, you can work your way up to a longer plank.
Body positioning and technique: The plank is relatively simple. First get into plank position (elbows bent at 90 degrees, spine straight), and then wait for your timer to go off. Not only does it work your core, but it also works on almost every other muscle in your body. You can try three sets of 30-second planks to start out.
Variations: If you find the plank too challenging to start out, try it with your knees on the ground. Or, if you want more of a challenge, alternate between your regular plank and a high plank (straight arms) for a serious arm workout.
6. Lateral Arm Raise
This move exercises your shoulders, especially your middle deltoid. Start with a manageable weight (or without weights), and once you’ve perfected your form you can increase the weight of your dumbbells.
Body positioning and technique: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your back straight, palms facing in. Slowly lift your arms to the side until they are parallel to the floor, then slowly lower them back down. Do three sets of 8-12 reps.
7. Bicep Curl
As you can probably guess from the name, the bicep curl primarily exercises your biceps, making it a staple arm workout. Start light at first, and eventually, you can work your way up to heavier weights.
Body positioning and technique: Start out in a standing position with your arms hanging by your sides, palms facing upward, and elbows by your torso. With a dumbbell in each hand, keep your upper arms stationary and curl the weights up to your shoulders. Do three sets of 8-12 reps.
Like the trusty plank, superman is a move that exercises almost your whole body. It’s great for your back and works your hamstrings, glutes, and core.
Body positioning and technique: To start, lie face-down on a mat with your arms extended in front of you. Then, simultaneously lift your arms and legs off the floor, making sure your neck is in line with your spine. You can do three reps of this in 30-second increments.
Tips: If you find this challenging, try working up to the full superman by lifting the limbs on only one side of your body, then do the other side.
9. Glute Bridge
The glute bridge is an amazing exercise for your glutes (obviously) and hip flexors. This is another great workout that you don’t need equipment for, and you can do it anywhere.
Body positioning and technique: To start, lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent, feet on the ground, and arms at your sides. Using your glutes and abs, lift up your hips until your knees, hips, and shoulders form a straight line. Hold it for a few seconds, then lower your hips. Do two sets of 8-12 of these.
10. Dead Bug
For our last exercise, another core workout! This one is a little more challenging than the rest, so go easy on yourself when you try this out.
Body positioning and technique: To begin, lie on your back with your arms straight up and your legs up and bent (like a dead bug). Put your right arm back until it’s parallel to the floor, and extend your left leg. Return to the original position, and then do the opposite of what you just did — so this time, left arm, right leg. Repeat this movement 8-12 times, doing three sets.
Most of these exercises require little to no equipment and can be done anywhere. We hope that we inspired you to try some of these out! And remember — everyone starts out as a beginner.